Issues of KB Journal

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

Volume 11, Issue 2 Spring 2016

Contents of KB Journal Volume 11, Issue 2 Spring 2016

Dramatism, Musical Theatre Interpretation, and Popular Artistic Production

Kimberly Eckel Beasley, Jacksonville University & James P. Beasley, University of North Florida


While Burkean applications of dramatism to the world of dramatic theatre are easily seen, this collaborative study attempts to utilize Burkean identification as a method of character analysis in musical theatre production. Since musical theatre, as a popular art form, crosses many disciplinary boundaries, it is often difficult to demonstrate its scholarly purposes. The authors demonstrate that an analysis of Burkean motives can be more successful in musical production than current interpretive applications through its mystification of popular forms, its ability to promote identification, and its ability to offer Burke studies new directions in the arena of performative rhetoric.

Dramatism, Musical Theatre Interpretation, and Popular Artistic Production

As part of musical theatre production at a regional, liberal arts university, the scholarly attention to interpretation is a necessary facet of each student's learning experience. To demonstrate how even the production of a popular musical demands scholarly attention, directors have often resorted to focusing on literary interpretation or even archival research methodologies in this educational environment. To this end, it is important to maintain a transparent connection to literary theory, and specifically its manifestations in musical theatre characterization and production. As musical theatre bridges both the interpretive focus of theatre and the contextual focus of musicology, disciplinary boundaries are often violated and simultaneously observed. Therefore, while there is broad latitude in how characters and their dialog can be interpreted from the theatrical world, there are fewer interpretive options for the musical interpreter. This dilemma is precisely why a developed theory of musical theatre interpretation and production is significant, especially within the context of a liberal arts education.

In the development of musical interpretation in academic environments, there are three major textbooks which model interpretive strategies for musical theatre: The Third Line by Daniel Helfgot, Acting for Singers by David Ostwald, and Acting in Musical Theatre: A Comprehensive Course, edited by Joe Deer and Rocco Dal Vera. While all three offer comprehensive acting for singing techniques, none of them allow for how those techniques influence each other, requiring actors in musical theatre to utilize only one perspective. This study demonstrates the significance of being able to understand how interpretations actually influence each other and how Kenneth Burke's dramatistic ratios, "how the what influences the what" is a much more successful hermeneutic practice in musical theatre interpretation due to its contextual focus, and that contextual focus is also a characteristic of musical disciplinarity.

Daniel Helflot's The Third Line (1993) was the first and is the oldest systematic approach to interpretation in music theatre production. In The Third Line, Helfgot comes at acting for singing specifically for the operatic performer. The "park and bark" stigma associated with opera is a thing of the past, as contemporary opera must contend with the vivacity of music theater style acting, and opera singers are now more beautiful and spontaneous than ever on the stage. This is reinforced through several of Helfgot's chapters, such as "The Opera Performer as Actor," "Movement and Expression," and "Auditioning, Competitions and Recitals." The "third line" specifically refers to Helfgot's three-pronged structure of "Focus, Attitude, and Gesture." The Third Line is the singer's interpretation of the other two lines – the music and the text. The Third Line encompasses the music analysis, the textual analysis, the dramatic intent, and the expressive interpretation of the music.

David Oswalt's Acting for Singers (2005) improved on Helfgot by highlighting competencies such as using improvisation, improving concentration, analyzing dramatic structure, fashioning objectives and super-objectives, subtext, and rehearsing and auditioning. Its focus is both opera and music theatre, using examples from Carmen as well as West Side Story. Oswalt incorporates theme statements for the entire production, involving everyone from the Director to the Actor in a fascinating study of motivated character development.

The newest addition to musical theatre interpretation and production is Acting in Musical Theatre: A Comprehensive Course (2008). The emphasis on musical analysis in this text is important for the music theatre actor, in contrast with the operatic performer who usually needs more analytical acting support. Therefore, the chapters include topics such as foundational acting techniques, musical analysis, elements of storytelling, character analysis, the journey of the song, intensifiers, stylistic elements, as well as auditioning and rehearsal process techniques.

Musical Theatre Interpretation and Little Women, The Musical

When it came time to produce a musical theatre show in a liberal arts educational setting, the director began with these three interpretative textbooks in mind. Since students in this regional, liberal arts voice program had not previously been required to analyze their characters much in the past, the choice of interpretive approach would be significant. Would students be open to such character work? The director's own favorite directors by far have been those that have encouraged her own delving into her character and then forcing that research to reveal itself in rehearsal. Characters whose objectives were handed to her by a director have been forgotten, shallow characters. So of the three textbooks available, Acting for Singers by David Otswalt was chosen to achieve the kind of character development the director wanted, enabling the actors' own interpretations, actions, and directions.

The musical that was chosen for production was Jason Howland's 2005 Little Women: The Musical. As a Broadway musical, it ran for five months before touring nationally for over a year, and it featured musical theatre megastars Maureen McGovern as "Marmie," and Sutton Foster as Jo March. Because the story of Little Women is so well-known, the director did not want the students copying what they had seen in the movies, specifically the most recent adaptation by Gillian Armstrong, the one with which they were all most familiar. Since Little Women: The Musical is based on the Louisa May Alcott novel, the character analysis work would also have the added dimension of literary analysis. As the director and actors read through the script day for the first several days, super objectives were the first tool each actor utilized in developing their character. Helfgot writes, "If you have already developed your superobjective, you can fashion your objectives by asking yourself, 'How does my character pursue his superobjective in this scene?' You will find the concept of strategic means to be a good clarifying device. Invoke it by saying to yourself 'I,…am working toward… by means of…. Fashion your answer depending on what you feel the music, text, and the stage directions suggest" (112). In rehearsal, as the director had them journal about the super objective of their own life that helped them apply this concept to their Little Women character, the students' super objectives began to come together: "I (character's name) and working toward (fill in the blank)." Some examples of some of the students' superobjectives were the following:

  • I, Professor Bhaer, am working toward starting my life over again in America.
  • I, Jo, am working toward using my writing to provide for my family.
  • I, Meg, am working toward finding an eligible young man.
  • I, Beth, am working toward making every day beautiful.
  • I, Marmee, am working towards raising my daughters to find their place in the world.
  • I, Aunt March, am working toward preserving the March family name.
  • I, Mr. Laurence, am working toward putting up with my neighbors.

The super objectives of the other characters all helped to give them an overarching motivation for the entire show. But this was only the beginning since breaking down each scene only continued to enhance the largesse of the super objective, making this a very important first step. The super objective for Aunt March really helped the actor give life to her number, "Could You," in which she attempts to whip Jo into shape by manipulating her to change, telling her she might take her to Europe: "I believe you could captivate the world…If you could change there is so much you could achieve…someone full of dreams like you…gracious living will make you sublime." This number was a highlight from the show, and this super objective gave Aunt March in her limited stage time, a strong motivation for her entire character every time she was on stage.

In a move similar to Kenneth Burke's dramatistic ratios, Oswalt connects the purpose of an act with the means by which the act is accomplished. In Oswalt's grammar, these means are called "beats." Oswalt writes the following:

A character will try anything that is consistent with her moral code and personality to get what she wants. If her objective in a particular scene is 'I want to keep my beloved from leaving,' she might begin with flattery. If that doesn't work, she might try reasoning, cajoling, threatening, seducing, bribing, or even blackmail. We call these various strategies acting beats. Acting beats are mini-objectives that clarify the relationship of your character's individual thoughts and actions to her objectives. (120)
Discovering the "acting beats" for the ball at the Moffats was essential, since in the musical these scenes combine several balls and outings from the novel and the film adaptations into one. Because many dynamics are altered within this one section of Act I in the musical version, the scene objective/beat work on the getting ready for, attending, and recovering from the ball at the Moffats would make this scene pivotal for motivating the rest of the production. In the following charts, the director has provided examples of how utilizing Oswalts's objectives and beats lead the actors into an understanding of their motivations.

Scene 3: Getting Ready for the Ball

Characters Objective: I am working toward Beat(s): by means of
Marmee Making sure her girls get every chance available to them Getting Meg to her first ball.
Beth Living through my sisters Helping Meg get ready
Jo Becoming a lady like AM says I have to Going to this ball with Meg.
Meg Finding an eligible young man Attending the Moffat's ball.
Amy Equality with my sisters Getting ready for the ball, too.
Delighted The girls helping Meg feel comfortable Appealing to Meg's vanity and romantic tendencies
OVERALL This scene works towards dividing the sisters and their places in life By placing Jo and Meg outside their normal environment and leaving Beth and Amy at home.

At the Ball

Characters Objective: I am working toward Beat(s): by means of
Amy (in transition to this scene) Putting Jo in her place for not letting me go to the ball. Burning her story.
Jo Not getting frustrated by all this becoming a lady stuff Trying to be polished and elegant, remembering the reward in the end (Europe)
Meg Making a good impression to the Moffats Making sure Jo behaves herself
Laurie Avoiding having to meet important people Getting away from meeting important people.
Brooke Not getting fired by Mr. L Finding where the hell Laurie is
Take a Chance: Laurie Laurie: Getting Jo to like him Telling her how unique she is. Trying to get her to dance. Making jokes.
Appealing to her love of adventure.
Appealing to her as a friend. Being willing to box her.
Convincing himself it will happen.
Jo: distracting Laurie from liking her Using humor.
Making excuses.
Scolding him.
Being unladylike.
Being competitive.
Take a chance transition (music)
OVERALL This scene works towards establishing how much Jo is determined to write and provide for her family By revealing how much Laurie likes her despite her repeated rejections of him.

After the Ball

Characters Objective: I am working toward Beat(s): by means of
Beth Helping Meg feel better Asking her about the ball
Marmee Welcoming her girls home Helping Meg and making Amy apologize
Brooke Proving he can take care of a woman Helping Meg home
Meg Letting John know she likes him Letting him help her
Jo Downplaying her conflicting emotions Complaining about the whole evening
Amy Doing what Marmee wants her to Apologizing to Jo
Better Reprise: JO Recovering from Amy burning my story Going to my attic to vent
OVERALL This scene works towards heightening Jo's conflicting emotions about who she is Destroying her story and stirring up emotions over Meg and Brooke and her and Laurie

As can be seen from these charts, Oswalt's discussion of "beats" is extremely similar to Burke's concept of dramatistic "agency." Oswalt writes, "You can fashion your acting beats, whether for operas, musicals, songs, art songs, or lieder, most effectively by once again using the device of means. Say to yourself "I want to carry out my objective by means of…" Or you can ask, "What do I do in this scene to achieve my objective?" (120). While getting student actors to understand what they do in a scene to achieve their character's objective is important, what is missing from Oswalt's description is to what extent the act, agent, scene, agency, and purpose are acting on each other simultaneously, and this is the understanding that Burkean dramatism enables actors to accomplish, the ability to identify the degree of influence. In other words, while the pentads help us understand "how the what influences the what," utilizing the pentads in musical theatre productions helps us understand "to what degree the what influences the what," and this seems the most important result of this application for Burke studies at large.

Many adoptions of the pentad focus on the pentad's use for juridical rhetoric, or an examination of past "acts," whether it be Ronald Reagan's invasion of Grenada (Birdsell, 1990) Plato's rhetoric (Abrams, 1981), or even corporate picnics (Walker and Monin, 2001). Utilizing pentads for musical performance fundamentally changes the usefulness of Burke's thought from past events, to their adaptation for deliberative, or future events, i.e., an upcoming musical performance. Utilizing the pentad allowed actors to immediately see the degree of effect of their changing interpretations in real time. This ability to see the immediate variation of those changing interpretations is a potential new direction for Burke studies, and opens Burke scholarship from examinations of past acts, to a new methodologies for studying rhetoric as future performatives.

Dramatism and Little Women: The Musical

The first goal in utilizing dramatism in the production process of Little Women: The Musical was to achieve a greater depth of character analysis than found in Oswalt's "beats" method. To achieve this goal, a brief introduction to Kenneth Burke's dramatism was given by a Burke historian. In his workshop he presented students with the following:

In A Grammar of Motives (1945), literary theorist Kenneth Burke outlined his conception of what he would call "dramatism": a method that readers can use to identify the rhetorical nature of any text, opening it to multiple perspectives.

ACT: what was done?
SCENE: When and where was the act performed?
AGENT: Who did it?
AGENCY: How and with what was the act performed?
PURPOSE: What motivated the act?

After readers answer these statements based on their interpretations, the next question focuses on the influence one may have on another. "How does the _______influence the ___________?"
The director, therefore, took the worksheet above and had the students examine the "purpose-agency ratio" to determine what influence they had on each other, whether or not the purpose determined the agency, and vice versa. In the cases above, the students could see that Amy's burning of Jo's story was one of the most significant purpose-agency ratios of that entire sequence of the show, and therefore the staging of that scene would get more attention than other purpose-agency influences. The most significant implication from using Oswalt's "beats" before engaging in a discussion of the Burkean pentads was to see how limiting Oswalt's "beats" actually was on dramatic interpretation. Since Oswalt's beats were only one out of a possible twenty ratios that could be utilized, students immediately began pentading other scenes in which they were singing. For example, Jo is proposed to twice in the musical, once by Laurie and once by Professor Bhaer. Burke's dramatistic ratios immensely helped the actor who played Jo in finding her motivation for rejecting one and accepting another. By only using Oswalt's "beats," Laurie's antics take center stage in his being refused, but through pentading Professor Bhaer's proposal, a new reason for Laurie's rejection emerged:
Act—Bhaer proposes
Agent—mentor to Jo, represents "the Other," represents "not-Concord"
Scene—outside the March house
Agency—through her published book
Purpose—to tell her he's missed her and loves her
In this pentad, it is Bhaer as "the Other," the fact that he is "not-Concord" that the actor who played Jo identified as having the most effect on Bhaer's acceptance, and therefore since Laurie is the next door neighbor, the one who most specifically represents Concord, the actor who played Jo was able to exploit this tension between the two men.

Directorial Intent, Actors, and Identification

The second purpose for utilizing Burkean pentads was to help shape the director's own interpretive focus. Since the director did not want to dictate the staging, the pentads help students identify with the directorial interpretations as they creatively participate in the creation of the meaning of the performance. As part of the preparation for the production, the director conducted archival research in the Louisa May Alcott papers in the Houghton Library at Harvard University. What surprised her was that there was no evidence in the Alcott letters that would indicate that Louisa and "Beth" were very close in real life. There were no letters in Louisa's collection from "Beth," but many letters between "Beth" and "Marmee." The director began to wonder whether Louisa's portrayal of Jo in the novel is what she merely wished her relationship had been with her sister "Beth" in real life. In the novel they are very close, thus every adaptation of the novel portrays them as very close. Based on her reading of the Louisa May Alcott letters, then, the director tried to capture a bit more of this dynamic in the scene "Some Things are Meant to Be." This scene is normally staged with Jo's overwhelming sadness of Beth's impending death. Based on a new possible interpretation from the Alcott letters, the director wanted to stage Jo not as a grieving sister, but in denial over what is happening, so much so that she cannot even give Beth her full attention in this scene. By staging Jo as calloused to her sister's illness, though, the director could encourage the audience to identify with her need to change, to collectively hope this is not the Jo we are left with at the end of the story. When Jo does realize that her home is truly important, her recent denial then becomes an even more significant motivation for her writing and submitting her great novel in the first place.

In order for this alternate interpretation to not be merely handed down to the actors to obey, utilizing the pentads allowed the actors to come to these conclusions on their own, as they creatively participated in arriving at similar interpretations. In A Rhetoric of Motives (1950), Kenneth Burke writes, "Longinus refers to that kind of persuasion wherein the audience feels as though it were not merely receiving, but were itself creatively participating in the poet's or speaker's assertion. Could we not say that, in such cases, the audience is exalted by the assertion because it has the feel of collaborating in the assertion?" (57-58). To demonstrate to the actors that they, too, might have alternative motivations than merely what is written in the novel, the actor playing Jo and the actor portraying Beth wrote their own pentads:

Pentad: Beth dies

Character Jo Beth
Act Beth dies Beth leaves Jo
Agent Beth—sister who has no aspirations I love being at home
Scene Beach—life goes on Beach—I'd rather be back in Concord
Agency Hummels, Concord--frustration Hummels, Concord-fulfillment
Purpose Reminder of how awful Concord is Jo's success

While they did not necessarily arrive at the same conclusion, the fact that they could arrive at similar conclusions allowed them to understand the staging and see how many other interpretations were possible, i.e., "if not this one, then why not that one?" The pentads also balanced this artistic freedom with the need to stay as close to audience expectations as possible as a feature of the musical theatre genre. Dennis Brissett writes, "Dramatism gives one no criteria for such smug demarcations of one's own virtues and the vices of all others. We are not talking about some simplistic notion of demystification as an unmasking, a revelation of the truth; rather we are offering dramatism as a technique of analysis of human interaction and also as a method for assessing social theories of human conduct" (336). The students could see that while there was no one single correct interpretation, there were limitations on how interpretive we could be. While the pentads helped create those interpretations, they simultaneously allowed the students to examine them. Bissett writes, "The demystification of action that can be achieved by reclaiming neglected petadic elements has its counterpart in the critique of theories of action that similarly neglect elements of the pentad. And here, unlike other theories of action, dramatism provides the method of demystifying and criticizing itself. It is possible, therefore, to produce a dramatistic account of some situation, and, without shifting one's ground, equally possible to analyze that account" (Brissett 336). This analyzing of student interpretations is not allowed by Oswalt's "beats" method. The students only supplied what they thought were the agencies by means of which for their purposes, but they never considered why they believed that until they utilized Burke's dramatistic ratios. This is why filling out the charts for Oswalt's acting beats seemed like homework to many of the students, but creatively participating in persuading the audience that Jo March needed to change did not seem like homework at all.

Dramatism, Musical Theatre, and Popular Art

These interpretative choices that involve the audience in the creative participation of Jo March's transformation, their identification, has an even greater implication for the genre of musical theatre at large. Because musical theatre forms are much more closely tied to popular culture than "straight" theatre, musicals generally do not challenge audiences or create their own drama. Kimberling writes on dramatism's ability to challenge the inherent limitations in popular art's predictable forms:

The Burkean model provides a tentative answer to the frequently posed question as to whether popular art reflects or engenders social values and mores. Dramatism would suggest that it does both. Popular art reflects social values because it presents universal patterns of experience, patterns that the audience must recognize if it is to understand the work. It engenders values by presenting dramatic scenarios placing ordinary values in conflict situations, situations demanding that some hierarchy of values be established, and by stimulating audience identification with the processes of value formation (Kimberling 84).
Again, the ball scene is an example of how dramatism can be used not only to reflect social values, but to engender values by demanding that the audience establish a hierarchy of those values. By utilizing Oswalt's "beats" in the previous charts, one can see how students supplied fairly formulaic means to their purposes, i.e., Meg wanting to make a good impression on the Moffatt's by making sure Jo behaves herself. However, since pentads allow students to both simultaneously produce and analyze their dramatistic accounts, the ball scene can be used to not only reflect social values, but to also engender conflicting values. To engender these conflicting values, however, some additional work is required by the actors than merely identifying the acting "beats." In other words, the actors must "earn their increment" through developing new pathways for conflicting values to operate. One of these pathways is the subject of Burke's Language as Symbolic Action:
There is a further step in our outward direction: and it is the one we most need for our present inquiry. Insofar as a poem is properly formed, suppose you were to ask yourself what subtitle might properly be given to each stanza. Or suppose you were to break up each chapter of a novel into a succession of steps or stages, giving titles to such parts of a chapter, then to chapters, then to groups of chapters, and so finally to the whole work. Your entitlings would not necessarily agree with any that the author himself may have given, since titles are often assigned for fortuitous reasons. And of course other readers might not agree with your proposed entitlings. But the point is this: Insofar as the work is properly formed, and insofar as your titles are accurate, they mark off a succession of essences (369-370).
What Burke identifies as "subtitles," acting preparation generally calls "subtext." While "subtext" is a pretty common way for actors to find meaning in the script, it becomes even more significant the more the director wants the audience to establish hierarchies of values. For musical theatre productions, with their inertia already tilted towards merely reinforcing cultural norms and values, subtext is essential in producing dramatistic pathways for audiences to consider these competing values. This is how the concept of subtext was introduced to the actors for Little Women, The Musical:
Subtext now becomes useful specifically for the songs you sing. Subtext is the main source of your internal dialogue, the chatter of your inner voice expressing how you feel about what is happening. When you fashion subtext for each phrase of your text and complete it with internal thoughts for all the places where you don't sing, you make your character into a multi-level communicator like a real person, and you take a giant step toward being believable on stage.
The focus on creating "internal dialogue" to form a "multi-level" communicator has its roots not only in the "unending conversations" taking place, but also in the creation of multiple pathways of action. Will the characters act in predictable ways that reinforce social norms, or will characters surprise audience members by their resistance to formulaic behaviors? Using the example of the student analysis of the ball scene again, the creation of subtext created some surprising opportunities for presenting audiences with conflicting values to examine. Using Oswalt's acting "beats," the actor playing Meg indicated that her purpose was to make a good impression on the Moffatt's by making sure Jo did not embarrass them. However, through subtext of the same scene, other values are revealed. As Meg is approached by Mr. Brooke at the ball, she pulls Jo away from the dancing to calm her down, dropping her own dance card in the process. Mr. Brooke has come to get Laurie to take him home. They are center stage and Jo and Laurie are listening and observing them intently:

Meg: Sir! You've taken my dance card!
I need it but I don't want to have to ask.

Brooke: Your dance card? – Oh! Is this yours? Sorry. So – you're Margaret March?
What? I'm an idiot. Who is this? She's pretty!

Meg: Yes, I am.
He's handsome!

Brooke: It's – a splendid party, isn't it? –
I am wowed by you!
Meg: Yes, it is. Quite - "lovely." So you're from Boston?
I don't know what to say…

Brooke: Actually Maine.
I can't stop staring at you!

Meg: I've never been to Maine.
Why did I just say that?

Brooke: You should go. It's beautiful country. Very primitive –
You should come with me!
Meg: I like primitive.
Why did I say THAT?

Brooke: Really?
Does she like me?

Laurie: Mr. Brooke is a romantic.
Ooooo (sarcastic)

Meg: Is that true?
He has something I like.

Brooke: Well, no, no. I read Sheats and Kelley. I mean Keats and Shelley. –
Shut up, Laurie, and let me talk!

Meg: So do I.
I understand you.

Brooke: You read Keats and Shelley?
This girl is way too cool for me.

Meg: All the time.
I actually know those guys.

In the ball scene, Meg's subtext reveals other purposes than just not embarrassing herself in front of the Moffatt's, which reinforces the social norms. When Meg responds to Mr. Brooke saying, "I like primitive," and her subtext for that line was "Why did I just say THAT?" she is both "producing a dramatistic account of some situation, and, without shifting one's ground, making it equally possible to analyze that account." Meg is reinforcing social norms, i.e., getting married to the handsome male lead character of a musical theatre production, and simultaneously engendering social values, i.e., the legitimization of a distinctively different culture than that of the extravagant ballroom in which the attractive male lead character of a musical theatre production and the attractive female lead character of a musical theatre production will fall in love.

Motion, Action, and Staging

To "block" the production, the director wanted the actors to know why they were moving when they were, and to initiate their own movement rather than just being told to move when the director wanted. After all, the actors have done the character work for themselves more precisely than even the director, so their suggestions are often quite inspired. The addition of Burkean dramatism in the subtext process suggests blocking options to the actors that they can feel on their own, complicating how the audience believes the characters should be behave in response to social norms. Again, this complication is anachronistic for the musical theatre genre, but dramatism opens musical theatre up to such possibilities, while itself staying true to form. Kimberling writes, "Burke would view [Kaplan's aesthetic theory] as dehumanizing. The reaction mode of Kaplan would find its place, in Burkean terms in the world of motion, not action. The world of human thought and language, however, necessarily implies action, since it is a dialectical process of giving wings to motive, transcending the linear stimulus response realm of mere motion" (Kimberling 70). Insomuch as subtext is an interior dialogue, it participates in the dialectical process of "giving wings to motive," making staging much more meaningful than merely identifying "acting beats" only. In the ballroom scene, therefore, when Mr. Brooke says that Maine is "very primitive," he has many choices. He can reinforce social norms by delivering the line with disdain in comparison to the extravagant ballroom of the Moffatt's, or he could engender social values by deliver the line with pride, as an almost aside away from the other characters in the ballroom scene. When Meg replies, "I like primitive," she can reflect social norms by being embarrassed about valuing the primitive, or she can engender social values by shouting that out for all in the ballroom to hear.

The staging process, therefore, is based upon a deep understanding of the characters and their motivations for relating to other characters and their scenes independent of the individual objectives for each scene, the overall objective that the audience understands from each scene, and how a group of scenes relates to the entire act. Since no one character could both reflect and engender social norms at the same time, the director utilized a system of scene "leaders" and "followers" for each scene. While each scene demands its own leader, it is the balance of leaders to followers that both simultaneously reflects and engenders social values. The leader in a scene would be center stage more often than not; a follower in a scene would be more upstage rather than downstage. The leader could reflect a social norm, and the audience could witness that effect on the follower, or the leader could engender a new social value, and the audience could witness that effect on the follower. In this way, motion becomes action, since the movement is motivated by "human thought and language."

In a society where television productions such as Glee or Smash portray musical theatre production as frivolous pursuits of vanity devoid of scholarly attention, the significance of Burkean dramatism is vital to a reinvigoration of this popular art form. Brissett writes, "It is only in the social scientific use of dramatism—seeing to give due weight to all elements of the pentad in the explanation of human conduct—that we can find an implicit commitment to the demystification of any single-minded explanatory scenario"(336). Dramatism reconnects musical theatre to the contextualized field of musicology, while simultaneously distancing itself from pure aesthetic value conflict. The pentadic ratios, therefore, simultaneously provide the substance of interpretive material for musical theatre production in the characterization, blocking, and staging phases of production, and the means by which to examine characterization, blocking, and staging without "shifting one's ground," creating exciting opportunities for the scholarly attention to this popular art form.

Works Cited

Abrams, Judith. "Plato's Rhetoric as Rendered by the Pentad." Rhetoric Society Quarterly 11.1 (1981): 24-28. Print.

Alcott, Louisa May. "Personal Correspondence." Houghton Library Special Collections. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Print.

Birdsell, David. "Ronald Reagan on Lebanon and Grenada: Flexibility and Interpretation in the Application of Kenneth Burke's Pentad." Methods of Rhetorical Criticism: A Twentieth-Century Perspective (3rd revised edition). Ed. Bernard L. Brock, Robert L. Scott, and James W. Chesebro. Detroit, MI: Wayne State UP, 1989. 196-209. Print.

Brissett, Dennis, Charles Edgly, and Robert Stebbins, Robert, eds. Life as Theatre: a Dramaturgical Sourcebook. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers. 2005. Print.

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

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

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

Deer, Joe, and Rocco Dal Vera, eds. Acting in Musical Theatre: A Comprehensive Course. New York: Routledge. 2008. Print.

Helfgot, Daniel. The Third Line: The Opera Performer as Interpreter. New York: Schirmer Books. 1993. Print.

Howland, Jason. Little Women: The Musical. New York: Cherry Lane Music. 2005. Print.

Kimberling, C. Ronald. Kenneth Burke's Dramatism and Popular Arts. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State UP, 1982. Print.

Ostwald, David. Acting for Singers: Creating Believable Singing Characters. New York: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.

Walker, Robyn and Nanette Monin. "The Purpose of the Picnic: Using Burke's Dramatistic Pentad to Analyse and Company Event." Journal of Organizational Change Management 14.3 (2001): 266-79. Print.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

"Trouble with a Capital T": Jerome S. Bruner's Reenvisioning of Kenneth Burke's Dramatistic Pentad

Matthew T. Althouse & Floyd D. Anderson, The College at Brockport: State University of New York


Widely embraced by many academic disciplines, Jerome S. Bruner's scholarly ideas hold important, but unexplored, implications for rhetoric. In addressing this situation, this study elucidates Bruner's concept of "Trouble" and shows how it redirects Burkeian pentadic analysis. It further demonstrates that Bruner's concept of Trouble represents a profound paradigm shift, an alternative understanding and reenvisioning of Burke's pentad, which suggests new heuristic possibilities for rhetorical scholars.

To paraphrase Kenneth Burke's classic, A Grammar of Motives, story structure is composed minimally of the pentad of an Agent, an Action, a Goal, a Setting, an Instrument, and Trouble (Burke, 1945). Trouble is what drives the drama, and it is generated by a mismatch of two or more of the five constituent terms of the pentad. —Jerome S. Bruner ("Life as Narrative" 697)

Indeed Burke's morphology of human Trouble (his capital T, not mine) still stands as a guide for students of narrative.—Jerome S. Bruner (Making Stories, 110, n1)


Although Jerome S. Bruner is widely known for contributions to the study of education, psychology, law, and narratology, his scholarship also holds implications for the study of rhetoric. Bruner develops his ideas about narrative in relation to Kenneth Burke's dramatistic pentad, which consists of act, agent, agency, scene, and purpose. However, Bruner's use of the pentad includes the concept of Trouble, perhaps the single most important concept in his narratology. As Bruner envisions it, Trouble does not constitute the sixth term of a hexad, and it is not a separate, distinct pentadic term. Rather, Trouble is a complication, tension, or mismatch between the terms in a pentadic ratio. As such, it constitutes a breach of canonical legitimacy. Its inclusion as an additional dimension of the pentad, Bruner contends, enables one to more directly focus on terminological complications and imbalances. Bruner frequently claims that references to Trouble may be found in Burke's Grammar and has long and consistently maintained that Burke himself added "Trouble with a capital T" to the pentad. However, our own reading of Grammar, as well as Burke's earlier discussions of the pentad in "The Study of Symbolic Action" and "The Tactics of Motivation," failed to locate "Trouble with [or without] a capital T."

In light of the importance Bruner gives it, as well as the ambiguity surrounding its origin, a thorough investigation of Trouble is in order, a task that we undertake in this essay. Although Bruner attributes Trouble to Burke, we demonstrate that it is Bruner himself who deserves credit for its conceptualization and development. We also demonstrate that Trouble represents a profound change, what Thomas Kuhn calls a paradigm shift (e.g., 11, 77, 111), in thinking about the pentad and its application. Whereas Burke's pentad emphasizes consistency between the nature of acts and agents and a given scene, Bruner's version emphasizes inconsistency that confronts and is anomalous with cultural and canonical expectations. It represents a radical shift from the traditional understanding of Burke's pentad and a reenvisioning of it. Our discussion unfolds in four parts. First, we describe Bruner's development of Trouble. Second, we explicate his understanding of the concept. Third, we show how Trouble reenvisions and redirects our thinking about the pentad. Finally, we discuss Bruner's distinction between "ontological Trouble" and "epistemological Trouble."

Bruner's Development of Trouble

As we have stated, Bruner himself deserves credit for the conceptualization and development of "Trouble," despite his attribution of the concept to Burke (e.g., Actual Minds 20; "The Narrative Construction" 16; "The Reality of Fiction" 58). In Making Stories, Bruner remarks, "Indeed Burke's morphology of human Trouble (his capital T, not mine) still stands as a guide for students" (110, n1). In "Life as Narrative," he writes, "To paraphrase Kenneth Burke's classic, Grammar of Motives, story structure is composed minimally of the pentad of an Agent, an Action, a Goal, a Setting, an Instrument and Trouble (Burke, 1945). Trouble is what drives the drama, and it is generated by a mismatch of two or more of the five constituent terms of the pentad" (697). Despite references like these, our readings of Burke did not find "Trouble."

However, our reading of Grammar does correspond with Bruner's reading in our shared understanding that Burke propounds a "principle of consistency" between pentadic terms (Grammar 9). According to this principle, "the nature of acts and agents should be consistent with the nature of the scenes" (3). In Bruner's restatement, "Actions should fit Goals appropriately, Scenes should be suited to Instruments, and so on" (Acts of Meaning 50). However, whereas Burke grounds consistency between pentadic terms in the constituents of drama (Grammar 3, 7, 9), Bruner grounds the consistency principle in culture and its norms, conventions, and expectations ("Narrative Construction" 16). Bruner also maintains that Trouble itself "presupposes such a consistency of terms" (Acts of Meaning 50). Although Burke regularly maintains the need for congruence between pentadic terms, he discusses incongruity between featured terms at only two places in Grammar. First, he offers an example of mismatched, inconsistent terms: "And whereas comic and grotesque works may deliberately set the elements at odds with one another, audiences make allowances for such liberty, which reaffirms the same principle of consistency in its very violation" (3). Second, Burke notes how an "appositional relationship" between terms can become an "oppositional relationship," in which "we encounter the divisive relationship, the genitive transformation of something which is 'a part of' a larger context into something which is 'apart from' this context" (107). Except for these two comments, Burke is silent throughout Grammar about inconsistent terminological relationships.

To reconcile our reading of Grammar with Bruner's claim that it contains references to "Trouble with a capital T," we e-mailed him for assistance. From our correspondences, we draw two conclusions. First, the probable source of the idea that Bruner frequently attributes to Burke, that the impetus of drama lies in "Trouble with a capital T," is not Grammar or any other of Burke's works. Instead, it seems likely that Burke discussed Trouble with Bruner in one or more of their personal conversations, "typically while sipping coffee somewhere!" ("RE: Trouble with a capital T." 8 August 2011). Unfortunately and understandably, Bruner could not furnish specific details of conversations, verbatim or otherwise, that occurred decades ago. It is easy, however, to imagine a conversation such as Bruner describes in which Burke might have suggested that a "tension" or "misfit" between two pentadic terms amounted to Trouble, perhaps even "with a capital T."

Second, regardless of who originated the idea of Trouble, it is Bruner himself who deserves the credit for its conceptual development and for adding it to Burke's pentad. As Bruner informed us, his reading of Grammar lead him to reckon that "Burke's discussion throughout the book speaks to the generation of Trouble as an outcome of imbalance in his pentad" ("RE: Trouble with a capital T," 5 August 2011; Acts of Meaning 50). This understanding makes sense in light of Bruner's training, vocation, and scholarship. Indeed, one of Bruner's best known early works explores how humans perceive incongruity (Bruner and Postman). Reading Grammar through eyes accustomed to dealing with actions and agents that deviate from expected norms, Bruner saw the possibility for inconsistency and imbalance wherever Burke wrote of consistency and balance. Moreover, although the idea of inconsistency between pentadic terms is unstated in Grammar, it is not absent. It is implicit throughout the work. For where there is a possibility of consistent relationships, there is also a possibility of inconsistent ones. If there can be a "goodness of fit" between pentadic terms, there must also be a corresponding "badness of fit." Thus, in his conceptualization and development of Trouble, Bruner made explicit what Burke had left unstated and implicit.

As we have suggested, Bruner's interpretation sets the stage for a Kuhnian paradigm shift in the way Burke's dramatistic pentad can be understood. To investigate this shift and its implications, we now explore how Trouble functions in Bruner's program of narratology.

Looking For Trouble

In response to objectivism, positivism, and strict behaviorism, Bruner argues that psychology should key on how stories, rather than logical arguments or lawful principles, guide understandings of clients' plights. In Acts of Meaning, he illustrates how "logical or categorical" ways of thinking are often disregarded by interpretive acts of individuals (42). "An obvious premise of our folk psychology," Bruner writes, "is that people have beliefs and desires: we believe that the world is organized in a certain way, that we want certain things, that some things matter more than others, and so on" (39). These beliefs and desires are encapsulated in their stories, which are informed by culture and language (11). Although these factors may appear "vague" to many social scientists, they help "specify the structure and coherence of the larger contexts in which specific meanings [generated by stories of individuals] are created and transmitted" (64-65). The "emblems" of experiences, crafted by storytellers at the intersection of culture and language, differ from "logical propositions. Impenetrable to both inference and induction, they resist logical procedures for establishing what they mean. They must be interpreted" (60). Inspired by Bruner's perspective, narrative therapists believe that they must first understand the self-generated outlooks of people, as revealed by their stories, as the basis of and in conjunction with treatments.

The meanings of stories, Bruner contends, cannot be properly understood without first finding "Trouble." In defining the term, he turns to Burke's pentad: "Well formed stories are composed of a pentad of an Actor, an Action, a Goal, a Scene, and an Instrument plus Trouble" (Acts of Meaning 50). By themselves, Burke's basic five terms are "sufficient descriptions of story stuff,'" involving "characters in action with intentions or goals in settings using particular means" (Actual Minds 20). Yet, they may be insufficient to adequately reflect motives behind choices individuals make and behind interpretations used to understand their lives. To address this claimed inadequacy, Bruner explains that the drama driving meaning in stories emerges from "Trouble," a "mismatch" ("Life as Narrative" 697) or "imbalance" (Acts of Meaning 50) between paired constituents of a pentadic ratio. For instance, Trouble happens when "an Action toward a particular Goal is inappropriate in a particular Scene, as with Don Quixote's antic maneuvers in search of chivalric ends; an Actor does not fit the Scene, as with Nora in A Doll's House" (50; see also Actual Minds 20; Making Stories 34). In these cases, the "mismatch" or "imbalance" between pairs of pentadic terms suggests the need for resolution of tension between actual and desired states of existence. Thus, Don Quixote must be jolted by practical jokes into awareness of the Trouble his scenically inappropriate behavior has created. Nora must mature to face the scenic demands of marriage and of living in a society that requires honesty.

Trouble, says Bruner, is "what drives the drama" ("Life as Narrative" 697); it is the "engine of narrative" ("The Narrative Construction" 16; "The Reality of Fiction" 58). He illustrates this in Acts of Meaning, where he describes an experiment featuring kindergarten children who were told various accounts of a young girl's birthday party and who were asked to talk about their interpretations of those accounts. Different depictions of the event all featured a rather ordinary happening: the presentation of a cake adorned with lit candles. Here, the scene dictated a certain act; consequently, the young guests expected the girl to blow out the flames. That occurred in one version of the story. In another version, however, Trouble emerged because the youngster extinguished the candles with water (81-82). Bruner notes that, when asked to discuss impressions of the different stories, children were content to say little when the expected occurred. When pentadic terms were balanced or matched, "the young subjects were rather nonplussed. All they could think to say was that it was her birthday." Yet, children became unsettled when the unexpected occurred and, thus, they offered "ten times as many elaborations," as compared with elaborations of the expected (82). Bruner explains that people strive to find "'meaning' in the exceptional" and "meanings that inhere in the nature of their departure from the ordinary" (48).

With its emphasis on "departure from the ordinary," Bruner's notion of Trouble is similar to Kuhn's concept of "anomaly." Kuhn writes, "discovery commences with awareness of anomaly, i.e., with recognition that nature has somehow violated the paradigm-induced expectations that govern normal science" (52-53). Like anomalies that spur Kuhnian paradigm shifts, instances of Trouble involve violations, breaches of culturally-induced expectations. We are not suggesting, however, that Bruner's concept has been influenced by Kuhn's notion of anomaly. Quite the opposite is the case. Kuhn has affirmed that Bruner and Postman's 1949 experimental study of the perception of incongruity, which he considers "a wonderful and cogent schema for the process of scientific discovery" (62), was influential in shaping his own understanding of the role of anomaly in paradigm shifts (63-64; also see Bruner, Actual Minds 47). Nevertheless, our point is that anomaly and Trouble are similar concepts and perform similar functions. In science, an anomaly may lead to a radical "transformation of vision" that causes scientists "to adopt new instruments" and to look for explanations in "new places" (Kuhn, 111). In human relationships, Trouble may induce people to "expand the horizon" of interpretive possibilities (Bruner, Acts of Meaning 59-60). As Yoos points out, Bruner's concept is derived in part from what Aristotle in his Poetics calls peripeteia ("Making Stories" 463; also see Reframing Rhetoric 165). According to Aristotle, peripeteia works in conjunction with anagnorisis (discovery) and pathos (suffering) as the three elements of a plot. It is a sudden reversal of the protagonist's fortune or circumstances: "a change from one state of things within a play to its opposite" (Poetics 1452a15-25). Such a drastic change "troubles" agents and forces them to seek new meanings and in "new places." Without Trouble, there can be no drama.

Trouble is not the sixth term in a hexad. Burke (Grammar 443; Dramatism and Development 23; Attitudes Toward History, 3rd ed., 394; "Counter-Gridlock" 366-367) and others (Melia, 72, n21; Rountree, para 5; Anderson and Althouse, para. 31-41) have suggested the development of a hexad, but with the addition of "attitude" as its sixth term. This kind of undertaking, however, is not Bruner's goal, and he has expressed no interest in it. While maintaining that the pentad has "five constituent terms" ("Life as Narrative" 697), Bruner develops the concept of Trouble to describe a relationship between existing pairs of pentadic terms. These terms are grounded in cultural conventions, norms, and expectations. What constitutes "appropriate balance" between terms in various pentadic ratios is likewise determined by cultural values and beliefs. When balance is upset, Trouble emerges. For example, dressing appropriately for a formal church wedding conforms with canonical norms, but wearing a bathrobe and hair curlers would upset expectations, causing Trouble. Keeping one's lawn mowed and trimmed is considered the duty of a good neighbor, but cutting the grass with a power mower at 3:00 a.m. would be considered the act of an inconsiderate neighbor and would create Trouble.

With its emphasis on terminological imbalances, Trouble reframes our understanding of the pentad. As noted previously, Burke posits a "principle of consistency" between a scene and the agents and acts it contains (Grammar 9). Bruner, however, is interested in exploring stories about agents and acts that challenge and disrupt given scenes. This point is apparent in his explanation of the two ways of dealing with Trouble.

First, Trouble can be contained. That is, through narratives, breaches may be explicated to "keep peace" with cultural norms and expectations. However, this conciliation may not be lasting, as containment does not necessarily function to "reconcile," to "legitimize," or "even to excuse," although it sometimes might (Acts of Meaning 95). For instance, the homeowner who mowed his lawn at 3:00 a.m. might explain that his action hinged on a "tough week at work," a need to "teach a lazy teenaged son a lesson about getting yard work done," and having drunk "too much bourbon." Sharing this account with agitated neighbors may not fully assuage their irritation or prevent future conflicts. However, it may calm them somewhat, making neighborhood peace and quiet possible. For the homeowner, it may also function to make sense of and mitigate the occurrence. This imagined example helps illustrate Bruner's view about containment. Although not ruling out happy endings either in stories or in life, he is dubious that resolution of Trouble is always possible or even necessarily desirable. "Narrative," he writes, "is designed to contain uncanniness rather than to resolve it." He does not think that it is necessary in a narrative that "the Trouble with which it deals be resolved." Nor does he think that it has "to come out on the 'right side.'" Containment of human plight, not resolution, is Bruner's prescription: "The 'consoling plot' is not the comfort of a happy ending, but the comprehension of plight that, by being made interpretable, becomes bearable" ("The Narrative Construction" 16; see also Making Stories 15). In this process, canonicality may be affirmed to ensure social cohesion and a sense of "civility." Yet, non-canonical perspectives are also revealed and widely recognized (Acts of Meaning, 95-96).

Second, the Trouble caused by breaches of existing canons may be incapable of redress and may thus result in the adoption of new canons. Recognizing the positive uses of nay-saying, Bruner does not think that canonical norms and expectations in literature or in life are "culturally and historical terminal." The norms of narrative and of life change "with the preoccupations of the age and the circumstances" ("The Narrative Construction" 16). Bruner explains that "an initial canonical state is breached, redress is attempted which, if it fails, leads to crisis; crisis, if unresolved, leads eventually to a new legitimate order" ("Life as Narrative" 697). Imagine that a person attending a marriage ceremony in impious attire represents widespread discontent with the high cost and excessive decorum of weddings. This collective disgruntlement could drive the popularization of informal, "come-as-you-are" weddings in public parks and backyards, illustrating how new legitimacies can arise out of breaches of old legitimacies. Even when Trouble is contained and accepted pieties and norms are confirmed, its presence has revealed the possibility of an alternative "reality," one that is likely to recur in the future. Insofar as Bruner does not think that there can be final resolutions to the tensions that cause Trouble, his attitude toward human plight might be characterized as one of neo-Stoic resignation. But, it is an optimistic, even progressive, resignation that is tempered with a belief that "there are alternate 'realities' possible" ("RE: Trouble with a capital T," 5 September 2011). An imagined better world can become reality.

Trouble and Pentadic Ratios

The nature of Bruner's reenvisioning of the pentad now established, we turn our attention to elaborating its implications for understanding pentadic ratios. Trouble assumes the existence or possibility of a "goodness of fit" between the terms in a pentadic ratio. Such goodness of fit rests on the idea of cultural and canonical legitimacy. Because a narrative's "'tellability' as a form of discourse rests on a breach of conventional expectation," it is "necessarily normative." Hayden White, Victor Turner, and Paul Ricoeur, in addition to Bruner, maintain that narrative is concerned with "cultural legitimacy." "A story pivots," Bruner points out, "on a breach of legitimacy" ("The Narrative Construction" 15). The "appropriate balance" among the various terms in Burke's pentad, Bruner explains, is "defined as a 'ratio' determined by cultural convention. When this 'ratio' becomes unbalanced, when cultural convention is breached, Trouble ensues" (16). This description highlights Bruner's reenvisioning of the pentad as the five terms "plus Trouble" (Acts of Meaning 50). We have previously explained how this additional element enables Bruner to focus on the interrelationships between pentadic terms and ratios. This, in turn, facilitates exploration of how violations of cultural norms, and the ensuing complications of Trouble, may be charted. The "very notion of Trouble presupposes that Actions should fit goals appropriately. Scenes should be suited to Instruments, and so on" (Acts of Meaning 50). If actions do not fit goals, if scenes are not suited to instruments, or if there are other deviations from the "canonical," breaches of cultural legitimacy occur.

In Acts of Meaning, Bruner writes that the "proper study" of human psychology begins with "the concept of culture itself—particularly its constitutive role." Individuals and their personal systems of meaning reflect the values of a community (11). Culture, he says, is "constitutive of the mind" (33). "It is culture, not biology," he continues, "that shapes human life and the human mind, that gives meaning to action by situating its underlying intentional state in an interpretive system" (34). For Bruner, the pentadic terms and ratios represent such an interpretive system, one that is culturally constituted. The terms and ratios are, according to Burke, no less than "the necessary 'forms of talk about experience,'" and they are "transcendental" categories insofar as all human thought and speech "necessarily exemplifies" them (Grammar 317). By making drama, which is a product of culture, the key term for his critical system, Burke implicitly grounded the pentad in culture. Bruner is more explicit, maintaining that cultural conventions and shared understandings constitute and legitimize the transcendental categories. The "appropriate balance" among the terms, Bruner says, is "defined as a 'ratio' determined by cultural convention" ("Narrative Construction" 16). Each one of the ratios represents a particular perspective, point of view, or "terministic screen," that possesses culturally determined legitimacy. Unbalanced ratios are Trouble because they breach legitimacy. For this reason, Bruner sees the pentad as essentially ontological and concerned "with the cultural world and its arrangements, with norms as they exist" ("Narrative Construction" 16). His view is clearly at odds with and even constitutes an unintended rejoinder to Frederic Jameson's contention that Burke's dramatism is not sufficiently rooted in culture (509-511).

Pentadic ratios are important because they possess dialectical relationships to one another and function as terministic screens (see Beck, 456). In Grammar, Burke initially identifies ten ratios: scene-act; scene-agent; scene-agency; scene-purpose; act-purpose; act-agency; act-agent; act-purpose; agent-agency; and agency-purpose (15). He later adds that these ratios can also be reversed and that "the list of possible combinations would thereby be expanded to twenty" (262). But, there are also additional ratios. In the 1969 edition of Grammar, Burke suggests the possibility of adding "attitude" as a separate sixth term, making the pentad a hexad, and he proposes the inclusion of "scene-attitude" and "agent-attitude" ratios" (443). These, and their reverse, increase the number of ratios to 24. "For critics," Anderson and Althouse observe, "this condition opens new possibilities for expanding the scope of their perspectives" (para. 46). Since there are, at a minimum, 24 different pentadic ratios, each presenting a particular perspective or point of view, there are also at least 24 different "culturally illegitimate" forms of nay-saying (i.e., unbalanced or mismatched ratios) and, therefore, two dozen or more different kinds of Trouble.

By situating Trouble in culturally grounded pentadic ratios, Bruner incorporated it into the pentad, making it a useful and essential concept for drawing attention to deviations from the canonical. As Beck points out, "Because the basis for Burke's dramatic narrative is not just the interaction between the elements but instead an imbalance between two or more of these terms, Bruner called for inclusion of this sixth element to provide more focus in narrative analysis on this complication or imbalance" (457). A handful of studies in disciplines outside of rhetoric illustrate the utility of Trouble and its heuristic potential in pentadic analysis. For instance, in nursing, Beck employed Anderson and Prelli's "pentadic cartography" plus Bruner's Trouble to map birth trauma narratives of mothers. Her maps enabled her to pinpoint the source of the Trouble in a problematic ratio imbalance between act and agency. Inclusion of Trouble allowed her maps to focus more directly on the act-agency ratios in question. Thus, Beck drew attention to stories about breaches in standards for demonstrating "caring and effective communicating." Further, to offer critical redress, she recommended ways for health-care providers to recognize the perspectives of women during childbirth (464). In speech and language pathology, Althouse, Gabel, and Hughes incorporated Bruner's Trouble into pentadic analyses of "recovery narratives" of people who stutter. Viewing the management of Trouble as an integral part of stuttering recovery, the authors' pentadic maps revealed three distinct types of Trouble, which "hampered coping with stuttering in emotionally positive ways" (68). Redress for storytellers involved "desensitization" to cultural expectations, which allowed them to craft and follow their own expectations for fluency in social situations (67). In a sense, they created new "alternate realities" for speech.

The potential uses of Trouble by rhetorical critics are limited only by their own critical imaginations. Among the kinds of Trouble available for analysis are those resulting from incongruity between the shared values and norms of deviant and marginalized people and groups and those of the hegemonic, larger culture in which they exist. By using Bruner's reenvisioned pentad in such cases, critics could reveal and chart the various incongruities that cause Trouble and could assist in finding methods of redress. Critics could also explore how marginalized groups construct alternative and empowering social realities. From a theoretical perspective, these possibilities are important because some of Burke's detractors have argued that he did not pay sufficient attention to deviant and marginalized groups and that dramatism is therefore ill suited for studying their rhetoric. James Chesebro claimed that Burke was overly focused on the "science of words (logology)" and "de-emphasized diversity" (357-358). Celeste Condit contended that Burke's critical program developed during an earlier age and needed updating to meet the exigencies of contemporary contexts and to accommodate the issues of gender, culture, and class (350). Bruner's Trouble, however, does provide such an updating. Because it focuses on the anomalous, the deviant, the unconventional, and the non-canonical, Bruner's reenvisioned pentad seems ideally suited to investigations of the troubles arising from divergent interests and value systems based in gender, race, and class. In fact, Bruner has himself suggested the need for such analysis of several marginalized groups: the plight of African Americans in America's educational system (Acts of Meaning 25-27), the socialization of children in blue-collar Baltimore (81-81), the challenges of "the permanent underclass of the urban ghetto" and "the second and third generation of the Palestinian refugee camp" (96). Rhetorical scholarship employing pentadic mapping to locate Trouble and identify possible ways of redressing it might substantially assist in ameliorating the plights of these and other marginalized persons and groups.

Ontological Trouble and Epistemological Trouble

According to Bruner, there are two distinct kinds of Trouble, ontological and epistemological. Trouble is ontological when it involves breaches of existing social norms and "realities." Trouble is epistemological when it concerns the legitimacy both of accepted social "realities" and of the ways in which such "realities" are constructed. "Burke's principal emphasis is on plight, fabula," Bruner notes. "It is, as it were, concerned ontologically with the cultural world and its arrangements, with norms as they exist" ("The Narrative Construction" 16). When canonical norms and "realities" are breached, the resulting Trouble is ontological. But, in the last half of the 20th century, Trouble also became epistemological. Bruner explains that, "as the apparatus of skepticism comes to be applied not only to questioning the legitimacy of received social realities but also to questioning the very ways in which we come to know or construct reality, the normative program of narrative (both literary and popular) changes with it" (16). Both narratives and theories of narrative begin to reflect epistemological questions: Is there such a thing as a "text"? What is "text" and what is "context"? Does the "author" create the "text," or does the "text" create the "author"? Indeed, is not the idea of the "author" as a thinking, knowing, speaking "agent" a mere illusion? As a result, narrative comes to rely "on the use of linguistic transformations that render any and all accounts of human action more subjunctive, less certain, and subject to doubt about their construal. It is not simply that 'text' becomes dominant but that the world to which it putatively refers is . . . the creation of the text" (16). Human action is no longer treated in the indicative mood, as something actual, a matter of "fact," but "subjunctively" ("Life as Narrative" 699), as supposition, desire, hypotheses, or possibility. The subjunctive mood has become dominant in modern literature. As a result, it "has accommodated to the perspectivalism and subjectivism that replaced the omniscient narrator." "In the modern novel," says Bruner, "there is more explicit treatment of the landscape of consciousness itself. Agents do not merely deceive; they hope, are doubting and confused, wonder about appearance and reality. Modern literature (perhaps like modern science) becomes more epistemological, less ontological" (699).

Interestingly, Bruner's own academic and scholarly career exemplifies both ontological Trouble and epistemological Trouble. In the early decades of his career, Bruner employed and celebrated the accepted view that logic and scientific experimentation were the proper tools for studying human psychology and related academic disciplines. The "mood" of his scholarly work was "indicative," conducted with an assurance that he was dealing with actual events in "a world that is, as it were, assumed to be immutable, and . . . 'there to be observed'" ("The Narrative Construction" 1). Then, in the 1980s, he experienced a paradigm shift and rejected his own past views on the primacy of analytic cognition (Yoos, "Making Stories" 462; Hyvarinen, 261). His "mood" changed from "indicative" to "subjunctive." For Bruner, Trouble had become epistemological. Deciding that "logical thought is not the only or even the most ubiquitous mode of thought" ("Life as Narrative" 691) and that there is "no fixed and firm line between 'reality' and 'fiction'" ("RE: Trouble with a capital T," 5 September 2011), he embraced "stories or narratives" as the preferred method for understanding human psychology ("Life as Narrative" 691; see also Making Stories 101). Bruner's later work has posited "a view that takes as its central premise that 'world making' is the central function of mind, whether in the sciences or arts" ("Life as Narrative" 691). Ironically, Bruner's own constructivist narratology, despite its origins in epistemological skepticism, is grounded in the cultural norms, values, and canonical social realities that storytelling in all its forms has created. As a result, Bruner's description of Burkeian dramatism as "concerned ontologically with the cultural world and its arrangements, with norms as they exist ("The Narrative Construction" 16) seems an apt description of his own later work. His epistemological perspective that "all 'realities' are. . .constructs of our own making" ("RE: Trouble with a capital T," 5 September 2011) is tempered with an ontological assurance that "there are alternative 'realities' possible" ("RE: Trouble with a capital T," 5 September 2011).


Arguably, Trouble is the most important notion in Bruner's narratology. As Bruner himself maintains, Trouble is the "engine of narrative" ("The Narrative Construction" 16). In our analysis of the concept's implications for the study of rhetoric, what have we discovered? Let us summarize. First, although Bruner attributes Trouble to Burke, Bruner himself deserves recognition for its conceptualization and development. Burke's written work does not mention the concept. We demonstrate that Bruner developed Trouble to more effectively analyze the complications or imbalances between pentadic terms in narratives. Second, Trouble consists of a "breach" of cultural and/or canonical legitimacy. According to Bruner, the five pentadic terms and various ratios are grounded in cultural conventions, norms, and expectations. Deviations from these cause Trouble, which calls out for resolution. Because Trouble results from dysfunctional relationships between paired terms in pentadic ratios, it does not constitute the separate sixth term of a hexad but does add an important new dimension to understanding the interactions between pentadic terms. Third, Bruner fully incorporates Trouble into the pentad as an essential part of the whole. He accomplishes this by grounding appropriate fits between terms in pentadic ratios in culture and by situating Trouble in the imbalances, tensions, or mismatches of terms in the ratios. Because there at least 24 pentadic ratios, there are an equal number of types of Trouble. The existence of so many ratios opens up possibilities for theorists and critics by expanding the scope of their perspectives. Finally, Bruner distinguishes between two kinds of Trouble. Ontological Trouble, which features an "indicative mood," is concerned with the here and now, with what actually happens when cultural conventions are breached. Epistemological Trouble, which features a "subjunctive mood," involves critiques of accepted canonical conventions, methods, techniques, and even of the ways of knowing and understanding themselves, including the accepted conventions and methods employed by academic disciplines.

Bruner's Trouble marks a profound shift in the traditional understanding of Burke's pentad, and it presents an innovative reenvisioning of pentadic analysis. Traditional pentadic analysis does not deal with incongruous relationships between terms. Bruner's Trouble emphasizes them. With Trouble, Bruner is enabled to explore how individuals use narratives to interpret and manage breaches of canonical norms. Trouble may be contained or, if not contained, can lead to the creation of new canons and new realities. In either case, the concept enables Bruner to more directly focus on how the complications and imbalances between pentadic terms influence human relations. Several writers have made exemplary scholarly use of Bruner's Trouble, not only in psychology (Bruner, "The Narrative Creation of Self") but also in such health-related fields as nursing (Beck) and speech and language pathology (Althouse, Gabel, and Hughes). Could rhetorical scholars make equally effective use of Bruner's reenvisioning of the pentad? We have suggested its potential usefulness in studying the rhetoric of marginalized and deviant groups and in coming to terms with complications arising from matters of gender, race, and class. Its potential use by rhetoricians is limited only by their own critical imaginations. Not all scholars or critics, of course, will find Trouble to be an attractive or useful concept. Perhaps many others, however, will recognize its potential heuristic usefulness in scholarship and criticism.

Works Cited

Althouse, Matthew T., Rodney M. Gabel, and Charlie Hughes, "Recovery from Stuttering: An Application of Pentadic Analysis to Narratives of People Who Stutter." E-HEARSAY: Journal of the Ohio Speech and Language Pathology Association 3.1 (2013): 58-71. Print.

Anderson Floyd D., and Matthew T. Althouse. "Five Fingers or Six? Pentad or Hexad?" K. B. Journal 6.2 (2010). Web. 1 August, 2011 .

Anderson, Floyd D., and Lawrence J. Prelli, "Pentadic Cartography: Mapping the Universe of Discourse." Quarterly Journal of Speech 87 (2001): 73-95. Print.

Aristotle. Poetics. Trans. Ingram Bywater. The Basic Works of Aristotle. Ed. Richard McKeon. New York: Random House, 1941. 1455-1487. Print.

Beck, Cheryl Tatano. "Pentadic Cartography: Mapping Birth Trauma Narratives." Qualitative Health Research 16 (2006): 453-66. Print.

Bruner, Jerome S. Acts of Meaning. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1990. Print.

—. Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1986. Print.

—. "Life as Narrative." Social Research 71.3 (2004): 691-710. Print.

—. Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002. Print.

—. "The Narrative Construction of Reality." Critical Inquiry 18.1 (1991): 1-21. Print.

—. "The Narrative Creation of Self." The Handbook of Narrative and Psychotherapy: Practice, Theory, and Research. Eds. Lynne E. Angus and John McLeod. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2004. 3-14. Print.

—. "RE: Trouble with a capital T." Message to the authors. 5 August 2011. E-mail.

—. "RE: Trouble with a capital T." Message to the authors. 8 August 2011. E-mail.

—. "RE: Trouble with a capital T." Message to the authors. 5 September 2011. E-mail.

—. "The Reality of Fiction." McGill Journal of Education 40:1 (2005): 55-64. Print

Bruner, Jerome S., and Leo Postman. "On the Perception of Incongruity: A Paradigm," Journal of Personality. 18 (1949): 206-23. Print.

Burke, Kenneth. Attitudes Toward History. 3rd ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984. Print.

—. "Counter-Gridlock: An Interview with Kenneth Burke, 1980." On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows, 1967-1984. Kenneth Burke. Eds. William H. Rueckert, and Angelo Bonadonna. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. 336-389. This essay originally appeared in All Area 2 (Spring 1983): 4-43. Print.

—. Dramatism and Development. Barre, MA: Clark University Press, 1972. Print.

—. A Grammar of Motives. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1969. Print.

—. "The Study of Symbolic Action." Chimera 1 (Spring 1942): 7-16. Print.

—. "The Tactics of Motivation." Chimera 1 (1943): 21-33 and Chimera 2 (1943): 37-53. Print.

Chesebro, James W. "Extensions of the Burkeian System."Quarterly Journal of Speech 78 (1992): 356-368. Print.

Condit, Celeste Michelle. "Post-Burke: Transcending the Sub-stance of Dramatism."Quarterly Journal of Speech 78 (1992): 349-355. Print.

Hyvarinen, Matti. "Life as Narrative' Revisited." Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas. 6.2 (2008): 261-277. Print.

Jameson, Fredric. "The Symbolic Inference; Or, Kenneth Burke and Ideological Analysis. Critical Inquiry 4.3 (1978): 507-523. Print.

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 2nd ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1970. Print.

Melia, Trevor. "Scientism and Dramatism: Some Quasi-Mathematical Motifs in the Work of Kenneth Burke." The Legacy of Kenneth Burke. Eds. Herbert W. Simons and Trevor Melia. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989. 55-73. Print.

Rountree, Clarke. "Coming to Terms with Kenneth Burke's Pentad." American Communication Journal 11.3 (1990). Web. 7 September 2008.

Yoos, George E. "Rev. of Making Stories: Law, Literature and Life, by Jerome Bruner." JAC 23.2 (2003): 459-463. Print.

—. Reframing Rhetoric: A Liberal Politics Without Dogma. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007. Print.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Analyzing a Performative Text through Cluster Criticism: Hegemony in the Musical Wicked as a Case Study

Valerie Lynn Schrader, Penn State Schuylkill


This article proposes an extension of Burkean cluster criticism to include performative elements of a musical theatre text. Using the musical Wicked as a case study, this article uses cluster criticism to analyze Wicked’s script, cast recording, sheet music, and fieldnotes from three performances to reveal messages about hegemony.


At the end of the first act during the Broadway performance of Wicked on July 11, 2009, the Wizard of Oz (P.J. Benjamin) urged Elphaba (Nicole Parker) to cast what she believes is a levitation spell on the Wizard’s pet Monkey,1 Chistery (played by understudy Brian Wanee). However, the Wizard and his new press secretary, Madame Morrible (Rondi Reed) tricked Elphaba into casting a spell that caused Chistery and the other Monkeys to sprout wings and shriek in pain. As the Monkeys ran around the stage, the Time Dragon, a giant mechanical dragon at the top of the proscenium, moved back and forth with its eyes blazing red. In fact, everything on stage became red.

“Such wing span!” Reed as Madame Morrible declared grandiosely, admiring the flying Monkeys. “Oh, won’t they make perfect spies!”

Parker’s eyes widened, signifying that Elphaba is horrified. “Spies?”

“You’re right, that’s a harsh word,” Benjamin as the Wizard replied. “What about scouts? That’s what they’ll be really. They’ll fly around Oz, and report any subversive Animal activity…”

Parker stiffened her stance; Elphaba can’t believe what she’s just heard. “So it’s you?” she asked. “You’re behind it all?”

Benjamin used a calm, explanatory vocal tone that made his character sound like a father explaining a difficult concept to a young child. “Elphaba, when I first got here, there was discord and discontent. And where I come from, everyone knows: The best way to bring folks together is to give them a really good enemy.”

Wicked’s storyline came to life through this performance. Stephen Schwartz’s and Winnie Holzman’s hit 2003 musical, based on Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, takes a different twist on L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Written as a prequel to Dorothy’s adventures in Oz, Wicked tells the story of two other young women: Pretty, perky, popular Galinda and awkward, outcast, green-skinned Elphaba, who grow to become Glinda the Good Witch and The Wicked Witch of the West, respectively. Wicked tells of their friendship, their loves, their losses, and of an oppressive regime, led by the Wizard of Oz, that promotes anti-Animal bigotry. In this Broadway performance, Benjamin’s calm, fatherly demeanor seemed to contrast the Time Dragon’s blazing red eyes and mechanical movements – and yet, the two are part of the same regime. Parker’s reaction to her character’s discovery also contributed to the scene; her initial shock was more believable than if, for example, she had chosen to immediately become enraged. The various aspects of the production – the acting, the scenery, and the props – came together in this scene to provide the audience with an entertaining performance that illustrates hegemony.

Theatrical performance is an act of communication, and it can serve rhetorical functions. Theatrical performance can serve as a channel for authors, directors, performers and audiences to co-construct messages. Writers, actors and directors communicate a message to an audience, which, in turn, provides feedback (often in the forms of applause, ticket sales, or reviews) for future consideration. But how does one begin use rhetorical criticism to analyze a performative text, such as a musical, so that the performative elements, like scenery, vocal tone, and props, are taken into account? This article proposes one possible methodology: An extension of Burke’s cluster criticism to include not only terms, but performative aspects as well. For the purposes of this article, performance is viewed as representation (Madison and Hamera), or as Dwight Conquergood describes it, a “complement, supplement, alternative, and critique of inscribed texts” (33). Through an analysis of the New York performance script, original Broadway cast recording, sheet music, and fieldnotes from three performances of Wicked, I suggest that the Burkean cluster criticism, which is most commonly used for public discourse analysis, be extended to incorporate the performative elements of a musical theatre text. This extension of cluster criticism embraces the interdisciplinarity of both rhetoric and performance.

Interdisciplinarity is not a new concept. Aristotle was perhaps the first to combine rhetoric with other disciplines. In On Rhetoric, he connects rhetoric with politics (52-75) and with prose (193-229). The work of Kenneth Burke also crossed disciplinary boundaries; for example, Burke (The Philosophy of Literary Form) explains that it is important to read and analyze literature because literature can serve as “equipment for living” (61). He suggests that poetry (or any other literary text) “arm[s] us to confront perplexities and risks” (61). Burke says, “Art forms like ‘tragedy’ or ‘comedy’ or ‘satire’ would be treated as equipments for living, that size up situations in various ways and in keeping with correspondingly various attitudes” (304). Works of literature can “single out patterns of experience that are sufficiently representative of our social structure” (300). Such philosophy applied to literature extends to the performance of literature in theatre. Theatre can also serve as “equipment for living” by offering “patterns of experience” that represent our social structure. For example, in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical South Pacific, Nellie, a Caucasian American nurse stationed in the South Pacific during World War II, falls in love with Emile, a French citizen who now lives with his Polynesian children where Nellie is stationed. Although Nellie loves Emile, her racist upbringing causes her to struggle with her feelings, especially her feelings towards Emile’s children. Nellie ultimately overcomes her own racism and finds happiness with Emile and his family (Aikin; Pao). As audience members, when we watch Nellie in South Pacific, we may learn how to cope with negative feelings, notions, and events from our own pasts. We may even identify with Nellie and her struggle in ways that are unique to our own lives. Theatre, like literature, provides us with equipment for coping with the perplexities of life.

While theatre is indeed a communicative process, there are relatively few studies that have examined musical theatre from a rhetorical standpoint. Elliot, Gassner, Hellman, Miller, Papa, and Schriver and Nudd have published works analyzing plays, and there are a handful of studies in various journals, both communication-oriented and theatre-oriented, which critically analyze musical theatre works. Some of these musicals include Oklahoma! (Aikin; Cook; Most “We Know We Belong”), Rent (Schrader “No Day But Today”; Sebesta), Pins and Needles (Schrader “Connecting to and Persuading”), Miss Saigon (Pao), and Wicked (Burger; Lane; Kruse and Prettyman; Raab; Schrader “They Call Me Wonderful”; Schrader “Witch or Reformer”; Schrader “Face-work, Social Movement Leadership, and ‘Glinda the Good;’” Schweitzer; Wolf “Wicked Divas”; Wolf, “Defying Gravity”). It is my hope that this article will contribute to this body of literature in addition to outlining a new way of using cluster criticism to analyze performative texts.

Extending Burke’s Cluster Criticism for Performative Texts

This article proposes that cluster criticism, as a type of rhetorical criticism, be extended from its original form in order to examine the messages conveyed through theatre and how performance contributes to the creation of these messages. Rhetorical analysis allows one to find emerging themes (or clusters in cluster criticism) in the text, and these themes or clusters can be used to construct meaning. Rhetorical analysis also focuses on the role of the audience. As Charland observes, the audience embodies discourse. As audience members, we participate in the meaning-making process along with the performers, directors, producers, lyricists, composers and playwrights. Therefore, it is important not only to examine the written textual elements of a theatrical work, such as the script and sheet music, but also the performative elements experienced by the audience, such as scenery, stage direction, musical intonation, and sound effects. While written texts allow for ease of access at any point in the study, performances, which occur in a certain place and time, can only exist outside that context in the audience’s memory. Therefore, fieldnotes of performances are necessary to examine performative elements. Using the research technique of qualitative observation (Angrosino; Lindlof and Taylor), I attended three performances of Wicked, taking detailed fieldnotes by hand. These fieldnotes were transcribed within twenty-four hours of being written, achieving the recommendations of Lindlof and Taylor, who suggest that it is beneficial to transcribe fieldnotes while they are fresh in the researcher’s mind. The three performances observed for this study were the September 2, 2008 performance in Chicago, the September 13, 2008 touring company performance in Pittsburgh, and the New York Broadway performance on July 11, 2009. All three performances were directed by Joe Mantello. Observing more than one performance enhanced this study by providing an opportunity to compare and contrast the usage of performative elements.

Playbills from the three performances observed for this study. Photo taken by Valerie Lynn Schrader.

Cluster criticism allows rhetorical critics to examine relationships and meanings between concepts in the text (Foss, 1996). In Attitudes Toward History, Burke suggests that “significance [is] gained by noting what subjects cluster about other subjects” (232). In The Philosophy of Literary Form, he elaborates on his previous discussion of cluster criticism, explaining that writers use “associational clusters,” and that by studying their work, scholars can “find ‘what goes with what’ in these clusters – what kinds of acts and images and personalities and situations go with…notions of heroism, villainy, consolations, despair, etc.” (20). He makes note that cluster analysis allows interrelationships between these elements to emerge, and it is only by studying a work after it has been completed that one can understand these interrelationships (20). Burke recommends that cluster criticism begin with a “God term” or simplistic “summarizing title,” which allows the rhetorical critic to examine “what complexities are subsumed beneath it” (Grammar of Motives 105). However, as Carol A. Berthold notes, Burke’s method of cluster criticism is not clearly defined. She contends that “Burke only vaguely sketches the steps involved in cluster and agon analysis,” and that this may cause “anyone desiring to use the method [to] become perplexed by the lack of a clearly defined procedure” (302). Because of this ambiguity, other scholars have sought to define the method in ways that are less abstract.

One of these scholars is William Rueckert. Rueckert explains that “the object of a cluster analysis is to find out what goes with what, and why; it is done by making an index and a concordance for a single work or group of works by the same author” (84). He illustrates the method by applying it to a number of different texts, including the Shakespearean play Othello, poems by Cummings and Wordsworth, and the novels Madame Bovary and The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (85-89). Sonja Foss’s work has also contributed to the discussion of Burkean cluster criticism. Foss describes three steps rhetorical critics should take when engaging in cluster criticism (“Cluster Criticism”). First, the rhetorical critic must identify the “God terms” or key concepts in a text. Next, the critic must look for additional concepts and ideas that are associated with the “God terms” already identified, and these sub-concepts form collections, or clusters. Finally, the critic must examine how each of the sub-concepts represents the “God term.” Foss observes that this step often involves comparing clusters and incorporating other methods of rhetorical criticism, such as metaphoric criticism or feminist criticism (“Cluster Criticism”).

Cluster criticism has often been employed as a method of analyzing public address. Berthold applied cluster criticism to the rhetoric of John F. Kennedy, noting key terms in Kennedy’s speeches, such as “peace” and “strength,” as well as the agon-term2 “communism.” Several scholars have employed cluster criticism to examine religious texts (Foss “Women Priests;” Graves, Pullum), while others have applied cluster criticism to epideictic rhetorical texts (Docan, Freitas and Holtzman). Cluster criticism can also be used as a method when examining other rhetorical texts. Two examples are Corcorcan’s work, which employed cluster criticism to examine images of USSR political funerals in U.S. weekly news magazines, and an article by Hoffman and Cowan, who used cluster criticism to study Fortune 500’s list of the “100 best companies to work for” in 2004.

While traditional cluster criticism is useful in public address settings, it often falls short when used to analyze non-public address texts, such as films, television shows, music, and theatre. In 2006, Lynch re-envisioned cluster criticism so that it could be used to analyze qualitative interviews and focus groups. In his study, Lynch provided key terms for focus groups to use, but his participants defined those terms by using other terms, which were then clustered together. Lynch was then able to form meanings from these clusters. Through Lynch’s discussion of cluster criticism, one finds a way in which to work both inductively and deductively within the same method.

Through this study, I attempt to extend cluster criticism in a way that will allow it to be a useful tool for rhetorical critics studying performative texts. I begin with a “God term,” and then let the clusters emerge from the analysis. Instead of looking for single terms that relate to the “God term,” as various other scholars employing this method have done (Berthold; Foss “Cluster Criticism;” Graves; Pullum), I look at terms and phrases along with such content as music, lyrics, and visual elements to explore relationships between and among themes that emerge.

Traditionally, cluster criticism has emphasized the importance of the rhetor’s intent, as noted by Foss (“Women Priests”), Blakesley, Rueckert, Berthold, and Pullum. However, this extension of cluster criticism focuses on the messages conveyed to the audience. Similar to what Kimberling describes in regards to the creation of motion pictures (31), there are many people involved in how a message is conveyed through theatrical performance, and therefore, one cannot determine one sole rhetor for a performance. Writers create scripts and characters. Directors and actors both have visions for how characters and events should be portrayed. Producers, lighting designers, sound directors, property managers, set designers and costume designers all play a role in how messages are conveyed through performance. It is nearly impossible to determine who is responsible for the way a particular scene is performed in a theatrical production. Therefore, the emphasis of this study is on the experience of the living product of this collaboration: The performance of the character by a particular actor. As Gadamer observes, “it is in the performance . . . that we encounter the work itself” (116). This article contends that cluster criticism can also be employed through a postmodern perspective to analyze meanings that are co-constructed by the writers, directors, producers, performers and audiences of a particular performance. In this cluster criticism of Wicked, I look for messages and meanings within the text and for the ways in which performance affects these messages and meanings.

This study employs multiple layers of Wicked’s text in order to allow themes and meanings to emerge: The New York performance script, the original Broadway cast recording, sheet music, and fieldnotes of the three performances. Through observation and close readings of these layers, several key themes emerged, including leadership, hegemony, and the characteristics and strategies of social movements. Using these themes, a “God term” was chosen for this cluster analysis in order to center the study on the political messages within Wicked: Hegemony. Through the analysis of these layers of text, additional concepts and examples that relate to hegemony have emerged. These additional examples and concepts formed clusters, all of which were diagrammed on a cluster map (See Fig. 1). Finally, the clusters were analyzed in relation to the “God term” in order to form meanings about the performative text. The extension of this method has allowed meanings that are salient in the messages and performances of Wicked to emerge.

To be certain that “hegemony” is an appropriate “God term” to use in this cluster analysis, it is necessary to understand the history and meaning of the term. Hegemony, initially coined by Antonio Gramsci, is the maintenance of power by one group over a subordinate group (Further Selections). Hegemony describes how the dominant group coerces or convinces the subordinate group to accept their own oppression; it creates a contradictory consciousness within people in that while they experience life in an oppressed way, they are also subjected to the messages that praise upholding the status quo (McGovern). Gramsci suggests that the effect of this conflicting consciousness is “to immobilize subordinate groups from acting on the very real grievances that they feel” (McGovern 423). To use Gramsci’s own words, hegemony is “a complement to the theory of state-as-force” (Further Selections 357-358). The hegemonic state becomes “the ‘common sense’ of the people” (Fontana 98) in that they accept their own oppression as a part of everyday life. As Benedetto Fontana explains, “hegemony is the institutionalization of consent and persuasion within both civil society and the state” (99). In short, hegemony is the ability of the dominant or institutional group to persuade or coerce a subordinate group to accept its own oppression because there is significant benefit for the subordinate group by doing so.

Some scholars have examined the role of the hegemon. Mearsheimer suggests that a hegemon is a state that dominates all others (40-42). The hegemon is the dominant group, institution, or leader that dominates an oppressed group. Keohane notes that “the hegemon plays a distinctive role, providing its partners with leadership in return for deference” (46). A hegemon cannot act alone, because “it is impossible to separate the concept of hegemony from consent” (Lentner 738). In short, a hegemon cannot exist without an oppressed group to dominate.

Several of Burke’s writings connect to the concept of hegemony. In his response to Lentricchia’s criticism that Burke did not invoke the concept of hegemony, Tomkins argues that that Burke wrote about hegemony in several of his works, though he sometimes used different words to address the concept (124). Tompkins suggests that Burke’s speech, “Revolutionary Symbolism in America,” which he addressed to the American Writers Congress in 1935, was “an explicit intervention in the intersection of rhetorical, philosophic, literary, social and political life” (124, emphasis Tomkins’); in this speech, Burke sought to influence social change. Tomkins also points out that Burke addressed hegemony in Permanence and Change3 and in “My Approach to Communism.4” Through these works, Tomkins suggests that Burke’s concept of hegemony is quite close to Gramsci’s. Hegemony, therefore, seems an appropriate term through which to examine a text using a Burkean methodology.

Hegemony in Wicked: A Case Study

This cluster analysis revealed a number of themes clustered around the concept of hegemony (See Fig. 1). Specifically, these clusters fell into two distinct categories: Strategies used by the hegemon and the Ozian public’s lack of concern for anything that does not directly affect them. While the first category appears more prominent based on the number of clusters and examples that refer to it (Oppression of Animals, Dillamond as scapegoat, Elphaba as scapegoat, Animals in lower level positions, and Morrible aligns herself with people in power), the second category is equally as important because it allows the hegemonic strategies to occur.

Figure 1. The cluster map created through this study. You can also view this image as a full-page PDF file here.


The apathy of the Ozian public is first revealed through the character of Fiyero in the first act. A trouble-making prince from Oz’s Vinku province, Fiyero, upon arrival at Shiz University, immediately encourages the other students to stop studying and start “dancing through life.” Fiyero is a carefree party boy, and in the Chicago production, he was played very much like a stereotypical fraternity brother seen in popular American movies. Fiyero begins the song “Dancing through Life” in an upbeat, major key:

Dancing through life, skimming the surface, gliding where turf is smooth. Life’s more painless for the brainless. Why think too hard when it’s so soothing, dancing through life? No need to tough it when you can sluff it off as I do. Nothing matters, but knowing nothing matters. It’s just life, so keep dancing through.

At first, one may dismiss Fiyero’s lyrics as simply a carefree happy-go-lucky character encouraging his classmates to worry less and have more fun. However, other themes and examples in the musical suggest that this upbeat don’t-worry-be-happy song actually has deeper implications. In Oz, Animals (with a capital A) are different from animals (with a lower-case a) because of their ability to think and communicate; they are essentially an oppressed social class that is gradually having their rights stripped away from them. By encouraging his classmates not to think about things that upset them, Fiyero turns his back on the oppression of the Animals, thus contributing to the hegemony in the country. As Lentner notes, hegemony cannot occur without the public’s consent. If the public chooses to ignore issues that trouble them, they are, in a way, giving their consent for such problems to exist.

This apathy is further illustrated in the reactions of the class in the Pittsburgh and New York performances when Dr. Dillamond, the students’ Goat professor, turns his blackboard around and sees that someone has written “Animals should be seen and not heard” in large red letters. In the Chicago production, the Ozian students were ashamed and hung their heads. In the other two performances, however, they were silent with blank expressions on their faces, thus suggesting apathy; they simply do not care what happens to the Animals in Oz. It is this apathy that allows the hegemonic regime to oppress Animals without having to justify this oppression to a concerned public.

Aligning Oneself with Those in Power

This cluster analysis revealed three unique strategies used by hegemonic leaders to gain or maintain control over their populace: Aligning with those in power, scapegoating, and demoting Animals to lower level positions. The first strategy is primarily illustrated through the character of Madame Morrible, the students’ headmistress and later the Wizard’s press secretary, who seeks to connect herself with those in power in order to increase her own power. Morrible’s interest in those with power is apparent when she first meets Elphaba and her sister Nessarose, who are the daughters of the Governor of Munchkinland. She immediately fawns over the beautiful Nessarose in hopes to aligning herself with Nessarose’s powerful father. In the same scene, Morrible recognizes that Elphaba has a natural talent for sorcery, and insists on teaching Elphaba in a private sorcery seminar, in hopes that Elphaba will be able to develop her skill enough that Morrible can present her to the Wizard and be rewarded for her efforts.

Later in Act 1, when Madame Morrible arrives to tell Elphaba that the Wizard wants to meet her, Morrible is at least as overjoyed, if not more so, than Elphaba herself. While initially this appears to simply be the happiness of a mentor at seeing her student excel, it becomes clear that Morrible had selfish reasons for mentoring Elphaba and being happy for her. When Elphaba meets the Wizard and casts a spell to make the Wizard’s pet Monkeys fly, Morrible, as the Wizard’s new press secretary, tells the Wizard excitedly, “I knew it! I knew she had the power! I told you!” Elphaba, upset and backing away from Madame Morrible, replies, “You . . . you planned all this?” Morrible quickly tries to cover her selfish motives by insisting, “For you too, dearie! You benefit, too!” However, Elphaba is aware that she has been taken advantage of by her own instructor.

In this same scene, Morrible clearly articulates her quid pro quo strategy for gaining power. “I’ve risen up in the world,” she tells Elphaba and Glinda. “You’ll find that the Wizard is a very generous man. If you do something for him, he’ll do much for you.” It later becomes clear that Morrible offers two advantages for the Wizard: 1) She has trained Elphaba, a talented young sorceress who the Wizard hopes will join his regime, and 2) she uses her own sorcery power to help the Wizard achieve his goals. In return, Madame Morrible becomes an important figure in the regime. Madame Morrible’s actions suggest that the quid pro quo strategy is one strategy that hegemonic leaders may use to obtain their power.

Along with her desire to align herself with those who are powerful or potentially powerful comes Madame Morrible’s disdain for the ordinary. This is revealed through her dismissal of Galinda, who desperately wants to win Morrible’s favor and wishes to major in sorcery. Morrible brushes off Galinda’s questions about her entrance essay and refuses to include her in her sorcery seminar until Elphaba insists on it. When she reluctantly permits Galinda to join in the seminar, Madame Morrible tells her, “My personal opinion is that you do not have what it takes. I hope you prove me wrong. I doubt you will.” While most instructors seek to encourage their students to excel in their chosen major, Madame Morrible is completely unconcerned with Galinda’s education. Morrible is concerned only with her own welfare, and only encourages those who show promise because they potentially could help her obtain the power she seeks. Those, like Galinda, who do not show promise immediately, are simply brushed aside.

However, once Glinda becomes a figurehead in the Wizard’s regime, Madame Morrible begins treating her with respect, ultimately attempting to use her sycophantic ways to try to escape incarceration. When Glinda becomes engaged to Fiyero, Madame Morrible announces cheerily, “Glinda, dear, we are happy for you! As Press Secretary, I’ve striven to ensure that all Oz knows the story of your braverism!” The story that she tells, however, is a lie that is used to make Glinda look good in front of her constituents while making Elphaba appear jealous, angry, and mean. The story accomplishes two goals for Morrible as hegemonic leader: 1) She is able to continue to align herself with those in power by painting Glinda in a positive light, and 2) she is able to re-contextualize the situation to paint Elphaba in a negative light.

Morrible also attempts to survive a regime change through her sycophantic strategy when Glinda banishes the Wizard from Oz. She anxiously tells Glinda, “I know we’ve had our miniscule differences in the past, but . . .” Glinda, who is angry and confident in taking the reins of leadership, is not interested in listening to her, just as Morrible refused to listen to her when Glinda was a powerless young pupil. Glinda sends Madame Morrible to prison; it is Morrible’s disdain for the powerless, which initially caused her to rise to power, that ultimately is the key to her undoing. Morrible’s undoing seems to go against Audre Lorde’s famous quote: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” (110). In her essay, Lorde suggests that feminism as a movement cannot be successful as long as it works within a patriarchy that will never let it advance. While this may be true of social movements, individuals are often brought down by the same device that causes them to rise to power. Morrible’s case suggests that a hegemonic leader’s own strength can also be her Achilles’ heel.


The second strategy, scapegoating, is illustrated through a number of characters in the musical. Scapegoating is used by hegemonic regimes to maintain control over their state. The term “scapegoat” initially described a goat on which people symbolically placed their sins; the goat was then sent ceremoniously into the wilderness (Bremmer 8145). Similarly, a scapegoat is now “a specific person or minority” who is blamed for “crises (economic, political, social)” (Bremmer 8145). This analysis revealed two scapegoats in Wicked: The Animals in Oz (including Dr. Dillamond), and ultimately, Elphaba herself.

First, it is no surprise that Dr. Dillamond, the chief Animal character in the show, is a Goat. In fact, it is Dr. Dillamond, when lecturing to the students on Ozian history, who introduces the term scapegoat. He tells them,

Doubtless you’ve noticed I am the sole Animal on the faculty – the ‘token Goat,’ as it were. But it wasn’t always this way. Oh, dear students, how I wish you could have known this place as it once was. When one could walk these halls and hear an Antelope explicating a sonnet, a Snow Leopard solving an equation, a Wildebeest waxing philosophic. Can you see, students, what’s being lost? How our dear Oz is becoming less and less, well, colorful. Now, what set this into motion?
When Elphaba answers that it began with the Great Drought, Dillamond continues, “Precisely. Food grew scarce, and people grew hungrier and angrier. And the question became – who can we blame? Can anyone tell me what is meant by the term ‘scapegoat?’”

Dillamond’s story is further enhanced by a visual aid in his classroom. In all three of the productions documented for this study, a timeline on a blackboard further illustrated this point. The timeline contained a history of Oz, including such events as the Great Drought, the ending of the war, and the Wizard’s arrival. The timeline allows Dillamond to show his students which events occurred in what order so that they may make connections between history and the oppression currently facing the Animals.

Dillamond’s story, while a fictional story in a musical, has real-life parallels. Most striking is perhaps the rise of anti-Semitism in post-World War I Germany. As Burke discusses in “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle” (The Philosophy of Literary Form), Germany was in a state of economic ruin after the First World War and the German people were struggling. When Hitler took power, he sought to unify the country and offered the German people a “panacea, a ‘cure for what ails you,’ a ‘snakeoil,’ that made such sinister unifying possible within his own nation” (192). This “panacea” included the creation of a common enemy: The Jewish people. Writing in 1941, Burke suggests that Hitler was using the Jewish people as a “projection device” or “scapegoat;” one on which the German people could “hand over [their] ills” in order to be purified (202-203). The Jewish people were thus blamed for Germany’s problems, and this blame ultimately led to the Holocaust, where millions of Jews were murdered. The Animals in Oz serve as a reminder for audience members that there have been many social groups throughout history that have been unfairly blamed and persecuted for a nation’s problems.

As Dillamond’s story suggests, Animals are the primary scapegoat for Oz’s troubles. The same scene provides evidence that Ozians believe that Animals are the source of Oz’s problems. When Dillamond flips the blackboard to write on the side of it that does not contain the timeline, he sees the words “Animals should be seen and not heard” written in large red letters. As previously mentioned, the students’ reaction to this event varies by performance. Dillamond’s reaction also varies by performance. In the Chicago and Pittsburgh performances, Dillamond appeared angry and perhaps frightened. He screamed at the students to leave. In the New York performance, he appeared to be more hurt than angry, and his voice shook a bit when he told the students to leave.

Each performance choice offers a slightly different message for the audience to consider. The Chicago performance suggests that those being oppressed are strong and willing to fight, and that the Ozian population merely needs to be educated, like the students who recognized the unfair treatment and felt shame because of it, in order to change society and end the oppression. In contrast, the Pittsburgh performance suggests that the oppressed class of Animals, represented by Dr. Dillamond, is strong and willing to fight for their rights, but face the added challenge of winning the hearts and minds of an apathetic public. Finally, the New York performance allows audience members to feel more sympathy for the Animals, represented by a shaken Dr. Dillamond, and less sympathy for the students, or Ozian society, whom they represent.

Animals are not the only scapegoat in Wicked. Elphaba herself becomes a scapegoat in Act II. First, she becomes a scapegoat for her family. Elphaba’s sister Nessarose blames Elphaba for both their father’s death and the transformation of Boq, a Munchkin whom Nessarose loves. When Elphaba travels to Munchkinland to ask for her father’s help, Nessarose tells Elphaba that he died of shame because of Elphaba’s actions. Nessarose also blames Elphaba for Boq’s physical condition. When Nessarose erroneously casts a spell that has potentially-fatal effects on Boq, Elphaba saves Boq’s life by turning him into a tin woodsman. After Elphaba’s exit, Nessarose screams to Boq, “It wasn’t me; it was her! I tried to stop her! It was Elphaba, Boq, it was Elphaba!” Both of these examples suggest that Nessarose does not take responsibility for her own actions; instead, she blames Elphaba, the family scapegoat.

By the end of the musical, Elphaba becomes more than simply the family scapegoat. She becomes a scapegoat for the entire nation of Oz. This is especially prevalent during the mob scene at the end of the musical. As the mob sets out to kill the “Wicked Witch,” two figures, one human and one Animal, blame her for their troubles. The first figure is Boq, who declares that he holds Elphaba responsible for his condition and wishes to kill her in retaliation. The second figure, a Lion whom Elphaba and Fiyero freed during college, relays his message to Boq, who speaks for him. Boq announces to the mob, “The Lion also has a grievance to repay. If she’d let him fight his own battles when he was young, he wouldn’t be a coward today!”

The Lion’s story suggests that Elphaba has become a scapegoat for her own cause. Animals whom she has tried to help have blamed her for their troubles. Some social protest leaders, like Elphaba, have become a scapegoat for their own causes. One figure in U.S. history that exemplifies this is abolitionist John Brown. Brown became a leader of antislavery guerillas and fought against proslavery attacks. In retribution for a proslavery attack, Brown brutally murdered five settlers in a proslavery town (“John Brown”). While some abolitionists, like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, praised Brown (“John Brown”), other leaders, like Abraham Lincoln, disapproved of Brown’s actions and believed he was insane (Sandburg). Brown became one of the most controversial figures of his time and has been partially credited with starting the Civil War (Frye). Like Brown, Elphaba is not only a scapegoat for her opposition, but for those who support her cause. Elphaba reminds audience members that one of the risks of fighting against hegemony is becoming a scapegoat.

Demoting Animals to Lower Level Positions

Another hegemonic strategy revealed through this analysis is the demotion of those in the oppressed class to lower level positions. Throughout Wicked, especially in the first act, Animals have been demoted to manual labor positions. What is particularly interesting about this theme is that it emerged almost entirely from performance fieldnotes, while most of the other themes and sub-themes arose from the script with the performance fieldnotes taking a supporting role. In fact, six out of the nine examples regarding this sub-theme are observable only through performance (see Fig. 1).

The first example occurs at the very beginning of all three performances. Flying Monkeys push, pull, and spin mechanical-looking wheels that appear to cause the curtain to rise. The Monkeys make sounds, but they do not speak as they turn the wheels and cogs. In the New York performance, they entered the stage from every possible entrance: Some entered from stage left or stage right, some came from around the proscenium, and still others entered the stage through trap doors in the floorboards of the stage.

Other examples of Animals doing manual labor occur at various points in Act I. Both the Pittsburgh and the New York performances included a character bit of an Animal pushing a cart containing Galinda’s massive suitcases when she arrives at Shiz University. The New York performance also featured an Animal serving punch to Boq and Nessarose in the dance scene at the OzDust Ballroom and an Animal loading and unloading baggage at the train station when Elphaba leaves for the Emerald City. In my fieldnotes from the New York performance, I note that the latter “looks exhausted and wipes the sweat from his brow.”

In fact, with the exception of Dr. Dillamond, Animals are never seen in a position of power or prestige during the musical. Dr. Dillamond explains the situation to Elphaba in the song “Something Bad.” The song serves as a warning, as indicated by its minor key, repeated notes, and underlying formidable-sounding beat. Dillamond sings,

I’ve heard of an Ox, a professor from Quox, no longer permitted to teach, who has lost all powers of speech. And an Owl in Munchkin Rock, a vicar with a thriving flock, forbidden to preach. Now he only can screech.

Dillamond’s story suggests that Animals in prestigious positions, particularly those in religious orders and higher education, were ousted from their jobs. Later, Dillamond becomes an example of his own story when he himself is forbidden to teach at Shiz University. With urgency, he enters his classroom for the last time, quickly tells his students that he appreciates them, and assures Elphaba that “They can take away my job, but I shall continue speaking out!”

When taken in context with Dillamond’s story and experience, it seems unlikely that the Animals in lower level positions, such as the baggage loader and the punch server, chose to take these jobs because they enjoy them. In Oz, Animals are forced to take these positions because they are considered a lower social class, and Animals in prestigious positions, such as professors or pastors, are removed by the government from the very positions they worked hard to obtain. Again, Wicked reminds audience members of real-life history: This is similar to the initial measures the Third Reich used in the 1930s to persecute the Jewish people. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, in 1933, the Nazi-dominated German government passed a law that forbade Jews from holding positions in government, in the tax profession, and as stage actors. The German government also restricted their rights when holding positions in the legal sphere and in the medical profession. The rights of the Jewish people in Germany were further abolished throughout the 1930s until ultimately they were sent to concentration camps during the Holocaust. Wicked’s story serves as a warning to audience members about the dangers of apathy and the necessity of taking action. The musical reminds theatre-goers that no nation is safe from committing these atrocities, unless its citizens remember history, keep aware, and take action.

Wicked New for KBJ

Cluster Criticism for Layered, Performative Texts: Moving Forward

Scholars have utilized Burkean concepts in studies of performance and popular art in various ways. In his book exploring twentieth century theatre and Shakespearean plays, Francis Fergusson explores the connection between dialectic and drama in Burke’s Grammar of Motives. He explains that “behind Mr. Burke’s view of the dialectic process there lurks ritual drama” (201), and praises Burke’s “analysis of language,” noting that it “works like a farcical plot” (xvii). C. Ronald Kimberling connects Burke’s work to popular art, using dramatism to analyze the film Jaws, the television miniseries Shogun, and the Stephen King novel The Dead Zone. He suggests that “dramatism has the flexibility to enable us to penetrate several aspects of popular arts from a variety of angles” (13). In his work on theatre as ritual, Bruce A. McConachie uses dramatism to define theatre as “a type of ritual which functions to legitimate an image of a historical social order in the minds of its audience” (466). This article has attempted to contribute to this ongoing conversation by proposing an extension of Burke’s cluster criticism to include performative elements of performative, layered texts. Through an analysis of hegemony in the musical Wicked as a case study, I have sought to expand the scope of cluster criticism so that it may be used for a broader range of texts.

While cluster criticism has previously been used primarily for examining public address texts, newspaper articles, and other word-oriented texts, Rueckert observes in Kenneth Burke and the Drama of Human Relations that cluster criticism can be used to examine dramatic texts, such as plays, as well. When employed in a traditional word-oriented manner, cluster criticism can reveal clusters surrounding “God terms” and/or “agon terms” that provide insight into the intention of the texts’ authors. Rueckert suggests that the cluster criticism can be applied to different texts in the same way (88), but applying traditional cluster criticism to a performative text only accommodates the words in a script or perhaps lyrics in a song, excluding elements that can only be experienced through performance. While the general procedure remains the same, this article has suggested that cluster criticism be extended to accommodate the various layers of a performative, fragmented text. Instead of searching for particular words that cluster together to form meanings, this extension of cluster criticism requires the critic to search for themes that clustered together to form meanings. In this case study, these clusters emerged upon the examination of each layer of the performative text (the New York performance script, fieldnotes from each of three performances, the original cast recording, and the sheet music).

First, this cluster analysis began with a “God term” that was contrived after a close reading of the textual layers used for this study, as well as after a review of the literature on the “God term” (hegemony). One “God term” was chosen in order to limit the numbers of clusters and sub-clusters to a manageable amount for this study, but future studies may include multiple “God terms” or include “agon terms” as well. It should be noted that different clusters and sub-clusters could emerge from the same text if a different term or phrase was used as a lens with which to examine each layer of text.

By analyzing each layer of text, numerous clusters and sub-clusters emerged from this analysis. These clusters included Ozian apathy and frivolousness, the oppression of Animals, the demotion of Animals to lower level positions, the scapegoating of Elphaba, the scapegoating of Dr. Dillamond, and aligning oneself with people in power (illustrated through the character of Madame Morrible). These six clusters form four overarching themes concerning Wicked’s messages about hegemony: 1. Apathy leads to hegemony, 2. Hegemonic leaders use scapegoating to gain/maintain their power, 3. Hegemonic leaders align themselves with those already in power to gain/maintain their power, and 4. Hegemonic regimes may demote members of the oppressed class from prestigious positions in order to gain/maintain power. Each of these themes was supported by a number of examples from the various layers of this performative text. It is important to note that the fourth theme was primarily illustrated through performative elements, and would not have emerged from a textual analysis or cluster criticism of the script’s text. The emergence of the fourth theme suggests that in order to thoroughly examine performative texts, one must extend cluster criticism as a method to include not only words and lyrics, but also performative elements, such as use of props, stage movement, music, and visual and sound effects.

The intention of this article was to provide rhetorical critics, performance scholars, and scholars of film, television and other media with a methodology through which to rhetorically study themes in layered, performative texts. Future research may employ cluster criticism to study multiple performances of theatrical productions, both musical and non-musical, the different visual and auditory elements of a television program episode, or the various layers of a film. It is my hope that rhetorical and performance scholars will find this extension of cluster criticism valuable when examining a variety of performance-oriented rhetorical texts, whether those texts are performed live, part of everyday life, videotaped, or broadcasted through new media.


1. The word Monkey is capitalized because in Wicked, Ozian Animals (with a capital A) are distinguished from animals (with a lower-case a) because of their ability to think and communicate; they represent an oppressed social class.

2. Agon-terms (or “devil terms”) are key words that appear to have the opposite message of “God terms.” Berthold explains that agon-terms, when contrasted with “God terms” can reveal a speaker’s intentions.

3. In Permanence and Change, Burke discusses “hegemony of custom” (186). He explains, “If there is a slave function in such a culture, the class that so functions does not know itself as such. A true slave morality is implicitly obeyed – and while such morality is intact, the slave does not consider his obedience as slavery, any more than a child normally considers obedience to its parents slavery. Before such obedience can be explicitly considered a state of slavery, a perspective by incongruity must arise” (186).

4. In “My Approach to Communism,” Burke refers to the “hegemony of business” when contrasting communism and fascism. He states, “The Fascist retention of business as the keystone of its scheme leads logically to the attempted subjugation of the workers, precisely as the Communist elimination of business leads to their establishment as the fulcrum of the governmental policies and purposes…Hence the logical demand that one choose Communism, which eliminates the hegemony of business, as against Facism, which would attempt to erect a stable economy atop the contradictions of business enterprise” (18).

* This article was adapted from the author’s dissertation. The author would like to thank her dissertation committee, Dr. Jerry L. Miller, Dr. William K. Rawlins, Dr. Benjamin R. Bates, Dr. J.W. Smith, and Dr. Jordan Schildcrout of Ohio University, for their guidance.

Works Cited

Aiken, Roger Cushing. “Was Jud Jewish? Property, Ethnicity, and Gender in Oklahoma!” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 22 (2005): 277-283. Print.

Angrosino, Michael V. “Recontextualizing Observation: Ethnography, Pedagogy, and the Prospects for a Progressive Political Agenda.” Handbook of Qualitative Research. 3rd ed. Eds. Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2005. 729-762. Print.

Aristotle. On Rhetoric. 2nd ed. Trans. George A. Kennedy. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.

Berthold, Carol A. “Kenneth Burke’s Cluster-Agon Method: Its Development and an Application.” Central States Speech Journal 27 (1976): 302-309. Print.

Blakesley, David. The Elements of Dramatism. New York: Longman, 2002. Print.

Bremmer, Jan N. “Scapegoat.” Encyclopedia of Religion. 2nd ed. Ed. Lindsay Jones. Vol. 12. Detroit: Macmillan Reference, 2005. 8143-8146. Print.

Burger, Alissa. From ‘The Wizard of Oz’ to ‘Wicked:’ Trajectory of American Myth. Diss. Bowling Green State U, 2009. UMI, 2009. ATT. 3350672.

Burke, Kenneth. Attitudes Toward History. Boston: Beacon Press, 1959. Print.

—. A Grammar of Motives. Berkeley: U of California Press, 1969. Print.

—. “My Approach to Communism.” The New Masses 10 (1934): 16, 18-20. Print.

—. Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose. Berkeley: U of California Press, 1954. Print.

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

Charland, Maurice. “Constitutive Rhetoric: The Case of the Peuple Quebecois.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 73 (1987): 133-150. Print.

Conquergood, Dwight. “ Beyond the Text: Toward a Performance Cultural Politics.” The Future of Performance Studies: Visions and Revisions. Ed. S. J. Dailey. Annandale, VA: National Communication Association, 1998. Print.

Cook, Susan C. “Pretty like the Girl: Gender, Race and Oklahoma!” Contemporary Theatre Review 19 (2009): 35-47. Print.

Corcorcan, Farrel. “The Bear in the Back Yard: Myth, Ideology, and Victimage Ritual in Soviet Funerals.” Communication Monographs 50 (1983): 305-320. Print.

Docan, Tony; Freitas, Lisa, and Holtzman, Clay. "George W. Bush's 'National Day of Prayer and Remembrance' Speech: A Cluster Analysis of Bush's Rhetorical Argument for Revenge" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Marriott Hotel, San Diego, CA, 2003.

Elliot, Beverly F. “Nora’s Doors: Three American Productions of Ibsen’s A Doll House.” Text and Performance Quarterly 10 (1990): 194-203. Print.

Fergusson, Francis. The Human Image in Dramatic Literature. Gloucester: Peter Smith, 1969. Print.

Fontana, Benedetto. “The Democratic Philosopher: Rhetoric as Hegemony in Gramsci.” Italian Culture 23 (2005): 97-123. Print.

Foss, Sonja K. “Cluster Criticism.” Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1996. Print.

—. “Women Priests in the Episcopal Church: A Cluster Analysis of Establishment Rhetoric.” Religious Communication Today 7 (1984): 1-11. Print.

Frye, Dennis E. “John Brown’s Smoldering Spark.” Hallowed Ground Magazine. Civil War Trust. 2014. Web. 27 February 2015.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004. Print.

Gassner, John. “Aspects of the Broadway Theatre.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 35 (1949): 289-296. Print.

Gramsci, Antonio. Further Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Trans. and Ed. Derek Boothman. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1995. Print.

—. Letters from Prison. Trans. Lynne Lawner. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1973. Print.

—. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. New York: International, 1971. Print.

Graves, Michael P. “Functions of Key Metaphors in Early Quaker Sermons, 1671-1700.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 69 (1983): 364-378. Print.

Hellman, Wesley James. “Elements of tragedy in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.” North Dakota Journal of Theatre and Speech 7 (1994): 84-92. Print.

Hoffman, Mary F. and Cowan, Renee L. “The Meaning of Work/Life: A Corporate Ideology of Work/Life Balance.” Communication Quarterly 56 (2008): 227-246. Print.

“John Brown.” Africans in America Resource Bank: Judgment Day, Part 4, 1831-1865. Public Broadcasting Service. Web. 27 February 2015.

Keohane, Robert O. After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1984. Print.

Kimberling, C. Ronald. Kenneth Burke’s Dramatism and Popular Arts. Bowling Green: Bowling Green State U Popular P, 1982. Print.

King, Andrew. “The State of Rhetorical Criticism.” Rhetoric Review 25 (2006): 365-368. Print.

Kruse, Sharon D. and Sandra Spickard Prettyman. “Women, Leadership, and Power Revisiting the Wicked Witch of the West.” Gender and Education 20 (2008): 451-464. Print.

Lane, Ileana. “A Relational Cultural Approach to the Broadway Musical Wicked.” Journal of Creativity in Mental Health 4 (2009): 173-179. Print.

Lentner, Howard H. “Hegemony and Autonomy.” Political Studies 53 (2005): 735-752. Print.

Lindlof, Thomas R. and Taylor, Bryan C. Qualitative Communication Research Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2002. Print.

Lorde, A. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. Berkeley, CA: The Crossing Press, 1984. Print

Lynch, John. “Race and Radical Renamings.” Kenneth Burke Journal 2 (2006): 1-19.

Madison, D. Soyini and Hamera, Judith. “Performance Studies at the Intersections.” The Sage Handbook of Performance Studies. Eds. Norman D. Soyini Madison and Judith Hamera. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2006. xi-xxv. Print.

McConachie, Bruce A. “Towards a Postpositivist Theatre History.” Theatre Journal 37 (1985): 465-486. Print.

McGovern, Stephen J. “Cultural Hegemony as an Impediment to Urban Protest Movements: Grassroots Activism and Downtown Development in Washington, DC.” Journal of Urban Affairs 19 (1997): 419-443. Print.

Mearsheimer, John J. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001. Print.

Miller, Gail T. “Reality is Only an Option: Firesign Theatre and Surrealism.” Text and Performance Quarterly 11 (1991): 325-333. Print.

Most, Andrea. “Opening the Windshield: Death of a Salesman and Theatrical Liberalism.” Modern Drama 50 (2007): 545-564. Print.

—. “We Know We Belong to the Land:” The Theatricality of Assimilation in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America113 (1998): 77-89. Print.

Pao, Angela. “The Eyes of the Storm: Gender, Genre, and Cross-Casting in Miss Saigon.” Text and Performance Quarterly 12 (1992): 21-39. Print.

Papa, Lee. “We Gotta Make Up Our Minds: Waiting for Lefty, Workers’ Theatre Performance and Audience Identification.” Text and Performance Quarterly 19 (1999): 57-73. Print.

Pullum, Stephen J. “Common Sense Religion for America: The Rhetoric of the Jewish Televangelist Jan Bresky.” Journal of Communication and Religion 15 (1992): 43-54. Print.

Raab, Doris. “From Book to Broadway: Elphaba’s Gender Ambiguity and her Journey into Heteronormativity in Wicked.” Studies in Musical Theatre 5 (2012): 245-256. Print.

Rueckert, W. H. Kenneth Burke and the Drama of Human Relations. Berkeley: U of California Press, 1982. Print.

Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln: The Definitive One-Volume Biography. New York: Galahad Books, 1993. Print.

Schrader, Valerie Lynn. “Connecting to and Persuading Audiences through Musical Theatre: Burkean Identification in Harold Rome’s 1937 Musical Pins and Needles.” Pennsylvania Communication Annual 68 (2012): 70-83. Print.

—. “Face-work, Social Movement Leadership, and ‘Glinda the Good:’ A Textual Analysis of the Character G(a)linda in the Musical Wicked.” Studies in Musical Theatre 8 (2014): 43-55. Print.

—. “‘No Day But Today:’ Life Perspectives of HIV-positive Individuals in the Musical Rent.” Communication and Theatre Association of Minnesota Journal 36 (2009): 23-36. Print

—. “‘They Call Me Wonderful, so I am Wonderful:’ Social Constructionism in the Song ‘Wonderful’ in the Musical Wicked.” Pennsylvania Communication Annual 67 (2011): 61-72. Print.

—. “Witch or Reformer?: Character Transformations through the use of Humor in the Musical Wicked.” Studies in American Humor 23 (2011): 49-66. Print.

Schriver, Kristina and Nudd, Donna Marie. “Mickee Faust Club’s Performative Protest Events.” Text and Performance Quarterly 22 (2002): 196-216. Print.

Schweitzer, Carol. “A Parable, a Pearl and “Popular? How the Musical Wicked – Especially Elphaba’s Character – May Assist Adolescent Girls to Claim their Uniqueness.” Pastoral Psychology 61 (2012): 499-511. Print.

Scott, James C. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1985. Print.

Sebesta, Judith. “Of Fire, Death, and Desire: Transgression and Carnival in Jonathan Larson’s Rent.” Contemporary Theatre Review 16 (2006): 419-438. Print.

Tomkins, Phillip K. “On Hegemony – ‘He Gave It No Name’ – And Critical Structuralism in the Work of Kenneth Burke.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 71 (1985): 119-151. Print.

Wolf, Stacy. “Wicked Divas, Musical Theater, and Internet Girl Fans.” Camera Obscura 22 (2007): 38-71. Print.

—. “Defying Gravity: Queer Conventions in the Musical Wicked.” Theatre Journal 60 (2008): 1-21. Print.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

The Syrian Civil War, International Outreach, and a Clash of Worldviews

Peter C. Bakke, US Army, and Jim A. Kuypers, Virginia Tech


We present a dramatistic analysis of the discourse of Syrian President Assad and his opposition in the ongoing Syrian civil war. Comparing terministic screens and world views expressed in the discourses, we find that the Assad regime believes it is not responsible for the current conflict, and is justified in the use of violence against rebel groups. Rebel groups overtly reject Western values and seek to depict their current and planned violence as morally justified.


The views represented in this article are those of the authors and are not intended to officially or unofficially represent the position of the U.S. Army or U.S. Government.

Introductory Note

We originally undertook this project in the fall of 2013 – a time when the Assad Regime seemed to be gaining ground in the Syrian Civil War and rebel groups appeared to be fractured. Tension between the Syrian regime and the West was particularly high due to rebel allegations that the Syrian military was employing chemical weapons. ISIL (then known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) was still jockeying for dominance with the Nusrah Front (al-Qaeda in Syria) within the trans-national Al-Qaeda power structure, and the refugee crisis was not nearly as intense as in late 2015. Throughout 2013, the Assad regime appeared to make a coordinated effort to portray itself as an ally in "Global War on Terror." When Assad appeared on Fox News to make such a case, we wondered whether he was trying to sell the U.S. public a "bill of goods." As Kenneth Burke might say, we wondered what kind of "medicine" the "medicine man" was prescribing. To gain a better perspective of the regime's position, we began examining the discourse of the disparate rebel groups fighting against Assad's forces to see if it lent any validity to his message. Coincidentally, many of the rebel groups we examined began collapsing under the umbrella of the "Islamic Front." In November of 2013, the "Islamic Front" issued a statement calling for the continuation of Jihad against the regime and the establishment of a Salafist Sunni Islamic state in Syria. Given this development, we felt that a two-sided analysis of the conflict's discourse would help uncover the motives of each side. We later added some examples of ISIL activities to demonstrate how ignoring rhetorical justifications for inhumane behavior (on both sides) can have serious implications.

* * *

The Islamic State, coined "ISIS" or "ISIL" by the U.S. news media, has recently garnered the attention of the U.S. and Western publics. Islamic State brutality against Yazidi Christians in the north of Iraq, seizure of crucial Iraqi infrastructure, and barbaric beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff have resulted in the Obama administration's call for an international coalition to defeat the organization in Iraq and Syria. Coalition efforts have already required U.S. military commitment to meet the President's stated goal of "degrading and destroying" the Islamic State, and thwarting their objective of establishing an international caliphate. However, in order to make a new war palatable, as well as defend previous policy decisions, the Islamic State seems to be portrayed as a new and emerging threat, one differentiated from former adversaries who "pulled" us into previous conflicts. Thus, dominant administration and media narratives seem to push the idea that "ISIS" materialized from the ether to become a threat "even more extreme than Al-Qaeda" ("David Gregory"). U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, for instance, described the organization as "beyond anything we've seen," and Attorney General Eric Holder stated that ISIS's plans were " 'more frightening than anything I think I've seen as attorney general. . . . It's something that gives us really extreme, extreme concern….'" (Ritger, "Chuck Hagel"; Holder qtd. in Francis, "Why the Long Arm"). Suddenly, it seems the U.S. is faced with an enemy whose brutality tames our perception of those who attacked the U.S. in 2001 and may force our collaboration with the "blood soaked" regime of Bashar al-Assad. In the words of an Al-Qaeda aligned Syrian opposition fighter, "Your news makes it seem like [ISIL] appeared out of nowhere… [slamming his hand on the dashboard]. You want to talk about [ISIL]? Ask a Syrian!" (Day, "Syrian Fighter").

Presidential candidates and pundits now debate whether we should have armed earlier "a more moderate Syrian opposition" and whether collaboration with Assad is acceptable (Goldberg, "Hillary Clinton"). Such characterizations and suggestions, however, require a closer look at the recent history and discourse of the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. Such analysis would suggest that we have seen "ISIS" on the battlefield before (in Iraq 2003-2010), that "ISIS" and Al-Qaeda are the same movement, and that "ISIS"-like jihadist discourse permeates the influential branches of the very Syrian opposition the U.S. sought to aid in its rebellion against the Assad Regime (MacFarQuhar and Sadd, "As Syrian War Drags On").

Examining the discourse of the Syrian conflict is vitally important because the parties in conflict represent larger warring factions throughout the Middle East. Such sectarian conflict defies U.S. conceptions of allies and adversaries, because some of each may fall on either side of the sectarian divide, and much of the animus traces its roots back to the beginnings of Islam. Thus, it becomes important to understand how the conflict discourse of individual groups is indicative of motivation and actions that can potentially impact the security of American citizens and regional stability. An understanding of how extremism and violence manifest on both sides of the regional conflict can only encourage a more effective foreign policy.

Flowing out of dramatism is the idea that people universally use symbols to explain their actions in similar ways. In "The Rhetoric of Hitler's Battle," for instance, Kenneth Burke demonstrated how application of a dramatistic perspective allowed him to discover "what kind of 'medicine' this medicine-man [Hitler] has concocted, that we may know… exactly what to guard against, if we are to forestall the concocting of similar medicine in America" (Burke, "The Rhetoric of Hitler's Battle" 191). Burke's implication is clear: we should examine the speech-acts of those outside of the "American" world view, as well as critically compare such content with that of our own domestic political discourse. Other scholars since Burke have used dramatism and the pentad as starting points for the examination of non-U.S. and non-Western discourse. For example, Adriana Angel and Benjamin Bates examined Columbian radio conversations, Xing Lu examined the rhetoric of Chinese nationalism, Pedro Patron-Galindo examined the political marketing strategies of Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, and Colleen E. Kelley wrote on the rhetoric of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (Angel and Bates; Lu; Patron-Galindo; Kelley). In general, the operating assumption of such studies is that Burkean dramatism is cross-culturally applicable, but the essays stop short of explaining why this is so or how one might efficaciously apply dramatistic principles most fruitfully in a cross-cultural context. In this paper, we demonstrate how this process, combined with an in-depth knowledge of recurrent cultural narratives flowing within a foreign discourse, can establish a framework that allows the dramatistic pentad to function as an effective cross-cultural analytical tool. Further, this dramatistic analysis of foreign discourse allows for an effective critical comparison between both the motives of a speaker with a foreign world-view and his or her representation in U.S. political discourse.

The nascent means for such a comparison (situational contextualization, explanation of cultural metaphor, application of the pentad, comparison with domestic discourse) are found in Burke's analysis of Mein Kampf, which includes all of these elements without specifically including them in the framework of dramatism. Burke contextualizes Hitler's anti-Semitic writing, for instance, by providing rich descriptions of the political conditions of Pre-World War I Vienna and Post-World War I Munich. Further, he describes the Christian and German mythology that functioned as a common language between Hitler and his potential base of supporters. This added knowledge allows his explanation of Hitler's foreign world-view to function cross-culturally. How else might one of Burke's readers of the 1930s (English speakers) be able to understand the particularly German flavor of Hitler's strongly anti-Semitic persuasive campaign? We believe that the application of dramatistic principles to the discourse of those with non-U.S. world-views is as relevant today as it was when Burke wrote of Hitler. As a contemporary extension to Burke's ideas, we examine the rhetoric of the still evolving sectarian conflict in Syria and Iraq, and then discuss how the reflection of such discourse in domestic politics holds serious implications for U.S. foreign policy. We accomplish this in five stages: first, we contextualize the nature of the conflict in Syria; second, we explore the different cultural narratives of President Assad and the Islamic Front; third, using a dramatistic analysis we analyze the internationally aimed discourse of Assad and the Islamic Front; fourth, we specifically look at the metaphor underpinning Assad's outreach to the United States; finally, we conclude with an exploration of Syrian clashing world views and implication for dramatism and U.S. policy in the region.

Contextualization: The Nature of the Syrian Conflict

The Syrian conflict, much as the Syrian population at large, comprises numerous groups and alliances. A 74% majority of Syrians are Sunni Muslims of Arab descent. A large portion of the Sunni-Arab population lives in rural areas throughout the country. The minority Syrian population consists of 12% Alawite-sect Shia Muslims (to which the Assad family and ruling class belong), with the remaining 14% of the population consisting of Christians, Jews, Kurds, and Druze ("Syria—People and Society"). For the purpose of discussion, we characterize the conflict within Syrian borders as one between the Sunni majority and ruling Alawite-Shia minority. However, sectarian and ethnic alliances within Syria spill well outside its borders. For example, Alawites maintain strong ties with their Shia neighbors in Iran and Lebanon, as well as certain militant/terrorist groups such as Hezbollah; the Sunni majority finds kinship among other Sunni-Arab dominated nations such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, as well as support from transnational jihadist groups (Al Qaeda, for example) throughout the Middle East (Fassihi, Solomon, and Dagher, "Iranians Dial up Presence in Syria"). Therefore, the Alawite-Shia versus Sunni conflict within Syria can be viewed as part of a larger pan-Islamic sectarian struggle with implications for all nations involved. Further, undertones of secularism versus Islamism color the brutality inflicted by both parties.

Aron Lund provides insight into the ethno-religious sectarian nature of the conflict, writing, "revolutionary demands originally focused on democracy and economic reform but the new opposition movement did not arise in a social vacuum." In socio-economic terms, he describes the uprising as an "ideologically motivated uprising of the Sunni working class against the Alawite military ruling elite" (Lund, 8). As the conflict entered its second year in 2012, increasing numbers of foreign fighters (Salafi-Sunnis) joined the fray ("Syria Profile"). Although Sunni Syrians comprised the bulk of the opposition, further backing arrived from in the form of foreign ideologues and Islamic extremists—namely al-Qaeda (AQ). In May of 2013, analysts from the Rand Office for External Affairs provided testimony for the House Homeland Security Committee designating Jabhat-al-Nusrah as the Syrian arm of AQ. Analyst Seth Jones testified that "Jabhat al-Nusrah (JN) grew out of AQ in Iraq (AQI)." After a 2013 split with AQI, JN pledged allegiance directly to AQ senior leadership in Pakistan. The remainder of AQI maintained allegiance to Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi and became known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Syria) or "ISIL / ISIS." The point here is not to trace the linage and development of groups making headlines in the U.S.; rather, we wish to demonstrate a common sectarian interest between groups labeled "moderate" and those implementing the most perverse interpretation of Sunni Islam imaginable. When interacting with each other, JN and ISIS might be enemies. However, in the context of the sectarian war, they should be considered estranged brothers.

 Burke demonstrated how one ideologue (Hitler) used language to set the German people on a path to destruction. Because conflict had yet to unfold, he needed to analyze only one voice, Hitler's. The Syrian situation differs in that it has evolved into a conflict with many parties. As such, we proceed by choosing an Alawite-Shia voice and a Sunni voice we feel most representative, the "embodiment," of each side. The ruling Alawites have been led and represented by the Assad family since the 1970's. Hafez al-Assad (now deceased), and his son Bashar have represented the Alawite-Shia grip on Syrian power for nearly 40 years. Likewise, they serve as a lightning rod for the animosity of a frustrated Arab-Sunni population. Thus, Bashar al-Assad is our chosen voice for the Alawite-Shia faction.

In November 2013, The Syrian Islamic Front, elements of the Free Syrian Army, and Islamist elements formerly operating under Supreme Military Command united under the banner of one group – the Islamic Front. ISIS and JN have formerly allied with the Islamic Front. Despite current estrangement between the groups, the Islamic Front provides the voice for the Sunni-Arab faction of the conflict. We selected the Islamic Front for two reasons: (1) it is directly opposed to Assad and (2) U.S. politicians indirectly cite them as "moderate" due to their estrangement from "ISIS."

Clashing Cultural Narratives

Having established some situational context, we now turn to the undercurrents of Syrian dialogue. In 2012, the Director of National Intelligence's Open Source Center (OSC) published Master Narratives Country Report: Syria. The report is intended to facilitate an understanding of the language used by various groups within Syria. The report details eight master narratives and subordinate themes, which interact or stand-alone, to shape each groups understanding of events. We use this document as our initial touchstone for understanding Syrian cultural narratives. Similar to how Burke expounded on Hitler's perversion of religion, we seek to use Syrian cultural narratives as an example of the "baseline" from which each side deviates. These "master narratives" are the threads with which Syrians tell stories and sometimes act as a lens through which they interpret events. Much as the German of the 1930's found familiarity in the liturgical rhythm of Nazi repetition, the Sunni-Arab Syrian might find familiarity in reference to the "Greater Levant." Much as the German blamed his economic problems on the tangible Jew, the Sunni-Arab narrative might provide a pre-ordained scapegoat in the Alawite.

Assad Narrative

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attempts to convey his popularity. Courtesy of

Assad's explanation of current events, contained in his September 2013 news media interview with Dennis Kucinich and Greg Palkot, displays three prominent narratives common among the groups that he represents (Al-Assad). The included narratives are (1) Alawite Survival, (2) Conspiracies All Around, and (3) Greater Syria (United States, "Open Source Center" Executive Summary). According to the OSC, the "Alawite Survival" narrative centers around the Alawite rise from Sunni oppression by virtue of their "superior achievements." This narrative maintains that the Alawites hold a rightful place in the halls of leadership but always remain threatened by "fanatical Sunni's who wish to destroy them" (United States, "Open Source Center" 33). The core themes of "Alawite Survival" are the concepts of encirclement, existential fear, and survival. Assad addresses the themes of existential fear and encirclement through his characterization of the conflict. His description of foreign backed terrorists working in conjunction with fanatical jihadists toward an ideologically closed society invokes the possibility of Alawite destruction. A "new kind of war" also elicits the fear of the unknown, in which alliances among individuals and nations threaten a small core of Syrians dedicated to preservation of the state.

The "Conspiracy" narrative, as expressed by Assad, is particularly salient when used in conjunction with "Alawite Survival." The narrative is based upon Syria's turbulent history and espouses a worldview where "secretive cabals inside the country, scheming Westerners and envious Arab neighbors conspire against the people" (United States, "Open Source Center" 13). For his part, Assad alleges not only a terrorist threat but also raises the specter of faceless enemies who agitate the rebellion from afar. He names al-Qaeda among the conspirators but also accuses other Western and Arab nations of fomenting unrest.

Here we can establish a relationship between Assad's heavy use of scenic descriptions or grounded terminology (explained in the next section) and the wide array of Alawite cultural narratives that support them. Hostile Sunni's, terrorists, and foreign-led cabals create an environment where the secularist Alawites' struggle to survive. Such survival depends on Alawite ability to combat forces beyond their control. Thus, the Alawites are not responsible for the conflict. This demonstrates consistency between contemporary scene driven explanations and environmentally dominated Alawite cultural narratives. It also suggests that Assad's characterization of conflict is an attempt to sway listeners toward his real worldview.

Assad's self-described end-state for the conflict embraces the "Greater Syria" narrative. This narrative stems from the belief that Syria is the cradle of civilization. After having been fractured by the West, Syrians must seek to "restore their pride by reinstating Syria as a homeland for all creeds and the vanguard of the Arab World" (United States, "Open Source Center" 20). The core themes of this narrative are exceptionalism, restoration, and tolerance. Therefore, when Assad speaks of Syria in the interview as a "melting pot" and accuses his opposition of trying to create a closed and radicalized society, he is calling upon Syrian exceptionalism and accusing his enemies of violating the very essence of being Syrian.

The "Greater Syria" narrative is tied to Assad's explanation of specific brutal acts in which he highlights purpose. That is, when he is willing to assume responsibility for an act within the conflict, he invokes the only narrative able to vindicate such behavior. It is impossible to know for sure if a purpose-driven explanation for brutality is linked with a genuine worldview regarding Syrian greatness, or whether the weaving of this narrative into an explanation is a rationalization. However, it does provide perspective regarding the logic he uses to excuse his actions.

Islamic Front

The Leadership of the Islamic Front declares it's foundation in a release on November 22nd, 2013.

As with the Assad Regime, the rhetoric of the Sunni opposition has deep roots within sectarian narrative ("The Islamic Front's Founding Declaration"). The central narratives of the Sunni majority within Syria are that of the "Alawite infidel" and "Greater Syria". The "Alawite infidel" is unique to the rural Sunni population and reflects the group's resentment toward minority rule. The narrative explains that Alawites, often referred to using derogatory slurs, connived their way to power during the period of French occupation of Syria. Following the French exit in the 1920's, the Alawites maintained their power through brutal oppression of the innocent. The narrative calls for vengeance against the ruling regime and by "pushing the Alawites and their supporters into their graves." Core themes include (1) intolerance, (2) revenge, and (3) righteous cause (United States, "Open Source Center" 5).

Note the group's objectives and goals as stated in their foundational charter: "To topple the existing regime in its entirety, with all its obscure remnants, to wipe them out of Syrian existence completely, and to defend the underdogs, their honor and wealth. Toppling the regime means detaching and terminating all its judicial, legislative, and executive authorities along with its army and its security institutions, in addition to prosecuting those who are involved in bloodshed along with their supporters.…" ("Islamic Front- Founding Declaration," 7th Clause, 1). This goal contains many of the"Alawite infidel" components, and one can see the narrative origin of such language seeking the destruction of the regime. As included in the narrative, the Islamic Front's goal promises that vengeance will be extended toward Alawite supporters. Additional language within the document includes historically based slurs against ethnic Alawites, as well as the promise of protecting the rights of groups unjustly persecuted by the regime.

The language of the document support use of a purpose-driven explanation of future acts – in this case, the creation of an Islamic state and massacre of enemies. Embracing "Greater Syria" in terms of an Islamic State encompassing the whole Levant (including Iraq and Jordan) justifies brutality en route. The Islamic Front wishes to characterize the conflict as the ultimate struggle to achieve their conception of a utopian state. This ideology as identical to that of the Islamic State (ISIS). Because the Levant exists within cultural narratives, certain aspects do not require further explanation for regional audiences. Further, achievement of an Islamic State controlling the Levant excuses the killing of enemies. There is no need to deflect responsibility. In fact, regional Sunni narratives already support a negative view of the Alawite. Thus, killing them requires less justification that that already provided in the "Greater Syria" purpose-driven explanation of intent. Again, we can see worldviews in cultural narratives and consistency in how worldviews manifest in persuasive attempts through a dramatistic lens.

Important to our purpose here, both Assad and the opposition seem to understand the importance of influencing multiple audiences. Both sides struggle for popular support among the Syrian people, their sectarian allies, and the international community. Leadership of both sides routinely engage in dialogue and interviews, and also maintains websites stating their objectives. To better understand the rich rhetorical nuances of the various discourses operating in this civil war, we further examine the content of the September 2013 news media interview between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Dennis Kucinich and Greg Palkot, as well as the foundational video-statement produced and published by the Islamic Front, the most powerful opposition group as of this writing. Thus, we hope to gain an appreciation of the worldview and motivations of each by analyzing specifically the dramatistic elements presented in their dialogue as well as draw comparisons between their content and ethnic narratives.

Assad and the Opposition: A Contrast in Drama

Burke provides insight into analyzing texts to find the implied worldview of their authors. One way involves looking for what he called terministic screens: "even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology, it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality" (Burke, Language as Symbolic Action 45). Taking this into consideration, we can look for how the Islamic Front and Assad's choice of words and phrases act to orient listeners' attention toward a particular view of reality. For Burke, "there are two kinds of terms: terms that put things together, and terms that take things apart" (Language as Symbolic Action 49). This process acts to create either or both continuity and discontinuity; we can see how discourse creates moments for composition as well as division. Viewed dramatistically, we can see that "whatever terms we use … constitute a … kind of screen…." This screen "directs" our "attention to one field rather than another. Within that field there can be different screens, each" acting to focus our attention on various elements within a given situation: "All terminologies must implicitly or explicitly embody choices between the principle of continuity and the principle of discontinuity" (Burke, Language as Symbolic Action 50).

In our present case, we can look specifically at the discourses of the opposition and of Assad to see how their choice of terms opens up possibilities for unity or division with each other and with the international community. Are there true moments for consubstantial co-existence? Or instead, do the discourses operate to shut out such consubstantial moments by stressing division? On this point Lawrence Prelli and Terri S. Winters write, the "notion of terministic screens enables us to scrutinize how efforts to come to terms with problematic situations often involve similarities and differences about what meanings to reveal and conceal, disclose and foreclose. At stake in efforts to 'screen' meanings terminologically is the adequacy of underlying perspectives in depicting a situation's reality" (Lawrence and Winters, 226).

Screens point us toward certain elements of what Burke described as a dramatistic pentad—agent, act, scene, agency, purpose—and these different elements have differing degrees of influence upon ourselves and others. How we describe these elements provides insight into how we view the workings of the world. Andrew King describes the utility of Burke's work in this area as a "method of discovering why people do what they do." He writes further, "the dramatic frame features a battle over meanings, perspectives and values" (King, 168-9). In order to uncover the speaker's motivation and perspective, Burke suggested that each of the pentadic elements represents a way of explaining or rationalizing a specific event. Thus, when examining a speaker's explanation of an action, one examines the degree to which he or she juxtaposes other pentadic element against the action – the elemental ratio. The ratio itself represents the interpretation a speaker offers to his or her audience. For example, if a speaker explains an act in terms of the environment in which it occurs (scene-act ratio), he or she might seek to frame the event as inevitable – or to deflect responsibility (Burke, A Grammar of Motives; King). Thus, the elemental ratios used by Assad and his opposition should provide some clue as to how they view their role in the conflict, or at least how they wish us to perceive it.

By discovering the elements of the terministic screens operating, we shed insight into the motives, or underlying worldviews, operating in the discourses of both the Assad regime and the opposition. Specifically, we look for how the various terminologies used acts to reflect the inner worldviews of the parties. Armed with this knowledge, we are then in a position to offer insights into how these worldviews operate to increase or decrease opportunities for consubstantial moments with each other as well as the international community.

Bashar Al-Assad's Interview with Kucinich and Palkot

By August of 2013, the conflict in Syria had raged for over two years. Islamic Front momentum seemed to have shifted to a stagnant but deadly equilibrium, if not somewhat to the Assad Regime. On August 21st, hundreds of Syrian civilians perished in an opposition-held suburb of Damascus. A United Nations investigation attributed the deaths to the employment of a chemical nerve-agent (a violation of international law), known as Sarin (United Nations Mission). Furthermore, the concentration and delivery system for the nerve-agent seemed to implicate Alawite regime forces. The United States immediately threatened retaliatory military action against the Assad Regime while Syrian allies such as Russia and China scurried to broker a diplomatic agreement to prevent such action. On September 12th, the same day U.N. made the investigation public, the Syrian regime agreed to disarm its chemical arsenal. It was in light of these events that Bashar al-Assad addressed the international community via his September 13, 2013 interview with Fox News contributor and former Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich. Assad ostensibly conducted the interview to deny his part in the chemical attack and to state his commitment to the U.N. chemical disarmament mandate. However, his status as the Syrian President and member of the Alawite minority placed him in a position to serve as a spokesman for the regime and his sect. His verbal engagement with Kucinich provides an ample number of examples from which we can better understand Alawite characterization of the entire conflict, their perceived role in it, and motivation behind their actions.

Early questions focus on the chemical attacks, and Assad wryly admits that the presence of his chemical weapons stockpile "is not a secret anymore" (Al-Assad). He denies that his forces were responsible for the attacks and suggests that his enemies engineered the attack. As the interview progresses, Assad engages in a broader discussion of the conflict and the character of the opposition. For example, when Kucinich asks about the future of a secular Syria and whether the country is engaged in a civil war, Assad describes his country as a tolerant "melting pot" of many ethnicities and religions. He describes the threat to the status quo as "extremism, terrorism and violence," the result of which would be an "ideologically closed… more fanatic" society (Al-Assad). Assad emphatically denies the conflict is a civil war. The ideological shift threatening Syrian society, he says, can be directly attributed to foreign-backed "terrorists." He states, "A civil war should start from within. A civil war doesn't need to have 80 or 83 nationalities coming to fight within your country supported by foreign countries. What we have is not a civil war. What we have is a new kind of war" (Al-Assad). When elaborating on the composition of the opposition fighters, he estimates that they are 80% "terrorists or Al Qaeda," who cross the border into Syria with funding and weapons provided by ideologically motivated individuals (Al-Assad). Thus, Assad provides us with the Alawite and regime characterization of the conflict. That is, they are engaged in a fight for the survival of a secular, multi-cultural Syria, against foreign backed terrorists who have ignited jihadist motivations among certain elements of the Syrian population.

Dramatistic Elements of Assad's Interview

If one looks at the entirety of Assad's interview through the lens of Burke's dramatic pentad, we can see deeper into the Alawite characterization of the conflict and their justification for violence. Assad certainly places the element of "scene" at the forefront; he would have his audience believe that he has no choice but to involve himself in a struggle with foreign backed terrorists who seek to undermine the secular nature of his country. In doing so, he not only denies responsibility for the conflict but also extends this denial to Syrian opposition groups who have been "duped" into rebellion by foreign conspirators. Such denial of responsibility can serve a threefold purpose; first, it saves face for the regime in the sense that it allows foreign influence – rather than the regime's own policies - to have caused the rebellion; second, it allows both parties to negotiate a settlement without either "being at fault"; third, it recognizes that the majority Sunni population cannot be vilified if the Alawites wish to remain in power.

However, when discussing particular actions, rather than characterizing the conflict, Assad places "purpose" at the forefront. Thus, when questioned about the thousands of casualties incurred since the beginning of the conflict, Assad cannot deny involvement; rather, he asserts that his actions are justified given the nature of his opponents and the extremist agenda they will visit upon the Syrian people. As a former medical doctor, Assad relates that his actions are humanitarian in nature in the sense that he is "extracting a limb to save the patient." By privileging purpose, his discourse assumes a logic where the ends justify the means. This represents a break with his overall denial of responsibility for the conflict. He is assuming responsibility for brutal actions, which he wants us to view as necessary, for the restoration of Syrian governance. Taken as a whole, we can infer that Assad wished audiences to view his role as reactionary yet strong and appropriate. He did not start the fight but will take the necessary means to resolve it properly.

For Burke, a dominance of scene suggests a sense of materialism operating in the discourse. He believes materialism to be "that metaphysical theory which regards all the facts of the universe as sufficiently explained by the assumption of body or matter, conceived as extended, impenetrable, eternally existent, and susceptible of movement or change of relative position" (Burke, A Grammar of Motives 131). It is "the theory which regards all the facts of the universe as explainable in terms of matter and motion. . . ." (Burke, A Grammar of Motives 131). Important here is that Assad's discourse scenic reliance threatens to "downplay free choice and emphasize situational determinism," and that it is from scenic domination that Assad's purpose flows: "The dramatistic concept of purpose answers the question why an action should or should not take place and is, as such, moralistic in tone. Since purposive thinkers concentrate on the goal of an act, they understand small acts and decisions in light of a larger program" (King, 174; Fay and Kuypers, 207). In this sense, Assad is justifying deadly force as necessitated—compelled even—due to the scenic pressures. However, the focus on purpose also allows for the move toward a transcendent aspect of Assad's active use of deadly force: a greater, multicultural, and secular Syria (King, 170-171). Thus, Assad is willing to sacrifice lives and fortunes to save not himself, but a greater Syria. From Burke's point of view, the "sacrificial principle is intrinsic to the nature of order" because sacrifice leads to ultimate fulfillment and rewards ("Dramatism" 450).

Founding Declaration of the Islamic Front

The Islamic Front's Foundational Statement

The Islamic Front ratified their founding principles and goalson November 22, 2013. These principles were announced in an online video, in which the leadership of all subordinate factions surround the speaker, Ahmed Issa al-Sheikh ("Islamic Front- Founding Declaration"). Issa al-Sheikh is the former military commander of a powerful Jihadist fighting force and served as the Islamic Front's leader. Particularly relevant due to its timing, the statement is rife with sectarian undertones, ethno-religious narratives, and is clearly meant to address a diverse audience. The statement comes in the wake of recent pro-regime victories against several key Jihadist fighting groups and the killing of a key Islamist opposition leader. Subordinate groups of like ideology recognized the need to unify their forces and clearly articulate a vision for a future Syria. Their exigency became even more salient in the wake of the internationally brokered deal preventing U.S. intervention against the Assad regime.

Issa begins the statement by defining the Islamic Front as "a comprehensive Islamic, social, political, and military formation. Aiming to a complete toppling of Assad regime in Syria, and building an Islamic state in which the lordship will be for the almighty God Sharia (law)…." ("Islamic Front- Founding Declaration," Introduction). With this statement, Issa breaks the silence, intentionally maintained by many Jihadist groups, regarding their end-game for a post-Assad Syria. The remainder of the statement takes on the nature of a governing document. Fifteen clauses distinctly outline the group's ideology, goals, rules for membership, characterization of other groups, and codes of behavior. In broad terms, the statement attempts to strike a balance between vehement advocacy for the implementation of Sharia law and understanding the concerns of Syrian citizens who would exist under it. Further, the speaker defines the Islamic Front's central role within the conflict, while directly and indirectly naming its enemies.

Issa is very clear regarding the group's intentions for governance. His desire is "to establish an independent state in which God's faithful Sharia will reign sovereign.…" ("Islamic Front- Founding Declaration," 1st Clause). He further rejects any form of secularization, stating "Religion without policy is a kind of monasticism that is forbidden in our religion and policy without religion is rejected secularization." His moderating tone shows up in his address of how such a system might be implemented. To the Syrian people (and perhaps the international community) he relays the group's commitment to work "for political progress, to create unified visions and positions compatible with societal issues; along with the civilian side, it revives and activates society's various capacities in preparation for rebuilding the desired new Syria, the state of Islam, justice, and advancement." The speaker further highlights elements of class and sect by stating that in the "new Syria" the group will "defend the underdogs" and their honor ("Islamic Front- Founding Declaration," 7th Clause, 1).

When discussing its enemies, the group directly addresses the Alawite-Shia Assad Regime as well as indirectly addressing supporters of an Arab style secular state. With respect to the regime, the groups stated goal is "to topple the existing regime in its entirety, with all its obscure remnants, to wipe them out of Syrian existence completely" ("Islamic Front- Founding Declaration," 7th Clause, 1). The statement addresses regime supporters by stating that following the dismantling of all governmental institutions, they should receive an "equitable trial" ("Islamic Front- Founding Declaration," 7th Clause, 1), although one might assume that such trials would occur based upon the Islamic Front's interpretation of Sharia Law. The other take-away from the statement, is the frequency with which the speaker denounces secularism. Without naming anyone, the group is sending a clear message to elements of the opposition who have not yet aligned with them, as well as rejecting the influence of foreign powers. Finally, the group stakes its claim to legitimacy by citing its member-groups successful participation since the beginning of the "revolution" and paying homage to its own military prowess.

Dramatistic Elements of Opposition Discourse

The speaker's words within the video indicate that the group advocates the destruction of the Assad Regime and the establishment of an Islamic State governed by Sharia Law. However, the meaning of the speaker's words extend beneath the surface regarding the Islamic Front's role in the formation of the Islamic State, and the likelihood it will carry out its agenda against Assad regime supporters. Here the act of the Islamic Front is the establishment of an Islamic State and the conduct of retribution. Throughout the text there is a mingling of purpose and agent with this act. This varies by clause within the document, with some assuming an act-purpose ratio and others assuming an act-agent ratio. These ratios interanimate to form a general sense of act to purpose/agent emphasis. The speaker's interchanging emphasis on purpose and agent with respect to the act of establishing an Islamic state demonstrate their ambition to rule such a state as well as a willingness to justify violence in order to establish it.

The strong domination of act in the discourse of the Islamic Front implies an undercurrent of philosophical realism operating in the discourse. Burke describes realism as a belief "in the real existence of matter as the object of perception (natural realism); also, the view that the physical world has independent reality, and is not ultimately reducible to universal mind or spirit." Importantly for understanding the discourse of the Islamic Front, this realist underpinning also suggests "the existence of objects in the external world independently of the way they are subjectively experienced" ("Realism"). The act of the Islamic Front fuels their very conception of self: "things are more or less real according as they are more or less energeia [activity] (actu, from which our 'actuality' is derived). [F]orm is the actus, the attainment, which realizes the matter" (Burke, A Grammar of Motives 227).

Agent and purpose work together to legitimize the Islamic Front's central role in the conflict, qualify them for leadership, and promoting ideology. As agents, the leaders of the Islamic Front view themselves as fighting for a larger cause, and their discourse suggests that they take on a larger than life persona. Certainly the dramatistic agent can be viewed as a heroic person, one willing and able to take on the most difficult of circumstances. This aspect of the Islamic Front's discourse could be particularly appealing to Western cultures where, as Andrew King points out, "the charismatic leader who triumphs in spite of obstacles, setbacks, and enemies" has long been celebrated (170). The reliance on purpose in the discourse serves to highlight the larger context in which the Islamic Front views their actions. Since purpose answers the question why an action should or should not take place, we have a greater sense of how the Islamic Front sees its individual acts of violence are seen in relation to a much larger program of the imposition of Sharia Law within a Middle East Caliphate. This emphasis on purpose within the text reflects concerns of mysticism. On this point King writes that "in the extreme example of this kind of rhetoric means are subordinated to ends… for the sake of higher or divine law" (172). The speaker's consistent emphasis upon the use of violence for the sake of Islam and Sharia Law certainly fits here. For example, with regard to necessarily justified action the speaker states that, "the Islamic Front believes that the way to achieve its targets cannot be realized unless the armed military movement actively undertakes the Assad regime's toppling." The document additionally explains that this entails wiping the Assad regime from existence. The justification for intended brutality remains the establishment of the Islamic state. The speaker views such actions as acceptable in light of "an independent state in which God's faithful Sharia will reign sovereign."

As noted by King, persons who expect charismatic leaders to solve their problems tend to emphasize the agent in their discourse (171). The speaker in the Islamic Front video places the Islamic Frontas the agent for taking action and solving the problems of its advocates. The statement's sixth paragraph provides the following example; "Islamic Front sons were the first to revolt against the Assad regime's tyranny and protected the people from its injustice. The most prominent military victories over the Assad regime are theirs, so they are part of the Syrian people and interpret Syrians' aims and hopes." In this telling example, the speaker clearly designates the central nature of Islamic Front within the conflict and offers their suitability to "protect the underdog [and] his honor," and to represent the Syrian people.

Metaphor and "Selling" of the Alawite Case to the U.S.

An examination of Bashar al-Assad's interview can inform us about the perception and motivations of the group he represents. A juxtaposition of history, events, narrative, and dramatistic pentad show an Alawite ruling class which believes it is locked in conflict with a sectarian enemies bent on its destruction; events of the conflict are beyond their control as evidenced by a conspiratorial relationship between their neighbors, ideologically motivated individuals, and Western nations. Because they argue that the conflict is not of their making, Alawite rulers feel justified in using violence on those they perceive as not being truly Syrian. They also believe that in destroying their opposition and reincorporating certain factions of the rebellion, they will be resurrecting "Greater Syria." Given the difference between Syrian and Western narratives, understanding regarding the nature of the conflict, and preconceived Western notions of a "tyrannical regime," how does Assad try to influence U.S. opinion?

Throughout the interview, Assad chooses to explain his case using carefully selected language understood by Westerners, particularly Americans. The language used—metaphors—translates central ideas using words that produce wide meaning and invoke sympathy among his audience. Thomas R. Burkholder and David Henry describe a metaphor as a speaker's means to "ask listeners to comprehend one thing, represented by the tenor, in terms of another, represented by the vehicle" (98). Metaphor, however, is more than just a description or comparison of one thing in terms of another. Michael Osborn describes how "the 'thought' of the subject (tenor) and the 'thought' of the item for association (vehicle)… in their meaningful action together, determine psychologically the appearance and sense of the metaphor" ("The Metaphor" 228). Thus, the metaphor is a process of thought and understanding on the part of the sender and receiver. In some cases, we might consider it a contextualization in the pursuit of persuasion. Osborn's later work describes such a process whereby "cues in the context include consciousness of recent events… susceptibility of listeners, and deeper cultural configurations that come into play" ("The Trajector," 80). In our present case, Assad is asking us to understand the opposition and their actions in terms of terrorists and terrorism.

A September 11, 2001, terrorists no longer only attacked small groups who chose to venture into dangerous lands, nor was their destruction limited to those unfortunates within the blast radius of a bomb. Terrorists could now pilot airplanes, destroy cultural landmarks, kill thousands in well-coordinated attacks, and do it where ordinary people live and work. Terrorism invokes visceral images of buildings collapsing with thousands trapped inside. It also elicits fear of a faceless enemy who violates the American sense of security, challenges ideals of tolerance, and seethes with incomprehensible hate. Further, with the exception of certain high-profile domestic cases, terrorists are foreign. The collective nature of emotion, fear, and suspicion described above comprise the Alawite understanding of the Syrian rebellion and the conceptualization he asks U.S. audiences to assume. Although he doesn't directly state the following, Assad seems to extend the metaphor toward The Syrian Governments actions are a war on terror. Such a metaphor permeates a barrier between the Syrian-Alawite and U.S. world-views that might have been impenetrable on September 10, 2001.

We believe that Assad understands the power characterizing opposition as terrorists based upon his frequency of use. It is important, however, to understand why he uses it. When engaging with U.S. audiences, the Alawite use of metaphor assumes certain ideographic characteristics as both a call for inaction and a justification for action. If the abstract of terrorism represents a collective commitment to a normative goal, that goal is combating terrorism. Following 9/11, the U.S. engaged in the War on Terror. Although the concept of War on Terror eventually led to military action, it was initially an ill-defined call to action against an unknown enemy (Kuypers). By characterizing 80% of the Syrian opposition as terrorists, Assad and his Regime seek to align themselves with this call to action – and justify their use of force. Similarly, if Regime forces are combating terrorism, the U.S. shouldn't intervene in their execution of a war on terrorism. The specter of terrorism warrants and excuses Regime actions while attempting to avoid U.S. involvement by invoking collective commitment to a common goal. It is powerful because it calls upon U.S. commitments and imparts an immediate and visceral understanding of the Alawite worldview - existential fear, encirclement, vigilance, and survival.

Additionally, Assad's metaphor of rebels as terrorists aligns his objectives with those of the U.S. By defining a common enemy he not only seeks to stem U.S. opposition, but to invite active support. At the time of his interview, the specter of terrorism in Syria proved insufficient for U.S. policy-makers to overcome the short-term political benefit of taking a hard line on the regime's brutality. However, the recent horrific actions of the Islamic State as well of the AQ affiliations of the Islamic Front have made it clear that Assad does indeed fight self-proclaimed enemies of the United States. Perhaps we can judge his previous appeals in a new light as we consider the way ahead in the larger regional conflict. In recent months, Secretary of State Kerry alluded to a possible tacit cooperation with Syrian forces fighting the Islamic State (Islamic Front is not specifically addressed) despite the U.S.'s official policy of arming and equipping the opposition. He noted, "we are working very hard with other interested parties to see if we can reignite a diplomatic outcome… we have to negotiate in the end" (Kerry qtd. in Gordon, "Kerry Suggests"). This shift does not necessarily represent support for the Syrian dictator or his Iranian allies. However, it seems to indicate a willingness to revaluate the application of economic and military pressure as policy makers refine their understanding of the conflict.

Clashing World Views: Dramatism and International Audience

Our analysis suggests that U.S. audiences use care when evaluating the discourse of potential allies in the Syrian conflict, as well as when applying the pentad to non-Western discourse. Three pitfalls can lead to oversimplification and misplaced sympathy toward either of the two sides. These pitfalls include: one, listening to what is being said about the groups involved rather than what they themselves are saying; two, listening to speakers who do not represent the warring parties; and three, imposing a U.S. understanding of the "underdog versus the tyrannical regime" upon the conflict itself. These pitfalls can, however, be avoided through the proper contextualization and use of primary sources, the analysis of cultural narratives, and the application of the pentad used to better understand worldviews. In particular, one must evaluate the discourse of the persuasive agent rather than discourse about a persuasive agent. For example, if one intends to evaluate Bashar al-Assad's motives, a Western media outlet's interpretation of his words would be an ill-advised source. Although such documents might contain quotes, those chosen might actually support a pre-existing U.S. culturally based interpretation (such as the "the underdog vs. the tyrannical regime").

U.S. failure to hold a conversation regarding the actual discourse of Syrian (by extension Iraqi) partisans in context of the conflict is already leading it toward poorly advised "side-taking." Never has U.S. publicdiscourse regarding Syria included a scenario where the U.S. intervenes on behalf of the Regime to prevent an internationally recognized terror syndicate from gaining control of the infrastructure of a developed country. This is not to imply that such strategies would be correct, but rather to highlight that a robust understanding of the parties involved ought to lead to questions regarding potential U.S. support for the opposition. Such questions, when they have been addressed in the public discourse, are answered by rhetoric that supports the "moderate" opposition. Such lines of logic conclude with the idea that the "extremists" are a minority, and support for the "moderates" will prevent others from filling a power void. However, a closer look shows that much of the "moderate" voice is either disregarded as irrelevant by representative opposition groups, if not used as a tool for bargaining by influential individuals with ties to those groups. Furthermore, the group now overseeing the "moderate" opposition (The Islamic Front) originates from the same cloth, holds the same ideology, desires the same goal, and uses similar narratives as the Islamic State (ISIS). The ethno-religious/sectarian nature of the conflict, as well as the role of terrorist groups within it, are not only ignored in public discourse, but also at times denied completely. For instance, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated in September 2013, "I just don't agree that the majority of them are al-Qaeda and the bad guys" (Michaels, "Kerry"). However, the value of public knowledge informed by those who choose to agree/disagree with certain characterizations pales in comparison with realistic assessments based upon what the groups themselves tell us. On the contrary, when commentators and officials choose to ignore primary sources and make statements of opinion, they perpetuate mischaracterization by a public who relies on their judgment to inform foreign policy. We feel that in conflicts involving ideologies and worldviews completely foreign to most Americans, the public would do well to listen to words spoken by the combatants themselves.

Analysis of foreign discourse with respect to commonly used cultural narratives is a necessary first step for cross-cultural applications of the dramatistic pentad. For example, rural Sunni narratives tell us that those who are fighting against the Assad regime historically sought regional dominance and routinely discuss the destruction of the "illegitimate" Alawite regime. These are not motives in the Burkean sense. However, they do contextualize the "who" and "why" when applying the pentad. For example, if a fanatical Sunni seeks to cast "enemies of Islam" into their graves, we have some idea of who is first in line (Alawites) and what sets of ambitions exist outside of the immediate discourse. Thus, if "freedom and democracy" are not part of the cultural repertoire of a rural Sunni rebel, we might not consider such an end-state among the menu of his or her possible motives.

 Following our methodology, once we understand the speaker's cultural repertoire, we can apply the pentad. As we have shown, the Islamic Front assumes a realist worldview by placing the act of creating a Syrian Islamic state governed by Sharia Law as the central component of their discourse. The act is achieved by the killing and expulsion of the Alawite Regime as well as imposing judgment on its supporters. The Islamic Front intertwines the use of purpose and agent with act, creating an act-agent/purpose ratio. This ratio provides us further insight regarding their worldview and motivation. Thus, we know that the Islamic Front's leadership feels justified in killing for the purpose of establishing a religious state. Further, they are the self-styled rulers of the future regime by virtue of their military prowess and righteousness. This is not the language of tolerance expected of governments in the West; future studies may show that it is quite similar to the language of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).

The danger of imposing our perceptions upon the warring groups (rather than listening to the discourse) is that they might well pursue their ideological path to its logical conclusion, despite our fervent wishes to the contrary. As we have seen here, for some this includes the bloody disposal of all perceived enemies and the establishment of an ideologically narrow autocracy. To sympathize with the Islamic Front or Al-Nusrah because we do not perceive them to be as extreme as "ISIS," or with jihadists because they are fighting a bloody war against the Syrian state apparatus, is a failure to recognize the credibility of their motivations as portrayed in their own words (Sly, "Al-Qaeda"). Such groups tell us that they will kill their enemies according to (their interpretation of) Sharia Law and establish a caliphate. Perhaps the important question is not whether we can cooperate with (or even identify) a moderate opposition, but why the jihadist discourse of the Islamic Front and ISIS resonates so heavily with the regional Sunni population and potential allies. Understanding this might allow real dialogue with those who must eventually be part of the solution.

Application of the pentad provides the starting point for a truly contextualized policy discussion. As the final portion of our method discusses, we can now move beyond the immediate discourse of the partisans themselves. A starting point lies in the Islamic Front's purpose. What does a strict interpretation of Sharia Law look like to a Sunni extremist, and what does it tell us about the potential for partnership against "undesirable" elements in Syria? Reliance of the Traveler and Tools for the Worshiper (A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law by Ahmad Ibn Naqib al-Misri) written in the 14th Century provides some insight. It is an authoritative manual on Sunni Islamic jurisprudence that dictates rules for interactions with non-Muslims, lists requirements of Jihad, details when killing is permissible, itemizes corporal punishment for various offenses, and so forth. Interpretations of this kind have serious implications for a potential alliance with any opposition aligned with the Islamic Front. The document makes clear that Jihad is obligatory, as is the killing of apostates in Muslim lands, or of Christians who criticize Islam. Additionally, any alliance with non-Muslims is prohibited, unless Muslims are outnumbered (Al-Misri, 246). The document does not leave any room for interpretation for strict followers. Thus alliances with the Islamic Front or subordinate groups might prove ultimately unreliable, as their law mandates a return to a strict Sharia interpretation once they have numerical superiority. Reference to such interpretations of Sharia (also used by ISIS/ISIL) might also be an underlying reason Arab nations are hesitant to cooperate in a ground coalition. Even if Jordanian and Saudi politicians do not use such documents to govern their actions, blatant violations might jeopardize their legitimacy with Sunni constituents. Unfortunately for the West and the U.S., there doesn't seem to be much choice between "ISIS" and other fighters who share their ideology in the larger sectarian conflict. Further, the "rules of the game" used by ISIS and the "moderate" rebels in Syria are the same as those used by the Charlie Hebdo attackers. A nuanced conversation might highlight the inanity of creating artificial pecking orders of evil (e.g. the Paris attackers and ISIS are really evil, Al-Qaeda is in the middle, and the Syrian rebels are "good").

The regime of Bashar al-Assad has been successfully fighting against such militants. His discourse has traditionally been that of defining a common enemy through the metaphor of terrorism. He justifies his brutal actions using a scene-act/purpose ratio to describe the inevitability of conflict, and to justify his methods. Uncovering the motivation behind his discourse, it seems that we have a willing and capable ally in the struggle against extremism. Be that as it may, his discourse indicates that the reverse may also be true. That is, he might attack and destroy U.S. trained "moderates" because he perceives them to be terrorists. What is to stop him from doing so when his demise is their primary stated objective? Unfortunately, this possibility has not frequently surfaced in U.S. domestic discourse – which seems to assume a one-on-one fight between "moderates" and "ISIS." The ultimate question is whether we are willing to recast groups in a new light after listening to their discourse, or whether we will cling to old labels, impose U.S. narratives on the conflict, and develop untenable courses of action.

Moving beyond the finding of worldviews and sharing policy implications, this essay also demonstrates how the dramatistic pentad provides a fruitful analytic path into cross-cultural rhetorical criticism, and an effective rhetorical lens for understanding diverse worldviews. In order to navigate this path one must examine the speaker's actual discourse and draw context from the speaker's own culture. This requires the identification of primary sources to serve as artifacts for analysis and the examination of native historical-cultural discourse surrounding the artifacts. Close readings of such culturally related discourse can discover thematic cultural narratives that enhance understanding of the intended audience of a speaker, as well as more accurately account for the worldview of that speaker.

This is an important step since the supplantation of native (non-U.S.) narratives with U.S. narratives leads to miscues regarding a speaker's motive. For example, in our present case, both Assad and the Islamic Front tell us which of their cultural narratives are relevant by explaining them in terms of our own, U.S. narratives. When Assad describes the current conflict as a "fight against terror," we understand that he is describing a perceived existential threat. Thus, we can glimpse the worldview from which he is operating, and would have his audience enter into, by examining the narratives of existential threat. Native narratives provide such nuanced context for applying the pentad. As an additional example, rural Sunni narratives (those of the opposition) do not simply discuss humiliation and justice. Such narratives describe humiliation at the hands of Alawites, and justice against Alawites. It is with this insight that we can actually apply the pentad. Native narrative and use of metaphor allow us to properly identify the pentad's elements. Thus, the act, or "medicine" the Islamic Front (for example) asks us to take is the extermination of Alawites and the establishment of a caliphate in Syria. We would not, however, arrive at this conclusion by applying the pentad through the lens of our own sacred narratives (e.g. equality, tolerance, and justice for the oppressed). As Burke demonstrated in his early unveiling of Hitler's sinister intent, uncovering motive through application of the pentad requires understanding of the other's history, culture, and the surrounding discourse. Only when this is accomplished can we begin the intuitive work of understanding how each element fits together to provide meaning.

Works Cited

Al-Assad, Bashar. Interview with Dennis Kucinich and Greg Palkot. You Tube. Fox News Incorporated 13 Sept. 2013. Web. 9 Jan. 2016.

Al-Misri, Ahmad Ibn Naqib. Reliance of the Traveler. Trans. and Ed. Nuh Ha Mim Keller. Beltsville, MD: Amana Publications, 1994.

Angel, Adriana, and Benjamin Bates. "Terministic Screens of Corruption: A Cluster Analysis of Colombian Radio Conversations." KB Journal 10.1 2014. Web. 9 Jan. 2016.

Burke, Kenneth. A Grammar of Motives. 1945. Berkeley, CA: U of California P, 1969. Print.

—. "Dramatism," International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Ed. David L. Sills and Robert K. Merton. New York: Macmillan and Free Press, 1968: 445-52.

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

—. "The Rhetoric of Hitler's 'Battle." Readings in Propaganda and Persuasion: New and Classic Essays. Ed. Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O'Donnell. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE , 2006. 149-68.

Burkholder, Thomas R., and David Henry. "Criticism in Metaphor." Rhetorical Criticism, Perspectives in Action. Ed. Jim A. Kuypers. New York: Lexington, 2009. Print.

"David Gregory: Al-Qaeda Cast off ISIS as Too Extreme." The Tampa Bay Times 13 August 2014. Web. 9 Jan. 2016.

Day, Anna Therese. "Syrian Fighter: We are the Western Front against ISIL." 24 June 2014. Web. 9 Jan. 2016.

Fassihi, Farnaz, Jay Solomon, and Sam Dagher. "Iranians Dial up Presence in Syria." Wall Street Journal 13 Sept. 2013. Web. 9 Jan. 2016.

Fay, Isabel, and Jim A. Kuypers. "Transcending Mysticism and Building Identification Through Empowerment of the Rhetorical Agent: John F. Kennedy's Berlin Speeches on June 26th, 1963." Southern Communication Journal 77.3 (2012): 198-215.

Francis, David. "Why the Long Arm of ISIS Has Eric Holder Spooked." The Fiscal Times. 15 July 2014. Web. 9 Jan. 2016.

Goldberg, Jeffrey. "Hillary Clinton: 'Failure' to Help Syrian Rebels Led to the Rise of ISIS." The Atlantic 10 Aug. 2014. Web. 9 Jan. 2016.

"The Islamic Front's Founding Declaration; Full English Text" Democratic Revolution, Syrian Style. 28 Nov. 2013. Web. 9 Jan. 2016. <

Kelley, Colleen E. "The Public Rhetoric of Mikhail Gorhachev and the Promise of Peace." Western Journal of Speech Communication 52 (1988): 321-34.

Kerry, John. qtd. in Michael R. Gordon. "Kerry Suggests There Is a Place for Assad in Syria Talks." The New York Times 15 March 2015. Web. 9 Jan. 2016.

King, Andrew. "Pentadic Criticism: The Wheels of Creation." Rhetorical Criticism, Perspectives in Action Ed. Jim A. Kuypers. New York, NY: Lexington Books, 2009. Print.

Kuypers, Jim A. Bush's War: Media Bias and Justifications for War in a Terrorist Age. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006. Print.

Lu, Xing. "A Burkean Analysis of China Is Not Happy: A Rhetoric of Nationalism." Chinese Journal of Communication 5.2 (2012): 194-209.

Lund, Aron. Syria's Salafi Insurgents: The Rise of the Syrian Islamic Front. Swedish Institute of International Affairs: UI Occasional Papers No. 17. March 2013. Web.

MacFarQuhar, Neil, and Hwaida Saad. "As Syrian War Drags On, Jihadists Take Bigger Role." The New York Times 29 July 2012. Web. 9 Jan. 2016.

Michaels, Jim. "Kerry: Syrian Rebels have not been Hijacked by Extremists." USA Today 5 Sept. 2013.

Osborn, Michael M., and Douglas Ehninger. "The Metaphor in Public Address." Communications Monographs 29.3 (1962): 223-34.

Osborn, Michael M. "The Trajectory of My Work with Metaphor." Southern Communication Journal 74.1 (2009): 79-87.

Patron-Galindo, Pedro. "Symbolism and the Construction of Political Products: Analysis of the Political Marketing Strategies of Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo." Journal of Public Affairs 4.2 (2004): 115-24.

Prelli, Lawrence, and Terri S. Winters. "Rhetorical Features of Green Evangelicalism." Environmental Communication 3.2 (2009): 224-43.

"Realism," Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition (OED2). Web.

Ritger, Clara. "Chuck Hagel: ISIS is 'Beyond Anything' the US has Seen." The National Journal 21 Aug. 2014. Web. 9 Jan. 2016.

Sly, Liz. "Al-Qaeda Disavows any ties with Radical Islamist ISIS Group in Syria, Iraq." The Washington Post 3 Feb. 2014.

"Syria—People and Society." The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency, n.d. Web. 9 Jan. 2016.

"Syria Profile," BBC News. BBC, 9 Dec. 2015. Web. 9 Jan. 2016.

"United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic: Report on the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in the Ghouta Area of Damascus on 21 August 2013. United Nations. 12 Sept. 2013."

United States. Central Intelligence Agency. Director of National Intelligence Open Source Center (OSC). Open Source Center Master Narratives Country Report: Syria. Reston: Open Source Center, 2008.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Branding Cyber-Activism: Burke's Identification and the Visual Identity of Anonymous

Débora Antunes, University of Antwerp*


The cyber-activist collective Anonymous has created a powerful visual representation through the use of three key symbols: the mask, the headless suit logo, and its signature. Those images appear in almost all the campaigns launched by the collective and are part of Anonymous' visual identity, becoming important carriers of identification, which is understood here according to Kenneth Burke's theory. In this paper, I argue that, through the use of those symbols as means to promote identification, Anonymous created a cyber-activist brand that can be used by anyone who wishes to use the name and appeal of the collective to promote his/her message.

1. Introduction

Seen in protests from all over the world, Anonymous presents itself as a cyber-activist collective without a fixed ideology. The collective makes use of cyber-activists practices and have a culture of its own and, in a phenomena that can be explained through identification, Anonymous was able to gather a massive community around its campaigns. Norton summarises the presence of the collective, its fluid identity, and its worldwide power in the following fragment:

Anonymous has broken the bounds of the digital and pushed its way out onto the streets, it has become a radical movement unlike any other. It doesn’t have a founding philosopher or a manifesto; there’s no pledge or creed. It’s true that Anonymous does have a politics, but it’s hardly a specific platform—just a support for online freedom and a rage at anyone who tries to curtail it. No, what Anonymous has become, in reality, is a culture, one with its own distinctive iconography (the Fawkes masks, the headless man in the business suit), its own self-referential memes, its own coarse sense of humour. And as Anonymous campaigns have spread around the world, so too has its culture, bringing its peculiar brand of cyber-rebellion to tech-savvy activists in Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Like a plastic Fawkes mask, Anonymous is an identity that anyone can put on, whenever they want to join up with the invisible online horde.

Because of its loose identity and strong iconography, Anonymous has become a kind of brand that can be used to give credibility to any idea promoted under its symbols. As with any brand, visual identity plays an important role since it will determine how the organisation will be recognised by others; and Anonymous has been doing a great job in this respect. The collective has created a wide range of audio-visual content by exploring symbols that already exist, in what is called a remix culture. This creation and re-appropriation are possible because of the digital nature of the Internet, which allows users to easily manipulate and re-purpose images. Joss Hands characterises the remix possibilities as a culture which takes "all kinds of texts already in the public domain, and - with the aid of cheap consumer electronics - [cuts] them up, [sample] them and [mix] together, so that new contexts generate new meanings" (73).

Figure 1 . Remix Culture as Used by Anonymous in #OperationPayBack Anonymous. "Propaganda Material". Oppaperstorm. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.

Anonymous took the best out of the possibilities afforded by the remix culture and the web in order to create powerful images and symbols that stand for the collective as well as its campaigns. For instance, Gabriella Coleman ("Aesthetic") affirms Anonymous "would be far weaker as a phenomenon without the masks, without their fantastic art work, without those videos", and adds that "Anonymous is a faceless phenomenon that is everywhere represented via their artistic output". Thus, the importance of the visual identity created by the collective is part of its power.

As a result, the symbols are important carriers of identification, since they allow the transfer of one's energy from the image to the collective, reinforcing the process of community-gathering. Moreover, as those symbols are usually based on pre-existent icons, people can engage with the content in a critical manner, making associations and building meanings from what is already known about the images. Anonymous' symbols can be analysed in terms of kinds of identification and strategies, according to the definitions that I discuss below. In this paper, I focus on the three main symbols used by Anonymous: the Guy Fawkes mask, the headless suit in front of what look likes the United Nations logo, and Anonymous' signature. Those symbols pervade all the campaigns created by Anonymous. Before moving to the analysis of the symbols, it is important to understand how identification operates.

2. Burke's Identification

The use of identification as a mean to persuade has been observed since Ancient Greece, when Aristotle proclaimed the importance of using commonplaces and understanding the audience to promote persuasion. However, Aristotle concentrates his efforts in a rhetoric that is all about convincing and does not give particular attention to the term identification itself. It is Kenneth Burke who constructs a theoretical approach to rhetoric that has identification as the essential aspect of persuasion and, consequently, as the key term of his theory. Burke departs from a perspective based on drama that analyses the use of language as a symbolic system to induce cooperation among human beings.

In order to understand Burke's idea of identification, we should first look at his definition of human beings. Burke ("Man" 493) affirms that people are symbol-using animals whose experiences define the symbolic system used by them and who are in turn defined by it. The author also differentiates identity from the self, defining identity as a social product that is created through the symbolic interaction between individuals, whereas the existence of the self is denied. He affirms that "identity is an active process in which 'I' is merely a unique combination of potentially conflicting corporate 'we's'" (Attitudes 264). Thus, Burke situates people as a product of their social relations, ideologies, and contexts.

As a result of Burke's definition of man, we can see how the social aspect is important in his studies. It is this fact that sets identification as a key term in Burke's studies since he says that the function of rhetoric is to proclaim the unity of men who are by nature divided (Motives 22). Consequently, identification is the only mean of participating in collective acts, and is considered an essential part in the function of sociality (Burke, Attitudes 267). Furthermore, Jay Jordan explains that identification is important "to a wide range of Burkean preoccupations: sacrifice, scapegoating, organisational behaviour, political affiliations, transcendence" (267). Thus, identification works to bring people together and move them collectively towards the same ideal.

Though the origins of the term identification are in the word identity, it is not about similarity, but joint interests. Burke defines identification by saying: "A is not identical with his colleague, B. But insofar as their interests are joined, A is identified with B. Or he may identify himself with B even when their interests are not joined, if he assumes that they are, or is persuaded to believe so" (Motives 20). Nevertheless, the identity of A or B is not excluded when they come together because of shared interests, being them at the same time consubstantial and independent individuals. Gary Woodward summarises the concept by saying that identification "creates spikes of decisive recognition that can bind us to specific sources, while affirming the boundaries of our own recognised world" (5).

Burke also explains that as the natural division of human beings is the origin of the necessity of identification, both division and identification are constantly subordinate to each other (Motives 22). It is interesting to notice that even the associations formed through identification imply division since people organise themselves in groups that are usually distinguished from other groups, creating an antagonism between "them" and "us". As a consequence, identification offers an attempt to overcome division at the same time that perpetuates it (Jordan 269). In other words, identification results simultaneously in sociality and rivalry, since people tend to tie themselves to the perspective created by a group, at the same time that they ignore or reject other angles.

Keeping in mind the idea of what Burke's identification means, we can move on to the categories that can help to analyse how it appears in imagetic discourse. Here, I am going to develop two taxonomies related to the term: the kinds of identification, which implies how the symbolic system is used and perceived by human beings, and the strategies that can be used to promote identification. I develop each of these categories in this section, but they can be summarised in the following table.

Table 1. Identification Taxonomies

Kinds Mechanical Unconscious association between symbols and ideas.
Analogical Use of different frameworks to discuss a category.
Ideological Creation of a symbolic system that will give meaning to other symbols.
Strategies Similarity Emphases is given to resemblance (i.e., demographic).
Commonality Shared perspective (i.e. same enemy).
Hidden Division Discourse hides tokens that induce identification..

The first important aspect of identification relates to how symbols will be interpreted by human minds in order to promote identification. Through this process of interpretation, the symbols will be associated with certain elements according to the critical approach used by the ones taking part in the symbolic act. Departing from this idea of associations, Burke presents three kinds of identification: mechanical, analogical, and ideological.

Mechanical: this kind of identification results from the simple association between an idea with a symbol or image. Woodward affirms that this kind of identification does not involve any critical thinking, being based on how previous experiences shape the way we interpret the world (29). Mechanical identification can be seen when a certain object is associated with a desired class status. For example, in Western culture, brands of cars are preferred according to the image that one has of oneself and wants to project to others. Consequently, mechanical identification can also show how symbols can be used to perform identity (Woodward 129).

Analogical: in this case, identification happens when "the principle of an order is transferred to another order" (Burke, Motives 133). Analogical identification uses a framework that does not belong to the category of the idea under discussion in order to re-contextualise the subject and give it a new meaning. For example, arguments are typically defined using a vocabulary of conflict (i.e., argument is a fight), which moves them from the realm of an exchange of ideas to a battle in which only one side can win.

Ideological: this is the most abstract of the three kinds of identification. Burke defines rhetorical ideology as "a system of political or social ideas, framed and propounded for an ulterior purpose" (Motives 88). Thus, the ideological identification happens when a complete system, or cluster of signs, is created to represent a large idea that is used to order other signs. As an example, Christian conservative groups can attract people using an ideological form of identification by offering them a new ideological framework. Hence, as soon as they start to share the membership of this group, people will start to judge based on the views that the new framework considers natural or abnormal, creating a new organisation for their own worlds. Ideological systems are particularly good at giving meaning to signs that do not have a fixed position when it comes to good or bad per se, such as capitalism (Burke, Motives 184). Here, it is important to notice that this form of identification can happen in a subliminal way since ideological systems are often interiorised by individuals in an unconscious manner. For instance, Tony Thwaites mentions that ideologies are keen to address people as if they were already part of that system, leaving no choice to the addressee other than to accept his/her role as part of the group (162).

Woodward affirms that the analogical identification reframes one's experience, while the ideological renames it (33). When either one is in action, it is able to modify one's idea, showing the association between identification and identity. A modification in mind calls for an identity adjustment and a change of attitude, which has the power to change the way people perceive themselves and the world (Woodward 36; Ambrester 205). Thus, a successful identification can be noticed, at a superficial level, through explicit connections to the group, such as the use of the same vocabulary, and, at a deeper level, in the impact on the symbolic organisation of one’s mind.

The three kinds of identification discussed can appear in discourse according to three different strategies. These strategies take into consideration how the audience will be attracted to an specific idea. As do all rhetorical acts, identification occurs when an audience can be addressed and, consequently, convinced. Although Burke points out that one can be one's own audience as long as s/he "cultivates certain ideas or images for the effect [s/he] hopes they may have upon [her/himself]" (Motives 38), rhetorical acts usually have external audiences that can be convinced. Hence, different strategies can be used, together or alone, to create identification with the audience: 1) similarity — when points of resemblance are created among people; 2) commonality — when the audience shares a common ideal; and 3) terms that hide division — when a discourse implicitly moves the audience towards a sense of group (Woodward, 2003: 26). These strategic appeals happen when a speaker is able to talk the same language as the audience "by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying your way with his" (Burke, Motives 55). By doing that, the speaker will identify his/her causes with the interests and opinions of the audience.

Burke summarise the three strategies in the following paragraph:

The first [similarity] is quite dull. It flowers in such usages as that of a politician who, though rich, tells humble constituents of his humble origins. The second kind of identification [commonality] involves the workings of antithesis, as when allies who would otherwise dispute among themselves join forces against a common enemy. This application also can serve to deflect criticism; a politician can call any criticism of his policies "unpatriotic", on the grounds that it reinforces the claims of the nation's enemies. But the major power of "identification" [terms that hidden division] derives from situations in which it goes unnoticed. My prime example is the word "we", as when the statement that "we" are at war includes under the same head soldiers who are getting killed and spectators who hope to making a killing in war stocks (Dramatism 28).

Here it is interesting to notice that the creation of enemies used in commonality is marked by the striving for perfection that defines human beings in the view of Burke. As so, people tend to create perfect enemies, entities that are not really people, but the embodiment of evil. The author exemplifies with the construction of Jews in Mein Kampf, by Hitler (Burke, "Man" 509) . A contemporary example would be the traditional conflicts between East and West and the creation of villains, such as Osama Bin Laden, as the personification of terrorism. As a consequence of the perfect enemies, there is the presence of the perfect victims, who can identify themselves with each other because of the shared enemy.

Regarding similarity, it is not only seen when an evident characteristic is shared among people, but also when people are invited to imagine themselves in a certain situation to build empathy with those who actually are in that situation, then being an abstract representation of similarity is created.

As a rhetorical appeal presented through the three strategies, identification can fail or succeed at four different levels: associative, admiring, sympathetic, and cathartic. The levels were developed by P. David Marshall in his scholarship about film studies (quoted in Woodward 49). However, they are also useful in understanding social contexts since the three levels can define how people engage with a person or group. The terms are self-explicative and define the state of mind of the audience after receiving a message, implying diverse degrees of engagement with an idea. Though the final aim of identification, as described by Burke, is to move people towards some action, it only happens when associative identification is conquered. In this case, an individual not only identifies his/her views with the view of the group, but also becomes an active member of the organisation.

Burke's perspectives about identification can be applied to understand how Anonymous' symbols can operate as a brand and gather people towards the ideas promoted by the collective. In the following sections, I analyse the three main symbols one by one: the Guy Fawkes Mask, the Headless Man, and Anonymous' signature.

3. The Guy Fawkes Mask

Although many ideas are hidden behind the Guy Fawkes Mask, Gregg Housh, a not so anonymous Anon who was part of Chanology, the very first campaign created by Anonymous against The Church of Scientology, affirms that the icon was picked almost randomly by Anonymous. It happened when people in the collective faced the necessity of omitting their personal identities when protesting against Scientology on the streets, since it "had been claimed that Scientologists harassed mercilessly their critics" (Anonymous). Though some people argue that from the beginning the mask was part of a political decision, Housh says there was not a consensus about it and other suggestions were given, such as super hero masks (as quoted in Walker). However, when Anons decided to check the general availability of the masks in shops, the Guy Fawkes mask won.

As the collective grew stronger, the meaning of the mask started to make sense as part of Anonymous representation. Nowadays, the icon is used in many Anons' social media profiles and is also a common presence in street protests promoted and/or supported by the collective. Its power as a symbol is even challenged by governments, who have been banning masks in protest because of the massive appearance of Guy Fawkes masks. Such action was taken by the governments of Bahrain, Dubai, Canada, and even the United States, which used an old law to justify the banishment. As a matter of fact, the related charges can add up to ten years in prison in Canada (Fitzpatrick).

When it comes to identification, the Guy Fawkes mask can operate in two ways: mechanically and ideologically. Moreover, it also makes use of similarity and commonality as strategies. Among the operations, the ideological kind of identification is the most complex one, since it requires an understanding of the stories behind the mask, from the Gunpowder plot to the release of the movie V for Vendetta (2005), that make the icon a symbol of fighting against oppression. Noticeably, as part of a product created by the remix culture, the mask can also be considered according to the analogical identification. However, the subversion of frameworks in the case of this symbol does not affect its main ideological meaning.

The Guy Fawkes mask was created in memory of a catholic man, Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up the English parliament in an attempt to kill King James I because of the religious intolerance that prevailed in England. However, Fawkes was betrayed by his fellows, arrested, and would have been executed if he had not committed suicide while waiting to be hanged. For many years, November 5th, the night intended for the Gun Powder Plot, the name given to the plan, has been celebrated in Great Britain. The festivities were not in honour of Fawkes, though, but to mock him and his attempt to kill the king. During those nights, an effigy of Guy Fawkes, using a mask to resemble his face, was burnt. However, history changed his fame and, as time passed, he became known as a figure who fought against the government, being considered by some as the last man with good intentions to walk through the British parliament. Currently, the mask is no longer mocked, but used as a symbol of dissent. But Guy Fawkes' story was not well-known outside the British Isles until 1980.

From that year to 1990, two well-known graphic novelists, Alan Moore and David Lloyd, decided to use the icon in their graphic novel, V for Vendetta (1989). Lloyd drew a version of the mask, the one that is seen on the streets nowadays, and the story reinforced the old ideology behind the symbol, the fight against oppression. In addition, the graphic novel embedded the mask in the question of how people can empower themselves and fight for their rights. V for Vendetta (1989) happens in a totalitarian Britain that uses minorities, such as homosexuals, in medical experiments and controls the lives of its citizens. In this scenario, V, the major character who uses the mask, appears as a dissent who fights against the government and teaches people how they should rule themselves. When the graphic novel was released, V became a popular character among geeks and comic fans. However, it was the movie directed by James McTeigue and written by the Wachowski Brothers, released in 2005, that popularised the mask. The movie was based on the graphic novel, although some alterations were made. When it was released, the image of the mask and its ideology of fighting against oppressive governments were wide spread and those who could identify themselves with this ideology could also identify themselves with the Guy Fawkes mask, the major symbol of the movie and the graphic novel.

When Anonymous adopted the mask as its symbol through a random decision, the ideology worked well with their discourse in favour of freedom of speech. Though the context and framework were changed, which would count as an analogical identification, when an idea is removed from its original framework for another purpose, the ideology behind the symbol was still the same. As said by one Anon, the mask is no longer about blowing up governments, but it is still about giving the power back to people (Anonymous). In other words, the mask represents the fight against any kind of oppression. By making use of a symbol with such a strong ideological appeal, Anonymous could also use the strategy of commonality. In this case, people who identified themselves with the mask's ideology could transfer this energy to Anonymous itself since they had a shared interest represented by the Guy Fawkes mask.

Moreover, the Guy Fawkes mask holds an ample ideological perspective, making it appealing to a wide range of people. As Lloyd proposes, the mask carries no political view other than fighting against tyranny. He even adds that:

The important thing about that mask is that it’s used on a widespread level by many people who just want to use it as an all-purpose symbol of resistance to tyranny, even of perceived tyranny. That’s the most important thing about that mask. That’s why it’s been used in so many disparate groups. It’s been used in anti-Scientology demonstrations, also used by Occupy Wall Street Movement, also used by protesters in Egypt and in China. [...] It only means that you are somebody that doesn’t want to be run by an authoritarian government. That is most of us, and that’s why that’s so fantastic a symbol.
Noticeably, the loose ideological appeal of the mask is similar to the appeal of Anonymous, which promotes a wide range of campaigns with multiples perspectives; though most of them are connected to oppression.

Though the mask carries a strong power of ideological identification, it can also result in dissociation from Anonymous. It happens because at the same time that the icon is used in fights against oppression and exploitation, it is also at the root of some exploitation systems. The symbol's copyright belongs to Time Warner, and the enterprise has been profiting from large sums of money due to the sales of the item. Moreover, the large scale production of the mask tends to exploit the vulnerabilities of third world countries. As an example, Figure 3 shows a picture of Guy Fawkes masks being mass produced in slums in Rio de Janeiro, it circulates on the web as an "somewhat ironic image" (Kelley).

Figure 3 - Assembly Line of Guy Fawkes Mask in São Gonçalo, Rio de Janeiro. Reuters. "Workers manufacture Guy Fawkes masks at a factory in São Gonçalo, Brazil in July". IbTimes. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.

People who work in assembly lines in slums tend to be low paid, a result of the poor labour division of neo-liberal globalisation. As a consequence, some people see the icon as an inconsistency when it comes to activism, causing dissociation from the Guy Fawkes mask, which can be passed on to Anonymous. In order to overcome such criticisms, Anonymous has been incentivising Anons to produce their own masks.

Despite the problematic nature of its production, the mask has become a popular symbol of Anonymous, being shared by many mainstream media as well as by Anonymous' social media profiles. Because of this massive use, it was able to promote a mechanical identification. In this case, no critical thinking is involved to associate the mask with Anonymous. Even if a person knows nothing about Guy Fawkes or V for Vendetta s/he can still associate the mask with Anonymous since it has become part of popular culture. The mechanical association is possible because Anonymous has consolidated the message of the mask as its symbol. For instance, it is not difficult to see people calling it "the Anonymous mask" instead of referring back to Guy Fawkes or any version of V for Vendetta. In such cases, the mechanical kind of identification is deeply connected to the strategy of similarity. By using the mask, even without critical thinking about it or its ideology, one can have the feeling of belonging to the collective and, as said by Burke, social ties are the ultimate aim of human beings when interacting with each other.

Moreover, the sense of community created by the mask also has a political significance. When people deny their individual identities when protesting, they fully assume the role of citizens, forming a mass claiming for ideals. Thus, the mask does not represent an individual, but the full collective, and its presence can be summarised in one of the quotes from the movie: "beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bullet-proof" (V for Vendetta). By becoming ideas, citizens are no longer targetable and subjected to repression, but act as a unison voice to express dissent, reinforcing the functions of sociality through identification and also strengthening Anonymous as a community.

4. The Headless Suit

Although the mask became the most well-known symbol of Anonymous, the collective's logo is in fact a headless man wearing a suit with a background that resembles the United Nations (UN) logo, and a question mark in the place where the head should be, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4 - Anonymous Logo and United Nations logo Huff, Jason. " Left: Anonymous logo, Right: United Nations logo". Rhizome. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.

Though the logo is not so popular as the mask, it still stands for Anonymous, appearing in its widely followed Twitter account, @AnonOps, and used in some practices of e-graffiti. Thus, it deserves some consideration here. The logo was heavily marked by the remix culture since it re-appropriates the symbol of the UN in order to pass on Anonymous' message. As opposed to the mask, the logo is not widely discussed and does not have any historical background apart from the UN symbol. However, some interpretations can be found online.

Jason Huff (2011), for example, presents a theory, a bit forced, about Greek references, though none of the Anonymous channels or profiles has ever discussed such presences. As a matter of explanation, Huff argues that the man in the picture has no arms and the olive branches work as wings; though it seems that his arms are crossed on his back in a typical position of a business man while the olive branches are originally part of the UN logo. By reaching this conclusion, Huff argues that the image resembles Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. Meanwhile, other people affirm that the man is in fact an adaptation of a René Magritte painting, The Son of a Man (OhInternet). As no explanation can be found in Anonymous channels, it is difficult to affirm from where the image of the man came or what it represents. However, in the remix culture, interpretation is free so people tend to interpret symbols according to their own knowledge of world. What is clear about the faceless man is that it stands for anonymity and leaderlessness, two of the concepts defended by Anonymous.

It is also clear that the UN logo was used, and a few observations can be made about that without misinterpreting the image. The UN is an organisation that should promote cooperation among nations and stand for human rights in general. In times of globalisation, such organisations can be more powerful than countries. However, in recent times, the UN has been accused of corruption, support of dictatorships, lack of representation from some countries, and even omission in cases of genocide, such as in Rwanda. Consequently, when Anonymous creates its logo by using part of the UN logo, an analogical process occurs. That is, the ideals that the UN should fight for are now characterised as the dissenting voice of cyber-activism, while the UN involvement in scandals is interrogated. In such cases, identification may occur if an individual agrees with the new framework given to the logo of UN and accepts that the issues represented by UN, and consequently its logo, should be discussed by Anonymous. If this agreement is effective, analogical identification is seen through the use of a strategy of commonality, since people will share the same idea.

However, as with the mask, identification can also occur mechanically. In other words, people can recognise the logo as belonging to Anonymous and identify themselves with the group or with the idea behind the logo because they believe in what Anonymous proclaims. In the last case, Anonymous again works as a brand that gives credibility to causes using its name. Nevertheless, the appeal of the logo is much weaker than the one created by Guy Fawkes mask, which is able to represent a whole ideology. Even when it comes to the mechanical identification, the mask seems to be stronger than the logo since it is much more popular in mainstream media and is seen with more frequency as associated with Anonymous. The identification power carried by the mask is also stronger than the one present in the signature.

5. Anonymous' Signature

As with everything related to the origins of Anonymous, the signature of the cyber-activist collective came from 4chan, an Internet board created to share images and general content, more specifically from a set of rules called the "Rules of the Internet". The rules were created mainly for the sake of joy, but when Anonymous made its first video as an embryonic cyber-activist collective, rules 3, 4, and 5 appeared as part of its signature. Those rules are: 3) we are Anonymous, 4) Anonymous is legion, and 5) Anonymous never forgives. When adapted to Anonymous' signature it appeared as: We are Anonymous / We are legion / We do not forgive / We do not forget / Expect us. When the collective reached its cyber-activist fame, its signature became its catchphrase and is now seen in all of Anonymous' videos and most of its visual material.

The appeal promoted by the signature is made through the strategy of hidden division. As the catchphrase uses the pronoun we, it is expected that there will be a "they", a group that should expect Anonymous' actions; since the signature gives no other option, people are expected to take part in one of those groups, being with Anonymous or its target. The argument is even more compelling when presented by the "spectaclish orientation" (Coleman, "Aesthetic") that is often present in Anonymous' videos. Moreover, the signature can be reinforced by the lines: "The corrupt fear us / The honest support us / The heroic join us / We are Anonymous". By using this sequence, the distinction between "them" and "us" also becomes a question of good and bad, making it clear that if one wants to stand on the good side, s/he must be part of Anonymous. Of course, in real life individuals can also choose just to ignore the message, though the speech per se does not present that as an option. Consequently, the signature works as an ideological appeal in which a role is given as if the audience were already in this position; thus, denial is almost non-existent in terms of the message. Though the ideological appeal is present, the ideological identification is not held by the signature since it has no ideological power if disconnected from the collective; so, the ideological appeal is in Anonymous as a collective, not in the signature itself.

The creation of two distinct groups through the use of the pronoun "we" makes the signature an interesting piece when it comes to identification as well as of its counterpart, division. In this piece, we have a clear example of how identification is able to create sociality and rivalry at the same time: the ones who agreed with the tagline and feel that they are part of Anonymous exercise socialisation; meanwhile, the ones on the other side will be seen as the corrupted people that Anonymous should fight against, appearing as the rival faction. Interestingly, the fragment which is sometimes used in association with the tagline, "The corrupt fear us / The honest support us / The heroic join us / We are Anonymous", offers the audience the possibility of engaging with Anonymous in different levels. Those levels can be compared to the ones proposed by Marshall, as mentioned by Woodward: associative, admiring, sympathetic, and cathartic. In this case, the associative is represented by the "heroic" ones who will join Anonymous, while the admiring and sympathetic levels are seen in the "honest" ones who support the cyber-activist collective. On its turn, the cathartic is seen on the ones who just completely ignore the message.

It is also important to notice that the signature operates as a mechanical kind of identification since it is automatically associated with Anonymous, and an individual can unconsciously accept it or not. The presence of a mechanical identification associated with the strategy of hidden division makes the signature quite strong when it is not considered critically, since both terms operate in an unconscious manner. In addition, the implicit creation of two distinct groups also induces the strategies of commonality and similarity. Commonality occurs when a person agrees to share in the name of Anonymous, and also accepts the other group as an enemy. Meanwhile, similarity is present in the idea of group itself and the sense of belonging to this faceless organisation.

The signature, like the logo, is also not so strong as the mask, though it is present in most of Anonymous publications and also used as sign of protests in the streets. It happens because the visual impact of the mask is much more significant since it has a strong ideological factor and also works to preserve one of the main characteristics of Anonymous as a collective, its culture of anonymity. However, even if the symbols vary regarding their power of appealing, it is undeniable that they are important in creating the image of Anonymous. Nowadays, this image is even seen as a brand inside the cyber-activist world.

6. Conclusion

These symbols all relate to a question that may not appear directly correlated to cyber-activism: how willing are you to buy a new product sold by a brand that you already like? It may sound awkward to discuss branding when talking about cyber-activism and its fight against neo-liberal globalisation and the negative side-effects of capitalism, but branding is what best defines the power of the symbols created by Anonymous; the difference is that the collective does not sell products, but promotes ideas.

By making an impressive use of the remix culture, Anonymous has created a powerful visual image and style now recognised all over the world. The symbols that were re-appropriated by Anons are even losing their own name and being labelled as Anonymous properties. When Anonymous consolidated its image and symbols, the collective created a strong brand image that can be associated with Anonymous' campaigns and messages. When people come together under the name of Anonymous, the collective starts to form part of their identities, creating a kind of brand identification with the name. The term, brand identification, is defined "as the degree to which the brand expresses and enhances consumers’ identity" (Golob, Tuškej, & Podnar 54). When it comes to cyberspace, the brand identification can define the way that a person will present him/herself through discourse. For sure, the influence exercised by Anonymous as a brand will vary according to the level of engagement, but it does exist as long as a person identifies him/herself with Anonymous.

It would be a simple question of brand identity if Anonymous were not a porous loose collective when it comes to participation. As everyone can write in the name of Anonymous and use its identity to promote his/her own ideas, branding allows a double process of identification: the symbols can make a person identify him/herself with Anonymous, but it can also make someone who is already engaged with Anonymous accept an idea promoted under the collective's visual identity. As those ideas are freely published and do not depend on the authorisation by a leader, they heavily rely on public acceptance to grow strong in cyberspace. This acceptance can be seen when a large number of people start to share an idea and it goes viral. Thus, being branded by Anonymous plays an important role in the legitimisation process that can decide if a cause will live or not on the Internet.

For instance, not all the campaigns that have been held by Anonymous were created by the collective. Some of those campaigns started with other organisations; however, when their names were associated with Anonymous, they could make use of the brand identity of the collective to produce identification for their own causes. An example is the campaign against Monsanto. Though Anonymous had already initiated a campaign against Monsanto and genetically modified food in general, as a part of a movement called #OperationGreenRights, it was not the collective that created the march in 2013. In this case, the main website that organised the March Against Monsanto, which happened all over the world on 25 May 213, announced that Anonymous was a sponsor, but not the organiser. As a sponsor, Anonymous promoted the cause in its social media profiles, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube, calling the attention of Anons to the March. By doing that, the collective was using the organisational power of cyber-activism in order to transfer the energy from Anonymous to the March, trying to mobilise a large number of people to go to the streets and protest against Monsanto. One piece of evidence that this transfer works is that the March had a large number of people using Guy Fawkes mask.

Thus, as the symbols used by Anonymous are now able to stand by themselves and fully represent the collective, they have become powerful carriers and transfers of brand identification. By contrast, dissociation can also happen. When people do not feel compelled by the message carried by Anonymous or even condemn the actions taken by the collective, they tend to automatically reject an idea promoted under the name of Anonymous. The coexistence of the two possibilities, identification and dissociation, shows how the cyber-activist collective can really work as a brand, since the same phenomena can be seen in the market-place. In other words, people tend to buy new products released by brands that they like and reject new products whose brands are not part of their identities. As a consequence, when Anonymous created its visual identity as a cyber-activist brand, the same process can be observed in the campaigns promoted by the collective.


* The author completed much of the research for this article while at the University of Waterloo.

Works Cited

Ambrester, Roy. "Identification Within: Kenneth Burke’s View of the Unconscious." Philosophy & Rhetoric 7.4 (1974): 205–216.Web. 29 May 2013.

Anonymous. "Guy Fawkes: The Story Behind the Mask, and Tits..." 27 Feb. 2013. Web. 1 July 2013.

Burke, Kenneth. Attitudes Toward History. Boston: Beacon, 1961. Print.

—. A Rhetoric of Motives. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969. Print.

—. Dramatism and Development. Massachusetts: Clark University Press, 1972. Print.

—. "Definition of Man." The Hudson Review 16.4 (1963): 491–514. Web. 7 June 2013

Coleman, Gabriella. "The Aesthetic Face of Anonymous." 20 Dec. 2010. Web. 1 July 2013.

Fitzpatrick, Megan. "Wearing a Mask at a Riot is Now a Crime." CBC. 19 June 2013. Web. 01 July 2013.

Golob, Urša; Urška Tuškej; & Klement Podnar. "The Role of Consumer Brand-Identification in Building Relationships." Journal of Business Research66 (2013): 53-59. Web. 05 July 2013.

Hands, Joss. @ is for Activism. London: Pluto Press, 2011. Print.

Huff, Jason. "Revolutionary Convergences: History and Symbolism in Anonymous and OWS Arts." Rhizome. 22 Nov. 2011. Web. 04 July 2013.

Jordan, Jay. "Dell Hymes, Kenneth Burke’s "Identification", and the Birth of Sociolinguistics." Rhetoric Review 24.3 (2005): 264–279. Web. 13 May 2013.

Kelley, Michael. "Where Those Iconic Guy Fawkes Masks That So Many Protesters Wear Are Manufactured." Business Insider. 02 July 2013. Web. 07 July 2013.

Lloyd, David. "The Man Behind the Mask: Q&A with David Lloyd." Interview with Thomas Halleck. International Business Time. 11 June 2013. Web. 1 July 2013.

March Against Monsanto. Website. 2013. Web. 06 July 2013.

Moore, Allan. V for Vendetta. Illus. David Lloyd. New York: Vertigo-DC Comics, 1989. Print.

Norton, Quinn. "How Anonymous Picks Targets, Launches Attacks, and Takes Powerful Organizations Down." Wired. 07 March 2012. Web. 18 May 2013.

OhInternet. "Anonymous." Web. 05 July 2013.

Opgreenrightspr. "OperationGreenRights Press Release." Online Video Clip. Youtube. 12 July 2011. Web. 06 July 2013.

"Rules of the Internet." Encyclopedia Dramatica. Web. 25 July 2013.

Thwaites, Tony. "Ideology." Introducing Cultural and Media Studies: A Semiotic Approach. New York: Palgrave Macmilliam. 158-175. 2002. Print.

V for Vendetta. Dir. James McTaigue. Warner Brothers Pictures, 2005. Film.

Walker, Rob. "Recognizably Anonymous." Slate. 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 1 July 2013.

Woodward, Gary C. The Idea of Identification. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003. Print.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Material Correspondences in Icíar Bollaín’s Even the Rain: Ambiguities of Substance

Christopher Carter, University of Cincinnati


Whether describing the distillation of labor into commodities or the representation of affect through objects, Kenneth Burke attends to the interlaced agencies of people and things. This essay locates such convergences in Icíar Bollaín’s film Even the Rain, uncovering forms of politically-charged consubstantiality between human and extrahuman materiality. An awareness of what Burke calls "ambiguities of substance" gives viewers a way to interpret the movie's linkage of imperialism and "thing rhetoric" across five centuries.


Whether describing the distillation of human labor into commodities or the representation of affect through objects, Kenneth Burke regularly attends to the interlaced agencies of people and their surroundings, anticipating Bruno Latour’s claim that “things do not exist without being full of people.”1 This essay locates such lively objects in contemporary cinema, uncovering varied forms of identification between human and extrahuman materiality and thus building on scholarship that links Burkean theories of consubstantiality to the rhetoric of film (Blakesley; Oktay; Perez). The argument concentrates especially on Icíar Bollaín’s Even the Rain (2010), a Spanish film that depicts the troubled production of a movie about Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the so-called new world. Bollaín’s picture depicts a fictional shoot in Cochabamba, where the crew draws on lush settings and an eager cohort of inexpensive extras to evoke the historical period without recourse to computer-generated imagery. The attractions of the location fade, however, as many of the actors become embroiled in protests over the city’s water policies. As early skirmishes escalate into a full-scale water war, the same director/character who lauds indigenous opposition to the Spanish occupation comes to subordinate present-day protests to his artistic vision. Deriving in part from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, Even the Rain establishes relations of identification between gold, water, and film so as to connect modes of imperial violence across more than five centuries.2 Bollaín both condemns that violence and undermines any sense of safe, critical distance from it, for even as she distinguishes her methods from those of her invented filmmakers, her metafilm calls attention to its own set location, its own dependence on the labor of underpaid extras, its own consubstantiality with the object of critique.

To note likenesses between working conditions on the set of Even the Rain and the conditions the movie dramatizes is to evoke what Burke calls “ambiguities of substance.” The word substance may “designate what a thing is,” he writes in A Grammar of Motives, but it “derives from a word designating something that a thing is not […] Or otherwise put: the word in its etymological origins would refer to an attribute of the thing’s context, since that which supports or underlies a thing would be a part of the thing’s context” (23). To describe the substance of a phenomenon is to deal, as Burke so often does, with the interdependencies of distinction and concurrence, singularity and situational entanglement. Bollaín and her fictitious director Sebastián may be substantially joined in their cinematic renunciations of Columbus’s conquest, but their shared substance does not imply sameness. She distances herself from the character, after all, by juxtaposing his resounding affirmation of sixteenth-century indigenous resistance with his more limited concern for immediate public demonstrations in Cochabamba. Sebastián’s movie exists both inside and outside Bollaín’s, ambiguously serving as the guts of her production and the thing it defines itself against.

Attention to ambiguities of substance, while illuminating the relation between the metafilm and its nested counterpart, gives viewers a way to understand Even the Rain’s articulation of contested material phenomena across vast historical terrain. The coming argument establishes intertextual connections between A Grammar of Motives, A Rhetoric of Motives, and Gilberto Perez’s “Toward a Rhetoric of Film: Identification and the Spectator,” each of which addresses relations of consubstantiality not just between rhetors and audiences but between characters and the nonliving things that populate the narrative frame. The essay then describes identifications between the things themselves, showing how those correspondences condense and intensify the argument of the text they inhabit. To posit “correspondence” between a prized, terror-infused substance in the Age of Discovery, the substance of the water wars, and the substance of their cinematic representation honors the Burkean idea of ambiguity, implying likeness without unity and hinting at dialogic connections between extrahuman phenomena. Such linkages, while distinct from those outlined by Burke and Perez, come to us similarly permeated by the social character of rhetorical exchange, and they remain every bit as grounded in living negotiation and struggle, compromise and conflict.

Cogent as is the film’s association of substances across time, such associations nevertheless risk undercutting audience identification with the picture’s political project. With such risks in mind, the argument concludes by addressing the objection that the contexts are too divergent, too particular and nuanced, to allow for parallels. Such evaluations have a degree of validity, though they tend to interpret the conceptual overlap between substances as too perfect rather than partial and ambiguous. Critical emphasis on the movie’s purported contrivances deemphasizes its self-consciousness, for at the very moment the text most powerfully fuses the narratives of Columbus’s brutality, the water wars, and the exploitation of film-workers, Bollaín calls attention to Even the Rain as a dream structure—and one that courts hypocrisy by undercompensating indigenous workers even as it censures such practices. As Isabel Santaolalla implies in The Cinema of Icíar Bollaín, and as the director herself attests, the question of how properly to compensate those workers remains unanswered. Although Bollaín claims that her crew showed more labor consciousness than her fictional producer, she expresses concern about the formation of onset classes and the difficulty of avoiding them (DP/30). If her imagined filmmakers constituted straightforward scapegoats, viewers could leave the experience feeling cleansed of the bad faith the film portrays. But Even the Rain provides no such comfort, insinuating instead the audience’s complicity with the modes of power displayed onscreen. Visceral reaction to that insinuation may explain the initial impulse to resist the film, to seek sure division from a thing that identifies itself with us.

The Heavens Weep: Thing Rhetoric

However persistently we posit clear divisions between human subjects and the object-context we inhabit, seemingly inert phenomena often express dynamic consubstantiality with human labor and social interplay. Burke addresses such consubstantiality while reflecting on the ethics of Karl Marx’s historical materialism, contending that

precisely where Marxism is most often damned as materialistic, is precisely where it is most characteristically idealistic. Marx’s most imaginative criticism is directed against the false idealism derived from the concealed protection of materialistic interests. His chapter on “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof,” shows how the human personality itself comes to be conceived in the abstract terms of impersonal commodities. And the whole purpose of such materialist criticism is to bring about such material conditions as are thought capable of releasing men from their false bondage to materials. (Grammar 214)
Burke suggests that where Marx demonstrates the identification of life with profit-generating mechanism, he engages in resolutely ethical inquiry, discrediting the logic of Capitalism by describing its operations in systematic, “materialistic” fashion. Capital details a system wherein those who purportedly control the means of production become dependent on those means, and those who labor for the overclass find themselves fastened to—worse yet, reduced to—machinery. In Burke’s view, materialist criticism aims to disrupt these modes of consubstantiality by investigating their historical concealment.

Such criticism concentrates not just on the treatment of wage earners as objects but also on the identification of their labor with the commodity-form. Framing commodification as a type of identification requires recognizing what Yakut Oktay describes as the “flexibility” of Burke’s theory, its capacity to illuminate rhetorical transactions that transpire not only in words but also “beyond language” (KB Journal). Those transactions occur through the routinized, profit-driven motions of bodies as much as through verbal discourse or deliberate acts of persuasion. The commodity at once concretizes labor’s output and represents the expropriation of that output from the subjects who produce it. Barry L. Padgett calls this expropriation “the alienation of the laborer into the product” (7). The estranged object expresses consubstantiality with its maker, simultaneously embodying the worker’s creative vitality and marking a separation from it. Hardly just a signal of individualized alienation, however, objectified labor condenses what Harry Cleaver calls “a set of power relations” that pervades social experience under Capitalism (83). Those relations involve an apparent interdependence between subjects who control the means of production and subjects who activate those means—a perceived co-reliance accompanied by various historical antipathies, most prominently between managers and employees but also amid the strata of the rank-and-file. When A Grammar of Motives addresses the commodification of workers themselves, it contests forms of calcified value that are shot through with those modes of antipathy, and it defies the “set of power relations” that systematic self-estrangement helps to sustain.

Whereas Grammar briefly addresses the transfiguration of people and social processes into commodities, A Rhetoric of Motives addresses the identification of people and things by examining how affect installs itself in the material surround. To illustrate such identification he imagines a novelist who, “ending on the death of his heroine, might picture the hero walking silently in the rain. No weeping here. Rather stark ‘understatement.’ Or look again, and do you not find that the very heavens are weeping in his behalf?” (326). However prosaic the homology between setting and a character’s action, Burke memorably identifies the animate with the inanimate, carrying forward from Grammar the idea of a scene-act ratio. The scene constitutes an appropriate backdrop for human action just as the act finds expression through its surroundings. If we accept the (con)fusion of scene and act without recognizing it as one, the acceptance likely stems from our recurrent exposure to—and concomitant identification with—the conventional metonymies of popular fiction, whether novelistic or cinematic.

Inventive filmmakers sometimes rely on these metonymies to unsettle viewers’ long-held assumptions. In “Toward a Rhetoric of Film” Perez locates such techniques in the films of Carl Theodor Dreyer, who gives viewers false comfort by associating characters with the fecundity of their surroundings. “Young lovers are shown walking in a meadow,” writes Perez, “with flowers around them, trees, a sunny sky with a few puffy white clouds, maybe a river softly flowing in the distance. This is of course a romantic cliché. The young lovers are being identified with nature.” In Dreyer’s Day of Wrath (1943), the sanguine coding of nature soon gives way to tones of reproof, as the film introduces attitudes that prevailed centuries before:

Set in seventeenth-century Denmark, the film takes us back into a Lutheran society that looked upon nature as dangerously pagan, a realm where witches roam and the devil lurks. We heirs of romanticism may admire and embrace nature, but those Lutherans would keep it at arm’s length. Set in seventeenth-century Denmark but of course aimed at us who take a different view, Day of Wrath does not make it easy for us to decide (as Arthur Miller does in The Crucible) that we are right and they were wrong. Dreyer has cunningly, unsettlingly constructed his film around the split between these two different rhetorics of nature, these two different ideologies.
Although Dreyer’s audience might interpret the narrative as validating modern perspectives, Perez finds only ambivalence in the structure of the picture, which gradually shows the “natural” lovers to be engaged in acts of betrayal and incest. When viewers identify with those figures early in the movie, they bring their social and historical contexts into conversation with those of the characters and the filmmakers, with results that are never certain and at times deeply disconcerting. Whatever the effects, to watch the production of consubstantiality between agents and scenes, persons and things, involves a concomitant overlap between the contexts of diegesis and reception, all of which occasionally feels more like a violent collision than a relaxed integration.

Perez locates just such a collision in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), which presents audiences with a psychological portrait so intimate as to be claustrophobic, hailing us as sympathetic spectators while repeatedly throwing our sympathies into question. The patterned alternation of affinity and disgust exemplifies a Burkean ambiguity of substance, as the film produces outraged repulsion in the very attempt to establish relations of commonality between viewer and anti-hero. For Perez, this pattern helps clarify distinctions between identification and what Murray Smith calls “alignment” and “allegiance.” Alignment “describes the process by which spectators are placed in relation to characters in terms of access to their actions and to what they know and feel,” while allegiance signifies “approval, taking sides with the character in a moral sense, rooting for the hero against the villain.”3 Whereas Smith believes that the term “identification” typically conflates alignment and allegiance, and wishes to replace that broad analytical category with more exacting concepts, Perez attributes to identification meanings that alignment and allegiance cannot encompass. Of Taxi Driver he writes that

even though we don’t approve [of Travis Bickle], even though we don’t even like him, do we not in some significant way identify with him? How else to explain our response to that scene [. . .] in which Travis, having succeeded in getting Cybill Shepherd to go out with him, chooses to take her to a porno movie? We feel acute embarrassment. This may not be exactly what he feels, but surely we wouldn’t be feeling it if we weren’t putting ourselves in his place. We don’t want to be in his place, we want to get out of there, but the film leaves us no choice, and it derives its peculiar impact from the way it puts us there. (“Toward”)
That impact depends in part on similarities in diegetic context and context of reception. Many viewers feel the embarrassment that Travis would feel were he better attuned to his rhetorical situation, because we have been interpellated by social and sexual conventions he manages to miss. More salient still, we cringe also at how the scene identifies Travis with a particular kind of material culture, as manifest in the “blue movie” house as well as the glimpses and muffled sounds of the offending film. Betsy bolts for the door not just in response to Travis’s violation of social expectation, but because the film comes immediately to stand for his intentions toward her, regardless of whether he would claim those intentions himself. Just as Dreyer’s lovers become linked to nature in Day of Wrath, Bickle becomes identified with his surroundings in ways not easy to escape, no matter his readiness to apologize or eagerness to try another approach. In an ironic turn that contradicts his longing for a “real rain” to cleanse New York of its seedier element, the mise-en-scène of Travis’s failed date embodies the same vice he wishes to eliminate.

Whether figuring mise-en-scène in terms of a scene-act ratio—“the heavens weep”—or tracking the objectification of labor in the realm of economic production, Burke’s theorization of rhetoric involves regular consideration of dialogic relations between the human and extrahuman. What we encounter less frequently in Burke’s work, and what will prove key to our analysis of Even the Rain, is consubstantiality among nonliving objects in the diegesis. Throughout Bollaín’s film, certain of those objects express hierarchical relations maintained by violence, the threat of violence, or what amounts to the same thing, the threat of resource withdrawal. Various people in Even the Rain passionately decry one type of violence while performing another, giving the audience few characters with whom to safely ally themselves. Even if those audiences identify at first with what Burke terms the “orientation” of key figures (Permanence 21), we may balk when a wider view of those figures’ social and material circumstances contradicts their previously clear-cut politics. Such contradictions arise with frequency as the film frames multiple, shifting perspectives including those of the fictional producer and director, the indigenous actors and those who hail from outside Cochabamba, the documentarian who covers the making of the biopic, the fictional Arawaks, as well as Columbus and his crew. Those perspectives all involve an orientation toward one or more of Even the Rain’s focal substances, though the movie generally destabilizes the audience’s allegiance to any single standpoint. Once we identify with the critique of one object and its concomitant social relations, we subsequently find ourselves identified with another, similarly vexed object. The consubstantiality of objects in Even the Rain draws viewers into a process of what Perez describes as “comparative ideology,” a juxtaposition of contexts wherein we fuse historical analysis with critical self-consciousness, and in which we stand implicated by Gael García Bernal’s reflection on the film: “In Latin America this is nothing new. This is where we come from. This New World emerged from terrible violence and ambition, which led to what we have now” (Santaolalla 202).

To suggest that Columbus’s conquests gave way to contemporary forms of social violence, or that present-day expressions of corporate empire are “nothing new,” does not entail an equation of disparate historical periods. The substantial linkage of power-laden objects—and here we should remember Burke’s idea of substance as ambiguous, as evoking both the object and its exterior—involves acknowledging their difference as well as their likeness. Honoring such ambiguity, the next section details correspondences between objects in three different scenes: first, it describes a segment of Sebastián’s film in which the Spanish occupiers force indigenous people to pan for gold as a tax to the crown, and it focuses on the water-drenched quality of the ensuing drama; the section then addresses scenes immediately before and after the panning sequence—one in which the fictional producer Costa depicts his extras as inexpensive materials and another in which Antón, the actor who plays Columbus, alerts one of the indigenous actors to the division of labor that makes the movie possible. In specifying sometimes overt and at other times quiet correspondences between substances, the scenes set up a metacinematic dialogue between histories of “terrible violence and ambition,” accentuating not their interchangeability but their resemblance. By joining a chain of objects to a chain of social histories, the film shares Burke’s interest in the mutual elucidation of people and things.

Corresponding Substances

A key scene in Sebastián’s nested film begins with Columbus’s “Indians” immersed in water, panning for gold. The camera shifts to a lineup of indigenous people positioned just off the riverbank, presenting small lockets of gold dust to agents of the Spanish crown. The agents evaluate each offering, and if one does not meet the expected weight, they send its purveyor into the forest to be clipped. Soldiers wrestle the convicted through a rushing stream on their way to the punishing grounds. The lens tightens focus, bringing into view the worried expression of a girl as she reaches the front of the line. Her father, who stands beside her, finds himself quickly caught up in a confused debate over whether his offering achieves the standard. The Spanish agents decide that the locket is slightly under weight, and so apprehend him for discipline. The girl pleads for mercy as they drag her father toward the woods. Columbus arrives on horseback as her cries reach frantic pitch, and he gazes on the bloodstained block reserved for the day’s tax evaders. The men turn to him for instruction; he nods. We see the father’s arm laid out on the block, the fall of the ax. We hear his agony as the camera locks on his daughter’s face.

Figure 1. Spanish soldiers and a convicted Arawak splash through water on their way to the clipping grounds. Copyright Morena Films, 2010.

The scene entails a variation on Zinn’s People’s History, which attributes similar circumstances to Columbus’s second expedition, in which his crew enslaved people from various Caribbean islands and made concentrated efforts to gather gold in Haiti. Intent on paying back the investors who financed the “seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men” he brought with him, Columbus established an efficient way to motivate his workers:

In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death. (Zinn 4)

The trinket that designates forced compliance in Zinn’s history becomes the locket in Even the Rain, the vessel that contains the ritual offering. Whether designated via a copper ornament or gathered in a locket, the gold remains soaked in a specific set of social relations marked by national sponsorship of theft, slavery, and wholesale slaughter of native populations, much of it undertaken in the name of Christian progress. Burkean thought holds relevance to that history insofar as he tracks the dense accumulation of meanings in the extrahuman; to use Thomas Rickert’s formulation in Ambient Rhetoric, Burke “advocates seeing how social drama plays through material things” (208). Although Rickert resists the symbol-using subject/inanimate object dichotomy that often informs Burke’s considerations of thing-rhetoric, the idea that motive and orientation inhere in objects and environments rather than individual psychology constitutes a valuable advance in theorizing communicative ecology. Zinn’s book and Bollaín’s movie work in slightly different ways not just to dramatize the rapacious pursuit of a fetishized substance, but to accentuate how that substance both mediates and becomes sodden with the social drama that “plays through” it.

As Even the Rain examines that drama, the “extras” who perform in Sebastián’s production find their own natural resources appropriated by outsiders claiming interest in local progress. Although Sebastián regards the extras’ troubles as insignificant by comparison to the Columbus story, the prominence of water in the lineup scene connotes its correspondence with the gold of past epochs. His obsessively focused orientation renders him insensitive to that correspondence, but the interplay of metafilm and interior film brings the identification of substances powerfully into view—or, to make further use of the Burkean lexicon, as audiences perceive the shifting “circumference” of Sebastián’s project from a recreated, conflict-ridden Haiti to the immediate violence occurring near the film-shoot, Even the Rain invites us to compare the substances that motivate the distinct struggles, and to critique the fictional director’s hesitancy to do so.4 Once early sequences in Even the Rain alert audiences to the privatization of water in Cochabamba, we bring that awareness to later depictions of Discovery-era violence: indigenous people panning for gold in a flowing stream, and the raucous splashing that attends the journey to the chopping block, strengthen the film’s already pronounced connection between Zinn’s “history from below” and more contemporary forms of exploitation.

Those forms of exploitation in Even the Rain have their corollary in the actual Bolivian water wars, which occurred a decade before the release of Bollaín’s picture. Fabrizio Cilento explains that in the late 1990s, Bolivia entered into an agreement with the Bechtel-supported Aguas del Tunari, which generated “a 300% rise in consumer charges” and forced many people to spend “one-third of their income on water” (248). The price increases, along with resentment that a necessary public utility—even the rain—could be so shamelessly commodified, led to an uprising devoted to nullifying the contract. The protests built on previously established resistance to Bolivia’s Law 2029, a statute that affords external organizations rights to supply water “to centers of population with more than 10,000 inhabitants” while demanding that “local organizations such as cooperatives or neighborhood associations” respect those agreements (Assies 17). When people refused to forgo their communal wells or subjugate the ritual value of water to its exchange-value, Aguas del Tunari manager Geoffrey Thorpe threatened to cut off the supply to all who would not pay (24). Outraged citizens soon occupied the Plaza and set up blockades, engaging in confrontations with troops intent on quelling the protest.5 As the events drew international attention, the Bolivian government felt increased pressure to reconsider Law 2029 as well as the troubled corporate contract. The protests resulted in a series of government concessions that included the voiding of the Aguas del Tunari agreement, revisions to Law 2029, release of imprisoned dissenters, and financial remuneration for the wounded as well as the families of the slain (Assies 30).

By situating the Columbus biopic amid such turmoil, and accentuating the watery motif of key scenes, Bollaín establishes historical juxtapositions akin to Perez’s “comparative ideology.” As the comparison unfolds, the correspondence between gold and water proves to be at once startlingly apt and necessarily imperfect. Cilento praises Even the Rain’s “confluence of temporalities,” contending that the “short circuits” between historical periods imply a charged connection between “colonialism (what went wrong)” and “neocolonialism (what is wrong)” (247). In both periods, powerful emissaries appropriate the resources of the local community, exacting payment from the indigenous people in the form of labor or money. Justifying their actions as tending toward native betterment, the emissaries impose an idea of socioeconomic order first through the violence of hegemony and then through physical terror. The “terrible violence and ambition” of the early era, to return to Bernal’s observation, prefigure “what we have now.”

Still, those who recognize how gold and water correspond in the film will note significant dissimilarities as well. The process of identification, as Burke insists, presumes a state of difference. In “A Note on the Writing of A Rhetoric of Motives,” Michael Feehan maintains that

Burke’s identification differs from some psychological theories of identification in rejecting the idea that identification involves a merger so complete that the separate identities dissolve into one. Burke’s identification reaches toward consubstantiality not transubstantiality. (K. B. Journal)

However evocative of earlier modes of oppression, the Cochabamba water wars were not transubstantial with those practices, and did not, for instance, involve the ritualized maiming of people for failing to honor the demands of an occupying force. The contemporary expression of such force is more economic than royal or national, though certain nation-states prosper greatly while countries like Bolivia continue to struggle. To such distinctions we should also add the most obvious, geographical discrepancy: for although Cochabamba constitutes an inexpensive option for producing the picture, it differs dramatically from the areas where Columbus made his expeditions. Bollaín emphasizes the problem by having María, the young woman hired to make a behind-the-scenes documentary of Costa and Sebastián’s production, question her employer’s choice of venue: “We’re in Bolivia. It doesn’t make much sense. 7,500 feet above sea level, surrounded by mountains, and thousands of miles from the Caribbean.” Sebastián echoes María’s critique, playfully blaming Costa for privileging budgetary considerations over historical accuracy. Costa explains that if money were the primary concern, they would have shot the movie in English—to which Sebastián retorts, “Spaniards speak Spanish.” Even as Sebastián affirms María’s position, however, she insists on linguistic divisions that neither he nor his film acknowledges. “So Spaniards speak Spanish,” she interjects with amusement, “and the Taínos that Columbus found speak Quechua?”6

Costa finds María’s critique unimpressive, as his orientation as film-producer predisposes him toward realizing Sebastián’s vision with the least possible expense. His managerial perspective attains clarity in a metafilmic moment that precedes the scene of taxation and punishment, as he recounts during a phone conversation the advantages of working in Cochabamba. “Fucking great, man. It’s cheaper to get a man to sit on a light stand than to buy a sandbag,” he says. “Two fucking dollars a day and they feel like kings. Throw in some water pumps and give them some old trucks when you’re done and ¡listo! [ready!], two hundred fucking extras.” He delivers the soliloquy within earshot of Daniel, a would-be extra whose intensity on- and offset catches Sebastián’s attention and wins him the role of Hatuey, the Arawak chief who helps lead a revolt against the Spanish invasion. Although Costa’s monologue dominates the scene in aural terms, the camera mostly concentrates on Daniel’s reaction, featuring his face in medium close-up and keeping him in focus as Costa makes his call in the blurred background. Given that the call transpires in English, he presumes that Daniel will not understand. Once Costa finishes the conversation he approaches his actor with Spanish words of congratulations for the scenes shot thus far. Daniel responds—in English—“Fucking great, man” before explaining in Spanish that “I worked in the States for two years in construction. I know the story.” Having heard Costa reduce his coworkers to sandbags, and realizing the insincerity of the various forms of payment given to the Cochabamban community, he is in no mood for hollow compliments. Working in the US taught him both the English he would need to recognize Costa’s insult and the tendency for foreign management to treat his people as interchangeable objects.

By situating concerns about film labor alongside the taxation scene, Bollaín broadens the correspondence between gold and water so that it includes Sebastián’s movie. Coding film as yet another substance permeated by hierarchical social relations, Even the Rain addresses an issue that has received limited attention in the scholarly study of cinema and in movies themselves. Danae Clark specifies this inattention in Negotiating Hollywood: The Cultural Politics of Actors’ Labor, encouraging scholars to consider moving pictures as commodities in the Marxian sense, and thus as “quantities of congealed labour time” (83). Such consideration constitutes a break with conventional film criticism, which tends to highlight the relationship between image and spectator rather than the work of making movies. Although she praises Richard Dyer’s investigations of the star system, she regards his orientation as complicit with the forms of corporate Capitalist ideology that obscure the work of people further down the compensation ladder (xii). Taking inspiration from Murray Ross’s Stars and Strikes, Clark reorients readers toward the efforts of film extras, who tend to comprise the largest percentage of actor labor (19). She admits that such labor is difficult to examine given its often “sporadic” and “undocumented” character but she also suggests that without creative efforts to address the problem, the study of film will likely persist in its attention to consumption of movies while maintaining a thin view of their production (5).

Despite the force of her analysis, there is no need to cordon off film labor from audience engagement, as they both contribute to what Clark describes as the “‘work’ of cultural (re)production.”7Even the Rain encourages us to bridge those modes of analysis by fostering audience identification with the film’s self-consciousness about working conditions onset. Antón, the veteran actor who plays Columbus, embodies that reflexive appeal. After watching rushes of the taxation scene, he praises Daniel’s daughter Belén for her harrowing performance in Sebastián’s picture, hoping aloud that Costa is paying what her acting is worth. She responds with pride that she receives “a lot more than the extras.” Antón makes a show of being impressed and then tells her that he will make two million bolivianos, or approximately three hundred thousand dollars, for his part in the film. Without mockery or malice, he attempts to alter her orientation toward movie-making by briefly describing the stark inequalities of power and pay that it involves. The same person who helps bring Sebastián’s vision of systematized exploitation to the screen shows a cunning awareness of his own participation in such a system, and takes multiple opportunities to orient the crew toward the paradox in which they are caught. Although Antón’s alcoholism tends to muddy his perspective, he proves attuned to the material and historical homologies that arise while filming the Columbus biopic in Cochabamba. To identify with Antón is not merely to have a sympathetic reaction to a fictional persona but to experience, in Perez’s sense, a convergence of ideologies once presumed discrete. As the upcoming section will show, some viewers refuse that convergence, resisting identification not just with characters but also with what Amy Villarejo describes as the film’s “project.” For such viewers, the project of demonstrating consubstantiality across epochs looks too much like conflation.

Figure 2. Antón watches himself play Columbus during a screening of the rushes. Copyright Morena Films, 2010.

Like a Dream

Bollaín’s daring rhetorical strategy generates multiple objections, though the present section focuses on just two. One concerns the ethics of history, the other the ethics of work. To say that Even the Rain is susceptible to such critiques or that it withstands them is to miss the complexity of the film’s rhetorical appeal. Bollaín anticipates the resistance, attributes to it a certain validity, and in quiet ways, incorporates it into her argument. That argument hints at her discomfiting complicity with the very power relations she challenges; further, it implicates us in its tapestry of object associations. For no matter how vigorously we try to maintain a critical orientation toward the modes of identification the film depicts, she insinuates our immersion in the systems of privilege and oppression Even the Rain calls to mind. Rather than a polemic that purports to elude the vast reach of neoliberal economics, the picture enacts a form of inquiry that aims to historicize that reach, to juxtapose synchronic and diachronic modes of indigenous exploitation, and to stage a dialogue with perspectives that question the movie’s ethical grounding.8

The first objection to Bollaín’s project concerns the narrative as a whole, though it typically concentrates on just one scene. The scene begins inside Sebastián’s movie as Spanish soldiers round up dissident Arawaks for punishment. As the soldiers tie the men to crosses, the camera lingers on Hatuey/Daniel, who refuses a final blessing from an attending priest, proclaiming hatred for the Spanish god and Spanish greed just as his captors light the pyre at his feet. The community of enslaved Indians then chants “Hatuey!” as he and twelve others slowly burn alive. The next shot focuses on Sebastián whisper-chanting Hatuey’s name on a hillside overlooking the action. After an interval in which his voice mingles with those of the extras, he calls “Cut!” and applauds his crew. As Daniel and the other actors disentangle themselves from their crosses, a police vehicle arrives on the scene. Officers apprehend Daniel and prepare to transport him to prison as punishment for participating in the Bolivian water protests. But before the police can leave, the extras surround the vehicle. Wearing Arawak clothing, they flip the car and free Daniel from his captors. As the police emerge with guns drawn, Costa and Sebastián intervene to protect their investment. While Costa attempts to defuse the tension, a few extras surprise the officers by seizing their weapons, allowing Daniel to escape into the forest alongside a group of actor-activists. Dazzled by the “confluence of temporalities,” and the speed with which the circumference of indigenous resistance expands before his eyes, Sebastián speaks once more in the reverent tones with which he chanted Hatuey’s name: “It’s like a dream,” he says to Costa.

Figure 3. Costa (right of center) and Sebastián (rear left) attempt to mediate as a policeman points his weapon at the indigenous extras. Those extras refuse to let the officers take Daniel/Hatuey to jail for his participation in the water wars. Copyright Morena Films, 2010.

When the extras come to Daniel’s aid, they do so not merely to defend the movie but to safeguard a leader in the fight against price hikes in public utilities. While fusing narrative layers as powerfully as any sequence in the picture, the scene designates in concentrated ways the identification of gold, water, and film, as Daniel comes to embody and resist the relations of exploitation embedded in each substance. Despite the summative character of the scene, some reviewers object to what they see as Even the Rain’s narrative contrivance. Comparing Columbus-era atrocities to contemporary practices of corporate greed, or worse yet, the vicissitudes of filmmaking, seems to such viewers facile and reductive. Whereas Burke argues that any vocabulary for representing a phenomenon involves a necessary reduction, a coding of one thing in terms of another (Grammar 96), some terministic screens provoke controversy insofar as they elide historical distinctions. Dismissing the movie’s “obvious parallelism” (Schenker) and “earnest didacticism” (Wheeler 246), critics oppose using the idea of imperialism to equate vastly different modes of exploitation. From such a skeptical perspective, Sebastián’s assertion of the dream-like quality of Daniel’s escape looks especially suspect. If it signals the realization of Sebastián’s fantasy, it clumsily illustrates his narcissism. If it connotes his surprise and disbelief, it suggests his obliviousness to parallels that critics like Schenker find all too obvious.

There is, however, another way to read the line that identifies Bollaín with her fictional director. Rather than expressing Sebastián’s good fortune or bafflement, it may imply an awareness of the artificiality of the historical overlap. Given Even the Rain’s orientation toward the politics of film production, it may be that Sebastián lets slip not only his own anxiety about historical ethics but Bollaín’s as well. To say that the intermingling of histories is like a dream is to reject their interchangeability, to assert the ambiguity of their substantial connection. Without breaking the narrative spell, the line acknowledges that the very train of object associations she has worked so hard to create is an evanescent projection, a multimodal fashioning of conceptual unity out of raw contingency and irreducible singularity.

But even if Bollaín’s self-consciousness helps deflect the charge that she conflates disparate events, concerns about the division of labor on her set remain to be addressed. Duncan Wheeler, who makes known his suspicions of the film’s pedagogical “neatness,” also raises concerns about the material conditions of its production, holding that “any genuinely ethical appraisal of the film would have to look at concrete information about the treatment and payment of the indigenous cast and crew, examining how the Bolivian extras were treated” (251). In a brief note at the end of his chapter, Wheeler cites Bollaín’s claim to have paid the extras twenty dollars a day for their work on the film (253). Unaware of Bollaín’s disclosures about actor compensation, Roger Ebert states bluntly that he “looked in vain for a credit saying, ‘No extras were underpaid in the making of this film.’” It seems that the subject matter of Even the Rain invites an assessment criterion that rarely if ever figures into film reviews—and, as Clark shows in Negotiating Hollywood, one that receives little attention in the history of film scholarship. And what’s more, that assessment criterion becomes the Burkean God-principle by which to determine the ethics of the film’s project. For such critics and reviewers, insofar as the scope of Even the Rain’s critique of labor conditions expands to include the metafilm itself, the ethos of the metafilm crumbles.

But Bollaín’s film never purports to embody a singular solution to the multiple problems it poses. Instead, it investigates the intersectionality of those problems, showing the critique of indigenous labor exploitation to have an elastic circumference, which frequently stretches to subsume those who level the critique at others. Such an investigation does not suggest, however, the equivalence of each instance of such exploitation, nor does it indicate Bollaín’s concession to presumed inevitability. In an interview with DP/30 about the production of Even the Rain, she claims to improve on the practices of her fictional filmmakers, yet remains uncertain about the extent of those improvements. While directing, she was conscious of differences in pay between actors, between Mexican and Spanish crewmembers, and between participants from Argentina and Bolivia, acknowledging that the distinctions held potential to create “classes” on the set (DP/30). Such class formations, she notes, are “very ugly.” While doing her utmost to support a spirit of shared purpose and mutual respect among workers, she found refreshing the requests of some Cochabamban participants not for individualized payment but for community enrichment. They wanted bricks and computers for their schools, basketball goals, trucks for transporting water, and direct payment to families for using their land while filming (DP/30; Vitagraph). Bollaín and producer Juan Gordon accommodated such requests whenever possible, although she admits the likely imperfection of the result, saying that some people in the community may be “annoyed with us.” Even the Rain’s intertexts stress the film’s inability to solve the problems it poses, suggesting that the ethical tensions that infused the production process also linger after the movie’s release.

The interviews highlight the ambiguous relationship between Bollaín’s metafilm and the interior movie, hinting that however critical she is of the biopic, it is substantially one with her own text. And here we must remember that substance, for Burke, designates the identity of a thing while gesturing toward its contextual basis, subverting the border between figure and ground. Once we acknowledge the ambiguity of substance that links Bollaín’s and Sebastián’s projects, her narrative depictions of filmmaking take on a disquieting quality. When we return, for example, to Costa’s observation that it only takes water pumps and old trucks to buy “two hundred fucking extras,” we may hear Bollaín questioning whether her own offering of trucks, bricks, and school materials to Cochabamban workers constitutes just payment. Granted, such payments came in direct response to local requests, but the worry remains that fulfilling those requests provides a cheap, convenient means to achieve grand cinematic scale. While we may, with momentary safety, distinguish between the producer who compares employees to sandbags and the director who dramatizes those attitudes, Even the Rain establishes a troubled identification between inter- and extradiegetic rhetors. That mode of identification becomes all the clearer when we learn of Bollaín’s concerns about classes forming on the set. While her description of those concerns helps disclose the material and political conditions of the film’s production, it also provides a filter for interpreting the scene in which Antón alerts Belén to pay discrepancies between the extras, characteractors, and leads. In the ironic sequence that finds “Columbus” pointing out the injustice of naturalized inequality, we recognize an ugliness that Bollaín strives with limited success to avoid. As the Columbus-figure voices disapproval of Costa’s production, he accentuates the condition wherein the object of cen-sure turns the analytical lens on the critic.

As the identification of gold, water, and film reaches outside the primary diegesis to include Bollaín’s text, it brings into question situations wherein resource-rich filmmakers attempt to raise awareness of injustices in contexts distant from their own. For all Sebastián’s anti-imperialist sentiments, he proves doggedly oriented toward completing his project rather than ensuring the well-being of his actors. And Costa, though he becomes increasingly sensitive to the plight of Daniel and Belén, cannot commit to the long, dangerous project of supporting their struggle for water rights. Admittedly, he helps save Belén during the demonstrations, and he later expresses deep respect for her father along with regret about having to leave the country. But he leaves the country nonetheless, and only after intimating to Daniel that he will not return. During the taxi-ride to the airport, he opens a gift from Daniel—a lovingly wrapped vial of water—and gazes into the Cocha-bamban streets as the ordinary bustle of commerce supplants the drama of the protests. We share his perspective as the city and its people fade. Although his shift in orientation reverses that of Sebastián by moving from self-concern to compassionate action, the conjoining of verbal and visual rhetoric at the movie’s conclusion suggests that such compassion does not last: Costa and Daniel say not temporary but final goodbyes; the image of the city flickers and decomposes, giving way to darkness.

Even the Rain thus contends that the activism of well-meaning outsiders all too often proves fickle. But if the movie were merely an elaborate expression of mea culpa, it would hold limited interest, embodying the self-fulfilling rhetoric that declares intractable the very problems it articulates. Bollaín’s movie suggests that those problems will not be resolved by cinematic narrative, and that they require dedicated, long-term attention rather than one-time address. The film may insinuate our consubstantiality with Costa, but assertions of shared substance, as Burke reminds us, occur within conditions of intersubjective difference. How, then, can we amplify such difference? How can we insist on the ambiguity of “substance”—a term that vacillates between identity and exteriority—and thus demonstrate that even as Bollaín’s portrait of abandonment interpellates us, the correspondence is neither total nor inevitable? Whatever our answers to those questions, our engagement with Even the Rain clarifies a profound if frequently overlooked dimension of metafilmic rhetoric: the inward turn reflects not solipsism but a counterintuitive and even ironic summons to grapple with material circumstances that exceed the cinematic frame.


1. See Latour, page 10. Bill Brown cites the same passage in “Thing Theory,” though he designates “thing” as a more capacious concept than “object” (3). As likely to be an idea as a concrete artifact, the signifier “thing” fuses loose generality with the ostensible precision of tangible materiality. The tension between vagueness and the desire for certitude often commands our attention, Brown observes, when objects “stop working for us: when the drill breaks, when the car stalls, when the windows get filthy, when their flow within the circuits of production and distribution, consumption and exhibition, has been arrested, however momentarily” (4). Although this essay focuses on the consubstantiality of what Brown calls objects, it also concerns the thing-ness of varied valued substances—the way they cloud the border between presumably reliable physicality and ticklish abstraction.

2. Bollaín’s partner Paul Laverty wrote the screenplay for Even the Rain. He meant it to be the first in a series of pictures based on Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, all of which were to be period films tied to specific chapters. When the plans for that series collapsed, he kept working on the initial chapter and added the metafilmic layering that included the fictional filmmakers and the Cochabamba water wars (DP/30).

3. Perez derives these definitions from Smith’s “Altered States: Character and Emotional Response in Cinema.”

4. See Grammar (77-85) for a discussion of how changing the location or spatial circumference in which an act unfolds may change actors’ (or audiences’) interpretation of that act, along with the language they use to describe it.

5. The riot squads fired tear gas into crowds of dissenters, attacked people who refused to leave, and one army officer killed the student Victor Hugo Daza with a rifle shot to the face (Assies 29-30, Finnegan).

6. Clark draws here on Raymond Williams’s Marxism and Literature, hinting that interpretation is itself a form of work. Yet too much of that interpretation, she argues, “occurs without an accompanying theory of labor” (14).

7. Many thanks to an anonymous reviewer at KB Journal for describing Even the Rain as a form of rhetorical inquiry.

Works Cited

Assies, Willem. “David versus Goliath in Cochabamba: Water Rights, Neoliberalism, and the Revival of Social Protest in Bolivia.” Latin American Perspectives 30.3 (2003): 14-36. Print.

Blakesley, David. ed. The Terministic Screen: Rhetorical Perspectives on Film. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2003. Print.

Bollaín, Icíar, dir. Even the Rain. Morena Films, 2010. Film.

Brown, Bill. “Thing Theory.” Critical Inquiry 28.1 (2001): 1-22. Print.

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

—. Permanence and Change. 1935. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984.

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

Cilento, Fabrizio. “Even the Rain: A Confluence of Cinematic and Historical Temporalities.” Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies 16 (2012): 245-258. Print.

Clark, Danae. Negotiating Hollywood: The Cultural Politics of Actors’ Labor. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1995. Print.

Cleaver, Harry. Reading Capital Politically. 1979. Oakland: AntiThesis, 2000. Print.

DP/30: The Oral History of Hollywood. “Even the Rain: Director Icíar Bollaín.” Viewed 1 Nov. 2014. Web.

Dreyer, Carl Theodor. Day of Wrath. Palladium, 1943. Film.

Dyer, Richard. Stars. London: British Film Institute, 1979. Print.

Ebert, Roger. Rev. of Even the Rain, dir. Icíar Bollaín. 24 Feb. 2011. Web.

Feehan, Michael. “A Note on the Writing of A Rhetoric of Motives.” KB Journal: The Journal of the Kenneth Burke Society 8 (2012): feehan_note_rhetoric_of_motives. Web.

Finnegan, William. “Leasing the Rain: The World Is Running Out of Fresh Water, and the Fight to Control It Has Begun.” The New Yorker. 8 April 2002. Web.

Latour, Bruno. “The Berlin Key or How to Do Words with Things.” Matter, Materiality, and Modern Culture. Ed. P. M. Graves-Brown. London: Routledge, 2000. 10-21. Print.

Marx, Karl. Capital: Volume I: A Critique of Political Economy. New York: Penguin, 1992. Print.

Oktay, Yakut. “‘You’re Not Going to Try and Change My Mind?’: The Dynamics of Identification in Aronofsky’s Black Swan.” KB Journal: The Journal of the Kenneth Burke Society 10 (2014). Web.

Padgett, Barry L. Marx and Alienation in Contemporary Society. New York: Continuum, 2007. Print.

Perez, Gilberto. “Toward a Rhetoric of Film: Identification and the Spectator.” Senses of Cinema 5 (2000). Web.

Rickert, Thomas. Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2013. Print.

Ross, Murray. Stars and Strikes: Unionization of Hollywood. New York: Columbia UP, 1941. Print.

Santaolalla, Isabel. The Cinema of Icíar Bollaín. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2012. Print.

Schenker, Andrew. Rev. of Even the Rain, dir. Icíar Bollaín. Slant 14 Feb. 2011. Web.

Scorsese, Martin, dir. Taxi Driver. Columbia, 1976. Film.

Smith, Murray. “Altered States: Character and Emotional Response in Cinema.” Cinema Journal 33 (1994): 34-56. Print.

Villarejo, Amy. Film Studies: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.

Vitagraph Films Distribution. “Even the Rain Filmmakers Juan Gordon and Icíar Bollaín on How Not to Exploit Extras in Bolivia.” Viewed 1 Nov. 2014. Web.

Wheeler, Duncan. “También la lluvia/Even the Rain (Icíar Bollaín, 2010): Social Realism, Transnationalism and (Neo-)colonialism.” Spanish Cinema, 1973-2010: Auteurism, Politics, Landscape and Memory. Ed. Maria M. Delgado and Robin Fiddian. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2013. 239-55. Print.

Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1977. Print.

Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. 1980. New York: HarperPerennial, 2005. Print.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Review of The Terministic Screen: Rhetorical Perspectives on Film, edited by David Blakesley. Reviewed by Jonathan A. Cannon

Blakesley, David, ed. The Terministic Screen: Rhetorical Perspectives on Film. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2003, 2007. Print. 312 pages.

Reviewed by Jonathan A. Cannon, Oklahoma State University

Containing a rich sundry of filmic analyses channeling scrupulous rhetorical acumen, The Terministic Screen: Rhetorical Perspectives on Film (2003), edited by David Blakesley, functions as a much-needed collection of articles that underscore en masse the nexus between rhetoric and the area of film studies. In his introduction titled “The Rhetoric of Film and Film Studies,” Blakesley establishes a solid theoretical foundation for the rest of the critical anthology to unfold, and argues for a greater presence and conscientious reexamination of cinema for rhetoric and composition studies. Through an eclectic array of rhetorical lenses, The Terministic Screen initiates a critical understanding of the medium of film. Moreover, the book – as the title clearly articulates – points to new and more interdisciplinary perspectives on the Burkeian term “terministic screens.” Indeed, scholars of rhetoric, composition studies, and professional writing should be familiar with this seminal concept, which is found in Kenneth Burke’s Language as Symbolic Action (1966).

The Terministic Screen is divided into three distinct sections: “Perspectives on Film and Film Theory as Rhetoric,” “Rhetorical Perspectives on Film and Culture,” and “Perspectives on Films about Rhetoric.” Part One emphasizes the relationship between rhetoric and film theory. The first section presents essays ranging from colonial rhetoric in The English Patient (Anthony Minghella, 1996) to bodily rhetoric in Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1994). Part Two examines film that concern themselves with rhetoric, film, and culture more broadly. The second section contains articles spanning collective memory and the (in)famous Hollywood Blacklist of the 1950s to anti-plutocratic rhetoric found in German cinema. Finally, Part Three focuses on articles that point to films about rhetoric. These articles in the third section span from notions of rhetorical conditioning in The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1966) to postmodern dialogics in Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994).

Blakesley’s introduction is the fundamental backbone for the entire book and its assembly of authors, granting the reader the opportunity to rethink what they know about rhetoric in terms of its possible filmic associations and applications. He points to film theory being a common starting point for comprehending film on a host of levels in the field of film studies. Blakesley’s overall agenda is to wed rhetorical theory, and the specific Burkeian term “terministic screen” to the interpretation and analysis of film and film criticism. Symbolic gestures, for Blakesley, lie at the heart of a clear, coherent, and nuanced approach to a rhetorical perspective of film and film criticism in the communication between screen and viewer, and vice versa. Burke defines “terministic screens” as a metaphorical “screen” made up of terms through that humans perceive the world, and which directs attention away from some interpretations and toward other ones. For Blakesley and the collection’s authors, the purpose of film highlights both an act and manner of address that showcases a variety of means for a particular purpose in an isolated context and/or situation. Indeed, when applied to cinema, evidence of terministic screens spans from the diegesis of the “film world” to the extradeigesis of the “outside world” for both the film spectator and critic alike.

Blakesley, channeling Burke, underscores the notion that rhetoric functions metaphorically as either/both “a filter or screen” (2) that acts as a fluid gatekeeper, filter, and/or barrier. Again, Blakesley makes clear that the scaffolding of the entire book rests and is acutely influenced by the phrase “terministic screens.” With a critical eye toward a reapplication of Burke’s concept of symbolic action to suit rhetorical analyses of films, Blakesley defines a certain kind of cinematic communication as “film rhetoric,” which elucidates both the visual and verbal signs and strategies that shape a particular film experience and screen identification – the latter, in the Burkeian sense of the term. Blakesley peppers the critical prelude with a fresh take on the overall objective of film theory, which he interprets as a way to tap into an at times overlooked language system – that of film. Indeed, film provides the modern rhetorician with both a language and approach au courant to narrative, ideology, corporeality, politics, economics, and cultural connotations of cinema around the world and across the yesteryears of motion picture ontogeny.

Specific articles in the anthology demonstrate the robust caliber of the authors gathered here in an effort to push for new film rhetoric(s), or the rhetoric of film(s). For example, Alan Nadel’s article “Mapping the Other: The English Patient, Colonial Rhetoric, and Cinematic Representation,” deals primarily with the rhetorical narrativization of colonialism through the Hollywood film The English Patient. Nadel situates the film alongside colonial and postcolonial theory, which has been a growing branch of film theory since the 1990s. He ties colonizer/colonized binary within the film to narratological and rhetorical cues and conventions, to recast The English Patient as a problematic text within the romance film genre that makes commonplace the ignorance of the foreign(er), the other, and the tension between home and exile. For Nadel, the only way to understand the prejudice characterizations of men and women in the film’s diegesis is to marry film theory with both rhetorical theory and postcolonial theory and, in turn, create a three-pronged approach to the popular film in question. Another noteworthy piece in the collection is penned by James Roberts, which concerns itself with the rhetoric of cinematic subjects and bodies in the documentary Hoop Dreams. Roberts recognizes the fluid exchange between rhetorical analysis and film criticism and, as such, wants to reinvigorate such a critical relationship through attention to subjects and bodies as evidence of how spectators engage with and interpret films such as Hoop Dreams on the basis of corporeal rhetoric – that is, issues such as race, age, masculinity, and paternity. All in all, Roberts provides a sober, enriching, and highly balanced analysis of Hoop Dreams using both film terminology (apparatus) with rhetorical jargon (rhetoric and discourse)

In sum, The Terministic Screen acts as a crucial stepping stone toward rhetoricians, compositionists, and professional writers welcoming the medium of film into the rhetoric and composition/writing studies fold. Bridging the gap between this and the field of film studies requires one to take such a risk, and usher forth an interdisciplinary endeavor, in both scope and execution. Indeed, with the recent push towards visual rhetoric, such a reassessment of Blakesley’s edited text is necessary in order to see where the initial seeds were sown for critical film rhetoric, and determine where the relationship between film and rhetoric is going in the future. With Blakesley at the helm of this rather ambitious yet completely necessary project, the underlying point of the well-established collection is to encourage and foster a heightened interest in thinking, researching, and writing about the rhetorical booty found within the treasure chest of history, cultures, and politics of the seventh art.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Review: Purpose, Practice, and Pedagogy in Rhetorical Criticism by Jim Kuypers. Reviewed by Michael Osborn

Kuypers, Jim. Purpose, Practice, and Pedagogy in Rhetorical Criticism. New York: Lexington, 2014. 234 pages. $85 (hardcover); $84.99 (ebook)

Reviewed by Michael Osborn, University of Memphis

This book sets out to tell the back stories of fifteen prominent rhetorical critics and in the process to develop a rationale for rhetorical criticism (hereafter RC) as a legitimate academic enterprise. As critics, what do they hope to accomplish? How do they teach RC? And what does it mean to be such a critic?

These scholars explain their various approaches in a series of idiosyncratic essays that explore a wide spectrum of possibility. Consequently, the book opens an array of potential uses for beginning students and for those who may be stuck in a critical rut. I found the level of discussion to be high and the style of the writing to be engaging. It was a special, unexpected pleasure to also learn more about the people behind the critical work and the motives that drive them.

There is no apparent strategy to the arrangement of Kuypers's buffet of intellectual treats. The book does open appropriately by reprinting a statement from Edwin Black on what constitutes good criticism (Black n. pag). The goal of it, Black tells us, is fair judgment. The effect of it is enlightenment: good criticism surprises us, opens a portal on the textual point of focus. Or as Ryan Erik McGeough summarizes it, "The role of the critic is. . .to see more in the text than is readily apparent"(102). One caveat: the twin criteria of fair judgment and enlightenment don't seem of equal value. Rather, the enlightenment function of criticism appears primary: a fair criticism can be quite boring, but an unfair criticism can nevertheless be illuminating. The devil's discourse can be instructive despite itself.

Black's reflections also raise an interesting companion question: what motivates the proper reading of RC? Perhaps we could say that the competent reader seeks not confirmation of some previously decided point of view, but rather desires to penetrate the mystery of rhetorical power and influence. Or perhaps such a reader seeks to develop resistance to a rhetoric that would otherwise exploit. Or perhaps again, a proper reading of RC may seek to satisfy curiosity over the symbolic ways that humans have with one another. Certainly it is true that good criticism requires a competent reader to complete its purpose.

It was a happy idea to begin this feast of ideas with Black. He satisfies one of his own requirements: if he does not surprise us, he certainly strikes intellectual sparks. One other possible shortcoming is that while Black discusses good criticism as a genus, he does not focus precisely on the species (or subspecies) of RC. Indeed, it would be desirable if the entire terrain of criticism were laid out more clearly for the reader's inspection. Are there distinct domains, for example, that separate esthetic, philosophical, and historical criticism from each other and from RC? Do these border on each other or do they interpenetrate, comprising one grand critical perspective that shifts according to the reader's need and to the nature of the text? These are questions to contemplate as we launch further into the book.

While the fifteen essays that follow are all over the intellectual map, they converge on one central issue: What justifies RC? This question would appear grounded in how the critics approach the nature of rhetoric itself. The writers appear to accept the premise that we are social and symbolizing creatures and that how we interact through symbols can be crucial to our survival and well-being as well as to our power positions within social hierarchies. The study of rhetoric becomes the study of how we influence one another through symbolic interactions. As Marilyn Young puts it, "The purpose of rhetorical criticism is to explore, illuminate, and explicate human communication in its many forms" (194). Criticism becomes an assessment of the quality and ethics of symbolic influence and what it reveals about us (Kathleen Turner calls us "verbivores," borrowing Stephen Pinker's happy neologism [Pinker 24]). Andrew King points out that such criticism can be justified, as De Quincey once noted, by the "sheer intellectual pleasure" it can provide (70): in short, there can be an element in RC which is its own excuse for being

In response to the question of justification, however, most of the contributors emphasize the instrumental nature of RC--it does some good in the world. Some of the essayists, for example, emphasize RC's possible contribution to our knowledge about rhetoric. Edwin Black's insistence that good criticism should surprise us and teach us something sets the tone for this emphasis. Jason Black calls this "appreciative"criticism, and describes it as preliminary to "interventionist" criticism that would alter the behavior under consideration (8-11). Celeste Condit agrees that the function of RC is to help us understand more about ourselves, but she turns the focus to the power of emotion in public life. The role of RC should be to help us guide the role of feeling in productive directions. Especially when we need to influence the choices and policies that govern our lives. RC can help us ask the right questions when we must evaluate discourse that asks for our commitment. It can also help us develop effective strategies in dealing with the controversies that confront us.

Ned O'Gorman warns, however, that preoccupation with technique can deflect the critic's attention from the underlying moral aspects of discourse. But I would argue--I believe in agreement with Herbert Wichelns--that one can enter the moral dimension of a work through a grasp of its technique and technical boundaries. Once we grasp, for example, the binary nature of many archetypal figurative clusters (light-dark, war-peace, high-low, forward-back, etc.) we can see how the mind superimposes itself upon perceptions and reduces, simplifies, and shapes them in ways that can have profound moral implications. In a perversion of ethos, for example, speakers can pose as the sun that will bring us enlightenment, the captain who would impose unrelenting discipline on the ship of state, or the general who would command us into battle. Thus a grasp of rhetorical technique, rather than distracting us from moral considerations, can be our point of entry into what can be the dark moral universe of a text.

The discovery function of RC also relates it to the generation of rhetorical theory. While others support the importance of other functions, Samantha Senda-Cook emphasizes that the purpose of RC is to "build theory" (150). In his elegant essay, Raymie McKerrow develops this idea in a pluralistic approach: the motives for RC can be many, depending on the critical question that drives one's work in the first place. What RC helps us discover about human symbolic behavior also helps us understand and appreciate ourselves and our possible species shortcomings for which we must somehow attempt to compensate. RC helps us expand and correct the systematic explanations we develop to account for phenomena in the world, including the phenomenon of symbolic behavior. In turn these enhanced explanations can help sensitize the critic to subtle resonations within texts.

At the other end of the continuum, other critics pursue more concrete, socially useful, immediately practical justifications for RC. Michael Hogan would reclaim "a neoclassical rhetoric for the digital age" (63), which would ground our discipline in civic education. This focus, would help students become more effective citizens by teaching them how to argue and how to evaluate the arguments of others. The approach revives what Hogan calls the Wisconsin Idea, a movement out of the Progressive Era which depicted the critic as a "consumer 'watchdog' in the marketplace of ideas" (55). The goal is to develop "citizen critics" in line with David Zarefsky's vision of growing "a deliberating and decision-making public" (Zarefsky 133). Robert Terrill expands this theme of connecting RC with learning the art of citizenship. Acquiring rhetorical sensibilities encourages, he says, the "crafting of rhetorically-habituated selves" (165), instrumental to participation in public life. And in his insightful essay, Martin Medhurst goes beyond the idea of civic education to reinforce the classical idea that the study of rhetoric can become the nexus for many of the liberal arts and should be central to a liberal education.

Operating also at this "practical" end of the justification continuum is an essay that is destined to be perhaps the most controversial in the collection. Dana Cloud champions what she calls "ideology criticism," which takes up the cause of the underdogs in our society against those who exercise power over them through exploitative rhetoric. Such criticism exposes the tactics of the one-percenters and their lackeys, racists, anti-feminists, and other such undesirables.

Hers is a provocative essay and there is much about its program for RC that seems attractive. It is quite timely in an era in which power and wealth are indeed more and more concentrated and the voices of many who claim to represent poor and working people seem muted and discredited. The power of large corporations has surely been magnified by recent court decisions that loosen, for example, restrictions on contributions to political campaigns. Clearly, the potential for mass manipulation through the media has grown exponentially. Developing a counter-consciousness along lines suggested by Cloud could well help students build a much-needed resistance to dangerous abuses of power. Finally, the course Cloud describes appears to inculcate a set of sophisticated questions that should help students probe the mysteries of elusive rhetorical texts.

These virtues, however, do not come without a price tag. For one thing, the kind of criticism favored by Cloud is quite melodramatic. It envisions a world without moral nuance or complexity, a world which poses wicked exploiters against innocent victims. Presumably, in the bold new world that will follow the successful revolt of the oppressed, these newly emancipated innocents will themselves resist the urge to abuse their own newly found power. The former abusers will remain either wicked and diminished or will somehow find redemption: their fate is not entirely clear and perhaps they do not deserve our concern. It seems so easy in this melodrama for the discussion to pass over into stereotype and caricature. For example, the abusers are described as "elites who subordinate their wives, starve the poor, visit prostitutes, and so on" (31). This kind of language raises concerns about the fairness of ideology criticism as a serious mode of inquiry.

Another problem is that the worldview of ideology criticism pre-programs the criticism and constrains the critic. The critic's function now becomes solely to reveal the abuses perpetrated by the few and the powerful. As Condit argues, "To do rhetorical criticism . . . requires that one approach one's task with a question, rather than with a hammer designed to pound home what one already considers the truth" (45). Hammer-oriented criticism, Edwin Black would complain, is quite predictable: its range of discovery is limited, and it risks simply becoming an instrument to promote the predetermined narrative of good vs. evil in the class struggle. Ironically, the price of its function to free the innocent is that it must also confine the critic.

Having expressed these reservations, this is an essay I would rely upon to provoke thought and argument in the RC classroom. Moreover, this essay, along with those especially by Turner, Jason Black, Kuypers, Condit, and Medhurst, offers rich pedagogical suggestions. Using this book as a springboard, I would pursue Medhurst's vision of a course that would be "central to a liberal education," that would pursue Turner's desire to "teach my students how to think," and that would promote the Hogan/Terrell ideal of effective citizenship

What a contribution Jim Kuypers's book makes to our discipline!

* Michael Osborn is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Communication, University of Memphis.

Works Cited

Black, Edwin. "On Objectivity and Politics in Criticism." The American Communication Journal 4.1 (2000), n. pag. Web. 8 Oct. 2014.

Pinker, Stephen. The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature. New York: Viking, 2007. Print.

Zarefsky, David. "Two Faces of Democratic Rhetoric." Rhetoric and Democracy: Pedagogical and Political Practices. Ed. Todd F. McDorman and David M. Timmerman. East Lansing: Michigan State UP. 2008. Print.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Review: The Rhetoric of Intention in Human Affairs by Gary Woodward. Reviewed by Raymond Blanton

Woodward, Gary. The Rhetoric of Intention in Human Affairs. New York: Lexington Books, 2013. Print. 160 pages. $80.00 (hardcover); $79.99 (eBook)

Raymond Blanton, The University of Nebraska-Lincoln

"A motive is not some fixed thing, like a table, which one can go and look at. It is a term of interpretation." —Kenneth Burke

"Fantasy, imagination, and projection provide imperfect but useful frameworks for studying acts of indefinite construal. Each assumes a level of subjectivity that must be embraced if we are to plumb the deep enigmas of communication" (134). Embracing the subjectivity of the imperfect but useful within indefinite construal is our charge. Woodward's stark words, drawing from the rhetorical work of Walter Fisher and (utmost) Kenneth Burke as well as from the psychoanalytic and social constructivist work of Kenneth Gergen, mark the end (and beginning) of Gary Woodward's The Rhetoric of Intention in Human Affairs.

To make clear the end from the beginning, Woodward's notion of "imperfect but useful" marks the strength and area of most want in the book. Put differently, Woodward's work is most useful in broaching the subject and providing varied and interesting approaches to the implications of intention in human affairs. It is (naturally) imperfect in its implementation of balance as it pertains to the means of "imperfect but useful."

More specifically, emphasizing intention as an "assumed purpose behind our acts," Woodward notes that we "usually make our way in life with the belief that we are the authors of our actions: that intentions are the markers of our values, and they can be known" (x). For these reasons, Woodward details the means by which humans "guess" at motivations and offer "air-brushed reasons" as tonal indications of said imperfections. On one hand, merely emphasizing the imperfections of human motives is unremarkable. However, on the other hand, when taken into consideration with the representative case studies that Woodward utilizes, all in all, the work is a worthwhile and essential venture into the underworld of why.

Contextually, Woodward's Rhetoric of Intention extends the work he began in The Perfect Response: Studies of The Rhetorical Personality (Lexington, 2010), where he sought to isolate "traits of character" to designate the substance of "rhetorical personality" (xiii). Here, Woodward expounds upon such ideas with a particular focus on the "acute inference-making skills" of adept rhetors.

Specifically: "We will take discourse about intentional action on its own terms: not necessarily as representations of "the truth"—if that is even possible—but as a revealing window that helps us see how we make sense of the world" (xii).

Through this window, Woodward details our compulsive quest to "join purpose to acts," which is present in essentially all human exchanges, where "sociality provides the impetus" and "language provides the means" (129). Generally, The Rhetoric of Intention is a "broad map" for the various categories of naming intentions that so easily drift across narrow boundaries. Particularly, using a wide variety of examples from fiction, popular journalism, film, theatre, painting, political rhetoric, television, cultural analysis, and personal experience, Woodward makes a valuable contribution to beginning a broader conversation about motive. It's a good start, in other words. In his own words, the why of Woodward's aims are:

"Whether looking inward or outward for the springs of motivation, what sets this study apart from other discussions is our focus specifically on how it is named. Where most theorists of intention treat the idea as arising in thought and existing behind a dense fog of alleged first causes, the approach here places emphasis on how we express it. Our interest is not primarily on tracing the interiority of intention within an agent or author, but its forms captured in moments when we are addressing others." (x)

In light of Woodward's self-described aims, I will assess the book, first, structurally, followed by an argumentative and stylistic assessment. Then, I will situate the book's contributions to the work of Kenneth Burke and conclude with some critical reflections.

Structurally, I found The Rhetoric of Intention to be accessible and concise, modest in length (at 144 pages) while also being thorough and clear. Woodward's rendering of the mercurial nature of the human impulse to know why—a human propensity that we are inundated with but perhaps think very little about—makes Intention both a worthwhile and meaningful contribution to the subject of intention and various realms of disciplinary and critical thought.  

Woodward develops his perspectives across six chapters. The first chapter, "How We Know What We Can't," argues for the centrality of narrative as the archetypal form of reconstructed experience (52) by delineating a simple tiered approach to understanding the rhetoric of purpose. This is foundational to the work. Woodward's tiered approach to contemplating the process of "locating intention," whether in self or others, lists towards either taking the strangeness out of behavior, giving context to an action, or constructing meaning and identity (xiv). More specifically, Woodward's offers three tiers for describing intention:

First Tier:       What someone says about their own intentions.
Second Tier:   What someone says about another's intentions.
Third Tier:     What someone concludes about representations of intentions issuing from other parties.

Each of the subsequent chapters adumbrates specific contexts for exploring the nuances of these tiers via conspiracies, theatre and performance, journalistic writing, legal theory, and a "super-agency implied in belief in a higher power," respectively.

The second chapter, "Them: Conspiracies, Disasters, and Presumed Culpability," draws out the nuances of intention in conspiracy theorists who identify design within random events. For Woodward, conspiracy fantasies are difficult to overcome because they are, partially, "self-fulfilling." In the third chapter, "Theatre, Acting, and the Sources of Motivation," Woodward explicates how a character's motivation evolves—namely how theatre functions as an "all-encompassing idea: metaphor, model and mode" for conveying the "durable mandates of our nature" (53).

The fourth chapter, "The Telepathic Journalist," works to juxtapose the realms of reporting with the proclivity of critiques to frame behavior within a given community's norms of conduct. Woodward's image here is of a pilot flying a plane through fog without the benefit of instruments (72). The fifth chapter, "Legal Benchmarks for Establishing Intent," argues for the fundamental basis of motives in the establishment of proof of guilt in a criminal act. In short, humans tend to believe that accounting for the why is necessary in the cause of justice (93). The sixth and final chapter, "God's Plan: Agency, and the Quandary of Divine Intention" addresses how the devout constitute perspective with regards to divine intervention. How do we account for the visceral pain and suffering so evident in human experience with the idea of an all powerful and omniscient deity (114)?

Argumentatively, though Woodward is adept at offering a multiplicity of perspectives or representative cases from which to consider motives, I found the work wanting in its ability to render the sentiment of the book's final sentence apparent. In other words, when Woodward emphasizes the "imperfect but useful" framework for studying intention, I found the work to stress the former rather than the latter. To be fair, his aim was to offer a "revealing window" into how we make sense of the world of why. In short, the window mixes panes of opaque and transparent. Stylistically, The Rhetoric of Intention in Human Affairs is highly accessible. It is erudite and colloquial, thorough while pithy, and selective while versatile. It is likely to appeal to a broad contingent of scholars and thinkers across disciplines.

Perhaps most applicable to KB Journal readers is Woodward's extension and exploration of Burke's foundational rhetorical work on motives. From the outset, Woodward draws upon the "symbol using" elements of Kenneth Burke to conclude, along with Walter Fisher, that we are the "species that needs to know why" (ix). Susan Foss states the case simply as addressing an important issue that is widely ignored by rhetorical scholars.

Perhaps one of the most useful elements of Woodward's Rhetoric of Intention can be found in the corpus of Kenneth Burke. To be more plain, what I intend to suggest here is that perhaps the imperfections of intention can be illuminated more broadly by giving attention to overarching signatures across works or time rather than only in isolated instances. For instance, what Burke's method of textual criticism reveals is that his method is subservient to his methodology. More specifically, the critic seeks to develop not only a method but also a methodology that is formed by reference to the "collected revelation" of accumulated critical lore (Philosophy of Literary Form, 67-68).

How do we make sense of Burke's potential motives? We comprehend Burke's overarching signature. Particularly, Burke's work emphasizes: an art of living (Permanence and Change 66); equipment for living (Attitudes Toward History 5); strategies for living (Attitudes Toward History 43); recipes for wise living (Philosophy of Literary Form 293); strategies for situations (Philosophy of Literary Form 296); and campaign for living (Philosophy of Literary Form 298). Additionally, William Rueckert writes of Burke's fiction, "The White Oxen (1924)," as having, despite its variety of methods, a curious unity; that though his hands move incessantly, sliding through various tricks, his attitude from start to finish remains unchanged. In short, Burke's work helps us size up interpretations of reality and identify a "pattern of experience as representative of social" by critically excavating particulars, perhaps by conjecture in Woodward's sense, to find a general assessment. To be Aristotelian, we have only those means of persuasion that are available. But they are available.  

In essence, Burke's method of textual criticism notes that all questions are leading questions, selecting and deflecting attention to a particular field of interest and away from others (Philosophy of Literary Form). In other words, every ontological and methodological question of the critic (in this case Woodward) selects a field of "battle" that forms the nature of our answers. Hence, Woodward's reflections are both selections and deflections, with his selections providing a much-needed framework for consideration.

On the other hand, his deflections weaken the force of the book. Namely, while Woodward considers the rhetorical and psychological habits we exhibit with regards to motive, I found the concluding chapter, "God's Plan: Agency, and the Quandary of Divine Intention," wanting for religious or theological credibility. To be fair, Woodward disavows any claims to expertise in these areas of representative consideration and the cases are useful in considering the means by which we make sense of intention in expression. Woodward notes: "Kenneth Burke wisely noted that those who would simplify the relation between man and God are justifiably going to hear the rejoinder: "It's more complicated than that." I concur.

Overall, The Rhetoric of Intention in Human Affairs offers a versatile and accessible account of the habits that we possess and exhibit in the quest to understand the versatility of human action. What becomes clearly evident is that though we may desire clarity in differentiating motives, disentangling motives is rarely if ever a simple and straightforward process. What is most evident in Woodward's work is that our rhetoric is filled with motives-talk that assesses and often disputes inferences made by others about why someone did what they did" (6). We imperfectly reach: we "search in vain to find the most useful ways for expressing contingent attribution"; "have no similar linguistic depth that would give us a lexicon of personal will"; "describe action in an endless variety of available verb forms…no exact counterparts for what should be the complementary "whys"; and we "insert imprecise qualifiers in front of clumsy and inexact representations" (133). On these grounds, our ability is limited but we can utilize only what is available.

All in all, The Rhetoric of Intention is a most useful foray into the realms of human intention, where in the post-Babel concerns of rhetoric, where identity is "change of identity" (Attitudes Towards History, 268) and identification and change are emboldened as the "permanence of change" (Grammar 329), we work to "persuade" others insofar as we can talk their language by "speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying" our ways with theirs (Rhetoric of Motives 55). We "plumb" and "embrace" the deep enigmas of communication.

For further consideration, in addition to the aforementioned The Perfect Response: Studies of The Rhetorical Personality and the work under consideration, Woodward has also written: Persuasive Encounters: Case Studies in Constructive Confrontation (Praeger, 1991), Perspectives on American Political Media (Allyn and Bacon, 1997), The Idea of Identification (State University of New York Press, 2003), and Center Stage: Media and the Staging of American Politics (Roman and Littlefield, 2007).

Works Cited

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

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

—, Attitudes Toward History. 1937. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984.

—, Permanence and Change. 1935. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984.

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

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Review: Spiritual Modalities: Prayer as Rhetoric and Performance by William Fitzgerald. Reviewed by Richard Benjamin Crosby

Fitzgerald, William. Spiritual Modalities: Prayer as Rhetoric and Performance. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012. Print. 168 pages. $24.95 (paperback); $56.95 (hardcover)

Richard Benjamin Crosby,  Iowa State University

Spiritual Modalities is arguably the first major work to take up the high theoretical questions of rhetoric and religion since Burke's Rhetoric of Religion published more than half a century ago. While a number of other studies deal with the relationship between religious discourse and other phenomena, such as politics, social movements, or particular rhetors and periods, Spiritual Modalities makes a strong claim to understand the primeval stuff of prayer's varied and complex discourses. As Burke writes: "we are to be concerned not directly with religion, but with the terminology of religion" (vi). So Fitzgerald is not concerned with prayer as an efficacious means to access God, but with prayer as a discourse with motives grounded in human experience. Fitzgerald's contribution deserves praise, then, by virtue of its very manifestation in our literature, for it engages broadly and deeply the discourses of prayer in their complexity, situatedness, diversity, and embodiment. In order to cover this broad ground, Fitzgerald employs Burke's pentad, which is an appropriate choice because it provides a natural vocabulary for the various and compelling motives that undergird the discourses of prayer. Fitzgerald focuses primarily on three of the pentadic elements: scene, act, and, the belated sixth, attitude. Prayer, Fitzgerald affirms, is a fusion of "distinct, though interrelated, elements of discursive performance expressible as a 'scene of address,' an 'act of invocation,' and an 'attitude of reverence'" (7). These three essential elements then serve to guide the overall structure of the book.

Fitzgerald's first two chapters consider prayer not only as an oral or textual discourse, but also as a kind of temporal berth. More than the mere result of a rhetorical situation, prayer is, in some sense, the situation itself. It is simultaneously a place, a time, a relationship, an act, an attitude, a response, a provocation. In pursuing this line of reasoning, Fitzgerald engages in dialogue with the quickly growing literature on the intersection between space, time, and rhetoric. Prayer plays a potentially important role in this literature, because it explicitly signals a removal from time and a ritual encounter with the occasional. Drawing on the classical notions of kairos and krisis, Fitzgerald sees prayer as a means to create openings of meaning in the chronic everydayness of life (15). These kairotic openings then function as "performative spaces in which human and divine communication occurs"; they provide a space of "retreat and recalibration in which aspects of communication and performance (such as ethos and agency)" are rehearsed and practiced (22 parentheses in original).  Fitzgerald supports these claims by performing a reading of Reinhold Niebuhr's "Serenity Prayer," a prayer-text that explicitly and complexly plays with notions of kairos (timing) and krisis (judgment) whereby the supplicant rehearses important and situated practices for living free from addiction.

Chapter 2 in particular reads prayer as a "scene of address" (8). The important Burkean ratio here is scene-act. If scene is a matter of relationships, as Burke affirms, then prayer must be a discursive means of negotiating those relationships. Fitzgerald points out that divine beings vary widely, but the kairotic nature of the human-divine relationship has certain essential and generalizable characteristics. (Fitzgerald is careful, I should add, to point out where there are meaningful exceptions.) Prayer, in short, is a performative space. It is an opening in time within which supplicants perform their relationship with the divine. In Chapter 3, Fitzgerald outlines how this space is to be negotiated and sustained, focusing specifically on the act of invocation. Fitzgerald argues, contra-convention, that prayer's "performative core" lies in invocation, not in petition or praise (53). The speech-act of invocation is the primary complement to the kairotic scene of prayer discussed in Chapter 2.  To put it another way, an invocation is an act of prayer designed to create and "realize the potential of (the scene of prayer)" (54). In this chapter, Fitzgerald performs a series of short close readings through we which he illustrates a number of important characteristics of prayerful invocation. He discusses, for example, the importance of naming the divine. He discusses the role of accumulation and repetition of the invocation, which is a way of keeping the kairotic space open. More even than in the preceding chapters, Fitzgerald uses Chapter 3 to illustrate the collapse of text and context in the act of prayer, paying special attention to prayer as "an unfolding drama of divine-human relations" (54).

Chapters 4 and 5 complete the Burkean theoretical arc by discussing the "attitude" of prayer, which is a performed reverence, and conceptualizing prayer as a "rhetorical art of memory" (9).  Prayer as attitude and art suggests overlap with the young subfield of embodied rhetorics. Fitzgerald talks about the "dance of attitude," a notion that prayer is often an embodied signification of the reverence discussed above. A supplicant extends arms or clasps hands, stands or kneels or lies prostrate, moves or reposes, lifts the head or bows the head, and so on (see p. 77). Fitzgerald is especially conscientious here to embrace the full diversity of prayer's symbolic gestures. He asks provocatively: "Is prayer, finally, a form of address to specific beings apprehended as divine? Or is it a manner that infuses various modes of performance with an ethical dimension? Can recycling be prayer?" (83). Fitzgerald suggests in the conclusion that the answer to these questions tends to the affirmative. Prayer wears many "guises and disguises," and it "manifests a powerful complex of motives driving human action" (137). Far from watering down the theory Fitzgerald is building, the broadening of prayer as a discursive genre seems to lend density and vitality to Fitzgerald's claims.

Readers of this journal will like to know that Kenneth Burke plays a starring role in Fitzgerald's work. Burke is more than just the source of a useful heuristic for Fitzgerald. For just as Burke saw God and religion as somehow implicit in all of language, so Fitzgerald sees prayer as a central origin and destination for the art of rhetoric. "Indeed," he writes, "one can go so far as to claim no other discourse realizes ideal communication more than authentic acts of prayer" (5). And he further believes (with Burke) that as rhetoric discovers or rediscovers certain terrain, such as the physical body, it will naturally also rediscover prayer (see e.g. 77). This central argument – that prayer is a kind of essence of rhetoric – ties back to Fitzgerald's claim that prayer is a kairotic, meaning-making act in the midst of chronic meaninglessness, the implication being that rhetoric can be described in the same way. For Fitzgerald, not only is prayer rhetoric, but rhetoric – or as he puts it, "the perfection of the rhetorical principle" – is prayer (97).

I appreciate Fitzgerald's willingness to go boldly. I believe his sensitive, elegant analysis as well as his deep grasp of both the discourse of prayer and modern rhetorical theory uniquely qualify him to make the arguments he makes in this book, which is why I at times wanted to hear more from him and less from the chorus of philosophical voices he brings into the book. In Fitzgerald's push to justify the ways of prayer to rhetoric – that is, to demonstrate prayer's inherent rhetoricity – he engages with such a robust set of interconnected theories and literatures that his own central contribution gets overlooked at times. In Chapter 3 alone, which consists of eighteen pages devoted largely to small critiques, he still finds time to put Burke, Buber, Bakhtin, Culler, Levinas, Derrida, Marion, and the Rhetorica Ad Herrenium in conversation. Fitzgerald is a responsible and conscientious critic and theorist, so he does not do damage to the literature, but his heavy use of it occasionally inhibits his ability to throw his own contributions into relief. That being said, I can hear another reviewer inevitably complaining that Fitzgerald did not cite so-and-so, and needs to read so-and-so, a refrain we read in many peer and book reviews. So Fitzgerald's heavy use of other literature may have been a preemptive response to such moans. Nevertheless, it was at times difficult to know where a given theorist ended and Fitzgerald began.

Fitzgerald's voice is especially backgrounded when Burke is in the room. On this point, I give Fitzgerald the benefit of the doubt. The great premise with which one must contend in considering Fitzgerald's argument returns fundamentally to Burke – Burke, who increasingly throughout the book becomes a kind of oracle to whom Fitzgerald seems to serve as disciple. This statement, I fear, could be misread to mean that I see Fitzgerald's work as obsequious. Not so. Fitzgerald does what any good disciple does. He takes the essential tools of the oracle and refashions them for a new audience. He uses them to invent artful and fertile new ground with new relevance for a new generation. Burke, like Fitzgerald and, for what it is worth, like the author of this review, sees in religion and prayer the archetypes of culture and discourse – the living, breathing, meaning-making life forms of language and identification. Prayer is "the ultimate reach of communication between different classes of beings" (Burke qtd in Fitzgerald 97). It is the uttermost of discourse. I could revisit my small protest and ask for less Burke, more Fitzgerald, but from the waters of Burkean theory, Fitzgerald blazes lovely theoretical paths. And for what it is worth, Fitzgerald does a particularly good job of articulating his contributions when he gets to the last chapter of the book, a conclusion in which he eloquently argues that prayer "has a prayer" for our time. Fitzgerald's essential insights on prayer's relationship to kairos and space, address and invocation, attitude and reverence, body and memory, technology and motion, are hardly trivial addenda to Burke's work on rhetoric and religion. Fitzgerald's book is nothing less than a comprehensive twenty-first century theory of the rhetoric of prayer, and it persuasively argues prayer's relevance in twenty-first century discourse generally.

Work Cited

Burke, Kenneth. The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology. 1961. Berkeley: U of California P, 1970. Print.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Volume 11, Issue 1 Summer 2015

Contents of Issue 11.1 (Summer 2015)

Burke on Documentary Poetics: An Overlooked Essay

Ben Merriman, University of Chicago


In 1934, Kenneth Burke published an essay, "The Matter of the Document," as an introduction to Charles Reznikoff's book Testimony. The text is not included in standard bibliographies of Burke's writings. This note examines the circumstances of the composition, publication, and failure of Testimony, which may help explain why Burke's introduction has been overlooked. The note then offers an overview of Burke's argument, which characterizes documentary forms of literary composition as both artful and moral. This assessment anticipated Prokofieff's development as a poet, as well as later critical assessments of his work. Burke's view of literary composition from existing documents may be valuable in critically assessing the wide range of contemporary documentary and conceptual poetics in the United States.

IN 1934, THE OBJECTIVIST PRESS issued Testimony, a slender prose work by Charles Reznikoff. The book presents short narratives drawn from trial transcripts, and though it marked the first sustained use of the documentary approach that would define Reznikoff's most distinguished works, the book sank into immediate obscurity. Its disappearance took with it Kenneth Burke's six page introductory essay, "The Matter of the Document." That introduction is included in library catalog entries for the book, and is mentioned briefly in articles by Hardy and Listoe. However, the introduction is not included in standard bibliographies of Burke's writings, and the Reznikoff scholars who occasionally mention the introduction have not noticed that they have repeatedly rediscovered a more or less forgotten text of an important theorist. This note serves to call the introduction to the attention of Burke scholars. The note first describes the circumstances of the publication of Testimony. It then briefly considers the content of Burke's introduction, which is both an astute reading of Reznikoff, and an illuminating discussion of compositional practices that are now widespread in American poetics.

Charles Reznikoff (1894-1976) was trained as a lawyer at New York University. At the time he wrote Testimony he was working as a researcher for Corpus Juris, a legal encyclopedia (Watson 651). His work there obliged him to compile and digest cases. He took note of particularly interesting trials, whose transcripts he reworked according to compositional principles discussed in Watson (656). The unstated foundation for these techniques was, of course, his own sensibility and eye for the interesting and lurid: the work describes shipwrecks, industrial accidents, murder, slavery, and similar calamities. Although Testimony was written in spare prose, Reznikoff is recognized mainly for his poetry. He would later employ the same techniques of document manipulation to produce his best-known works, Testimony, Volume II and Holocaust.

The prose volume of Testimony received very little notice. It was issued by the Objectivist Press in an edition of 100 copies, and was not printed again until 2015, when it appeared as an appendix to a new edition of Reznikoff's poetic Testimony. What little notice an edition of this scale might have garnered would have been divided between several works; the Objectivist Press issued three titles by Reznikoff in 1934 (Cooney 387). This is consistent with a larger pattern: Reznikoff struggled for his entire career to receive notice, and was not a skilled promoter of his work. The remembrances collected in Hindus describe an extremely self-effacing and retiring man prone to making poor practical decisions about his writing (see also Cooney 383, Watson 657). Burke's introduction, which was intended to call more attention to the book, was written at the request of William Carlos Williams (Listoe 121), who characterized Reznikoff to Burke as a man "difficult through diffidence" (East 65). There is little to suggest that the introduction had the desired public effect. Even Williams himself never cut the pages of the copy of Testimony presented to him by Reznikoff (Weinberger 16).

Although Burke's introduction did not garner wider notice for Reznikoff's work, it is a thoughtful assessment in its own right. The introduction attempts to understand how dry rehearsals of legal fact—what Burke terms "vignettes" (xii)—can have aesthetic and moral power. Burke offers three arguments to explain the force of the work. First, he suggests that the work achieves a balance between the social constraints imposed by legal evidence and legal training (xv) and Reznikoff's own expansive, humane sympathy (xvi). Second, he points to a convergence of scientific and aesthetic forms of expression in modern times. The influence of Naturalism and psychoanalysis had prodded fiction in the direction of the case study. Yet the open or concealed artifice of the case study gives it many of the same qualities as fiction (xi), rendering outwardly objective texts open to many forms of interpretation. Third, Burke notes that Reznikoff's narrative approach is psychologically thin, owing in part to the legal source material, which was largely indifferent to psychology. This approach extends to the reader an account that has, in a sense, not been interpreted in advance, preserving deep psychological ambiguities (xiv).

These arguments are of a piece with many of Burke's larger critical commitments. They also present an astute contemporary appreciation of Reznikoff. Louis Untermeyer, writing in 1930, believed that Reznikoff had no style at all, and Hindus (1977) shows that most critics of the 1930's focused on Reznikoff's apparent artlessness, his Jewish immigrant background, or both. Burke, by contrast, identified key features of his compositional technique, and anticipated by several decades the significant role Reznikoff's legal training would play in his mature poetics. Burke's intuition that Reznikoff's concerns are primarily moral—a minority opinion at the time—has now become the consensus critical view; it is his quiet moralism that distinguishes Reznikoff from his modernist contemporaries (White 203), as well as successors who have adopted many of his compositional practices (Magi 262).

It is doubtful that scrutiny of Burke's introduction will yield significant new insights into his thought or its development. However, it may be a useful starting point for a Burkean view of literary composition from factual documents, a practice that is central to many contemporary developments in American poetry. Conceptual writing, which enjoys rapidly growing prominence, focuses upon the composition of poetry by a number of impersonal techniques; Dworkin and Goldsmith's influential description presents conceptual writing as a means of effacing the subjective and expressive dimensions of literary writing. Magi has offered a strong characterization of the critical challenge posed by such work: its political and ethical valence can be difficult to discern. Vanessa Place's poetry, for instance, uses legal documents in a way that signals no particular commitment. Other poets, such as Jena Osman and Mark Nowak, use similar kinds of documents and compositional techniques for unmistakably political ends. Burke's critical writing may be particularly useful in understanding the range of uses of a single technique. This note has suggested that a nearly-forgotten piece of his work provides a specific starting point for such an effort.

Works Cited

Burke, Kenneth. "Introduction: The Matter of the Document." Testimony. Charles Reznikoff. New York: Objectivist Press, 1934. xi-xvi. Print.

Cooney, Seamus. "Chronology." The Poems of Charles Reznikoff: 1918-1975. Jaffrey, NH: Black Sparrow Books, 2005. 381-92. Print.

Dworkin, Craig, and Kenneth Goldsmith. Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 2011. Print.

East, James H. The Humane Particulars: The Collected Letters of William Carlos Williams and Kenneth Burke. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2003. Print.

Hardy, Edmund. "Grass Anti-Epic: Charles Reznikoff's Testimony." Jacket 30 (2006). Web. 15 March 2014.

Hindus, Milton. Charles Reznikoff: A Critical Essay. Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1977. Print.

—. Charles Reznikoff: Man and Poet. Orono: National Poetry Foundation, 1984. Print.

Listoe, Daniel. "'With All Malice': The Testimonial Objectives of Charles Reznikoff." American Literary History 26.1 (2014): 110-31. Print.

Magi, Jill. 2015. "Poetry in Light of Documentary." Chicago Review 59.3/4 (2015): 248-75. Print.

Nowak, Mark. Coal Mountain Elementary. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2009. Print.

Osman, Jena. Corporate Relations. Provience: Burning Deck Press, 2014. Print.

Place, Vanessa. Tragodia 1: Statement of Facts. Los Angeles: Insert Blanc Press, 2011. Print.

Reznikoff, Charles. Testimony. New York: Objectivist Press, 1934. Print.

—. Holocaust. Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1975. Print.

—. Testimony, Volume II: The United States of America (1885-1915) Recitative. Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1979. Print.

—. Testimony: The United States (1885-1915): Recitative. Jaffrey, NH: Black Sparrow Press, 2015. Print.

Untermeyer, Louis. "Introduction." By the Waters of Manhattan. Charles Reznikoff. New York: Charles Boni, 1930. 7-9. Print.

Watson, Benjamin. "Reznikoff's Testimony." Law Library Journal 82 (1990): 647-71. Print.

Weinberger, Eliot. "Poet at the Automat" London Review of Books 37.2 (2015): 15-16. Print.

White, Eric B. Transatlantic Avant-Gardes: Little Magazines and Localist Modernism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2013. Print.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Stylizing Substance Abuse as Ritualized Healing

Mark Williams, California State University, Long Beach


This paper examines Burke's incantatory and confessional styles as strategies to intervene in substance abuse. Invoking two of Burke's "conversations," honoring his aim to "coach" synecdoche for diseases and cures, and embracing his claim for a magical quality in rhetoric to disrupt facile binaries, I examine how Burke's reversible ideas of piety and impiety inform his discussion of an alcoholic. Burke's styles can also be seen in the Big Book as strategies to potentially reject abused substances.

Alcohol is a relative newcomer to inebriating substances, as cave paintings and plant evidence suggest that opium and marijuana were ingested 30,000 years ago (Gately 7-9). By about 10,000 B.C.E., fruits, barley, and other materials fermented in calorie-rich brews to be stored for consumption (Patrick), and alcohol became an increasingly important part of diet, ritual, and medicine. While moderate use usually enhances social and civic activity, and while wine and other spirits are much praised in ancient poetry, painting, and literature, abuse of the beverage creates interminable drama and trauma (Hanson; "Global").1 Recent epidemiological studies estimate that thirty percent of U.S citizens experience some form of alcohol-related problems during their lives, and tens of thousands die each year from alcohol-related accidents, disease, and violence ("Excessive;" Hasin et al.).2  Alcohol use and abuse has a long history with college life ("Fact Sheets;" Thoreson).3

Individuals unable to control their cravings for alcohol and other substances perhaps find recovery through psychoanalytic talk, verbal intervention by family and friends, and "conversations" among each other (Kurtz; "Starting").4 Kenneth Burke stirs interest in alcohol soon after the "'unending conversation,'" which grounds his dramatistic reading of rituals and texts, and where "material interests" affect our attitudes and orientations (PLF 103-11). After exploring how Coleridge's opium provides "material" to read his works (xi, 21-5, 73, 96-7), he questions the deterministic powers of things by asserting that they do "not 'cause'" our acts; language grants "different" alignments with physical elements as we "symbolically" realign our dramatic "rôles" (111-12).5 Offering "strategies" for changing circumstances and conjuring the magical decrees he sees in language (1, 4-7), Burke presents an alcoholic writer who might refuse booze by incanting "different" symbolic spells (120). 

Similar ideas sound in 1932, when Burke invokes an ongoing "conversation" to convey an inventive speaker who offers "different" ideas as cultures incorporate changed material interests. Grappling with Marxism's appeal during the Depression's depths, Burke sees contemporaries adopting literary ideals directly opposed to their previous perspectives, and he argues that "difference," not flat "antithesis," may best permit poetic innovations for "new matter" ("Auscultation" 100-03). Burke extends these concerns to wider desires when identifying how food, sex, and drugs provide pleasures otherwise lacking, but the "negativeness of our impulses" create problems. For instance, physicians tried to evade cravings for "the taste"of opium with needles, but veins disastrously replaced tongues as scenes for obsession (78-80). An imaginary community illustrates other evasions: unable to make fire, the group piously maintains pyres as sacrosanct, and prohibits stick rubbing because of a similarity with sex. Burke then offers a blaspheming fellow who violates such "magic taboos" to ignite wood on his own, which the tribe then uses to incinerate him. Eventually, the tribe invents a new term—"aboozle"— to sanction new ignitions (105-06).

The negative principles and magical implications surrounding Burke's two conversations combine with distinctions between "opposite" and "different" to fuel interest in his anecdote of the alcoholic. The drinker appears soon after Burke channels Mead's idea that individuals and groups can internalize the external through incantation and externalize the internal through confession (PLF 112-13). Burke's drinker mistakenly thinks that liquor and writing are "opposite" (120). Fearful of losing his symbolic skills, the lush must ironically see how booze and script are for him "parts of the same spectrum," must know how his prose "synecdochically" fuels his disease. Aware as well of the "magical incantations" that invite his "djinn," he losses control once booze is beckoned. He should thus avoid liquid spirits by writing with "a different incantatory quality," by not interpreting his texts and toasts as opposites (119-23). The anecdote thus conjures how substance abuse might end when flat oppositions are replaced with different relationships towards malign matters.

Many respond to Burke's "unending conversation," but not through the alcoholic. David Blakesley sees the conversation's puns informing post-structural aims (72-4); Timothy Crusius interprets it as a dialogic scene not reduced to nonverbal circumstance (Kenneth 193-94); Greig Henderson and David Cratis Williams label it Burke's "most famous topoi" (ix; see Lentricchia; Selzer; Wess).6 The 1932 analogy understandably receives less attention given its 1993 publication (Crusius; Hawhee; Henderson "Aesthetic").7 Meantime, despite Burke's bond with alcohol (Ruckert; Rountree and Kostelanetz), to my knowledge just two scholars briefly note the alcoholic anecdote (Bygrave; Hennig; see below). Although Robert Wess notes material interests in the "unending conversation," he sees such matters missing from the 1932 analogy (133n). Burke's earlier conversationalist does leave assertions "in the air," but Burke follows him with a sycophant who cultivates favors to advance his material standing ("Auscultation" 102). Speakers can revise terminologies to unify, divide, and alter ideas to engage changed material situations (101-03). For instance and as noted above, the tribe accepts a previously impious invention with the term "aboozle" to sanction flames.

Burke's imaginary fire maker and abuser of firewater share a satirical outlook; the former violates custom, and the latter writes ironically. This tone extends to Marx, whose "antithetical" methods may have converted "the 'esthetes' to Communism," but such binary thinking eliminates different possibilities. Burke thus questions ambiguities in Marxism, and Marx's neglect of human bodies, to rebut the German's "determinism" ("Auscultation" 62-3). The alcoholic's body remains addicted to the liquid, and his skillful parodic twists are then erased by more booze. Unlike the blaspheming fire maker, however, the alcoholic is offered to serve "the ends of freedom" (PLF 119-20). The drinker must "coach 'good' spells" by creating different texts and by writing without distortions (120). Because booze requires no faith for effect, the alcoholic inhabits an "indeterminacy" akin to historical ambiguities about transubstantiation, which were viewed as magical by some and as belief by others (121). The alcoholic must thus believe that "a different" incantation might alter his allegiances and relationships with liquid spirits (123-24).
  The alcoholic and blasphemous anecdotes enact Burke's negative principle as resource for revising roles among recalcitrant material interests. They also illustrate different relationships among magic, religion, and science to potentially ease antitheses of magic/religion, magic/science, and magic/rhetoric. The alcoholic can spell negative principles by saying "no" to liquor and saying "yes" to different kinds of writing. Such attitudinal turns imply Burke's valuing "tropes" more than "tropisms" to help discover and describe "'the truth'" for dramatic acts (PLF 114; GM 503).8 These powers partly emerge, I believe, through the "paradox of substance," whose ambiguities permit a kind of magic, or "miracles of transformations" (GM xix, 23-24, 51). The fire maker was doomed by static cultural values; the alcoholic might intervene his abusing scenes by confessing and incanting rather magical substances to convert "opposed" relationships between alcohol and writing with a "different" understanding. This symbolic action might end substance abuse.

I elaborate the previous points by first examining pious and impious incantations that perhaps permit different alignments with malign material interests. Burke's reversible, paradoxical substance gains salience through his three synecdochic principles—as representative, as "negatively," and as "otherness." These tropical resources admit identification with, division from, and revisions among verbal and nonverbal matters. I end by extending some of Burke's ideas to the Big Book, published in 1937 to help found Alcoholics Anonymous. When the desperately alcoholic "Bill" converses with a suddenly-sober friend, for instance, he is shocked to see more than sobriety: Bill's friend confesses to having miraculously "got religion." Now "inexplicably different," the friend radiates a new-found power originating not intrinsically, yet still from the "heart" (10-11). This indeterminate power helps the newly sober impiously say "no" to booze while piously saying "yes" to the divine. Although Burke does not name "dramatism" until 1942 (Wess 109), his dramatic or dialectical focus in Philosophy resounds in the Big Book: unable to control their desire for drink, alcoholics turn to the ultimate source: "hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director" (59-62). These writers also reject distortions, forge fellowships with others, and cultivate humility. Burke cites no fellowship for his alcoholic, aside from friends who worry about the boozer. Still, those "schooled in the experiences of alcohol" are equipped with apt styles to intervene with the debauched (PC 50). The negative principle permits pious and impious incantations and confessions as stylistic strategies for ongoing interventions with substance abuse.

Piously and Impiously Internalizing the External—and Vice-Versa

Burke's reference to the alcoholic may have been sparked by his work at the Bureau of Social Hygiene between 1926 and 1930. Debra Hawhee analyzes how Burke created there a different perspective for his literary pursuits when helping write Dangerous Drugs. Burke's ghostwriting of Colonel Woods's book perhaps aided Burke's shaping of piety and "efficiency" as he prepared "to 'sing' about" the body (Hawhee "Burke" 12, 17). Hawhee also credits synecdoche for permitting Burke to disrupt facile binaries (Moving 5). Jordynn Jack examines Burke's efforts at the Bureau to interpret piety through identifications that are difficult to alter: "the network of beliefs, activities, and emotions" developed over time. Jack also questions social and psychological dimensions of piety to argue that the concept works with perspectives by incongruity to integrate "poetic and biological factors" (452-53, 461). Other scholars briefly invoke Burke to engage rhetorics related to alcoholism (Daniell; Hedges; Kleine; Jensen; see below).

I next examine the alcoholic anecdote through the symbolic powers Burke attributes to Mead and malleable ideas of substance. Burke cites Mead's "vision" for the "unending conversation," and Burke lauds him for means to internalize the external and vice versa as writers craft alternative roles for material interests (PLF 111,117).9 Later, Burke praises Mead's pragmatic ideas as "philosophy of the act," which permits us to "adopt the 'attitude of the other'" (GM xxi, 236). The alcoholic anecdote ferments the need to identify with an other way of perceiving verbal and nonverbal substances: if the drinker is willing to believe in the power of "different" incantations, he might then not be induced to abuse booze. Such substantive changes in attitudes and behaviors towards material interests calls for internalizing different externals. This process might be nourished by a reversible substance which allays otherwise opposed pairings that can sustain habitual acts. In other words, Burke concedes how dialectical, political, and/or personal pressures are always present to turn the "other" back into "an antithesis" (PLF 77-8). Still, a reversible ambiguity of substance potentially makes malign matters benign. Although Burke continues to critique the "harshly antithetical" methods of dialectic (RM 189), he of course does not outlaw antithesis: the alcoholic needs different kinds of writing to discover a "truly oppositional" relationship with bottled spirits (PLF 123); he must, through difference, develop strength to oppose intoxicants. He must turn impious to Bacchus and so salvage health.

The alcoholic anecdote also exemplifies the negative principle's reversible powers, which permit turns from pious to impious and "opposed" to "different." Although metaphor is central to the "transformation" of orientations that incongruous perspectives provide (PC 69; Rosteck and Leff; Jack),10 synecdoche permits shifts between impiety and piety. For example, Burke examines how impiety arises from the oppositions poets feel when symbolic meanings are dismissed. Invoking a mighty tree, which synecdochically represents poetic, political, and artistic realms (PLF 26), Burke explores the deep significance when a grand trunk, limbs, and branches, slam to the ground. "Not only firewood, but a parent symbol, might be brought down in the crash" (PC 71). A poet's "magical" attitudes might thus be felled without a corresponding ritual to signify the loss (72). With pragmatic aims remaining ascendent, though, no "symbolic overtones" might ever emerge. The parricidal implications of a downed oak or other organism might then exemplify "a direct antithesis between artistic and practical responses" (72). Nevertheless, piety is not necessarily opposite or antithetical to impiety; the latter recognizes and reorganizes the former through different experiences (80-81). The alcoholic, meanwhile, must reorganize his pious, symbolic "twists" and the material warps of liquor. He must become impious to both. This task trends back to Burke's tropical aims: he hopes "to 'coach' the concept" of synecdoche for diseases and cures (GM 508-09). Synecdoche conveys relationships "outside of poetry" and permits conversions from "representative" to "antagonistic" (PLF 26n). The alcoholic, who knows the magic invoked by his comedic texts, cannot control the magical powers his satire inspires; "hence, let him not summon it" (PLF 123). This claim conjures the "magical decree" inspiriting all words (PLF 4); it may also invoke the negative principle that empowers us to reject malign material interests.

These possible powers appear in pages between the "unending conversation" and the alcoholic, where Burke codifies key points of Philosophy of Literary Form: the "inconsistency" of dramatic readings admit "both determinism and free will" (116). This idea perhaps grows out of Burke's dispute with Marx's antithetical thinking, and is later elaborated through the paradox of substance whereby inside and outside convert (GM 21-4). The alcoholic externalizes the internal by confessing his "fears" about alcohol's powers; he internalizes external matters by ironically conjuring "forth a djinn" with his satire, so he must write differently (PLF 119-20, 122-23). These strategies gain salience from Burke's "irony-dialectic" pair: again noting Mead's ideas of how selves are informed by others' attitudes, Burke argues that reductive, dualistic, and relativistic perspectives might be revised with a "humble irony" growing not from flat oppositions to alternative perspectives. Rather, potential enemies, or "others," might become "consubstantial" through perception of a "different quality" (GM 236,511-14). Identification and division thus exist "ambiguously together" as rhetoric "'proves opposites'" (RM 25). By turning a simple binary between booze and writing into a different kind of relationship, Burke's alcoholic potentially proves opposites: he might affirm an alternative incantation to reject booze.

Mutably Magical Substances

Revising relationships with powerful material interests might call for miraculous acts. Burke partly provides them through versions of magic, which remain "outside the realm" of strict binaries; magic is "itself a subject matter belonging to an art that can 'prove opposites'" (RM 44). As we know, Burke embodies a seemingly magical power with liquor. As William Rueckert notes, Burke had "an amazing capacity . . . and obvious need" for alcohol (xxi). In a 1932 letter, Malcolm Cowley suggests that Burke "go on the wagon for a year," and Burke responds by confessing the "damage done me by drinking" (qtd. in Jay 202-03). Admitting to throwing away his booze-influenced prose, Burke confessed the need "to go easy on" liquor from time to time. "But, it made me feel as though I had sinned. I was ungracious to a kind thing" (qt.. in Rountree and Kostelanetz 9; see Hawhee, Moving 134-35).

I return to magic below. Next, though, while the alcoholic metaphor in Philosophy may imply some experiences in Burke's life, and while it compliments Burke's discussions of Coleridge in the same text, as far as I know the metaphor receives just two readings. Stephen Bygrave briefly notes how the alcoholic represents rituals that potentially purify acts. Writing and alcohol are "alike 'conjurings,' better seen as respectively spiritual and material versions of the same power" (39). Still, for Bygrave, the anecdote remains a "banality," albeit one with seriousness (39). Stefanie Hennig cites the alcoholic when suggesting that symbolic action potentially trumps physical motion: "the rhetorical act . . . outranks the physical act." Moreover, she asserts, "symbolic action does not cling to a certain form."

I reformulate the alcoholic anecdote through Burke's recollection of working with Woods on Dangerous Drugs. When introducing the 1966 edition of Philosophy, Burke acknowledges how most of his research material with Woods vanished. He then quickly shifts to recalling how Coleridge's addiction manifests in the Mariner's "confession." Reversible images of sun and moon form parts of the poem's "spell" (x-xii). While Burke warns of reductively interpreting the poet through "observable simplification," the poet's complexities are enhanced by awareness of his onus—how opium may be evinced as snakes convert from cursed to redeemed (22-24). Although Coleridge's addiction is "private," the guilty implications of his acts are available to discerning readers (25). We can, for instance, chart the synecdochic principles that permit the snakes' "transubstantiated identity" (28-29).

These consubstantial powers might imply the "magical decree" constituted by all symbolic actions (4). The reversible, transubstantiating process may also permit shifts from "opposed" to "different" as well as enable internalizing the external and vice-versa. Again, immediately after the "unending conversation," Burke invokes Mead's ideas of internalizing the external and its reverse. Although confessions and incantations carry cathartic and fictive extremes, these acts are means to "make ourselves over" (PLF 117). Origins for such revisionary agency and attitude perhaps emerge from etymological ambiguities of "substance," which fund "alchemic moments of transformation" (GM 23; RM 22). Discerning motives means engaging ambiguity, where an "alchemic center awaits" (GM xix), and some symbolic alchemy might emerge during the engagement. Blakesley interprets the internalizing powers as "developing the language of the other" (93). Wess contends that Burke's incantatory and confessional strategies theorize "the rhetorical constitution of the subject" (134). My aims might enact what Wess calls "rhetorical idealism"—how language seemingly trumps recalcitrant matter (133). However, we might recall Burke's assertion that drama is "physicalist-plus" (PLF 116). In other words, Burke sums up the 1966 introduction to Philosophy by claiming that we can incant "non-symbolic" matters "with the spirit" of language (xiv-xv). Otherwise put, nonverbal motion is recalcitrant to words, but terminologies can affect our attitudes towards the physical world. We thus might "become piously equipped" to ponder how language "so often 'transcends'" nonverbal motions (xvi). Stubborn material interests do not necessarily "cause" our acts: language provides stylistic agencies to create different relationships with malign substances.

Reconstituting Scenes Through Reversible Substances

One means for addressing deterministic scenes appears when Burke repeatedly mediates reductive either/ors that he encounters in behaviorism, Marxism, and other orientations (see Crusius, "Kenneth;" Henderson; Wess).11 Rather than flat oppositions between magic and science or sobriety and drunkenness, rhetoric's reversibility provides means to ameliorate the polarities. In 1950 and before, as contemporaries saw magic and science as a "simple antithesis" of primal and advanced vocabularies, Burke recovers rhetoric's role across discourses (RM 41). Poets can confess and incant foul matters like incest and sadism, and journalistic "efficiency" can reductively sensationalize and sentimentalize (PLF 115-17). Between these extremes are stylistic means to partially reverse relationships with recalcitrant scenes.

A reversible substance emerges early in Burke's works to internalize the external and vice versa. These agencies, as Rueckert, Hawhee, and others examine, include reincorporating the "mind-body" continuum. Burke offers this corporeal/conceptual spectrum when summing up Permanence and Change. Historical phenomena can be understood "to 'cause' our frameworks," yet histories can also be glimpsed through "the externalization of biologic, or non-historic factors" (228). This corporeal perspective might dissolve reductive binaries between materialistic and idealistic orientations. For this aim, Burke identifies a "fundamental substance" that is both conceptual and material (229). In other words, Burke later writes that situations have "endless variety," but they share "a common substance"—language. Thus, proverbs and spells, curses and prayers, are publicly available means to style scenes (PLF 1-2). Words authorize conversions of inward and outward, as with Joyce's "narcissistic" imagery and scapegoats' "delegated" shame (42-5). Confessions permit individuals and groups to divide from the previously identified while aligning with the previously opposed; incantations might create or reinforce different identifications and divisions.

An ambiguous substance also appears just prior to the "unending conversation" to complicate relationships between different and opposed. Continuing his "cluster analysis" to identify dialectical means to read the U.S. Constitution, Burke first reviews Plato's dialectic as a ritualistic means to develop "competitive collaboration" as well as "incantatory" devices among tribal societies that enhance consubstantial relationships. He then cites the U.S. Constitution as a "strategy for encompassing a situation" (27, 107-09). The text must be interpreted through oppositional, different, and agreeable exchanges emanating from the scenes where it emerged—what Wess calls a transformation of "the Hegelian antithesis into the Burkean agon" (63-4). Burke then footnotes "positive" terms, which denote tangible things, and "dialectical" terms, which require opposites for meaning. The U.S Bill of Rights emerged from "different situations" than did its antecedents, and thus should be interpreted through different perspectives. The British Bill of Rights, for instance, pitted the people versus royalty. Consequently, the "Crown . . . was a necessary term in giving meaning to the people's counter-assertions" (110n). The U.S. Bill of Rights had no royalty to oppose, but oppositional perspectives appeared when some individuals sought protection from majority rule. Stated alternatively, the U.S. Bill of Rights gave voice to the "individuals or minorities against a government" (110n). Over time, corporations converted into "the new Crown," which a majority then opposed. Hence, we should consider a range of different perspectives: question the forces "against" a particular text in certain times, ponder the document "as an act in a scene outside it," ask about "the Constitution beneath  . . . above  . . . or around the Constitution" (111n). Each reading would require a pliable idea of substance that admits how an agreement among some conversants may be a disagreement among others.   

Admittedly, the preceding passages perplex Burke's treatment of "antithetical" and "different," as the two strategies intertwine. Still, given the rhetorical resources for ambiguity, we might note how oppositions differ across historical epochs. A constitution, thus, should be read not by simply by those "against" the document, but by and through the "different" socio-scenic elements around it (110n). When reflecting on the Constitutional passages from Philosophy in A Grammar of Motives, Burke writes that participants in conversations might reject alternative readings as impious. Constitutions "involve an enemy" (357). Furthermore, a constitution should "substantiate an ought," which necessarily turns away from "what should not be" (358). Synecdoche is one strategy to convert such interpretations; it designates how "some part of the social body . . . . is held to be 'representative' of the whole" (508). While participants might argue about which material interests represent general values and perspectives, some apt part eventually stands in for a whole (362-64). An entity or idea first identified with a group's wishes may eventually become divisive, as a scapegoat, to represent what a group opposes. A "yes" becomes a "no" as values convert.

Returning to Burke's anecdote of the alcoholic, we see the drinker needing to reconstitute his understanding of prose to then oppose liquid spirits; by seeing his satire sharing the same psychic world as the distorted perspectives inspirited in bottles, he might create different interpretations of writing, might find different means to alter scenes. This incantatory magic partly aligns with rhetoric's potential to reverse relationships through symbols. Although rhetoric "is no substitute for magic" (RM 44), Burke's magic works across texts: there "is not a choice between magic and no magic . . . but a choice between magics that approximate truths" (PLF 6; GM 65-66).

Because magic is generally antithetical to post-enlightenment epistemology, a few more passages from Burke may allow a different, perhaps more accepting perspective of the magical to conceivably alter relationships with recalcitrant material interests.

Magically Internalizing the External to Alter Attitudes Towards Material Interests

Burke's aim for the alcoholic to incant different spells to end his addiction perhaps illustrates the "magical decree" of ritual, prayer, and curse (PLF 4-5). Burke offers complicating ideas for these means when intersecting his alcoholic metaphor with a brief treatment of historical changes in sacramental rituals. The alcoholic shares an "indeterminacy" found in "transubstantiation"—how Christ's body "really" was "transubstantiated" in early times. Theologians later converted those magical beliefs by aligning "[t]he 'scientific magic' of paganism" with belief in transubstantiation (PLF 121). The alcoholic, pious to distorting liquid and distorted prose, must find faith to confront his malign substances, must transform his understanding of how writing and drinking intermix.

The incantatory qualities the drinker might then conjure partly align with magic, which has long associations with rhetoric. Among "traditional" groups, magic is a "rhetorical genre" (Kennedy 139). As we know, in Encomium of Helen, Gorgiascelebrates the enchanting means of language; he offers an "incantation" to enhance power and reduce pain (10). Such magical connotations of course become antithetical to religion and science (see Covino; de Romilly; Stark). For my purposes, Burke's most salient reference to magic appears in A Rhetoric of Motives, where he extends rhetoric to anthropology, where magic has traditionally been examined. The magical can be seen "as 'primitive rhetoric'" (43), but rhetoric is more than a sheer manipulation of motion, as magic attempts to be. In words reverberating from the "unending conversation," where language provisionally intervenes in deterministic material interests, Burke writes: "Rhetoric . . . . is rooted in an essential function of language itself." This function may create cooperative acts among symbol users—for the good of some and the bane of others. There remains a reversible, perhaps magical "wavering line" among conversants whereby we identify with one while dividing from another (RM 44-5). This alchemy may provide some agency. 

Burke values magic in part because of the increasingly powerful agencies of science and behaviorism. He early on asserts how symbols may have affects "like the magic formula of a savage" (CS 61). In Permanence and Change, he explores orientations developing from "magic and religion" (3, 44). Magic figures in the first "scapegoat," or "unburdening" of sins (PC 16). In his 1953 "Prologue" to the same text, Burke again reflects on relationships among magic, religion, and science. Language makes the three stages '"forever born anew'" (lix). In Attitudes Towards History, Burke notes how the "elegiac" creates a "spell" that can inaccurately read situations. Homeopathy and allopathy also cast a "spell" that accepts and or rejects meaningful perspectives (44-5). By the time Burke publishes Philosophy of Literary Form, a "magical decree is implicit in all language." Instead of ridding rhetoric of magic, "we may need [a] correct magic" (4). Writers might meet readers' needs with "formal devices," which fall "within the sphere of incantation, imprecation, exhortation, inducement, weaving and releasing of spells" (282).12 Burke also offers magic to aptly read situations and so counter religious abstractions and scientific reductions.13 Burke's work with Woods was one of "three stretches of magic" (On Human Nature 348; Blankenship).14

The above passages intimate different relationships among magic, religion, and science to potentially question the flat oppositions of magic/religion, magic/science, and magic/rhetoric. These aims are apparent when Burke reviews James's ideas of creation: magic, Burke writes, works "in the area of more-than-matter that we call action." Further, "magic, in the sense of novelty, is seen to exist normally, in some degree, as an ingredient of every human act" (GM 65). In A Rhetoric of Motives, Burke casts how Marxist critique uncovers the rhetorics otherwise obscured by '"material interests'" (24). Division ironically accompanies identification as private property provides opportunities for spellbinders to cooperate with and exploit each other. God can be lauded for "worldly" aims, and science can be praised for "unscientific" ends as rhetoric '"proves opposites'" (23-26). Communicators can thus incant idealistic and realistic acts not "as strictly true-or-false" claims but to '"prove opposites'" (41, 44-46). Or, a few pages later, Burke contends that "simultaneous identification-with and division-from" are marks for choosing scapegoats; readers are encouraged to see how rhetoric relates to "witchcraft, magic, spellbinding, ethical promptings, and the like" (RM 46; "The Rhetorical" 263).   

Variants of this ambiguous yet potentially powerful magic figure in the alcoholic anecdote: Burke prefaces the drinker by exploring how authors might revise their characters' roles to identify with and divide from others. He does so by channeling Mead with an illustration from Shaw, whose character simplistically transforms herself by incorporating the mannerisms of a higher social class. Joyce, meanwhile, transforms readers with his "individualistic" words (PLF 112). These seemingly elliptical claims are central to Burke's "'orthodox' statement" for Philosophy, whichcelebrates strategies for "internalizing . . . the external" and vice versa. Whereas alcohol works materially, writing requires some kind of faith for effect. Because the alcoholic is pious to the distorting style, he must thus reject Bacchanal genres and "refuse to write" awry to then invite malign spirits (121-22). "He may know the magical incantations that summon it; but he does not know the magical incantations that compel it to obey him" (123).

Versions of this magic emerge when Burke reverses relationships between words and things to contend that language works synecdochically to inspirit or entitles matter as "gods" (LASA 361, 379). These inspiriting powers might then be invoked for different relationships with debilitating material interests: because the synecdochic principle permits conversion of parts/wholes and vice-versa, it may be a symbolic means to shift between limited selves and more expansive wholes; the "ruts" of a potentially debilitating piety (PC 77-8) might be disrupted. While not addressing the alcoholic anecdote, Blakesley reads Burke's "comic and pragmatic skepticism" in Permanence and Change to assert how perspective by incongruity permits key reversals: there is value in being "purposely impious" (83). Michael Feehan examines analogous conversions when examining how Burke confesses to "secularizing" Christian Scientist ideas. Comparing Mary Baker Eddy's tenets with selected sections of Burke's Permanence and Change, Feehan argues that Burke's perspective by incongruity works analogically to suggest conversions to new orientations (220). These ideas include a "pliant piety," which may disrupt the potentially harmful ruts that devout behavior can create (206, 209-10). Blakesley and Feehan's ideas direct attention to the negative principle and agency that Burke sees in synecdoche. In his 1941 "Forward" to Philosophy, Burke reflects on relationships between vocabularies of "power" and '"substance'" to note the nearly magical "permutations" that synecdochic principles permit (xxi-xxii).

Before ending with a brief examination of the Big Book, I next turn to synecdoche as strategy to possibly reverse relationships with malign matters.

Burke's Three Synecdoches for Pious and Impious Acts

This section adds Burke's "negatively synecdochic" and "synecdochic otherness" to the representative powers the trope typically conveys. The negative principle at work in three synecdoches assent to a reversible substance, whereby scapegoats are means to turn pious ideas of "what goes with what" into impious ideas of "what does not go with what." Synecdochic otherness also ironically yet humbly allows perspectives of different ideas, which emerge from empathizing with "the other." These three synecdochic dimensions are means to represent or identify with some and to negatively divide from previously identified others. Perhaps by coaching good spells through the almost magical conversions that synecdoche concedes, conversants might revise unproductive binaries to constitute a more healthy relationship with verbal and nonverbal substances.

As we know, synecdoche is "the 'basic"' representative power of words which connotes salient part/whole relationships (PLF 26). Wess sees among other ideas how synecdoches "rhetorically qualify one another as they question and modify one another" (118; see Gregg).15 We might also recall how the "unending conversation" has synecdochic elements: when presenting one of his "outlines" for dramatic works, Burke notes how "the acts of other persons become part of the scenic background" for our acts (PLF 115). Synecdoche can "represent" important parts of sensations, arts, and politics (26-7). Identifying things with names is a kind of synecdochic spell, which Burke elaborates by examining possible motivations for Coleridge's works. One motive is opium. The drug transubstantiates across texts, in some sections representing malevolent influences and in other sections benevolent influences. Perhaps foreshadowing the alcoholic anecdote, Burke notes how Coleridge encodes snakes as "synecdochic representatives" of opium, which convert from malign to benign and back again (96-7).

Burke's 1932 conversation provides a reintroduction to synecdoche through the negative principle, which provides transformative ideas of the divine to perhaps help act against the malign. Readers see the fire-making "recidivist" acting in direct opposition to social pieties, which ban stick friction as too representative of sex ("Auscultation" 105). The fire maker's culturally criminal acts echo in Burke's subsequent treatment of scapegoats. First identifying the symbolic "criminality" that might be obscured in texts (PLF 51-52), Burke again discerns a reversible substance that revises simple binaries between pious heroes and impious scapegoats. He does so through ambiguities concerning "sacer." For instance, when examining forbidden names and taboos, Burke notes a "negatively synecdochic" dimension. It functions in and outside of texts to represent "some forbidden impulse," or "certain unwanted evils" (PLF 30, 39). In rituals, scapegoats are "felt to have and not to have" characteristics projected upon them (45). A variant of these negative principles emerges when Burke sums up how puns may express taboos, how prayer may permit the expression of otherwise "'unutterable'" monikers, and how the "sacred" and the profane may be reversed (54-5). Burke then offers reversible strategies for addressing the divine. At one time, Burke writes, "Jehovah was 'unspeakable'" because the name "represented the Almighty Power." Later, as ideas of the Almighty shifted from "a 'power god'" to a "kindly" God, the divine again became utterable (56-57). Ideas of the divine transform across times and cultures. Then examining the "internal" workings of texts, Burke sees how concepts of divinity convert from representative to divisive. For instance, Coleridge casts Prometheus as "'the Redeemer and the devil jumbled together.'" However, in Milton, Burke sees how Lucifer becomes "divisively" representative of the divine (59). In other words, as religions develop, ambiguities of power can be resolved or reduced through either/or principles of good versus bad. Yet ideas of the divine share common grounds with their ostensibly polar opposites, and ambiguity returns: ancient ideas of Lucifer introduced a divisive part of God to humans, "as an offense to the gods;" subsequent theologies recast Christ "as an unambiguously benign Lucifer, bringing light as a representative of the Godhead." As Milton then offered a rebelling angel, Burke writes, the disavowed part can then be understood as"negatively synecdochic"(59-60). The reversible substance underwriting these shifts is funded by the negative principle, which might stir some to negate booze by affirming a differently configured divine, which I explore below through the Big Book.

Next, however, a third dimension for synecdoche helps address Burke's alcoholic. As noted above, the drinker's relationships with writing and booze correspond to some degree with historical debates about the sacrament. These relationships can be approached through "synecdochic otherness." Burke introduces this idea when reviewing Hegel to recast concepts of "the 'other.'" In language echoing the engagement of Marx and Hegel in "Auscultation," Burke in Philosophy reviews how Hegel provides "a polar kind of otherness," as a particular type of villain may imply a particular type of hero and the reverse. In contrast, "synecdochic otherness" conveys how any thing or idea might represent some other thing or idea. Whereas Hegel's binary otherness can unite elements "opposite to one another; synecdochic otherness unites things that are simply different from each other." Over time, though, pressures from dialectical, political, and/or personal experience might reverse "the 'other' back into "an antithesis" (77-78). Nevertheless, perhaps foreshadowing the strategy of proving opposites, Burke's "synecdochic otherness" implies listening to enemies, cultivating the "competitive collaboration" required for developing apt strategies across changing situations (107). The alcoholic needs to alter his scene for writing, where satiric twists represent alcohol. He must thus turn what he thinks as a divisive, or negative relationships, into representative ones. Revising his mistaken opposition between satire and brew, the drinker converts the synecdoche of representation to the synecdoche of otherness and negativity. He might then create a different relationship with writing that grants power to negate his djinn.

The Big Book exemplifies principles of Burke's reversible, seemingly magical substances, the part/whole conversions of synecdoche, as well as pious and impious internalizing of externals and vice versa.

Pious and Impious Magics in the Big Book

Some scholars examine rhetorical dimensions of A.A. through Burke's ideas of identification (Daniell; Hedges; Jensen; Kleine),16 but none note Burke's alcoholic anecdote. I return focus to the drinker through Burke's "substance" and its sibling, "constitution," which connote fleshy and written matters (GM 341-42). Corporeal constitutions also imply ancestral sources of being (26-28). Some individuals might thus be piously aligned with alcohol through attitudes emerging from the body: the Big Book admits how a few drinkers are "constitutionally incapable" of the honesty that recovery requires and so find no help with A.A. "They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way" (58). To potentially regain sobriety, then, drinkers must reverse booze from substantiating the good to substantiating the bad—an act requiring a reconfigured understanding of how the person fits within secular and divine communities.

While Big Book editors admit that most shifts to sobriety are not sudden, thetext's miraculous conversions imply the pious/impious pairing that figures in changed attitudes and perspectives towards material interests. Burke's alcoholic, by perceiving liquor and satire as representing each other, might negatively identify with the bottle by writing differently, without distortion. He also must become impious to Bacchus cults while altering relationships with the material contexts that shape his alcoholism. Big Book writers likewise compile lists of people whom they have wronged, work to right those wrongs, and recognize that other drinkers are sick too (63-9). Some make amends for past mistakes by stressing how alcoholics can ally with drinkers "when no one else can" (89). Still others confess bad behavior while incanting alternative visions of the divine. Big Book writers internalize a divine external by enlarging their understanding of God; they amend distorted views of family and friends to potentially turn malign materials benign.

Bill begins the Big Book by recalling how alcohol transformed his perception. "Liquor ceased to be a luxury. . . it became a necessity." Realizing after much pain that he was not able to have just one drink, Bill prefaces his conversation with a friend by confessing to have always "believed in a Power greater than myself" (10). However, Bill parts company with the pious when they claim "a God personal to me"— an idea to which Bill's mind "snapped shut." Admitting disgust of the conflicts so frequently motivated through theological disputes, aggrieved that God had not prevented World War 1 and many other calamities, Bill admits a negative Almighty. "If there was a Devil, he seemed the Boss Universal, and he certainly had me." Then, during the surprise conversation with his ally, Bill wonders how the man miraculously gained agency over liquor. "Had this power originated in him?," he asks. "Obviously it had not" (11). Bill sees that his friend "was much more than inwardly reorganized . . . He was on a different footing. His roots grasped a new soil" (11-12). Even though Bill's friend soon after relapses and dies a drunk (Kurtz 8), he temporarily reconstitutes his alignment with the divine. Bill then suddenly accepts his friend's potentially impious advice to "choose your own conception of God" (Big Book 12). By accepting unorthodox ideas of the divine, Bill internalizes a newly configured external to discover an empowered position. "Scales of pride and prejudice fell from my eyes. A new world came into view" (9-13). Bill's conversion implies how recovering alcoholics might miraculously say "no" to a habitual abuse of booze by affirming a new, different piety: only "God as we understood him" can restore health (59). The material effects of liquor eventually become "a great persuader," and drinkers turn to the previously rejected or neglected divine (48).

Big Book writers also stop scapegoating; they accept responsibility for past wrongs and appeal to forgiveness from those wronged. Perhaps most importantly, drinkers also recount a need for humility: Bill confesses to "a humble willingness" for God when fighting in World War I, but his openness was "blotted out" by his own selfishness and fear of combat (12-3). About fifteen years later, after having conversed with his friend, Bill "humbly offered myself to God." This humility embraces a need for divinity: "I admitted for the first time that of myself I was nothing" (13; see Kurtz).17 Long pious to drink, other Big Book writersat first reject the "leveling of our pride" that recovery requires (25). Eventually, drinkers decline alcohol by accepting "a Spirit of the Universe . . . underlying the totality of things" (46). Some Big Book writers develop humility and tolerance by caring for "others . . . even our enemies" (70); in fact, assisting "others is the foundation stone of . . . recovery" (97). For instance, as a child, "Doctor Bob" was required to attend church. Yet years of alcoholism began when, after leaving home and becoming liberated from dominating parents, Bob realized he "would never again darken the doors of a church" (172). Bob eventually recovers through spirituality and speaking with recovered drinkers who "talked my language" (180). Bob thus revises his pious role with alcohol in part by identifying with a fellow alcoholic; language helps him incant a spell that reverses his unhealthy role with material interests. Synecdochic principles inspirit these conversions: once divided from family and spirituality, Bob identifies with the previously rejected fellowship with other mortals and with the divine. 

The humility that fellowship might encourage among Big Book writers includes "otherness," or difference that is not necessarily binary. When summing up irony as one of the four "master tropes," Burke argues that "humble irony" requires "the enemy," or the other. A character's "rôle" is enhanced by humbly seeking "consubstantial" relationships among opponents (GM 511, 513-14). This perspective may avert the fragmented, either/or thinking that Burke sees in discussions about magic and science, poetics and behaviorism; humble irony informs "the strategic moment of reversal" (517). Bob and others seem to live such humility by turning an opposition into a difference, by transforming their antithetical views of spirituality into different appreciations of material and ethereal spirit

Unending Struggles with Malign Material Interests

This paper begins with two conversations. It ends by noting the need for antithesis and difference. The drinker, unlike the blasphemer, can revise attitudes towards material interest in a "different" rather than "opposed" method. He might realign with nonverbal matters to find  "a happier kind of spell" (PLF 118-19). Nevertheless, the drinker also needs opposition—a strength to reject the bottle.

One means for both difference and antithesis emanates from the ancient community in "Auscultation," which Burke presents to poke fun of Marxist's antitheses. The blasphemer's invention, which impiously opposes ideas about fire, must eventually be incorporated into the group. Tribal elders thus create the term "Aboozle" to sanction rubbing wood for sparks (105). Later still, as "profane fires" burn, children soon get scalded. Parents thus warn the young to be wary of flames. This hortatory "was 'antithetical;'" it served a "regulating" end, not a "furthering" of the blaze (106). Stated otherwise, fire making called forth a new terminology, "Aboozle," which sanctioned revised acts towards material interests. As Burke asserts, "our vocabulary" reveals matters in term of our orientations. "The entire universe can thus become a crowd of becoming symbols" (102-03). Revising our language may lead to "a whole new world," because our classifications "of 'things' determines our conduct toward them" (101). Burke perhaps deliberately deploys "determines" here to parody Marx, but cultivating attitudes that honor the power of language might provide new agencies for dangerous material interests. By thinking and talking differently about the symbolic acts that lead to drinking, the alcoholic might develop more healthy attitudes towards liquor—might be able to say "no" to the firewater. Perhaps not coincidentally, too, "aboozle" is close to "booze;" Burke's 1932 anecdote perhaps prefaces his later dramas regulating and furthering drink.

Everyone ultimately is determined by the "unanswerable opponent" (PLF 107), the nonsymbolic world of motion, but we might meanwhile believe in rhetorical spells to potentially reverse damaging relationship with material interests. Such conversions might be engaged through different rituals and conversations with ourselves as well as with others; strategic styles for incanting and confessing perhaps spell healthier relationships with unending material interests.


1. As Iain Gately notes, alcohol is praised in Gilgamesh and subsequent Greek and Roman texts (5, 12-8). David Hanson examines historical research on alcohol to underscore how moderate drinkers create few problems. The intemperate disrupt decorum, are violent towards themselves and others, and thus prompt legislation across cultures. The World Health Organization concludes that alcohol abuse is a leading causes of "disease, disability, and death" worldwide ("Global").

2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 88,000 people in the U.S. die each year from ingesting too much alcohol ("Excessive.") Deborah Hasin and colleagues interviewed 43,000 adults between 2001 and 2002 to extrapolate that "the total lifetime prevalence of any alcohol use disorder was 30.3%" (833).

3. The CDC reports that binge drinking occurs "commonly" among college students, and that 16% of adults consume "eight drinks per binge" up to four times per month ("Fact Sheets"). Richard Thoreson acknowledges that rates of alcoholism are likely lower among the professoriate than the general population, but the relative autonomy among some faculty make the academe "a veritable mecca for both scholarship and alcohol abuse" (56).

4. Ernest Kurtz identifies 1931 origins of Alcoholics Anonymous in "conversations" among drinkers and physicians (7-8, 33).The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) encourages parents to have "conversations" with their children about marijuana ("Starting"). The NIH also cites residential treatment and medication along with "counseling" and "[m]otivational interviewing" ("Drug Facts").
5. All emphases in quotations are the authors'.

6. David Blakesley sees the analogy presenting rhetors as "social actors," as "producers and critics of orientations" (87). The analogy stylizes how rhetorics construct and reconstruct ideas, how particular identities are composites, and how plural "voices . . . populate a language" (92-3). Timothy Crusius compares the analogy with Gadamer's hermeneutics to argue that Burke "rejects economic determinism" in a kind of "dialogic sense of history" (Kenneth 193-94; "Kenneth" 372). Frank Lentricchia asserts that the conversation is "[t]he primal scene of rhetoric" (160). While not referring to the 1941 analogy, Jack Selzer identifies "conversation" as a "key metaphor" to locate Burke among the moderns. The metaphor has "agonistic" connotations for controversial issues (17-18, 206n). Robert Wess claims, among other ideas, that conversants "share" and "struggle" with definitions in conversations (153-54).

7. Crusius reads "Auscultation" as early logological proof of Burke's fluid dialectic, with its varied yet limiting vocabularies. "Burkean difference is the sociocultural counterpart of Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty" ("Kenneth" 356-62). Debra Hawhee cites Burke's reference to drug addiction in "Ascultation" as proof of pious links with bodies ("Burke" 21-2). Greig Henderson sees "difference" in "Auscultation" as more rhetorically effective than antithesis (180).

8. In a 1981 interview, Burke states that we "use tropes which are innovative, allowing us to develop new twists" (Rountree and Kostelanetz 13).

9. Here is a representative passage from Mead: "The internalization in our experience of the external conversations of gestures" engages us with others. These social processes are "the essence of thinking; and the gestures thus internalized are significant symbols because they" correspond with communal or social significance (47). When reflecting on Mead in A Grammar of Motives, Burke credits him for animating new and different attitudes: by "studying the nature of the object, we can in effect speak for it; and in adjusting our conduct to its nature as revealed in the light of our interests, we in effect modify our own assertion in reply to its assertion" (236-37).

10. Thomas Rosteck and Michael Leff examine the metaphorical basis of piety: "pieties reflect our varying interests and perspectives, and the disorder caused by the inevitable conflict of pieties can be resolved only by reference to strategies that realign old perspectives into new orders of propriety" (331).

11. Crusius examines Burke's work with dialectic and rhetoric in "Auscultation" to read his earlier and later texts. "Since 'the general muddle' cannot be adequately grasped by antithesis, Burke proposes . . . difference" as key term in Permanence and Change; "if new matter is thought of as just 'different from' rather than 'antithetical to' the old, the sharp, dramatic alignments of the Hegel/Marx view of history are spoiled" ("Kenneth" 360-61). Henderson reads "difference" in "Auscultation" as "less threatening and less alienating than antithesis" (180). Wess interprets "difference" as a "more spacious" strategy, which provides means to include language historically located far from "a privileged antithetical opposition" (63).

12. Burke deploys the same language when detailing how Lucretius mixes poetic and semantic aims to argue for a world void of divine influence. The Roman poet "has tried, by the magic of his incantations, to get analgesia (perception without emotion); but he builds up, aesthetically, the motivation behind his anesthetic incantatory enterprise" (PLF 153). Later in the same text, Burke contends that writers can shape "a magic incantation" to break a spell (431). As children, "we discover the 'magic' that words can do" (qtd. in Rountree and Kostelanetz 12).

13.  In Rhetoric of Motives, Burke writes: "In Hollywood, hierarchies of motives, such as "the magic of class relations," can be occulted by "the images of private property . . . . from low dives. . . to classy night clubs" (223-4). When discussing other hierarchical orders, Burke argues that a "magically endowed" individual might transcend his role as an isolated being (277).

14. Blankenship examines how Burke entitles situations as a form of magic, and she cites one of Burke's personal letters, in which he calls Coleridge "a 'truly magical writer'" (130-31).

15.  Richard Gregg examines negative principles in Burke to assert "that the principle of reversibility" corresponds with "unmasking" (195). Synecdoche acts thusly: "while the symbolic part must stand for a larger symbolic whole, the discount—the negative—must be at work" (193).

16.  Beth Daniell notes Burke's ideas of identification and language as a means to name recurring situations when examining how women gain health through therapeutic communities of literacy (77-85). James Hedges equates Burke's identification with potentially therapeutic practices in Alcoholics Anonymous. He also notes the importance of confession (51, 62-3, 280, 289). Michael Kleine explores how, as an alcoholic, he and other participants in A.A. meetings enter Kenneth Bruffee's "conversation of mankind" to forge consubstantial relationships (152-55). George Jensen refers to Burke's metaphor of "the kill" as a transformative means to alter identities (114-16). Other scholars do not mention Burke when examining discourse about alcoholism. Stephen Strobbe analyzes narrative strategies in Big Book for nursing implications. Maria Swora sees metaphor and "confessional practice" extending the power of memory to potentially heal alcoholism (59, 66). Jane E. Hindman identifies embodied agency through critical narratives of A.A.

17.  While not noting Burke, Kurtz's history of Alcoholics Anonymous presents complimentary readings. For instance, drinkers seeking recovery must admit that they are "not God" as well as tolerate "difference" in spiritual experiences (3-4, 24).

Works Cited

Big Book Online. Alcoholic's Anonymous World Services. 2013. Web. Nov. 15, 2014.

Blakesley, David. "Kenneth Burke's Pragmatism—Old and New." Brock 71-95.

Blankenship, Jane. '"Magic' and 'Mystery' in the Works of Kenneth Burke." Simons and Melia 128-55.

Brock, Bernard L. Ed. Kenneth Burke and the 21st Century. Albany: SUNY P, 1999.

Burke, Kenneth. The Philosophy of Literary Form. 2nd ed. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1967.

—. "Auscultation, Creation, and Revision: The Rout of the Esthetes. Literature, Marxism, and Beyond." Chesebro, Ed. 42-172.

—. A Grammar of Motives. New York: Prentice Hall, 1945.
—. A Rhetoric of Motives. New York: George Braziller, 1955.

—. Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose. 1961. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984.

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

—. "The Rhetorical Situation." Common Moral and Ethical Issues. Lee Thayer, Ed. New York: Gordan and Breach, 1973. 263-74. 

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

Chesebro, James W., ed. Extensions of the Burkean System. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 1993.

Covino, William A. Magic, Rhetoric, and Literacy: An Eccentric History of the Composing Imagination. Albany: SUNY P, 1994.
Crusius, Timothy. Kenneth Burke and the Conversation after Philosophy. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1999.

---. "Kenneth Burke's Auscultation: A 'De-struction' of Marxist Dialectic and Rhetoric." Rhetorica. 6.4 (1988): 355-79.

Daniell, Beth. A Communion of Friendship: Literacy, Spiritual Practice, and Women in Recovery. Chicago: NCTE, 2003.

de Romilly, Jacqueline.  Magic and Rhetoric. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1978.

"Drug Facts: Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction." National Institute on Drug Abuse. Sept. 2009. Web. 20 Dec. 2014.

"Excessive Drinking Costs U.S. $223.5 Billion." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. April 2014. Web. 9 April, 2015.

"Fact Sheets—Binge Drinking." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Alcohol and Public Health. 16 Jan. 2014 Web. 10 April, 2015. 

Feehan, Michael. "Kenneth Burke and Mary Baker Edy." Henderson and Williams 206-24.

Gately, Iain. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. New York: Gotham, 2008.

"Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2014." World Health Organization. Web. PDF. 2014. 9 April, 2015.

Gorgias. The Encomium of Helen. Internet Archive. Web. 10 April, 2014. 

Gregg, Richard B. "Kenneth Burke's Concept of Rhetorical Negativity." Chesebro 189-207.

Hanson, David J. Preventing Alcohol Abuse: Alcohol, Culture, and Control. Westport, Ct.: Praeger 1995.

Hasin, Deborah S., Frederick S. Stinson, Elizabeth Ogburn, and Bridget F. Grant. "Prevalence, Correlates, Disability, and Comorbidity of DSM-IV Alcohol Abuse and Dependence in the United States." Archives of General Psychiatry 64.7 (2007): 830-42.   

Hawhee, Debra. Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2009.

—. "Burke on Drugs." Rhetoric Society Quarterly 34.1 (Winter 2003): 5-28. 

Hedges, James Patton. The Expressions and Transformations of Identity in Alcoholics Anonymous: A Multimethod Study of Individual, Groups, and Organization. Unpublished Dissertation. U of Utah: 2008.

Henderson, Greig E., and David Cratis Williams, eds. Unending Conversations: New Writings by and about Kenneth Burke. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2001.

Henderson, Greig E. "Aesthetic and Practical Frames of Reference: Burke, Marx, and the Rhetoric of Social Change." Chesebro 173-85. 

Hennig, Stefanie. "A German version of Kenneth Burke." KB Journal. Web. Fall 2008: 5.1. August, 2013.

Hindman, Jane E. "Making Writing Matter: Using 'The Personal' to Recover[y] an Essential[ist] Tension in Academic Discourse. College English 64.1 (Sep., 2001): 88-108.

Jack, Jordynn. "The Piety of Degradation: Kenneth Burke, the Bureau of Social Hygiene, and Permanence and Change." Quarterly Journal of Speech  90.4 (Nov. 2004): 446-68.

Jay, Paul ed. The Selected Correspondence of Kenneth Burke and Malcolm Cowley: 1915-1981. Berkeley: U of California P, 1988.

Jensen, George H. Storytelling in Alcoholics Anonymous: A Rhetorical Analysis.  Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2000.

Kennedy, George. "Comparative Rhetoric." Sloane 137-43.

Kleine, Michael. "The Rhetoric of 'I Am an Alcoholic:' Three Perspectives."Rhetoric Society Quarterly 17.2 (Spring, 1987): 151-65.

Kurtz, Ernest. Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous. Center City, Minn.: Hazleton, 1979.

Lentricchia, Frank. Criticism and Social Change. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984.

Mattingly, Carol. Well-tempered Women: Nineteenth-century Temperance Rhetoric. Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois UP, 1998.

Mead, George Herbert. Mind, Self, and Society: From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist. Charles W. Morris, ed. 1934. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992,
Patrick, Clarence Hodges. Alcohol, Culture, and Society. Durham, NC.: 1952.

Rountree, Clark III, and Richard Kostelanetz. "Richard Kostelanetz interviews Kenneth Burke." The Iowa Review 17.3 (Fall, 1987): 1-14.

Rosteck, Thomas, and Michael Leff. "Piety, Propriety, and Perspective: An Interpretation and Application of Key Terms in Kenneth Burke's 'Permanence and Change.' Western Journal of Speech Communication 53.4 (1989): 327-41.

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

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

Simons, Herbert W, and Trevor Melia, eds.  The Legacy of Kenneth Burke. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1989.

Stark, Ryan J. Rhetoric, Science, and Magic in Seventeenth-Century England. Baltimore, MD: Catholic UP, 2011.  

"Starting the Conversation." Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Mar. 2014. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.

Strobbe, Stephen. Alcoholics Anonymous: Personal Stories, Relatedness, Attendance and Affiliation. Unpublished Dissertation. U of Michigan: 2009.

Swora, Maria Gabrielle. "Commemoration and the Healing of Memories in Alcoholics Anonymous. Ethos. 29.1 (Mar,. 2001): 58-77.

Thoreson, Richard W. "The Professor at Risk: Alcohol Abuse in the Academe." The Journal of Higher Education 55.1 (1984): 56-72.

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

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

The International Legacy of Kenneth Burke

Kris Rutten, Dries Vrijders and Ronald Soetaert, Ghent University


This special issue of KB Journal is the second of two issues that offer a compilation of papers presented at the conference Rhetoric as Equipment for Living. Kenneth Burke, Culture and Education, which was held in May 2013 at Ghent University, Belgium. In part II of the special issue we will continue with a more theoretical examination of Burke's international legacy, by giving a stage to scholars who confront Burke's ideas with the work of European thinkers such as François Lyotard, Chaim Perelman and Augustine but also non-western thinkers such as the Ehtiopean scholar Maimire Mennsasemay. Other contributions in this issue confront the work of Burke with more contemporary theoretical perspectives.

The International Legacy of Kenneth Burke

This special issue of KB Journal is the second of two issues that offer a compilation of papers presented at the conference Rhetoric as Equipment for Living. Kenneth Burke, Culture and Education, which was held in May 2013 at Ghent University, Belgium. As we discussed in the introductory article of Part I of our special issue, the aim of this conference was to introduce rhetoric as a major perspective for synthesizing related turns in the humanities and social sciences—linguistic, cultural, ethnographic, interpretive, semiotic, narrative, etc.—that focus on the importance of signs and symbols in our interpretations of reality, heightening our awareness of the ties between language and culture. The conference focused specifically on 'new rhetoric', a body of work that sets rhetoric free from its confinement within the traditional fields of education, politics and literature, not by abandoning these fields but by refiguring them (for an extended discussion on the revival of rhetoric, the new rhetoric and the rhetorical turn, see Gaonkar, 1990). The conference's focus on new rhetoric was inspired by the work of Kenneth Burke, who together with scholars such as I. A Richards, Wayne Booth, Richard McKeon, Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca, was a foundational thinker of this new conception of symbolic exchange.

In addition to exploring what it implies to become symbol-wise and if and how (new) rhetoric can still be relevant in a world that is becoming ever more complex, the second aim of the conference was to explore the international legacy and potential of this seminal thinker. By introducing Burke to scholars and fields of research that are as yet less familiar with his ideas, the conference aspired to initiate a lively exchange between people, scholarly domains and geographical regions. The two special issues share the double aim of the conference: introducing Burkean new rhetoric into—and confronting it with—new areas of research and new geographical domains. The first spring 2014 issue was devoted exclusively to non-US scholars, with contributions by authors coming from Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, the UK and South Africa. The issue offered both an overview of the conference set-up, as well as a practical incarnation of its international and explorative spirit. In part II of the special issue we will continue with a more theoretical examination of Burke's international legacy, by giving a stage to scholars who confront Burke's ideas with the work of European thinkers such as François Lyotard, Chaim Perelman and Augustine but also non-western thinkers such as the Ehtiopean scholar Maimire Mennsasemay. Other contributions in this issue confront the work of Burke with more contemporary theoretical perspectives.

In his contribution "Rhetorical Figures in Education: Kenneth Burke and Maimire Mennasemay," Ivo Strecker (Johannes Gutenberg University, Germany) starts from the growing interest for new rhetoric in educational studies. Strecker argues that Western education has always stressed the need for an intelligent use of literalness, especially in the fields of natural sciences. Plain style, clear expressions, transparent meanings, and methods of disambiguation are held in high esteem while at the same time tropes and figures like metaphor, hyperbole, irony, chiasmus etc. are viewed with suspicion. Strecker turns to the writings of Kenneth Burke, especially his essay "Linguistic Approaches to Problems of Education," and subsequently to other publications such as The Rhetoric of the Human Sciences (Nelson, Megill, and McCloskey), and The Rhetorical Turn: Invention and Persuasion In the Conduct of Inquiry (Herbert Simons) to argue that rhetoric—and thus figurative language—pertains to all domains of teaching, learning and research. This is the starting point of a paper that explores some of Kenneth Burke's flamboyant contributions to the study of rhetoric, which help to better grasp how figurative forms of expression are indispensible not only in educational practice, but also for thinking and arguing about education. Strecker adresses the question whether Western forms of education can claim universal relevance.His search for an answer leads Strecker to Maimire Mennasemay, an eminent Ethiopian scholar who has tried to figure out what the development of genuine forms of education in his country may involve.

In her contribution "Reading the Negative: Kenneth Burke and Jean-François Lyotard on Augustine's Confessions," Hanne Roer (University of Copenhagen, Denmark) offers a reading of Kenneth Burke's chapter on Augustine's confessions in his Rhetoric of Religion, confronting itwith Jean-Francois Lyotards posthumous published La Confession d' Augustin. Roer argues that Burke's chapter offers new perspectives on his logology, and specifically on its gendered character. Roer confronts the interpretations of Burke and Lyotard about the notion of negativity in the Confessions and she argues that Burke explores negativity in order to understand the human object as social actor, whereas Lyotard unfolds the radical non-identity of the writing subject. According to Roer, Burke is more interested in the social-hierarchical implications of the negativity of language than Lyotard. She claims that they are both radical in their insistence upon the emptiness of origins, but whereas Lyotard deconstructs the notion of subject, form, narration, Burke focuses on the sociological implications, the links between subject and society, and his reading is also an ideological critique.

In his contribution, "Burke, Perelman, and the Transmission of Values: The Beautidues as Epideictic Topoi," Stan Lindsay (Florida State University, US) conducts a genre study of the gospels by merging Perelman's rediscovery of the values aspect of epideictic—it "strengthens the disposition towards action by increasing adherence to the values it lauds"—with Burke's entelechy, which claims that humans unconsciously act upon themselves in accordance with the implicit value system of the entelechies with which they identify. In this paper, Lindsay sketches out the steps of his academic journey that brought him to an appreciation of Burke and Perelman and the transmission of values. As an example of how Burke, Perelman, and Classical rhetoric figure in his epideictic perspective, Lindsay considers the New Testament gospels and, more precisely, the Beatitudes of Matthew and Luke as a text.

In his contribution, "Symbolic Action and Dialogic Social Interaction in Burke's and the Bakthin School's Sociological Approaches to Poetry," Don Bialostosky (University of Pittsburgh, US) explores how both Burke and the Bakthin school developed sociological approaches to poetry. According to Bialostosky, both perspectives start from an unsituated word for which they construe a situation: for Burke, the poet responds dramatistically to the scene of writing; for the Bakthin school, the poem's speaker responds entymetically to assumed social values and understandings. This implies that Burke's approach focuses on reading the poet's response to the situation in which he writes, while the Bakthin school follows the unfolding social interactions of the participants in the implied situation represented in the poem.

In his contribution "A McKeonist Understanding of Kenneth Burke's Rhetorical Realism in Particular and Constructivism in General," Robert Wess (Oregon State University, US) confronts the work of Kenneth Burke with that of McKeon. The main inspiration for this essay was the fact that McKeon's name was mentioned alongside other scholars of the new rhetoric tradition in the call for papers for the conference. Wess states that readers of KB Journal areindeed familiar with the work of Richard McKeon, mainly through his essays on rhetoric and his relationship to Kenneth Burke. However, Wess argues that McKeon was first of all a philosopher, who only later came to rhetoric. This implies that his work is a philosophical path to and a defence of rhetoric. Furthermore, this path can offer insight into why the linguistic turn eventually culminated in the rhetorical turn that forms the background to constructivist theorizing. Wess exemplifies this by exploring Burke's "rhetorical realism".

In their contribution "Toward A Dramatistic Ethics," Kevin McClure and Julia Skwar (University of Rhode Island, US) present an extensive exploration of the possibilities for developing a Dramatistic ethics. They reconsider the status of ethics after the poststructuralist and linguistic turns and they explore what potential Kenneth Burke has to offer in the response to the impasse that these turns might have created for ethics. They specifically argue that a Dramatistic ethics primarily begins as a mode of inquiry and they advance pentadic analysis as a holistic framework for the continuous development of ethical scholarship. They end their essay by providing an exemplary pentadic analysis of five ethical theories as possible points of entry and a possible next step in the development of a Dramatistic ethics. McClure and Skar argue that dramatism invites a shift in the contemporary converstation on ethics toward a discussion of ethics as equipment for living that transcend both modernity's universalizing impulses and poststructuralism's deconstructive desires.

In his contribution "Attitudes as Equipment for Living," Waldemar Petermann (Lund University, Sweden) explores Burke's concept of attitude through an overview of its use in Burke's writings, connecting it to the concept of literature as equipment for living, the concept of the comic frame and by focusing on the practical impact of attitudes in rhetorical situations. Petermann argues that attitude is an important and fascinating part of Burke's theories, and as equipment for living it can become directly usable in innumerable situations. Peterman states that attitudes can be seen as shortcuts to the successful handling of rhetorical situations and, from this perspective, attitudes as equipment for living become powerful tools for handling our everyday rhetorical lives.

In his contribution "Burke's New Body? The Problem of Virtual Material, and Motive, in Object Oriented Philosophy," Steven B. Katz (Clemson University, US) starts from a distinction between Object-Oriented Philosophy (OOP) and Actor-Network Theory and applies Burkean theory to explore whether in OOP objects as Actants can have agency, if not motive. Katz uses a variety of Burkean concepts such as pentadic ratios, entelechy, Spinoza's method, intrinsic/extrinsic, symbolic of the body, and catharsis to rhetorically analyze claims of OOP. Rather than to ask how new materialism might apply to and clarify Burke's work on the relations of bodies/rhetoric to language/objects—which has been explored a number of times before—this paper asks how Burke's work can help to begin to comprehend the implications of new materialisms, in particular OOP, for rhetorics, poetics, and even ethics in the twentieth century.

Works Cited

Gaonkar, Dilip P. "Rhetoric and Its Double: Reflections on the Rhetorical Turn in the Human Sciences." The Rhetorical Turn. Ed. Herbert W. Simons. Chicago: U. of Chicago P. 341-66. Print.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Rhetorical Figures in Education: Kenneth Burke and Maimire Mennasemay

Ivo Strecker, Johannes Gutenberh University Mainz


Western education has always stressed the need for an intelligent use of literalness, especially in the fields of natural sciences. Plain style, clear expressions, transparent meanings, and methods of disambiguation were held in high esteem while tropes and figures like metaphor, hyperbole, irony, chiasmus etc. were viewed with suspicion, and their use was discouraged. Yet, in the writings of Kenneth Burke, especially his essay "Linguistic approaches to problems of education"(1955), and subsequently in other publications such as The Rhetoric of the Human Sciences (Nelson, Megill, and McCloskey ed. 1990), and The Rhetorical Turn: Invention and Persuasion in the Conduct of Inquiry (Herbert Simons ed. 1990), it has been shown that rhetoric pertains to all domains of teaching, learning and research. It is from here that the present paper departs in order to recall some of Kenneth Burke's flamboyant contributions to the study of rhetoric, which help us to better understand how figurative forms of expression are indispensible not only in educational practice but also when we think and argue about the discipline itself. Can Western forms of education claim universal relevance, or are they in other cultural contexts inappropriate - even destructive? The search for an answer will lead us to Maimire Mennasemay, an eminent Ethiopian scholar who more than anyone else has tried to figure out what the development of genuine forms of education in his country may involve.

Point of Departure

Western education has always stressed the need for an intelligent use of literalness, especially in the fields of natural sciences. Plain style, clear expressions, transparent meanings, and methods of disambiguation were held in high esteem while tropes and figures like metaphor, hyperbole, irony, chiasmus etc. were viewed with suspicion, and their use was discouraged. Yet, in the writings of Kenneth Burke, especially his essay “Linguistic approaches to problems of education” (1955), and subsequently in other publications such as The Rhetoric of the Human Sciences (Nelson, Megill, & McCloskey, 1990), and The rhetorical turn: Invention and persuasion in the conduct of inquiry (Simons, 1990), it has been shown that rhetoric pertains to all domains of teaching, learning and research.

In a recent article entitled “Revisiting the rhetorical curriculum” (2012), which was inspired not only by the work of Kenneth Burke, but also others, in particular Giert Biesta (2009, 2012), Kris Rutten and Ronald Soetaert have argued that “New rhetoric’s focus on the role that rhetoric plays in socialization and thus the creation of cultural or social rules and behavioral patterns” (p. 734) poses new challenges for the embattled ‘science’ of education. It “implies that we do not only look at education in rhetoric, but that we position education also as a rhetorical practice . . . Approaching the curriculum as rhetoric means that we not only look at the most effective ways of communication in or outside classrooms, but that we position education and the curriculum essentially as a rhetorical practice” (Rutten & Soetaert, 2012, p. 736).

Interestingly, this new and progressive approach to education harks back to the distant past. Biesta drew his inspiration from the German Classics (e.g. Wilhelm von Humboldt) writing that the concept of Bildung “brings together the aspirations of all those who acknowledge––or hope––that education is more than the simple acquisition of knowledge and skills, that is more than simply getting the things ‘right,’ but that it also has to do with nurturing the human person, that it has to do with individuality, subjectivity, in short, with ‘becoming and being somebody’” (2012, p. 731).

Rutten and Soetaert (2012), quoting Dillip Gaonkar, one of the doyens of the Rhetoric Culture Project (, go even further back in time when they write that “new rhetoric becomes a constitutive art ‘that not only moulds individual personality but creates and sustains culture and community’ and the ideal of a new rhetorical pedagogy can therefore also be seen as ‘the preparation of the citizen and the formation of community [which is] reminiscent of the older sophists and their successors’” (p. 740).

It is from here that the present paper departs in order to recall some of Kenneth Burke’s flamboyant contributions to the study of rhetoric, which help us to better understand how figurative forms of expression are indispensible not only in educational practice but also when we think and argue about the discipline itself. Can Western forms of education claim universal relevance, or are they in other cultural contexts inappropriate—even destructive? The search for an answer will lead us to Maimire Mennasemay, an eminent Ethiopian scholar who more than anyone else has tried to figure out what the development of genuine forms of education in his country may involve.

The Continuing Relevance of Kenneth Burke

Kenneth Burke was a veritable Homo rhetoricus who had—and still has—a strong hold over his audience. I think this has to do with Burke’s skill to weld form and content together as he sought for an adequate way to speak about the world. It has to do with his genius to ‘size up’ issues, his capacity to imagine unheard-of phenomena, like the ‘terministic screen,’ and also his foible for hyperbole and his inexhaustible sense of drama.

At one time, inspired by “The Golden Bough” (1890), in which Sir James Frazer had explicated the workings of homoeopathic magic, Burke argued, “The poet is, indeed, a ‘medicine man’” who “would immunize us by stylistically infecting us” (1967, pp. 64–65). We can extend this image of poet as ‘medicine man’ to Burke the scholar, and use it to explain the spell he was—and still is—able to cast on his audiences. This involves: his imaginative ways of identifying and naming particular topics of discourse; his ingenious use of figuration; his labeling, sizing things up, identifying and finding key terms—a process, which he calls ‘entitlement;’ his Faustian ability to “conceal or reveal,” as one commentator says, “magnify or minimize, simplify or complexify, elevate or degrade, link or divide;” and last but not least his great delight in puns, paradoxes, contradictions, irony and the whole realm of the comic.

It is known that Burke read very widely (Homer, Aristotle, St. Augustine and Goethe being among his favorites), and the influences that impinged on him may be legion, but I cannot help thinking that two idiosyncratic modern writers were of special importance and energized his writing: Friedrich Nietzsche and James Joyce. To show some of the resonance between these three literary giants, I quote here what Burke wrote about Nietzsche and Joyce:

    In reading Nietzsche, one must be struck by the pronounced naming that marks his page. Nietzsche’s later style is like a sequence of darts…. His sentences are forever striking out at this or that, exactly like a man in the midst of game, or enemies. They leap with a continual abruptness and sharpness of naming, which seems to suggest so much as those saltations by which cruising animals suddenly leap upon their prey. (1984, p. 88)

    Language, of all things, is most public, most collective, in its substance. Yet Joyce has methodologically set about to produce a private language, a language that is, as far as possible, a sheer replica of inturning engrossments. His medium is of the identical substance with himself—and with this medium he communes, devoting his life to the study of its internalities. (1967, p. 44)

Anyone who knows him will realize that Burke has not only characterized Nietzsche and Joyce here, but also his own style of thought and writing. He shares with them the ‘pronounced naming’ that hits like ‘darts,’ and thoughts that ‘leap’ like lions, as well as the production of a new—and therefore private—language that is recklessly subjective and involves what Joyce (1944) has called ‘epiphany:’ the joy we feel when the ‘whatness’ of a thing or a situation, ‘leaps to us from the vestment of its appearance’ (p. 213).

Nietzsche, Joyce and Burke are certainly great educators. But they are also often extreme, at times elitists, and some times obscure. This is why people read them opportunistically and, as time goes by, in ever-new ways. Burke’s essay, “Literature as equipment for living” has, for example, recently had such a renaissance, and in fact the whole move of rhetoric towards education, which Kris Rutten and Ronald Soetaert are currently initiating at the University of Ghent, gets its impulse from a new and inspired reading of Burke.

‘Equipment for living‘ is a lucky entitlement, when paired with ‘literature,’ as well as ‘rhetoric.’ Also, it shows itself to be an educational topic par excellence when it is supported by a methodology, as well as theory, that says, “Art forms like ‘tragedy’ or ‘comedy’ or ‘satire’ would be treated as equipment for living, that size up situations in various ways and in keeping with correspondingly various attitudes” (Burke, 1967, p. 304). To better understand what is involved here let us read—not quite in full—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which is a paragon of literature as equipment for living:

Good! The sorcerer, my old master
left me here alone today!
Now his spirits, for a change,
my own wishes shall obey!
Having memorized
what to say and do,
with my powers of will I can
do some witching, too!
Go, I say,
Go on your way,
do not tarry,
water carry,
let it flow abundantly,
and prepare a bath for me!
Look, how to the bank he's running!
and now he has reached the river,
he returns, as quick as lightning,
once more water to deliver.
Look! The tub already
is almost filled up!
And now he is filling
every bowl and cup!
Stop! Stand still!
Heed my will!
I've enough
of the stuff!
I've forgotten – woe is me!
what the magic word may be.
Oh, the word to change him back
Oh, he runs, and keeps on going!
He keeps bringing water
quickly as can be,
and a hundred rivers
he pours down on me!
No, no longer
can I let him,
I must get him
with some trick!
I'm beginning to feel sick.
Oh, you ugly child of Hades!
The entire house will drown!
Everywhere I look, I see
water, water, running down.
And they're running! Wet and wetter
get the stairs, the rooms, the hall!
What a deluge! What a flood!
Lord and master, hear my call!
Ah, here comes the master!
I have need of Thee!
From the spirits that I called,
Sir, deliver me!

This wise and multi-layered poem is precisely what Burke means by ‘literature as equipment for living,’ and it helps us to answer the question why Burke chose the seemingly simple and technical term ‘equipment’ to address such complex matters as the meaning and educational value of literature. Partly, the answer is that he delighted in vernacular terms, which, like a magician, he would turn into gold when he applied them to matters of learning. But there was also something else at the back of ‘literature as equipment for living:’ The dictionary defines the verb ‘equip’ as, “furnish (ship, army, person with requisites); furnish (oneself etc.) with what is needed for a journey etc. (from French equipper, probably from Old Norse skipa, to man a boat.’ The noun ‘equipment’ is glossed as ‘outfit, tools, apparatus necessary for an expedition, job, warfare, etc.”

So, when Burke spoke of ‘equipment’ he likened ‘equipment’ in his mind to manning a boat with individuals who help a skipper on his voyages to distant destinations. This includes that Burke also matched ‘equipment’ with his knowledge that rhetoric derives its power from countless devices, which serve well so long as the speakers are their masters. But all too often these devices turn into vices, means turn into masters, and the crew with whom the boat is equipped goes it’s own way. Rhetorical figures like metonymy, synecdoche, metaphor, irony, chiasmus, hyperbole and so on, are striking examples of such an unruly crew. Burke knew how much inappropriate, shallow and backfiring metaphors abound in everyday life. This is why, right at the beginning of his essay Linguistic approach to problems of education, he stressed that “Man literally is a symbol-using animal. He really does approach the world symbol-wise (and symbolfoolish)” (Burke, 1955, p. 260, my emphasis).

Burke was, of course, also aware that tropes may obscure as much as they reveal, which is an important fact that Stephen Tyler drew attention to when he wrote about metaphor: “There can be no doubt but that a good metaphor has a dual role in the imagination, for it both reveals and obscures. By emphasizing certain features in a comparison, for example, it draws our attention to just those features, pushing others into the background. When we see something as something else we see only the similarities and not the differences. A metaphor may mislead in exact proportion to the amount it reveals, but this is the price of any revelation” (1978, pp. 335–36).

The age-old suspicion—and often even outright rejection—of rhetoric derives from this willfulness; from the power of rhetoric to act like the spirits in Goethe’s poem. And are not all of us who choose rhetoric as ‘equipment for living’ prone to feel at times like the sorcerer’s apprentice who cried out “What a deluge! What a flood!”? Burke was acutely aware of this dangerously independent life of rhetoric, and yet he fought for a rhetorical mode of discourse. For even though we may lose control and open the floodgates of insanity, we have no choice but engage and cultivate rhetoric as equipment for shaping ourselves, and the social worlds we live in.

I had similar thoughts myself while doing ethnographic fieldwork in Hamar, southern Ethiopia, where I noted down the following:

    At the root of Hamar reasoning lies the all-pervasive practice of thinking and speaking metaphorically. People know from experience that metaphor is a useful cognitive tool. And in my view it makes sense that in societies like Hamar analogical, or rather metonymical and synecdochical thinking should abound. Where cause and effect, whole and part, etc., can not always be clearly distinguished, where many causal relationships in nature are still an open question, much analogical reasoning should be allowed. But the problem is that analogies often have limits, which are difficult to check. Therefore, even though they lie at the heart of discovery and are essential for an extension of knowledge, they do have their pitfalls and can become an obstruction to objective knowledge. (Strecker, 2013, p. 343)

Maimire Mennasemay: The Dekike Estifanos of Ethiopi

Kenneth Burke observed that the persuasive—even bewitching—power of rhetoric shows itself in all domains of human life but is most evident in the field of religion:

    The study of religion fits perfectly with the approach to education in terms of symbolic action. What more thorough examples of symbolic action can be found than in a religious service? What is more dramatistic than the religious terminology of action, passion, and personality? What terminology is more comprehensive than the dialectic of a theologian? What is linguistically more paradoxical than the ways wherein the mystic, seeking to express the transcendently ineffable, clothes theological ideas in the positive imagery of sheer animal sensation? (1955, p. 296)

Here we have again an example of Burke’s hyperbolic style. He does not say, “in the imagery of nature,” or “in the imagery of whatever is at hand in his habitat.” No, this would lack verve! Instead, “sheer animal sensation” is excitingly raw and primitive, counterpointing as it does the “transcendently ineffable.” The concomitant assertion that it is linguistically paradoxical to compare the ineffable with animal sensation is also hyperbolic, because we know that since time immemorial Homo sapiens or Homo rhetoricus has ingeniously used analogies drawn from nature to address the social and moral realm.

In an essay about Dekike Estifanos (2009), Maimire Mennasemay provides a striking example of how the rhetorical use of figures was central in the teachings of this heretical movement that flourished in medieval Ethiopia.

The Dekike Estifanos were most active in the fifteenth century and spread over all regions of the Ethiopian Empire. Although the “Ethiopian Orthodox Church was riddled with heresies at the time,” the Dekike Estifanos were persecuted—particularly by Emperor Zera Jacob—more mercilessly than other movements, because their heresy could be understood as “bearing within itself utopian, rational and political critique of Ethiopian society mediated through a religious discourse” (Mennasemay, 2009, p. 73).

Zera Yacob was a despot who used the Church “as an effective tool for strengthening his hold over his kingdom . . . (and) for imposing his will, for repressing dissent and subduing rebellious chiefs, and for penetrating the everyday life of his subjects” (Mennasemay, 2009, p. 79). Maimire argues that the Dekike Estifanos’ “critical stand against the absolute power of the Monarch” “bequeathed” Ethiopia in the process “a legacy of critical questions and ideas.” To fully recover this legacy, Maimire “deciphers” from the teachings and actions of the Dekike Estifanos “their criticisms of power, of institutions, and of knowledge” and in addition considers “the roles that reason, hope and imagination play in their critiques” (2009, p. 80).

The Dekike Estifanos “use metaphors, allegories, stories and dreams in their teachings,” which requires “that we go beyond their immediate meanings and disclose the unsaid, the ‘political unconscious,’ in what they say” (Mennasemay, 2009, p. 76). There is no room here to fully present what Maimire has said about the polysemic character of Dekike Estifanos discourse. It must suffice to provide a single—but very telling—example, which I quote here at some length:

    On the surface, the conflict between the Dekike Estifanos and Zera Yacob appears to be about religious matters. At the center of the debates are issues such as the mystery of the Trinity and of the incarnation, the adoration of religious images and the crucifix, and the nature of Debre Tsion or salvation at the ‘end of times.’ However, behind these seemingly theological conflicts gestate new ideas about power, law, institutions, and knowledge. Whereas laymen, nobles, priests, and monks address the Emperor by using the respectful ‘You,’ the Dekike Estifanos refuse to follow this practice and address the Emperor using the familiar ‘you;’ and whereas others prostrate themselves before the Monarch, the Dekike Estifanos refuse to do so. When the Emperor demands that they, like everyone else, should use the respectful ‘You,’ and that they should prostrate themselves before him, they respond that since they use the familiar ‘you’ when they address God in their prayers, there is no justification for using the respectful ‘You’ when they address a human being. As for prostration, according to them, it is due only to the Trinity; to prostrate themselves before the Emperor would be to treat him as the Fourth person of the Trinity, which is sacrilegious.
    Though couched in a religious language, these reasons harbor criticisms of the relationships between the Monarch and his subjects. Insofar as the Monarch’s demands imply a qualitative gap between his humanity and that of his subjects, and insofar as the Dekike Estifanos’s refusal to accede to his demands implies a rejection of such a qualitative gap, the implications of their refusal go beyond the conflicts between them and the Monarch. Theirs is a challenge that desacralizes the Emperor and affirms the notion of equality between the Monarch and his subjects. (Mennasemay, 2009, pp. 80–81)

It is plain that two rhetorical strategies were employed here. One was non-verbal and literally “embodied” by bodily posture: The Emperor demanded that his subjects prostrate themselves before him, and the Dekike Estifanos refused to do so. The other was verbal and pertained to the term of address, the Emperor demanding the respectful ‘You’ while the heretics granted him only the familiar ‘you.’ This in turn provoked the wrath of the ruler who then took recourse to yet another embodied rhetoric, which was meant to let everyone see what he thought of them: He had them “flogged, thrown down ravines, their hair torn out, their faces and bodies lacerated with knives; they were speared, dragged on the ground until their skins peeled off, tortured by fire, their tongues pulled out, their ears and nose cut, their eyes gouged out and hot rods inserted in the sockets, their limbs chopped off, beheaded, their corpses dismembered and burnt” (Mennasemay, 2009, pp. 73–74).

Here Maimire terminates his horrific litany of the Emperor's figurative rhetoric, which, as we can see, involved not only the destruction but also the disfiguration of the bold Dekike Estifanos, who in their deeds and writings wanted to teach him the ethos of equality.

Figures in Maimire's Discourse about Education.

Maimire's essay about the Dekike Estifanos has the subtitle, “Towards an Ethiopian Critical Theory” and is meant to show how an ancient Ethiopian tradition—the teachings of the Dekike Estifanos—“bequeaths us questions, ideas and ideals that could provide the intellectual resources for developing an Ethiopian critical theory capable of illuminating the potentially possible routes to a modernization productive of freedom, equality, justice, and prosperity” (2009, p. 64).

Again there is no space here to do justice to the complex argumentation of the author, especially as he musters a host of historical and cultural details. So I will focus on only one rhetorical figure—chiasmus—which Maimire uses three times to structure his text and propel his argument about education and the emancipation of Ethiopia:

  1. Individuality without individualism versus individualism without individuality. The following is what Maimire writes about this chiasmus as it emerges from a confrontation between Western education and the teachings of the Dekike Estifanos:
  2. The Dekike Estifanos are not individualists avant la lettre. To think so is to misunderstand them, for they value life in a community: ‘He who lives in a community fulfills the hope of God’s word.’ Yet, the Dekike Estifanos also claim that one should ‘follow one’s mind’ and struggle until ‘one reaches one’s goals’ or ‘summit.’ When these apparently contradictory statements valorizing community life and individual autonomy are mediated through their challenges to the Monarch’s absolute power, their notions of ‘litigation,’ mutual accountability and ‘not being an insult to Ethiopia,’ one sees the emergence of something new: ‘individuality without individualism.’ This is a unique understanding of individual identity that emerges from within Medieval Ethiopia as an immanent critique of the subjugation of the individual to the absolute power of the monarch (Mennasemay, 2009, pp. 92–93).

    From here Maimire goes on to envision a future Ethiopia where “‘Individuality without individualism’ makes possible identification with collective projects and harbors the potential of society-transforming actions. In the Dekike Estifanos . . . the notion of ‘individuality without individualism’ has a critical dimension: it points to a society-oriented vision that avoids the pathological closures of both the atomistic and collectivist conceptions of the individual that now confront Ethiopians. It offers an alternative to the atomistic conception, spawned by modernization in Ethiopia, which breeds a culture of indifference to injustice and to the suffering of others” (Mennasemay, 2009, p. 93).

  3. The future is a critical moment of the present, and the present is a critical moment of the future. In the interest of their rulers the Ethiopian clerics conjured up “Debre Tsion as a place outside time and space: an abstract utopia that detaches hope for a better life from earthly possibilities and projects it into another world separated by an unbridgeable abyss from the present” (Menassemay, 2009, p. 100).
  4. The Ethiopian heretics, however, opposed this view and defined Debre Tsion “in terms of a dialectic of immanence and transcendence that points to its emergence from within the here and now” (Menassemay, 2009, p. 101). Asked if they believe in Debre Tsion, they responded that for “the holy, Debre Tsion is already here, and for those whose holy work is in the future, Debre Tsion will be there.” Maimire adds, “The interesting point is that whereas Zera Yacob’s understanding makes a radical gap between profane time and the holy time of Debre Tsion, the Dekike Estifanos interrelate dialectically profane and holy time and see Debre Tsion as immanent in the present. For ‘the holy’ they claim, ‘it is already there’ . . . Unlike Zera Yacob, the Dekike Estifanos do not devalue the present in their conception of Debre Tsion. One could say that for them, the future is a critical moment of the present, and the present is a critical moment of the future. As such, they see the present as a historical site within which gestates a ‘concrete utopia,’ Debre Tsion. This has important implications for an Ethiopian critical theory. Modernization in Ethiopia treats Ethiopia as a tabula rasa in that it is premised on a rupture with the past and the lived present, making it a free-floating phenomenon that comes from above (experts, foreign aid, international institutions). But were we to consider modernization from the perspective of the ‘concrete utopia’ gestating in the present, following the Dekike Estifanos’s conception of Debre Tsion, it has to be conceived as a utopian grasp of the future informed by empirical judgments” (Menassemay, 2009, pp. 101–102).

  5. Reason cannot blossom without hope and imagination, and hope and imagination cannot speak without reason. I quote again at length to show how Maimire uses this chiasmus to articulate the emancipation of Ethiopia, which he envisions as follows:
  6. The Dekike Estifanos conception of Debre Tsion brings out the role that hope and imagination play in their critique of power, institutions and knowledge. According to them, hope drives man to that which is essential to him as thirst drives one to water . . . Their religious terms should not obscure the important critical idea—that hope and imagination are the militant partners of reason in the quest for an emancipated society (Debre Tsion) . . . In the discourse of the Dekike Estifanos, hope and imagination interpenetrate, and the latter takes the form of tales and dreams. Where there is hope, the imagination is active; and where there is imagination, hope emerges. To paraphrase Bloch, reason cannot blossom without hope and imagination, and hope and imagination cannot speak without reason. Imagination unveils the emancipatory possibilities of the future by going against the grain of the present, while hope breaks down the firewall between the present and the future by inseminating the present with the semantic contents of the possible emancipated future. The conjugation of the two revolutionizes the symbolic realm, reinvents the very modes of anticipating the future, and makes it possible to envision an Ethiopia beyond the actual, to see that which in the present is ‘more’ (the concrete utopia) than the present itself, prefiguring an alternative future. Hope and imagination provide new resources for context immanent social critique. They are, to adopt the poetic language of the Dekike Estifanos, the critical eyes that could see what is not yet visible and the critical ears that could hear what is not yet audible. Without hope and imagination, critique would be, to borrow again from their poetic language, like ‘clouds without rain, fruit trees without fruits.’ Hope and imagination could see and hear what reason's power of conception cannot: that Ethiopians could be ‘more’ than present conditions permit (Mennasemay, 2009, pp. 102–103).


In the present paper I have tried to fathom some of the implications of Rutten, Soetaert and Biesta's invitation to rethink education as something “more than the simple acquisition of knowledge and skills.” As a first step, and in order to evoke what this more might mean, I recalled Kenneth Burke's seminal texts on rhetoric as ‘equipment’ for living in general, and for education in particular. This led on to reflections on the unruly nature of the orator's (or writer's) rhetorical ‘equipment,’ and the risks we take when we use figures to articulate our rhetorical will. Tropes—as for example metaphor—are prone to simultaneously reveal and mislead, and we can never be in full control of them. But to get the work of the world done we cannot do without them. True, certain situations demand strictly univocal forms of expression, but this does not mean that univocality, i.e. discourse reduced to literal meanings, should be our universal maxim. Particularly in education, Stephen Tyler's dictum applies: “To ask for mathematical exactitude in our everyday rules is to ask for disaster, the very destruction of the form sought rather than its fulfillment” (1978, p. 396).

In the second part of the paper, I moved on to show firstly how an emerging Western interest in new—or rather, very old—forms of education is also found in other parts of the world. Although Maimire Mennasemay did not refer to Burke, who noted that “the study of religion fits perfectly with the approach to education in terms of symbolic action” (see above), he was of the same mind when in his essay “Towards an Ethiopian critical theory” he enlisted the teachings of the Dekike Estifanos, a religious movement in medieval Ethiopia, to call for a retrieval and new cultivation of an old ethos not of individualism but of individuality in his country.

Secondly, I chose Maimire's text to exemplify how rhetorical figures are used in teaching. The Dekike Estifanos applied rhetorical means of evocation, that's to say a host of polysemic figures, to nudge their pupils, including the Monarch, towards understanding the issues at hand. But their efforts also fueled situations where social confrontations and threats were involved, and the despot Zera Yacob reacted by teaching the heretics a lesson, not simply killing them, but using gruesome bodily disfiguration.

Thirdly, Maimire's essay provides an intriguing instance of figuration in the discourse about education. As we have seen, at crucial junctures in his text Maimire uses chiasmus to propel his argument forward. In this way he captivates the mind and emotion of his readers and leads them to imagine what he has in mind. His key chiasmi are (1) individuality versus individualism, (2) future in the present versus present in the future, and (3) reason depending on hope and imagination versus imagination and hope depending on reason. The “versus,” which I have written here in italics, represents what George Kennedy (1998) would call the “rhetorical energy” of the figure. That is, like other tropes (metaphor, hyperbole or irony), chiasmi carry rhetorical energy that causes the mind to ‘turn’ from one direction (or one semantic domain) to another, leading to a cognitive and affective oscillation that only comes to an end when reason and desire have been satisfied (or exhausted).

The rhetorical use of figures—so well understood by Kenneth Burke and so convincingly demonstrated by Maimire Mennasemay—is indispensible in education. As long as teaching aims exclusively at technical knowledge and skills, education may confine itself to a strictly literal use of language, but when it comes to questions of nurturing the person, of Bildung, of individuality, hope and imagination the limits of literalness and the need for figural uses of language become apparent.

Here the new conception of ‘education as rhetoric,’ which is advocated by Biesta, Rutten, and Soetaert, is surprisingly close to postmodern ethnography and anthropology. Ever since its inception, anthropology has had a wide-ranging educational mission. No matter how far we go back into the past, be it to Antiquity (Herodotus), the Renaissance (Giambatista Vico), the Enlightenment (Wilhelm von Humboldt), Modernity (Franz Boas) or Post-modernity (Stephen Tyler), anthropology has aimed to learn from “Other Cultures” (so the title of John Beattie’s influential introduction to anthropology). By providing a “Mirror of Man” (as Clyde Cluckhohn called it) anthropologists have helped to create trans-cultural visions that reflect the complexity of the human condition and allow us to better know and, however imperfectly and provisionally, ‘improve’ ourselves.

In his provocative essays assembled in The unspeakable: Discourse, dialogue, and rhetoric in the postmodern world (1987), Stephen Tyler has envisaged this ‘improvement’ as an urgently needed resistance to the hegemony of literalness in the scientific discourse of Modernity, “that inappropriate mode of scientific rhetoric which entails ‘objects,’ ‘facts,’ ‘descriptions,’ ‘inductions,’ ‘generalizations,’ ‘verification,’ ‘experiment,’ ‘truth,’ and the like concepts which, except as empty invocations, have no parallels either in the experience of ethnographic field work or the writing of ethnographies. The urge to conform to the canons of scientific rhetoric has made the easy realism of natural history the dominant mode of ethnographic prose, but it has been an illusionary realism, promoting, on one hand, the absurdity of ‘describing’ nonentities like ‘culture’ or ‘society’ as if they were fully observable, though somewhat ungainly, bugs, and on the other, the equally ridiculous behaviorist pretense of ‘describing’ repetitive patterns of action in isolation from the discourse that actors use in constituting and situating their action, and all in simple-minded surety that the observer's grounding discourse was itself an objective form sufficient to the task of describing acts” (p. 207).

After he has argued against the hegemony of science, Tyler urges us to realize “the ethical character of all discourse, as captured in the ancient significance of the family of terms ‘ethos,’ ‘ethnos,’ and ‘ethics’” (1978, p. 203). Part of this is to acknowledge the creative role of rhetorical figures and to accept evocation—the process that “makes available through absence what can be conceived but not represented” (Tyler, 1978, p. 199)—as a key term in the epistemological repertoire of anthropology (and by implication also education).

Evocation is of such importance and yet so difficult to grasp that in a paragraph entitled Free voice: Postmodern ethnography Tyler has tried twice to articulate what he means. Convinced as I am of the value of parallelism as a means for emphasis—and also to provide food for thought beyond my conclusion—I quote both passages here in full:

  1. A postmodern ethnography is a cooperatively evolved text consisting of fragments of discourse intended to evoke in the minds of both reader and writer an emergent fantasy of a possible world of commonsense reality, and thus to provoke an aesthetic integration that will have a therapeutic effect. It is in a word, poetry—not in its textual form, but in its return to the original context and function of poetry which, by means of its performative break with everyday speech, evoked memories of the ethos of the community and thereby provoked hearers to act ethically . . . Postmodern ethnography attempts to recreate textually this spiral of poetic and ritual performance. Like them, it defamiliarizes commonsense reality in a bracketed context of performance, evokes a fantasy whole abducted from fragments, and then returns participants to the world of commonsense—transformed, renewed, and sacralized. (Tyler, 1987, p. 202)
  2. Postmodern ethnography is a return to the idea of aesthetic integration as therapy once captured in the sense of Proto-Indo-European ‘ar’ (‘way of being,’ ‘orderly and harmonious arrangement of the parts of a whole’) from which have come English ‘art,’ ‘rite,’ and ‘ritual,’ that family of concepts so closely connected with the idea of restorative harmony, of ‘therapy’ in its original sense of ‘ritual substitute’ (cf. Hittite tarpan-alli), and with the poet as therapon, ‘attendant of the muse.’ A postmodern ethnography is an object of meditation which provokes a rupture with the common sense world and evokes an aesthetic integration whose therapeutic effect is worked out in the restoration of the commonsense world. (Tyler, 1987, p. 211)


Biesta, G. (2009). Good education in an age of measurement: on the need to reconnect with the question of purpose in education. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 21(1), 33–46.

Biesta, G. (2012). Becoming world-wise: an educational perspective on the rhetorical curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 44(6), 815–826.

Burke, K. (1955). Linguistic approaches to problems of education. In N. B. Henry (Ed.), Modern Philosophies and Education: The Fifty-Fourth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Part 1 (pp. 259–303). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Mennasemay, M. (2009). The Dekike Estifanos: Towards an Ethiopian critical theory. Horn of Africa, 27, 64–118.

Nelson, J. S., Megill, A., & McCloskey, D. (Eds.). (1990). The Rhetoric of the Human Sciences. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Rutten, C. & Soetaert, R. (2012). Revisiting the rhetorical curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 44(6), 727–743.

Simons, H. (1990). The rhetorical turn: Invention and persuasion in the conduct of inquiry. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Strecker, I. (Ed.). (2011). Ethnographic chiasmus: Essays in culture, conflict and rhetoric. Berlin: Lit Verlag.

Tyler, S. (1978). The said and the unsaid: Mind, meaning and culture. New York, NY: Academic Press.

Tyler, S. (1987). The unspeakable: Discourse, dialogue, and rhetoric in the postmodern world. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Reading the Negative: Kenneth Burke and Jean-Francois Lyotard on Augustine's Confessions

Hanne Roer, University of Copenhagen


This article offers a contrastive reading of Burke’s chapter on Augustine’s Confessions in The Rhetoric of Religion (1961) with Lyotard’s posthumous La Confession d’Augustin (1998). Burke’s chapter on Augustine throws new light on his logology, in particular its gendered character. Central to the interpretations of Burke and Lyotard is the notion of negativity that Burke explores in order to understand the human subject as a social actor, whereas Lyotard unfolds the radical non-identity of the writing subject.


In this article I compare Kenneth Burke’s reading of Augustine’s Confessions in The Rhetoric of Religion (1961) to Jean-Francois Lyotard’s posthumous La Confession d’Augustin (1998, English 2000). The publication has attracted many readers because it offers new perspectives on Lyotard’s preoccupation with the philosophy and phenomenology of time. Understanding time is no simple matter as Augustine famously put it in the Confessions (book 11, 4):

    What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks me, I do not know. Yet I say with confidence that I know that if nothing passed away, there would be no past time; and if nothing were still coming, there would be no future time; and if there were nothing at all, there would be no present time. But, then, how is it that there are the two times, past and future, when even the past is now no longer and the future is now not yet?

This paradoxical circularity of time, the absence of presence, is central to Lyotard and also to Burke’s reading of the Confessions. It is inextricably connected to the notion of negativity, and I hope that my juxtaposition of Burke and Lyotard’s readings may clarify what the negative means to these two philosophers. My point is that although Burke’s reflections in The Rhetoric of Religion in many ways are related to and anticipating poststructuralism, his logology still presupposes some traditional assumptions, such as a gendered notion of the subject, that come to light in the comparison to Lyotard. Last but not least, Burke’s cluster reading of Augustine deserves more scholarly attention, often disappearing between the other parts of the work.

In the first part of The Rhetoric of Religion, “On Words and The Word, Burke defines his new metalinguistic project, logology, leading to the outlining of six analogies between language and theology. The second part, ”Chapter 2: Verbal Action in St. Augustine’s Confessions,” deals with Augustine’s Confessions, of which the last book (XIII) deals with beginnings and the interpretation of Genesis. Burke in the third part of The Rhetoric of Religion similarly proceeds to a reading of Genesis. It probably is unfair to concentrate on just one part of the work, since there might be a greater plan involved. According to Robert McMahon, Burke imitates the structure of Augustine’s Confessions, its upward movement towards the divine, ending with an exegesis of Genesis. Burke too goes from his reading of the Confessions to an interpretation of Genesis, but the last part of the book, “Prologue in Heavens” lends a comic frame to his ‘Augustinian’ enterprise (McMahon 1989). Rhetoricians, however, have focused mainly on the first part, the third chapter on Genesis and “Prologue in Heaven” (e.g. Barbara Biesecker 1994, Robert Wess 1996).

Scholars in the field of Augustinian studies have paid even less attention than rhetoricians to Burke’s reading. Thus Annemare Kotzé in her book Augustine's Confessions: Communicative Purpose and Audience (2004) laments the lack of coherent, literary analyses of Augustine’s Confessions, one of the most read but least understood of all ancient texts (Kotzé 1). Today most scholars have given up the idea that the Confessions consists of a first autobiographical part, followed by a second philosophical part, arbitrarily put together by an Augustine who did not really know what he was doing! Kotzé does not mention Burke at all, as is often the case in scholarly works on Augustine.

Burke on Augustine’s Confessions

In the chapter on Augustine, Burke defines theology as ‘language about language’ (logology), words turning the non-existing into existence. The Confessions demonstrate this movement from word to Word, hence Augustine’s importance to Burke’s logological project: the study of the nature of language through the language of theology. Burke’s reading of the Confessions is essentially a commentary, following the dialectical moves of crucial pairs of oppositions (such as conversion/perversion) and comparing them to later authors such as Joyce, Shakespeare and Keats. It is not a literary analysis, in Kotzé’s sense, because Burke does not discuss the character of the authorial voice nor questions that the first half (books 1-9) of the Confessions is an autobiography (a modern idea, according to Kotzé).

Burke is closer to literary analysis when it comes to the structure of the work. He focuses on the interplay between narrative and purely logical forms, as he calls it. His subtle reading points to the paradoxical circularity of Augustine’s work, working on many levels. The transcendent state of mind pondered upon books 10-13 is the result of the conversion, but it is also the condition allowing Augustine to write his story ten years after the event. The first and the second parts are stories about two different kinds of conversion. Book 8, the conversion scene in the garden, is the centre of the whole book and it has a counterpart in book 13, “the book of the Trinity,” where Monica’s maternal love is transformed into that of the Holy Spirit. This is, in Burke’s words, a dramatic tale, professed by a paradigmatic individual and addressed to God (and thus, one may add, not really an autobiography in the modern sense).

Another indication of the highly structured character of the Confessions is that the personal narrative in books 1-9 does not follow a chronological pattern but presents the events according to their “symbolic value,” in Burke’s words. This is the tension usually described by plot/story in narratology. For example, Burke notes, we are told that Monica dies before Adeodatus, but the scene describing Augustine’s last conversation with her and her death the following day comes after the information that Adeodatus has died.

Burke also demonstrates that the Confessions is tightly woven together by clusters of words forming their own associative networks. Burke’s cluster criticism is a kind of close reading, following the dialectical interplay between opposites. For example, in the Confessions, Burke observes, the word “open” (aperire) is central and knits the work together in a circle without beginning or end. Thus the work begins with the ”I” opening itself to God in a passionate invocation, the word “open” is also central to the moment of conversion in book 8 and, finally, it ends with these words: “It shall be opened.” Throughout the work “open” is used about important events, especially when the true meanings of the Scriptures open themselves to Augustine.

Verbum is another central term, not surprisingly, in the Confessions where Augustine transforms the rhetorical word into a theological Word. Burke claims that Augustine plays on the familiarity between the word verbum and a word meaning to strike (a verberando) when saying that God struck him with his Word (percussisti, p. 50). Verbum has several meanings in the Confessions: the spoken word, the word conceived in silence, the Word of God in the sense of doctrine and as Wisdom (second person of the Trinity). Burke also notes that Augustine links language with will (voluntas, velle), which is grounded in his conception of the Trinity. Burke thus recognises his own ideas about motivations in language in Augustine.

Another cluster of words and verbal cognates that form their own web of musical and semantic associations throughout the Confessions are the words with the root vert, such as: “adverse, diverse, reverse, perverse, eversion, avert, revert, advert, animadvert, universe, etc.” (Burke’s translations p. 63). These words abound in book 8 where God finally brings about the conversion of Augustine (conversisti enim ad te). The most important dialectical pair is conversion/perversion, which runs through all of the books. Book 8 is the dialectical antithesis of book 2: the two scenes – the perverse stealing of the pears and the conversion in the garden – are juxtaposed.

Burke also notices that the word for weight, pondus, is used in a negative sense in the beginning of the Confessions (the material weight of the body is what leads him away from God), but its sense is being converted until designating an upward drift in the last part of the book. This conversion of a single word is another evidence of Augustine thinking of language-as-action.
Burke concludes that the Confessions offer a double plot about two conversions – one formed by the narrator’s personal history, the other his intellectual transformation. In the last four books Augustine turns from the narrative of memories to the principles of Memory, a logological equivalent of the turn from “time” to “eternity,” Burke says (p. 123 ff). Memory (memoria) for Augustine is a category that subsumes mind (opposite modern uses of the word memory), thus his reflections on time and memory are also reflections on epistemology.

The Confessions are full of triadic patterns alluding to the Trinity, for example in Book XIII, xi where Augustine says that knowing, being and willing are inseparable. His road to conversion was triadic and involving the sacrifice of his material lusts, paralleling the sacrifice of Christ the Mediator: “And the Word took over his victimage, by becoming Mediator in the cathartic sense. In the role of willing sacrifice (a sacrifice done through love) the Second Person thus became infused with the motive of the Third Person (the term analogous to will or appetition, with corresponding problems). Similarly, just as Holy Spirit is pre-eminently identified with the idea of a “Gift,” so the sacrificial Son becomes a Gift sent by God. By this strategic arrangement, the world is “Christianized” at three strategic spots: The emergence of “time” out of “eternity” is through the Word as creative; present communication between “time” and “eternity” is maintained by the Word as Mediatory (in the Logos’ role as “Godman”); and the return from “time” back to “eternity” is through the Mediatory Godman in the role of sacrificial victim the fruits of Whose sacrifice the believer shares by believing in the teachings of the Word, as spread by the words of Scriptures and Churchmen” (pp. 167-8).

As a conclusion to his long analysis, Burke suggests that the clusters of terms (especially the vert-family) may be summed up in a single image (159), a god-term, that somehow is “another variant of the subtle and elusive relation between logical and temporal terminologies” (160). Burke also notices that Augustine in his search for spiritual perfection is on the way to delineate a new ecclesiastical hierarchy ready to replace the hierarchies of the Roman Empire.

The Frame: Logology and the Six Analogies Between Language and Theology

An explanation of the lack of interest among scholars in Burke’s reading of Augustine might be that in some ways it simply illustrates what he says about logology in the first part of The Rhetoric of Religion. The reading on Genesis in part Three, however, goes a step further ahead from the analogy between the philosophy of language and theology to the hierarchical aspects of language, the way language is constitutive of social order (Biesecker pp. 66-73). In this context I shall look closer at the first chapter, in order to understand Augustine’s role in the logological enterprise.

Augustine analysed the relation between the secular word and the Word of God, thus approaching the divine mystery through language, but Burke goes the opposite way. His logology is the study of theology as “pure” language, words without denotation, in order to understand how human beings signify through language. Logology is the successor to the dramatism of A Grammar of Motives (1945) and A Rhetoric of Motives (1950). Burke apparently grew more and more dissatisfied with the ‘positive dialectics’ inherent in dramatism and its reading strategy, the pentad, preventing him from writing the promised “A Symbolic of Motives.”1 Burke initially thought of dramatism as an ontology, a philosophy of human relations. These relations, similar to those between the persons in a drama, were thought of as determining human actions. Analysing these situations and the relations between the elements of the human drama would reveal the character of human motives.

However, having discovered the importance of the idea of negativity in philosophy and aesthetics, Burke became unsatisfied with dramatism conceived as ontology because this ignored the absence of meaning involved in language use. He studied the range of the meaning of negativity in philosophy and theology in three long articles from 1952-3 (reprinted in LSA, to which I refer). I shall look briefly at them because they are the forerunners of the logological project of The Rhetoric of Religion. In the first of these articles, Burke examines the notion of negativity in theology (Augustine, Bossuet), philosophy (Nietzsche, Bergson, Kant, Heidegger) and literature (Coleridge), leading to his own “logological” definitions, analyzing the role of the negative in symbolic action. He credits Bergson for the discovery of negativity as the basis of language but criticizes him for reducing it to the idea of Nothingness. The negative is primarily admonitory, the Decalogue being the perfect example of “Thou-shalt-nots” (LSA 422).

Burke produces a host of examples of the inherent negativity of our notions such as “freedom” (from what) and “victim” (seemingly the negation of guilt). There are formalist (negative propositions), scientist and anthropological ways of analysing the negative but the dramatistic focuses on the “”essential” instances of an admonitory or pedagogical negative.”

In the second article, Burke turns to Kant’s The Critique of Practical Reasoning. Burke sees Kant’s categorical imperative as a negative similar to the Decalogue. He also discusses the way the negative may be signified in literature, painting and music. An analysis of a sermon by Bossuet focuses on the interaction of positive images and negative ideas, linking it to Augustine’s “grand style” in De doctrina christiana. Behind moral advocacy and positive styles lies a negative without which great art has no meaning (453).
In the third article, Burke outlines a series of different kinds of negativity: the hortatory, the attitudinal, the propositional negative, the zero-negative (including ‘infinity’), the privative negative (blindness), the minus-negative (from debt and moral guilt) (459). From the original hortatory No language develops propositional negatives.

Now let us return to The Rhetoric of Religion in which Burke arranges these definitions into a new system, the logology replacing dramatism. The distinction between motion (natural) and act (determined by will) was a principal idea to dramatism and also to logology though Burke now discusses whether there are overlaps. He still claims that nothing in nature is negative, but exists positively, and hence language is what allows human beings to think in terms of negativity. Burke translates Augustine’s notion of eternity as God-given in contrast to sequential, human time into a distinction between logical and temporal patterns. This paradox between logical and narrative patterns is a leading principle of the logological project that seeks to explain the relation between the individual and social order, between free will and structural constraints.

Though the opposition between motion and act runs through all of Burke’s texts he now questions the clear boundary between them. In a similar way he questions his own analogy between words and the Word, hence his logology implies a deconstructive turn:

“So, if we could “analogize” by the logological transforming of terms from their “supernatural” reference into their possible use in a realm so wholly “natural” as that of language considered as a purely empirical phenomenon, such “analogizing” in this sense would really be a kind of “de-analogizing.” Or it would be, except that a new dimension really has been added” (8).

Burke thus nuances his former definition of language as referencing to everyday life and the natural world. As Biesecker puts it, there is an exchange between the natural and the supernatural taking place in language itself (56). Language is not just a system of symbols denoting objects or concepts because linguistic symbols create meaning by internal differences or similarities. Rhymes such as “tree, be, see, knee” form “associations wholly different from entities with which a tree is physically connected” (RR 9). What Burke observes here is what Saussure referred to as the arbitrariness of language or perhaps, more precisely, Roman Jakobson’s distinctive features. But is Burke’s logology based on theory of the sign? Again, we do not hear much about that, but there is a telling footnote in which Burke defines the symbol as a sign:

    A distinction between the thing tree (nonsymbolic) and the word for tree (a symbol) makes the cut at a different place. By the “symbolic” we have in mind that kind of distinction first of all. As regards “symbolic” in the other sense (the sense in which an object possesses motivational ingredients not intrinsic to it in its sheer materiality), even the things of nature can become “symbolic” (p. 9).2

Words are symbols that stand for things, a classical definition of the sign going back to Aristotle (who uses the term “symbolon” in De interpretatione) and Augustine (De doctrina christiana II). We may also note that Burke mostly talks about words, which at a first glance places him in this classical rhetorical tradition, in contrast to modern semiotics according to which the word is not the fundamental sign-unit. Burke is not primarily interested in linguistics but in the philosophy of language, i.e. theories concerning the relation between language and reality, meaning and language use. He warns against an empirical, “naturalistic” view of language that conceals the motivated character of language (p. 10). This shows his affinity to, on the one hand, the American pragmatic tradition of language philosophy (such as C. S. Peirce), and on the other, to reference and descriptivist theories of meaning. The latter is evident in his interest in naming, leading to his theory of title, entitlements and god-terms, terms that subsume classes of words.

Burke summarises these dialectics of theology in the six analogies between language and theology: The ‘words-Word’ analogy; the ‘Matter-Spirit’ analogy; the ‘Negative’ analogy; the ‘Titular’ analogy; the ‘Time-Eternity’ analogy; and the ‘Formal’ analogy. I shall shortly characterize these analogies in which the negative is the linking term, as Biesecker has argued (56-65).

1) The likeness between words about words and words about The Word: “our master analogy, the architectonic element from which all the other analogies could be deduced. In sum: What we say about words, in the empirical realm, will bear a notable likeness to what is said about God, in theology” (RR 13). Burke then defines four realms of reference for language: a) natural phenomena b) the socio-political sphere c) words and d) the supernatural, the ineffable. In a footnote he explains that language is empirically confined to referring to the first three realms, hence theology may show us how language can be stretched into almost transcending its nature as a symbol-system (p. 15). Hence the logologist should forget about the referential function and look at the linguistic operations that allow this exchange between words and the Word (cf. Biesecker 57).

2) Words are to non-verbal nature as Spirit is to Matter. By the second analogy, Burke emphasizes that the meaning of words are not material, though words have material aspects. As Burke puts it, there is a qualitative difference between the symbol and the symbolized. Biesecker (58) interprets the first two analogies this way: “If the purpose of the first two analogies is, at least in part, to calculate the force of linguistic or symbolic acts, to determine the kind of work they do by contemplating how they operate, the purpose of the third analogy is to try to account for such force by specifying its starting point.”

3) The third analogy concerns this starting point, the negative. Burke dismisses any naïve verbal realism (RR 17) and explains “the paradox of the negative: […] Quite as the word “tree” is verbal and the thing tree is non-verbal, so all words for the non-verbal must, be the very nature of the case, discuss the realm of the non-verbal in terms of what it is not. Hence, to use words properly, we must spontaneously have a feeling for the principle of the negative” (18).

Burke’s exposition of the ‘Negative’ analogy summarizes his reflections from the three articles mentioned above. Interestingly he interprets Bergson’s interest in propositional negatives as a symptom of “scientism” and prefers talking “dramatistically” about “the hortatory negative, “the idea of no” rather than the idea of the negative (20). Burke emphasizes that symbol-systems inevitably “transcend” nature being essentially different from the realm they symbolize. Analogies and metaphors only make sense because we understand what they do not mean. As Biesecker points out (58), the paradox of the negative governs all symbol systems and secures the ‘words-Word’ analogy that is the basis of logological operations. It is also the principle of the negative that produces the last three analogies.

4) The fourth analogy involves a movement upwards, the “via negativa” towards ever higher orders of generalizations. Whereas the third analogy concerned the correspondence between negativity in language and its place in negative theology, the fourth concerns the nature of language as a process of entitlement, leading in the secular realm towards an over-all title of title, this secular summarizing term that Burke calls a “god-term” (RR 25). Paradoxically this god-term is also a kind of emptying, and this doubled significance, in Biesecker’s words (60), is also central to the next analogy.

5) The fifth analogy: Time is to “eternity” as the particulars in the unfolding of a sentence’s unitary meaning. Burke is inspired by the passage in the Confessiones 4, 10, where Augustine ponders on signs: a sign does not mean anything before it has disappeared, giving room for a new sign. Burke finds an analogy between this linguistic phenomenon (the parts of the sentence signify retrospectively in the sequence of a sentence) and the theological distinction between time and eternity (27). For Augustine as well as Burke, meaning exceeds the temporal or diachronic series of signs through which it is communicated.

According to Biesecker, Burke’s Time-Eternity analogy reproduces the Appearance/Thing polarity so essential to Romantic idealism (62). Burke’s quote from Alice in Wonderland concerning the Cheshire cat’s smile tells us that the phenomenon is nothing in it self but “points to something [“smiliness”] in which meaning and being coincide.” Biesecker concludes: “… the movement of the argument implies the persistence rather than the undoing of a metaphysics of presence and the reaffirmation rather than the denigration of ontology, for what is being proposed here is that truth is accessible.” She does not agree with those have interpreted this passage as anticipating poststructuralism or Foucault. This priority of the essential receives support from the sixth analogy (Biesecker 63).

6) The sixth analogy concerns the relation between the thing and its name that really is a triadic relationship similar to “the design of the Trinity.” There is something between the thing and its name, a kind of knowledge (RR 29). Burke continues: “Quite as the first person of the Trinity is said to “generate the second, so the thing can be said to “generate” the word that names it, to call the word into being (in response to the thing’s primary reality, which calls for a name).” Burke next claims that there is a “There is a state of conformity, or communion, between the symbolized and the symbol” (30), an almost mystical realism that is not further explained, but supports Biesecker’s claim that this is a metaphysics of presence.

As a conclusion to his exposition of the six analogies, Burke says that they may help as conceptual instruments for shifting between “philosophical” and “narrative,” between temporal and logical sequences, hence enabling us to discuss “principles” or “beginnings” as variations of these styles (33). The new interpretative strategy, cluster criticism, is grounded in Burke’s preference for logical priority. Since temporal succession is secondary to logical structures, the task is now to discover “a detemporalized cycle of terms, a terminological necessity” (Melia quoted in Biesecker 66).

Lyotard on the Confession of Augustine

Burke characterizes his logology as a fragmentary, uncertain way of thinking, in opposition to a positivist thinking (RR 34). This certainly also holds for Lyotard’s way of reading, focusing on fissures and breaks in the text. Whereas Burke prioritizes the ‘logical’ patterns that so to say engender the narration, Lyotard, however, seeks to do away with this metaphysics of presence. The little book compiled after his death by his wife is a collection of fragments and thoughts, intended for a work on Augustine – as it is, it is “a book broken off” (Lyotard vii). The French text La confession d’Augustin consists of 20 fragments with these titles: Blason, Homme intérieur, Témoin, Coupure, Résistance, Distentio, Le sexuel, Consuetudo, Oubli, Temporiser, Immémorable, Diffèrend, Firmament, Auteur, Anges, Signes, Animus, Félure, Trance, Laudes (Blazon, The Inner Human, Witness, Cut, Resistance, Distentio, The Sexual, Consuetudo, Oblivion, Temporize, Immemorable, Differend, Firmament, Author, Angels, Signs, Animus, Fissure, Trance, Laudes). The Confession of Augustine unites two texts, the first 12 fragments are based on a lecture given October 1997, the last eight on a lecture given May 1997 and published under the title “The Skin of the Skies.” This is marked by a white page in the French text, but not in the English translation. The book also offers a last part, cahier/Notebook, containing collections of fragments and handwritten notes

Though Lyotard did not intend a publication as fragmented as it turned it out to be, the book is an example of Lyotard’s way of commenting sublime art. He interweaves quotations from the Confessions – particularly from the last four books on time and memory, also at centre of Lyotard’s own philosophy – with his own thoughts, creating a new persona, Augustine-Lyotard. In what follows I mostly quote the English text, but it should be remembered that there are differences, such as the choice of an old English translation of Augustine’s text. In this way the translation slightly differentiates between Augustine’s text and Lyotard’s commentary. Maria Muresan in her penetrating article, “Belated strokes: Lyotard’s writing of The Confession of Augustine,” points to the fact that Augustine also blends quotations from the Psalms without reference into his own text, a cut-up technique that Lyotard repeats in his reading (“the writing takes the form of a marginal gloss, which is a citation of the original text without quotations marks,” p. 155; Lyotard 85). These cuts are the effects of the stroke, the way the “I” in Confessions was struck by the divine word (percussisti, percuti, ursi), also noted by Burke. This original event is an absent cause, one that cannot be represented in language, but its effect is felt as a series of belated strokes, après-coups, a concept central to Lyotard, translating Freud’s Nachträglichkeit. These textual cuts perform a continued conversion, a process rather than a finite event (Muresan 152, 162).
Lyotard does not, as Burke, accept the narrative of Confessions locating the moment of confession to the scene in the garden (Tolle, lege) in book 8, but insists that Augustine’s work is an attempt at witnessing, not representing, a moment of conversion. Hence his book is called the “Confession d’Augustin,” in the singular instead of Augustine’s plural (ibid. 155). The words of Lyotard-Augustine intertwine in a co-penetration, a dramatic enactment of this conversion-experience, in which the “I” and “You” blend, the personae of Augustine’s work that imitate the ecstatic mode of the Psalms, the individual addressing his God, or rather his unknown, absent cause. Like Burke, Lyotard deconstructs the Christian theology, inverting the paradigm: “Lyotard discovered in the poetic parts of the Confessions the possibility of an inversed paradigm, namely verbalisation: instead of the Word made flesh, he found the possibility of the flesh made word […] what Lyotard reads in the Christian mystery is not primarily incarnation, the Word (the law, the concept) made flesh, but the opposite movement of the convulsion of flesh that liberates words, making itself word” (159).

Lyotard thus reverses the pattern between literature and theology, but his commentary is very different from Burke’s. He pays no attention to the narrative patterns but cuts out the lyrical, ecstatic passages (see his comment, Lyotard 67). He opens with this passage from Confessions 10, 27 that Burke also noted:

    Thou calledst and criest aloud to me; thou even breakedst open my deafness: thou shinest thine beams upon me, and hath put my blindness to flight: thou didst most fragrantly blow upon me, and I drew in my breath and I pant after thee; I tasted thee, and now do hunger and thirst after thee; thou didst touch me, and I even burn again to enjoy thy peace.
Lyotard’s commentary:
    Infatuated with earthly delights, wallowing in the poverty of satisfaction, the I was sitting idle, smug, like a becalmed boat in a null agitation. Then – but when? – you sweep down upon him and force entrance through his five estuaries. A destructive wind, a typhoon, you draw the closed lips of the flat sea toward you, you open them and turn them unfurling, inside out. Thus the lover excites the five mouths of the woman, swells her vowels, those of ear, of eye, of nose and tongue, and skin that stridulates. At present he is consumed by your fire, impatient for the return to peace that your fivefold ferocity brings him.Thine eye seekest us out, he protests, it piercest the lattice of our flesh, thou strokedst us with thy voice, we hasten on thy scent like lost saluki hounds. Thou art victorious; open-mouthed he gapes at your beatitude, you took him as a woman, cut him through, opened him, turned him inside out. Placing your outside within, you converted the most intimate part of him into his outside. And with this exteriority to himself, yours, an incision henceforth from within, you make your saints of saints, penetrale meum, he confesses, thy shine in me. The flesh, forced five times, violated in its five senses, does not cry out, but chants, brings to each assault rhythm and rhyme, in a recitative, a Sprechgesang. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, invented the practice, from what Augustine says, for the Psalms to be read in this way, a modulation of respectful voices, in the same pitch of voice, to whose accents the community of Hebrews swayed (2-3).

Lyotard picks such passages from Confessions where the “I” tells us about being penetrated with God, feeling the terror accompanying the destruction of the subject, and the repercussions hereof in memory (most of the quotes are from Book X). Lyotard is exclusively interested in the intense aspects of Augustine’s religious experience that he finds expressed in the passages in which Augustine invokes his God or himself.

In the passage above and elsewhere in the text, Lyotard spells out the erotic connotations of Augustine’s words that occur particularly in his quotations from the Psalms. The first fragment has the title “Blazon,” a late medieval genre praising the parts of the female body, that Lyotard considers an inheritor to an ancient near-eastern tradition of love poetry. In Muresan’s words: “this erotic tradition was an intensive writing on the female body, whose beauty was located in a part of this body (sourcil, têtin, larme, bouche, oreille etc). […] In order to make visible this world of desire, the technique of the cut-out receives its full effect here: only parts of a body can make the writer write, and the reader love” (158). Whereas Burke tries to follow Augustine’s wish of controlling desire on the terms of the narrative, Lyotard goes the opposite way. When Burke notices that Augustine transfers his love for his mother to Continentia and the Holy Spirit, it is a subtle interpretation, relevant to the academic altercations about Augustine’s views on women and sex. Lyotard, on the other hand, does not take Augustine’s words for granted, but insists that the conversion-strokes are of an erotic character. Augustine does not transfer his desire into Continentia, rather he is transformed into a woman, a container of the divine (“the five holes”). Lyotard has not ‘given up’ Freud though he does not consider the Freudian unconscious a privileged source of the negative.3 Rather it is the belatedness (Nachträglichkeit) of the subjective experience that causes negativity, removing the origin into the unknown. The desire for God is related to the erotic urge: “ Two attractions, two twin appetites, almost equal in force, what does it take for one to prevail upon the other? A nuance, an accent, a child humming an old tune?” (Lyotard 22).

Lyotard reads Augustine’s conversion-stroke as a “Sprechgesang,” focusing on his rhythm, style and figures. The Confessions abound in figures combining metaphor and metonymy, such as “de manu linguae mea,” from the hand of my tongue. Read allegorically these figures express the sublimation of the physical into the spiritual, but they still convey a figural sensuality, alluding to the link between writing, beauty and desire. It is this ambiguity that Lyotard unfolds: “Receive here the sacrifice of my confessions, de manu linguae mea, from the hand of my tongue which thou hast formed and stirred up to confess unto thy name” (Confessions V I, cut into Lyotard’s fragment “Oblivion,” 26).

The belated stroke, the conversion-experience, is linked to beauty, being the aftermath of an a-temporal creative principle (Muresan 152). Augustine calls this process of creation pulchritudo (Divine beauty), in contrast to beautiful forms, species. Lyotard opens his commentary with the famous words from Confessions X 27: Sero te amavi, pulchritudo. Freud placed the artistic drive in the sexual desire, an expression of libidinal urges, and Lyotard agrees: “the feeling of Beauty and religion are both immanent movements of desire […] the illusory part of any transcendence” (Muresan 157).

Muresan’ emphasizes that Lyotard’s main interest in the Confessions are Augustine’s species and pulchritudo, both a-temporal principles creating time (163; see also Caputo 503-4). It is also an important observation that this pulchritudo is not identical to the Kantian sublime: “The sublime is a feeling opposing the senses’ interest (Kant), while Beauty-Pulchritudo is carried at the heart of this interest, which it actually endorses from the place of a surplus-value and a hyper-interest” (163). Beauty is a belated stroke, and writing is an act of recollecting the act, from memory. Beauty is the origin, a creating instant, a principium in which “God enjoyed this perfect coincidence of creation and the Word” (166).

Here as elsewhere, Lyotard comments on Augustine’s pair of opposites, distentio/intentio, the erring of the subject in earthly matters versus the urge for finding God, the conflict that the Confessions on the level of the narrative seems to dissolve. But the lyrical parts, according to Lyotard, reveals the act of writing is distensio, which is the constant companion of intentio. The confessive writing reveals a split subject, a subject penetrated by the other, and a product of time: “Dissidio, dissensio, dissipatio, distensio, despite wanting to say everything, the I infatuated with putting its life back together remains sundered, separated from itself. Subject of the confessive work, the first person author forgets that he is the work of writing. He is the work of time: he is waiting for himself to arrive, he believes he is enacting himself, he is catching himself up; he is, however, duped by the repeated deception that the sexual hatches, in the very gesture of writing, postponing the instant of presence for all times” (Lyotard 36).

The last fragments, from the lecture “The Skin of the Skies,” comment a passage from Confessions XIII xv in which Augustine envisions the firmament as covered by a tent, made by the skin that Adam and Eve had to wear after the Fall (Augustine’s interpretation of Isaiah xxxiv, 3-4). Though this eternal night is the punishment of Yahweh, the skin of the Heaven at the same time bears the Holy Scripture as inscription: the signs of bestiality have been transformed into the Holy Scripture.

Lyotard writes:

    Firmament. Is it not true that you dispensed the skin of the skies like a book? And who except you, O our God, made that firmament of the authority of the divine Scripture to be over us? For the sky shall be folded up like a book, and is even now stretched over us like a skin. […] The mantle of fur that you stretch out like a canopy over our heads is made from animal skin, the same clothing that our parents put on after they had sinned, the coverings of the exiled, with which to travel in the cold and the night of lost lives, sleepwalkers stumbling to their death (37).

This is the writing of God, the writing of the creator: “ Auctoritas is the faculty of growing, of founding, of instituting, of vouchsaving” (39). We are waiting for the divine to break through, knowing that without the protecting skin of the heaven it would crush us (40). We are reading the signs, the traces of the divine, but the confessive writing stems from a fissure, a stroke undermining the belief in the universal referents of sign systems. The writing intellect, the animus, tries in vain to understand itself.

This is far from the rhetoric of the law court, Lyotard notices: arguments, reasons, causes, the philosophical and rhetorical modes only presume to find light in the obscurity of signs (46). Still, the animus finds an escape in time and in memory making it possible to write its own story, not as a presentation of a reality but as a witness of this confession-experience. Surprisingly, perhaps, Lyotard’s La confession d’Augustin ends on a note of hope:

    What I am not yet, I am. Its short glow makes us dead to the night of our days. So hope threads a ray of fire in the black web of immanence. What is missing, the absolute, cuts its presence into the shallow furrow of its absence. The fissure that zigzags across the confession spreads with all speed over life, over lives. The end of the night forever begins” (57).

Burke’s and Lyotard’s Inverted Paradigms

Burke, too, comments briefly on this passage (158-9) in which he sees an exemplary mode of logological thinking, showing analogies between the secular and sacred realms: “In particular, logology would lay much store by Augustine’s chapter xv, in the “firmament of authority,” since it forms a perfect terministic bridge linking ideas of sky, Scriptures and ecclesiastical leadership” (159). In fact, Burke does not say much about this passage, contrary to Lyotard’s lengthy reflections on the writing of the creator, the mystical letters left for humans to decipher. Burke, on the other hand, twice emphasizes that this “the-world-is-a-book”-allegory legitimizes the church offering the authoritative exegesis of the obscure signs (158,159), something that Lyotard only briefly hints at. This, I believe, shows a major difference between these two readings of the Confessions. Burke is more interested in the social-hierarchical implications of the negativity of language than Lyotard (in this text, at least). They are both radical in their insistence upon the emptiness of origins, but whereas Lyotard deconstructs the notions of subject, form, narration, Burke is focused on the sociological implications, the links between subject and society, and his reading is also an ideological critique. Biesecker in her book takes up this suggestion and develops a critical logology combining Burke and Habermas’ philosophy of communication, a surprising combination at first sight, but the comparison of Burke with Lyotard’s reading also brings out this “sociological” aspect of logology.

Burke’s ideological critique reveals the power structures built into theological language. He is radical in his philosophy of the negative, stressing the missing referents even of God-terms, but he stops at a certain limit: that of the subject and the narrative forms it is built upon. Burke’s reading points to the circularity of the Confessions and clusters of terms that he sees as “families” summing up ideas, “another variant of the subtle and elusive relation between logical and temporal terminologies” (159-160). But the subject is basically intact and ready to act in the hierarchies of society, obeying the “Thou-shalt-nots.” Moreover this subject is male. Burke does not unfold the gendered metaphors, in the way Lyotard does, thus missing some radical transgressions in Augustine’s text (see also Freccero 58). Burke sees that the “I” of the Confessions relegates the feminine to an allegorical level, sacrificing sex and women in order to obtain closeness to the divine Beauty, but he does not see the paradoxical transformation of this subject into a “feminine” receiver of the divine, a topos in Christian mysticism.

Burke and Lyotard’s inverted paradigms, the reading of theology as a philosophy of language or aesthetics, are based on the idea that negativity in language is a human condition. Burke, however, still adheres to a metaphysics of presence, allowing for the mystical union between symbol and thing. His logology is partly based on metaphysical opposites, most important being-appearance lying behind the distinction between logical structures and sequential narratives. At the same time, his reading points out the breaks and contradictions inherent in this way of thinking. Lyotard is more consequent, taking the notion of negativity to its extreme, seeing the differentiating process in every sentence. Each phrase has its diffèrend, a central notion to Lyotard’s thinking, its own perspective formed by history and interests, making it difficult to communicate across language games. A central problem in Lyotard’s linguistic theory is whether or how it is possible to shift between different language games, or phrase regimes. His “inverted paradigm” does not try to translate theology into linguistics but demonstrates the fissure of the split subject writing a poem that becomes the witness of an event beyond representation.

I am not saying that Lyotard’s reading is better than Burke’s but pointing out that Burke does not carry through his Negativity-project to its logical conclusions (which might be a cul-de-sac). Apart from the romantic opposition between being and appearance, the potentially dualistic opposition motion-act still haunts Burke and this is a remnant of a traditional philosophy of the subject.4 Burke, for sure, has his reasons for not deconstructing the subject, as it is the social, acting subject that lies at his heart. The future that already is presence is a threat to humankind, according to Burke. He seeks the transgression of functional language and the abuses of it in a world threatened by technology – this is his last warning in the section on Augustine in The Rhetoric of Religion. Hence the two readings of the Confessions should be valued on their own terms, Burke for having shown the narrative forms allowing humans to think and act, Lyotard for demonstrating the radical aesthetics of Augustine’s confessive writing.


1. Rueckert (1963) is still a good presentation of Burke’ move from dramatism to logology. Wess (1996, chapter 8) is a thorough study of this development.

2. Burke did discuss his own dichotomy critically in several texts, e.g. in the chapter “What are signs of what? (A Theory of “Entitlements),” where Burke turns the picture upside down, suggesting that things are signs of words. The idea is that the ‘word as sign of thing’ is the common sense theory (that he ascribes to Augustine) that one should qualify by admitting for the possibility that language sums up “complex nonverbal” situations, thus letting “things become the material exemplars of the values which the tribal idiom has placed upon them” (LSA 361). Se Wess (op.cit.) for further references. Carter (1992) sees Burke as a structuralist, but a structuralist with his own philosophy of a language.

3. Helms offers a brief introduction to Lyotard’s treatment of the relation between negativity and the unconscious (125-6). Burke grapples with the same question in “Mind, Body and the Unconscious” (LSA 63-80) resulting in the famous “five dogs.”

4. Burke’s humanism has been pointed out by many scholars, e.g. Scott-Coe (2004) who points to Burke’s lingering between a traditional humanism and a radical constructivism. Burke in fact nuances this distinction between act and motion by defining action as “motion-plus” (“Mind, Body, and the Unconscious,” LSA, p. 67), hence offering a pair of opposites in Jakobson’s sense (marked-unmarked) instead of a contradictory opposition. Another take on Burke’s act-motion distinction is offered by Biesecker (1997) who emphasizes that humans move and act, that we are mixtures of mechanical bodily function and the nervous system underlying conscious thinking. This is in fact a much more interesting interpretation which brings out an affinity with psychoanalysis, for example Lacan’s the “real,” the unknown to the subject, in contrast to the imaginary and the symbolic (see Thomas 1993 for a structural relation between Burke and Lacan). Debra Hawhee (2009) also has brought this aspect of Burke’s interest in human biology to the fore. In “Theology and logology” (1979), Burke suggests (admits?) that action-motion is a dualism. Still, critics have pointed to a certain “positivism” in Burke’s own thinking. Thomas Carmichael emphasizes that Burke is not at all clear when it comes to the referential functions of language: “This question of the relation between the verbal and nonverbal rests, too, at the heart of every effort to discuss Burke and his relationship to contemporary theory and is the focus of most prior discussions of the epistemological and ontological in Burke” (2001:149).

Works Cited

Biesecker, Barbara. Addressing Postmodernity: Kenneth Burke, Rhetoric, and a Theory of Social Change. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 1997. Print. Studies in Rhetoric & Communication

Burke, Kenneth. Language as Symbolic Action. Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P, 1966. Print.

—. The Rhetoric of Religion. Studies in Logology. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P, 1970. Print.

—.“Dramatism and Logology.” Communication Quarterly 33.2 (1985): 89-93. Print.

—. “Theology and logology.” The Kenyon Review 1.1 (1979): 151-85. Print.

Caputo, John D. “Augustine and Postmodernism.” A Companion to Augustine. Ed. Mark Vessey. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Print.

Carmichael, Thomas: “Screening Symbolicity: Kenneth Burke and Contemporary Theory.”Unending Conversations. New Writings by and about Kenneth Burke. Ed. G. Henderson and D.C. Williams. Carbondale: SIUP, 2001. Print.

Carter, Allen C. “Logology and Religion: Kenneth Burke on the Metalinguistic Dimensions of Language.” The Journal of Religion 72.1 (1992). Print.

Freccero, John. “Logology: Burke on St. Augustine.” Representing Kenneth Burke. Ed. Hayden White and Margaret Brose. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1982. Print.

Hawhee, Debra. Moving Bodies. Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2009. Print

Helms, Jason. “Discourse, Figure by Jean-Francois Lyotard.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 46.1 (2013): 122-30. Print.

Kotzé, Annemare. Augustine's Confessions: Communicative Purpose and Audience. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2004. Print.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. La Confession d’Augustin. Paris: Galilée, 1998. Print.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. The Confession of Augustine. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2000. Print.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. Discourse, Figure. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2010. Print.

McMahon, Robert. “Kenneth Burke’s Divine Comedy: The Literary Form of The Rhetoric of Religion.” PMLA 104.1 (1989): 53-63. Print.

Muresan, Marcia. “Belated Strokes: Lyotard’s Writing of the Confession of Augustine.” The Romanic Review 95.1-2 (2004): 151. Print.

Rueckert, William H. Kenneth Burke and the Drama of Human Relations. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1963. Print.

Scott-Coe, Jo. “Canonical Doubt, Critical Certainty: Counter-Conventions in Augustine and Kenneth Burke.” KB Journal 1.1 (2004. Web.20 July 2015.

Thomas, Douglas. “Burke, Nietzsche, Lacan: Three Perspectives on the Rhetoric of Order.”Quarterly Journal of Speech 79.3 (1993): 336-55. Print.

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

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Burke, Perelman, and the Transmission of Values: The Beatitudes as Epideictic Topoi

Stan A. Lindsay, Florida State University


Perelman rediscovered the values aspect of epideictic: It “strengthens the disposition toward action by increasing adherence to the values it lauds.” Burke's entelechy claims that humans unconsciously act upon themselves in accordance with the implicit value systems of the entelechies with which they identify. The two are here merged in a genre study of the gospels.


Kenneth Burke began his shorter articles in Philosophy of Literary Form with the article “Literature as Equipment for Living.” Burke was, of course, pointing in that article to the “rhetorical” element in literature. But, which rhetorical element? Aristotle offered three genres of rhetoric: judicial, deliberative, and epideictic. Literature may offer some small direction for deliberative rhetorical purposes, but it is hard to see how literature as equipment for living is used extensively at all in judicial rhetoric. Judicial rhetoric, as the rhetoric of the court, is interested in factual matters—what actually happened—not scenarios that one might find in literature. Literature as equipment for living, however, may be used extensively primarily in epideictic rhetoric. Burke even notes in the PLF article that what he was doing was “sociological criticism of literature” (293). Sociological emphasis pertains neither to Judicial nor to Deliberative rhetoric. Chaim Perelman rediscovered the values aspect of epideictic oratory, two millennia after Aristotle wrote his Rhetoric. While Perelman thought that classical rhetoric missed the point of epideictic rhetoric, my journey toward the appreciation of the epideictic genre argues that Perelman was wrong. I discovered the values element in classical rhetoric while I was a student of classical rhetoric—well before I became acquainted with Perelman’s work. I will return to Burke and Perelman later, as I sketch out those steps of my journey that brought me to an appreciation of Burke and Perelman and the transmission of values. As an example of how Burke, Perelman, and Classical Rhetoric figured in the development of my epideictic perspective, I consider the New Testament gospels as a text, and more precisely, the Beatitudes of Matthew and Luke.

Step One: Gospels and Rabbinic Literature

My journey began in 1973, while a master’s student of Rabbinic Hebrew at Indiana University under Henry Fischel. In particular, I found the parallels between the New Testament Gospels and Rabbinic Literature to be very informative. For example, the Gospel of Matthew 5:32 presents a teaching on divorce that allows for divorce only in the case of fornication: “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, except for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced commits adultery.” Again, Matthew 19:9 states: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Rabbinic Literature supplies the context for the issue. The Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli), tractate Gittin, 90a states: “The House of Shammai held that a man may only divorce his wife for a serious transgression, but the House of Hillel allowed divorce for even trivial offenses, such as burning a meal.” The House of Hillel (Bet Hillel) and the House of Shammai (Bet Shammai) were two schools of Rabbinic/Pharisaic thought. Matthew presents Jesus as siding with Bet Shammai in the debate. A great deal of what follows the Beatitudes in Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount relies heavily on the assumption that Matthew’s audience already knows the context of the issues addressed—from Rabbinic tradition. The sermon comments included by Matthew are extremely short and pithy, using the formula: “You have heard it said . . . but I say unto you.” Matthew just assumes that his audience has heard the contextual discussion (“You have heard it said . . .”). In this sense, Matthew’s Gospel differs from Luke’s Gospel. Luke frequently explains arcane Rabbinic issues for his audience. As I will suggest in Step Two of my journey, Luke’s audience appears to be more attuned to Greco-Roman culture and less attuned to Rabbinic culture. From a cultural standpoint, it is not difficult to see that Matthew and Luke are operating in slightly different cultural milieus. That Matthew addresses an audience that holds an appreciation for the Rabbinic oral tradition actually argues for a strong value of accuracy in oral transmission as it applies to Matthew’s audience. The Rabbinic oral tradition that was eventually written down, more than one hundred years after it was taught, as the Talmud and Mishnah is exceptional in its historical and textual accuracy. This careful referencing of the Rabbinic oral tradition in Matthew is an argument for the value of historicity and accuracy held by the audience of, at least, Matthew’s account.

The early observation of the cultural difference between Matthew’s and Luke’s audiences was a beginning for my interest in the rhetorical aspects of the gospels. Devotees of Perelman might say that my “universal audience” has long been rather small. It consists of those who know classical and contemporary rhetorical criticism, plus biblical studies and rabbinic studies. Although my master’s was in Hebrew language and literature, largely due to Fischel’s intercultural (Greek-Roman-Jewish-Christian) approach, I also pursued PhD coursework in Comparative Literature at Indiana University. I prepared a doctoral dissertation prospectus in which I sought to determine the literary genre of the New Testament gospels. I reasoned that, if we understood the category to which the gospels belonged, we would have a better perspective for interpreting what they were attempting to accomplish. Although I knew nothing, at this point in my career, of Kenneth Burke, I later would appreciate the fact that Burke would classify genre studies as studies in conventional form and alert us to the notion that form is the arousing and fulfilling of expectation. So, what expectation does or did the “gospel” form arouse and fulfill? The view that the gospel is an entirely unique genre exists, but it seemed likely that it, at least, had literary antecedents. I considered the genres of Romance, Novella, and (a then newly “discovered” genre put forth by Moses Hadas, Morton Smith, and Howard Clark Kee) Aretalogy. These “literary” genres, however, lacked something of the real-life experience sense that those reading the gospels surely encountered. One may read a romance, novella, or aretalogy without risking one’s life or social standing due to the nature of the subject matter. I sensed a definite need for a satisfactory genre classification for the gospels that would direct the audience’s expectations. I first sought that genre classification among contemporary literary genres.

Step Two: Gospels and Hellenistic Biography

Not being convinced of the close relationship between any of the above-mentioned genres and the New Testament gospels, I considered Hellenistic biography—as exemplified by Plutarch’s Lives—as a possible antecedent. The biographical genre holds some definite parallels—especially, I think, to the Gospel of Luke. In 1978, under the tutelage of Vernon Robbins, of the departments of Speech Communication, Classics, and Religious Studies at the University of Illinois (prior to his move to Emory University), I compared and contrasted the Gospel of Luke with Plutarch’s Life of Alexander. Here are some of the parallels:

    1. Plutarch delimits the type of writing he is attempting: “[W]e do not give the actions in full detail and with scrupulous exactness but rather a short summary since we are not writing histories but lives.” Luke likewise delimits: “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us, even as they delivered them to us . . . it seemed good to me . . . to write to you in order . . . so that you might know the certainty concerning the things wherein you were instructed” (Luke 1.1–4).
    2. Both authors supply genealogies for their subjects—Alexander back to Hercules, Jesus back to Adam and God.
    3. Both authors supply miraculous birth stories for their subjects.
    4. Both authors suggest Divine parentage for their subjects.
    5. Both authors present their subjects as boy geniuses. Plutarch tells of Persian ambassadors who arrived in the absence of Alexander’s father(?) Philip. Alexander impressed them with his solid sense. “He asked them no childish questions.” Luke is the only gospel writer who provides an account of the twelve-year-old Jesus visiting the temple in Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph had lost track of him, but found him sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions. The doctors of the Law were amazed at his answers (Luke 2.41–50).

    For reasons, many of which are discussed in Charles H. Talbert’s What is a Gospel? The Genre of the Canonical Gospels, I conclude that the Gospels are not to be categorized as biographies. Plutarch took, at least, the appearance of an objective perspective regarding the issue of whether or not Alexander the Great was divinely parented; the Gospel of Luke exhibits no such objective perspective. Rather, the author brazenly argues for the divine heredity of the book’s hero, Jesus. Hence, there remain differences between the gospel form and the Hellenistic biography. Literary genre studies, while not exactly a dead end, did not appear to be completely satisfactory for understanding the gospel genre. Hence, my search for satisfactory genre comparisons began to turn from literary genres to rhetorical genres.

    Under Vernon Robbins, I became exposed to the Form Criticism (Formgeschichte), Redaction Criticism (Redaktionsgeschichte), and Rhetorical Criticism of the Gospels. Form Criticism began to point me in the direction of smaller conventional forms from oral tradition. I will return to these concepts/approaches, shortly, but at this stage, Form Criticism opened up the relationship between gospels genre studies and rhetorical genres. Aristotle’s Rhetoric, with its discussion of paradigms, would prove to be quite enlightening as these smaller forms are used in his three rhetorical genres. The gospels extensively employ the “paradigm” form. I was beginning to find a satisfactory track.

    Step Three: Gospels and Epideictic Oratory

    Under John Bateman, of the Department of Classics at Illinois, I studied Hellenistic Rhetoric. I became particularly intrigued with the rhetorical genre of epideictic. It occurred to me that epideictic and biography were very closely related—the primary differences being that epideictic appeared to be the more explicitly persuasive of the two, that epideictic was more of an oral genre, and that epideictic more closely related to the everyday experiences of the audience. I wondered aloud to Bateman if the gospel genre were a close relative of epideictic. Bateman—not much of a religious believer—laughed. His view of epideictic was that it was a genre not to be taken seriously. It was merely a demonstration of the persuasive skills of the rhetor. For the Classicist Bateman, classifying the gospels as epideictic reduces them to a joke.

    Indeed, sophistic encomia, such as Gorgias’ In Praise of Helen, tend to support Bateman’s view. Yet, such sophistic encomia were chronologically prior to Aristotle’s Rhetoric with its epideictic genre. Nevertheless, even English translations of Aristototle’s Rhetoric may have contributed to Bateman’s view, describing the auditor of epideictic as a "spectator,” as opposed to a “judge” in Deliberative and Judicial rhetorical genres. In Rhetoric I.3.ii, the “spectator” appears to be primarily concerned with the rhetor’s skill. The Greek term that George Kennedy translates as “spectator,” however is the term theoros. It is built on the root from which we have the English words “theory” and “theorist.” Aristotle’s very definition of rhetoric uses the same root, usually translated “to see:” “the capacity to see [theoresai] in any case the available means of persuasion” (On Rhetoric I.2.i). Viewing the audience of epideictic as a “theorist” rather than as a “spectator” sheds an entirely new light on epideictic. Later, I would be impressed with Kenneth Burke’s view of Aristotle's rhetoric as explicit: “Here's what to say if you want to smear a man . . . to build him up . . . and so on” (Dramatism and Development 27). In my opinion, the nature of epideictic as a transmitter of values is, by contrast, implicit (perhaps, even that which might require more of a “theorist” than a “judge” to decipher).

    Aristotle’s Rhetoric comes from the fourth century BC. A much closer contemporary to the gospels—the Hellenistic Rhetorica ad Herennium, written in the century preceding the gospels—clearly seems to take the epideictic genre seriously. Years later, I was pleased to learn that Chaim Perelman had rediscovered serious epideictic at least two decades before I became interested in it. If the gospels are actually a form of epideictic, one might expect the gospel writers to rely heavily on the value system that was presently (as opposed to the past/Judicial or future/Deliberative) operative in the culture to which they were appealing. By praising or blaming certain individuals in the paradigms they chose to present, they were, in Perelman’s words, “strengthen[ing] the disposition toward action by increasing adherence [of the audience or culture to whom it was directed] to the values it lauds” (50).

    Step Four: Connecting Epideictic Oratory with Formgeschichte

    Aristotle, in On Rhetoric II.20.ii, admits both historically-based stories and fictions as his two species of paradigms, useful for inductive reasoning. I was struck by the fact that Martin Dibelius, in his ground-breaking work on Formgeschichte, From Tradition to Gospel, emphasizes “paradigms” as the first major type of form he sees in the gospels. He sees the various forms—paradigms, tales, legends, analogies, and the passion story—as the building blocks with which the gospel writers constructed their gospels. He also sees that these various smaller forms were probably transmitted throughout the church in sermon illustrations. He makes a comment on the historicity of these transmissions: “Because the eyewitnesses could control and correct, a relative trustworthiness of the Paradigms is guaranteed” (62). Years later, I would recognize this comment of Dibelius as a statement of what Kenneth Burke calls recalcitrance. Stan A. Lindsay, in Psychotic Entelechy: The Dangers of Spiritual Gifts Theology, explains: “Burke sees recalcitrance as not only something to be overcome but also as a method of overcoming, of correcting. Burke notes that recalcitrance ‘refers to the factors that substantiate a statement, the factors that incite a statement, and the factors that correct a statement’ (Attitudes Toward History 47). He suggests that ‘communicative problems and procedures’ may be ‘corrected by the principle of recalcitrance’ (PC lix).” Dibelius effectively refocused Gospel studies to the study of an oral medium, rather than written literature.

    Aristotle’s comments concerning paradigms, however, apply to all three genres of rhetoric, and I think fictions would be more appropriately applied in the Deliberative genre. A political advisor, for example, might, using Deliberative rhetoric, warn his candidate not to use untruths to smear his opponent: “Remember what happened to the boy who cried ‘Wolf’!” Certainly, Judicial rhetoric emphasizes narratives that are arguably historically-based, and the entire point of epideictic in praising and blaming is that the narratives are presumably historically-based. Aristotle discusses the two general modes of persuasion. The “example” or “paradigm” is the basis of inductive reasoning. The “enthymeme” is the basis of deductive reasoning. This article is less concerned with deductive reasoning than it is with inductive reasoning. In terms of “paradigms,” there are two types—historical and invented. Since both historical and invented examples serve to persuade, we may expect both epideictic oratory and literature (whether historically-based or purely fictitious) to be persuasive. What then do both epideictic oratory and literature persuade? They subconsciously persuade auditors and readers to internalize the values they represent. Also, entelechially, they supply “cow paths” to follow in similar situations.

    The minor form paradigm figures in a major way in the analysis of Martin Dibelius. In his work, he seeks to “explain the origin of the tradition about Jesus, and . . . to make clear the intention and real interest of the earliest tradition” (Preface). While calling Formgeschichte the “criticism of literary form” (1), he concludes that “[o]nly two or three of [early Christian literary] documents approximate to the literary standards of Philo and Josephus. . . . Without a doubt these are unliterary writings” (2). My conclusion is also that the gospels were not intended to be literary works; they were intended to be rhetorical works. Aristotle’s emphasis on the role of the paradigm in rhetorical genres, therefore, is particularly enlightening. Since Burke suggests that form is the arousing and fulfilling of expectations, the realization that the gospels are a rhetorical form, rather than a literary form, supplies an important expectation: The gospels were not intended to be classical literature, that might touch audiences in different ways throughout the ages; they were intended to be rhetorical works that were directed towards specific audiences, in specific cultures, at specific points in time. To interpret the gospels, one needs to consider them, as Burke puts it, neither as art for art’s sake (Counter-Statement 16), nor as art for the artist’s sake, but as art for the audience’s sake (Dramatism and Development 16). What is the psychology of the audience? What are the values of the audience? What are the specific, timely needs of the audience? In my analysis of the gospels, later in this article, I contend that the audience of Luke’s gospel holds as a much higher value than does the audience of Matthew’s gospel the virtue of being voluntarily poor. One might, therefore, speculate that Luke’s audience found itself in a much more severe situation of (voluntary?) poverty than did Matthew’s audience. One might wonder if Luke’s audience has already begun to become more “dispossessed” of their property, as Christians, than Matthew’s audience was. Perhaps, a persecution of Christians had begun against Luke’s audience. One might envision a situation similar to the Jews of Anatevka in Fiddler on the Roof, in which Christians were forced out of town, forced to leave their homes and lands behind. One might wonder if the Most Excellent Theophilus, to whom the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles was addressed, may have originally been a rather wealthy official who lost a great deal of his property by converting to Christianity. This type of audience scenario might account for a difference in emphasis between Matthew’s gospel and Luke’s gospel. Of course, these are only speculations; the values system at work in Luke’s gospel may be demonstrated by objective citation.

    Step Five: Epideictic Topoi and the Rhetorica ad Herennium

    My professors at the University of Illinois, Ruth Anne Clarke and Jesse Delia, comment: “Since the Classical period, rhetoricians have taught topoi, or commonplaces—general strategic approaches to be adapted to specific communicative needs” (195). The epideictic topoi of a given rhetorical handbook, for example, would provide a tool for an orator of the milieu in which the handbook is valid in order to persuade an audience from that milieu to either praise or blame the individual who was the subject of the epideictic speech. The topoi serve as indicators of the level of virtue of a person, according to the values the audience accepts.

    In the Hellenistic Greek milieu, the Rhetorica Ad Herennium provides an interesting list of epideictic topoi. Topoi may vary greatly from age to age and from culture to culture, but the Ad Herennium epideictic topoi are at least indicative of what Burke means when he links topics/ topoi with values. The Ad Herennium divides the topoi of epideictic oratory into three categories: external circumstances, physical attributes, and qualities of character. The topoi that the Ad Herennium (III.10) lists under the heading of external circumstances are: a) Descent, b) Education, c) Wealth, d) Kinds of Power, e) Titles to fame, f) Citizenship, g) Friendships (3.10). Further elaboration is probably unnecessary. In the list of topoi are revealed the sort of values that were held in esteem in this milieu.

    These topoi work quite well when judging the virtues of Alexander the Great as presented by Plutarch. The values indicated in the Ad Herennium are clearly reflected in Plutarch. In terms of Alexander’s descent, the issue is whether he is the son of Philip or of the god Apollo. His education in the Greek schools is unquestioned. His wealth, power, fame, and citizenship are given. However, some important differences in values may be noted when attempting to utilize the Hellenistic topoi of the Ad Herennium to examine the virtues of Jesus of Nazareth in the gospel accounts. Although both works (Plutarch and the Gospels) are produced in roughly the same age, they differ in cultures. The Gospels provide virtually no physical attributes of Jesus whatsoever. There is no clue concerning his height, weight, relative handsomeness, color or length of hair, etc. Whatever exceptional physical feats he accomplishes (walking on water, healing, calming storms) are attributed in no way to his physical attributes. Hence, an entire major category of topoi is missing. Certainly, other topoi such as “wealth” and “citizenship” which were important for Plutarch's primary audience are unimportant or even anathematized in the Gospels. Quite obviously, an alternative value system/symbol system/epideictic topoi system is at work in the Gospels, despite the fact that the Ad Herennium is from roughly the same age as the New Testament. I began to realize that, when Aristotle suggests that epideictic rhetoric deals with the “present,” that term “present” can refer to not only time limitations, but also cultural limitations. The gospels and the Ad Herennium shared proximity in time, but certainly not in culture. Likewise, Matthew and Luke shared much closer proximity in both time and culture, but there were still distinct difference between Matthew’s and Luke’s cultures.

    This sense of “presence” is not what Perelman means by his use of the term “presence,” but it is, perhaps, more significant than Perelman’s term, as the term is applied to the understanding of epideictic. For Perelman, presence is “the displaying of certain elements on which the speaker wishes to center attention in order that they may occupy the foreground of the hearer’s consciousness” (142). Conversely, an Aristotelian understanding of “presence,” might convey the concept of the exact set of temporality and cultural values at any specific point in time and place and culture in history. Luke’s audience may be separated only slightly from Matthew’s in culture, time, and place, but the “present” or “presence” of Luke’s audience may be vastly different in some respects.

    Step Six: Chaim Perelman’s Epideictic and Universal Audience

    Yet one more University of Illinois professor, John Patton—my major professor, who moved to Tulane University before I could complete a dissertation under him—introduced me to the works of Kenneth Burke, suggesting to me that Burke’s perspective could supply many of the answers I sought. Since all of the members of my committee at Illinois were either moving away to other universities or retiring, I would eventually begin my PhD program anew, from scratch, at Purdue University, under the tutelage of the Burkean Don M. Burks. But, before I took my program to Purdue, I flirted with doing a PhD under Wilhelm Wuellner, at the Graduate Theological Union and the University of California Berkeley. Wuellner pointed me in the direction of Chaim Perelman. Perelman's observations regarding the connection between epideictic oratory and values are not difficult to grasp. He states, “since argumentation aims at securing the adherence of those to whom it is addressed, it is, in its entirety, relative to the audience to be influenced” (New Rhetoric, 19) and “Epideictic oratory has significance and importance for argumentation because it strengthens the disposition toward action by increasing adherence to the values it lauds” (50). Epideictic implicitly contains those “starting points” of Perelman’s argumentation—those facts, truths, and presumptions—that each specific culture unconsciously admits. By supplying concrete examples of the values of a culture in the life being praised, epideictic supplies “presence” and “amplitude.”

    Burke has consubstantiality/communion with Perelman. Both epideictic and entelechial perspectives may be used. Perelman’s primary contribution to my journey was his work with epideictic and audience analysis. Since, as I noted earlier, the gospels appeared to me to be written to somewhat divergent audiences, and since the Rhetorica ad Herennium, though written in approximately the same historical period, was clearly divergent in cultural assumptions from the gospel accounts, I posited that the key to determining the values system that is being transmitted through epideictic rhetoric is the determination of the epideictic topoi that are functioning in the culture. Perelman’s concept of a universal audience—a mental concept that the speaker constructs—is comprised of all reasonable and competent people (14), “those whom the speaker wishes to influence by his argumentation” (19). The universal audience for epideictic must include the members of the culture whose adherence to the values presented the epideictic speaker wishes to accomplish. Since Matthew and Luke constructed mental concepts of their audience—those competent and reasonable people they wished to influence—they, no doubt, used their knowledge of those audiences in the audiences’ “present” time and situation. They spoke to what Lloyd Bitzer called the “exigences” faced by the audiences, those “imperfection(s) marked by urgency,” those defects, obstacles, things waiting to be done, things other than they should be (6). The rhetorical situations of Matthew’s and Luke’s audiences differ, and each author’s skill in addressing the values that pertain to the exigencies of their specific universal audiences will determine their success in praising and blaming.

    Step Seven: Kenneth Burke’s Methodology

    While Perelman points us in the right direction, he does not offer a methodology for locating the cultural values as useful as does Kenneth Burke. Kenneth Burke’s methodology is especially useful in elucidating the values one finds in a given piece of epideictic oratory. Burke's concept of entelechy as a process of development in which the telos or goal of the individual is implicit throughout the process is more difficult to grasp, however. Burke uses the Aristotelian biological entelechy of a seed, growing to maturity, and then makes human symbolic extensions. Essentially, Burke claims that humans unconsciously act upon themselves (in a manner analogous to the seed growing to maturity) in accordance with the implicit value systems of the entelechies/stories with which they identify. Both Perelman’s and Burke’s approaches supply metarhetorics explaining how values are transmitted implicitly to the audience. While epideictic utilizes primarily historical persons and events, entelechy is present in both historically-based stories and in fictions. The song made famous by Burke’s grandson Harry Chapin, “Cat’s in the Cradle,” points simultaneously to both types of entelechy. The song’s narrator speaks/sings of his child who arrived just the other day, that child’s gradual maturing (during which process the child assimilated implicitly the value system of his father), and the father’s epiphany at retirement that, to his dismay, his boy had grown up just like him. While this type of entelechy can be seen in countless historical situations—the proverbial acorn does not fall far from the oak—we actually realize that Harry Chapin is not speaking/singing autobiographically. He is speaking/ singing literature. Burke’s concept of entelechy encompasses both historically-based stories and fictions.

    Clause Two of Kenneth Burke's definition of the human—inventor of and moralized by the negative—introduces the existence of “polar” terms such as “true-false, order-disorder, cosmos-chaos, success-failure, peace-war” (Language as Symbolic Action 11), etc. Burke observes that certain clusters of terms automatically exclude certain other clusters of terms. These clusters of terms at times can be violated so as to produce a perspective by incongruity. But, usually, these clusters can be studied for the purpose of understanding the peculiar symbol system of a given author (or, more specifically, a given author within a given work) to find out which terms s/he automatically associates with which other terms. For Burke, “a book is a replica of the human mind” (Dramatism and Development 20). He would qualify the comparison by adding that “in a book,” the “vast assortment of ‘equations’” is “finished, whereas in life there is always the possibility of new situations which will to some degree modify such alignments” (Dramatism and Development 20). The mind is in a state of constant modification. Note, however, that for Burke, “Any work is a set of interrelated terms with corresponding ‘equations,’ sometimes explicit, but more often implicit” (Dramatism and Development 20). Such clusters of “implicit or explicit ‘equations’” form a “structure of terms, or symbol-system” (The Philosophy of Literary Form viii).

    The associational nature of these equations, according to Burke, make them similar to what “contemporary social scientists call ‘values’ or what in Aristotle's Rhetoric are called ‘topics’” (The Philosophy of Literary Form ix). Otherwise put, the inductive procedure to which Burke adheres is capable of providing not only enlightenment regarding the specific text under consideration, but also of revealing a picture of the scenic background in which the literary act takes place (since Burke considers the scene to be the ideological background in which the act occurs, and values considerations are ideological). So, how is Burke's method to be used to become enlightened concerning the values and associations of New Testament authors? In charting the specific symbol system of a given author, Burke's method requires “objective citation:”

      Now, the work of every writer contains a set of implicit equations. [S/h]e uses “associational clusters.” And you may, by examining his[/her] work, find “what goes with what” in these clusters—what kinds of acts and images and personalities and situations go with his[/her] notions of heroism, villainy, consolation, despair, etc. And though [s/]he be perfectly conscious of the act of writing, conscious of selecting a certain kind of imagery to reinforce a certain kind of mood, etc., [s/]he cannot possibly be conscious of the interrelationships among all these equations. Afterwards, by inspecting his[/her] work “statistically,” we or [s/]he may disclose by objective citation the structure of motivation operating here. There is no need to “supply” motives. (The Philosophy of Literary Form 20)

    Burke includes the proviso, “by objective citation,” and his elaboration, “There is no need to ‘supply’ motives,” as an answer to and protection against his method being “characterized as ‘intuitive’ and ‘idiosyncratic,’ epithets that make (him) squirm” (The Philosophy of Literary Form 68).

    Burke would begin his search for “equational clusters” by watching “for the dramatic alignment. What is vs. what” (The Philosophy of Literary Form 69). Another way of considering this first step is as a search for polarities. When Burke says that he might “sloganize [his] theory . . . by treating the terms ‘dramatic’ and ‘dialectical’ as synonymous” (The Philosophy of Literary Form xx), he implies that there are “two quite different but equally justifiable positions . . . in [his] approach” (Language as Symbolic Action 54):

      There is a gloomy route of this sort: If action is to be our key term, then drama; for drama is the culminative form of action (this is a variant of the “perfection” principle . . .). But if drama, then conflict. And if conflict, then victimage. Dramatism is always on the edge of this vexing problem, that comes to a culmination in tragedy, the song of the scapegoat.
      There is also a happy route, along the lines of a Platonic dialectic. . . . [T]his happier route . . . states the problem in the accents of an ideal solution. (Language as Symbolic Action 54–55)

    Whether Burke's method is called “dramatic” or “dialectical,” the implicit antithetical nature of Burke's method may be noted. In drama, the antithetical hero and villain are present. Burke can speak of “the ‘villain’ that makes the total drama go” (Attitudes Toward History 343). In Platonic dialectic, something similar to the “opposite banks of a stream” is present. The antithetical nature of the “opposite banks” may be transcended by the “reality” of the whole stream. It is not necessary in dialectic to disprove one bank of the stream, in order that the opposite bank may be true. Still, in both the “dramatic” and the “dialectic” separate “bins” (Attitudes Toward History 135) are present. Polarities are present. The question, “What is vs. what?” is present.

    Step Eight: Applying Burke and Perelman to the Beatitudes

    The present article is not the first to identify the Beatitudes as rhetoric. Charles H. Talbert in Reading the Sermon on the Mount states of George A. Kennedy that he sees the beatitudes of Matthew as the Prooemium to Jesus’ sermon (23). According to Aristotle, III.14.ii, “The prooemia of epideictic speeches are drawn from praise or blame. . . . Gorgias praises . . . ‘You are worthy the admiration of many, O men of Greece.’” L. John Topol states in Children of a Compassionate God: A Theological Exegesis of Luke 6:20–49: “The beatitude has the social function of promoting those values and behaviors which the community holds dear (Hamm, Beatitudes 12). “The beatitude . . . functions as a kind of epideictic rhetoric” (62). Yet, to my knowledge, this article may be the first to identify the beatitudes as epideictic topoi. Aristotle, Book I, Chapter 9 discusses epideictic rhetoric. In verse 34 of that Book and Chapter, Aristotle identifies the blessing/ makarismos as a type of epideictic. The Greek word makarios is precisely the term used in the Beatitudes. The values=epideictic topoi of the Gospel According to Matthew are fairly well explicated in Matthew’s Beatitudes (New International Version, Matthew 5.3–12):

      1. “Blessed are the poor in spirit. . . .” This beatitude is backed up by stories such as the rich young man whom Jesus commanded to sell everything he had and give the money to the poor (Matthew 19.16–24). It stands in direct contrast to the ad Herennium topos of wealth.
      2. “Blessed are those who mourn . . . .” This beatitude is backed up by stories such as Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26.36–46).
      3. “Blessed are the meek . . . .” This beatitude is backed up by stories such as the Palm Sunday entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem, riding on a donkey (Matthew 21.1–11). It stands in direct contrast to the ad Herennium topos of power.
      4. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness . . . .” This beatitude is backed up by stories such as the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14.13–21). It stands again in contrast to the ad Herennium topos of wealth.
      5. “Blessed are the merciful . . . .” This beatitude is backed up by stories such as the many healings performed by Jesus (Matthew 8.14–17).
      6. “Blessed are the pure in heart . . . .” This beatitude is backed up by Jesus’ seeming literary allusion to wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7.15) and by the label hypocrite which he applies to his opponents (Matthew 23.13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29).
      7. “Blessed are the peacemakers . . . .” This beatitude is backed up by Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies (Matthew 5.43–48).
      8. “Blessed are those who are persecuted . . . .” This beatitude is backed up by stories such as the passion of Christ.

      These are just a few of the explicit epideictic topoi to be found in Matthew. Many more implicit topoi are present. The religious phenomenon known by the slogan WWJD (What would Jesus do?) is evidence of both the epideictic and the entelechial nature of the gospels. There is not space in this article to examine all of the beatitudes, but, since two of the beatitudes seem to stand in direct opposition to the ad Herennium topos of wealth—“Blessed are the poor” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst”—it is informative to check the wealth-related paradigms of Matthew and Luke (the only two gospel writers who include a list of beatitudes).

      We must apply Burke’s methodological instruction requiring “objective citation.” Before checking the paradigms we note the difference in the phraseology used by Matthew and Luke. Whereas, Luke states flatly “Blessed are ye poor” (6.20), Matthew seems to pull his punches: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (5.3). Whereas, Luke states flatly “Blessed are ye that hunger now” (6.20), Matthew seems to pull his punches: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness” (5.3). Does Matthew’s audience/culture not hold the same value towards poverty as Luke’s audience/culture? Bear in mind that no matter how Jesus originally may have phrased such beatitudes, they would have been uttered in Aramaic or Hebrew. Matthew and Luke, on the other hand, are writing in Greek. Therefore, the interpretation of Jesus’ sayings could be emphasized differently in different cultures. This could be a translation issue. Luke, however, seems intent on clarifying that his value of voluntary poverty should be taken literally—not reinterpreted as being poor “in spirit.” He supplements his list of beatitudes with woes: “Woe unto you that are rich! For you have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full now! For you shall hunger” (Luke 6.24–25).

      Luke’s cultural value as it regards money/wealth appears to be more severe than Matthew’s cultural value. Luke is the only writer (albeit, in his companion work, Acts of the Apostles) who reports that the early Christians in Jerusalem “sold their property and their belongings and distributed them to all as anyone might have need” (Acts 2.45). He presents Peter and John as having neither silver nor gold (Acts 3.6). He praises Barnabas who owned a field, sold it, and brought the proceeds to deposit at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4.36–37). He condemns Ananias and his wife Sapphira for attempting to fake this act of poverty. They sold a field and secretly kept back some of the profits, but they reported to the apostles that they had given all. They were both struck down dead (Acts 5.1–11).

      Of course, since Matthew did not, as Luke did, write an account of the early church after Jesus’ death, the paradigms of Acts can only be used to account for Luke’s culture’s value system. We may, however, compare and contrast the paradigms in the two gospel accounts to note the comparative emphasis placed on voluntary poverty.

        1. In an account that only appears in Luke, Jesus’ mother Mary, during her pregnancy, remarks about her own “low estate” (Luke 1.48) and how God has “exalted them of low degree . . . has filled the hungry . . . [and] has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1.52–53).
        2. Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus is the only one that mentions that he was “wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger”—details that suggest poverty —at his birth (Luke 2.7). By contrast, Matthew is the only gospel that mentions “wise men from the east . . . opening their treasures . . . [and] offering unto him gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2.2–11).
        3. Luke’s account of Jesus’ baby dedication, with Mary and Joseph offering up “a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons” (Luke 2.25) indicates that Mary and Joseph’s offering was of the variety offered by the poor.
        4. Luke is the only one who chooses to include the money-themed account of John the Baptist’s advice to his audience when, after being converted, they asked what they must do: “He that has two coats, give to him who has none; and he that has food, do likewise . . . publicans . . .extort no more than that which is appointed to you . . . soldiers . . . do not exact anything wrongfully and be content with your wages” (Luke 3.11–14).
        5. Luke is the only evangelist to record Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth in which he says he is anointed to “preach good tidings to the poor” (Luke 4.18).
        6. Both Matthew and Luke record Jesus’ admonition to love your enemies, but Luke adds the embellishment: “[F]rom him who takes away your cloak withhold not your coat also. Give to everyone that asks of you and of him that takes away your goods, ask not to have them back” (Luke 6.29–30).
        7. Only Luke records the paradigm of a man who disputed with his brother over their inheritance. Jesus responds that he is not a judge or divider over people and follows up with the parable of a rich man who decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. Jesus condemns him: tonight his life will be required of him (Luke 12.13–20).
        8. Only Luke records two parables on stewardship. In the parable of the steward who forgave many debts that were owed to his “rich” boss who was firing him, his boss commended him because he had done wisely. In the parable of the rich man and the poor beggar Lazarus, both die and the rich man finds himself in torment while the poor man is relaxing in Abraham’s bosom. Abraham tells the rich man: “Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus received evil things; but now here he is comforted and you are in anguish” (Luke 16.1–26).
        9. A very significant paradigm, the story of the rich young man, appears in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew 19.16–20.16, Mark 10.17–31, and Luke 18.18–30). In this paradigm, the rich man asks what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep all the commandments. He responds that he has kept them since he was a child. Mark and Luke have Jesus responding: “One thing you lack . . .” (Mark 10.21 and Luke 18.22). Matthew rephrases: The man asks, “What do I lack yet? Jesus says to him, ‘If you would be perfect . . .’” (Matthew 19.21). Then all three accounts tell the man to “sell all that you have and give to the poor, and . . . come, follow me.” This difficult requirement astonishes all of the disciples. The only hint that Matthew may have pulled his punches on this paradigm is that he has Jesus tell the man, “If you would be perfect, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and . . . come, follow me.” Perhaps, Matthew is setting up an ideal value for his audience, but implicitly recommending, at least, that they be “poor in spirit.”
        10. Luke alone records the paradigm of Zacchaeus the publican, who though rich, tells Jesus, “Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have wrongfully exacted anything of any man, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19.1–9).
        11. Only Luke and Mark record the story of the Widow’s mites. Jesus comments, “This poor widow cast in more than the all; for all these did of their plenty cast in, but she of her want did cast in all the living that she had” (Luke 21.1–4).
        12. Only in Matthew is the kingdom of heaven likened to a man finding hidden treasure and to a man finding a pearl of great price (Matthew 13.34–46).

        The sheer volume of paradigmatic amplification presented by Luke, as compared to Matthew, suggests that epideictically-speaking, Luke’s culture held the notion of voluntarily giving away one’s wealth to be a much higher value than did Matthew’s culture, even though both cultures saw the topos of wealth in an opposite sense from that presented in the Rhetorica ad Herennium. Matthew’s cultural value as it pertains to poverty and giving may be connected to the words “in spirit” that he includes with the beatitude: Blessed are the poor in spirit. Burke recommends that we ask, “What is vs. what?” Matthew appears to set up his Christian culture’s antagonists as the Pharisees. In Matthew’s gospel, it is clear that the Pharisees do give alms, so it is difficult to criticize their giving, but Matthew’s culture questions the motive for their apparent liberality:

          1. While both Matthew and Luke have John the Baptist, preaching and calling people in his audience “the offspring of vipers,” only Matthew identifies these antagonists as “Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 3.7).
          2. Matthew also has Jesus calling the Pharisees “the offspring of vipers” and comparing a good man who “out of his own good treasure brings forth good things” with an evil man who “out of his evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matthew 12.34–36).
          3. Only Matthew criticizes the “hypocrites” for doing “their righteousness before men, to be seen of them.” He recommends giving alms—but in secret (Matthew 6.1–4). Likewise, he recommends praying in secret—not on the street corners.

          Form criticism (Formgeschichte), according to Dan O. Via, Jr. in the foreword to Norman Perrin’s What is Redaction Criticism, “has concerned itself largely with investigating the individual units—stories and sayings—in the synoptic gospels. Redaction criticism . . . grew out of form criticism, and . . . investigates how smaller units—both simple and composite—from the oral tradition or from written sources were put together . . . . Its goals are to understand why the items from the tradition were modified and connected as they were, to identify the theological motifs that were at work, and to elucidate the theological point of view which is expressed in and through the composition” (vi–vii). But Redaction criticism would be more of an Art-for-the-Artist’s sake approach. What I am proposing with this article is an essentially new approach—an Art-for-the-Audience’s sake approach. It could be termed “epideictic criticism.” The examples of epideictic rhetoric I have cited here appear to be less concerned with the theological perspective of the author than they are with the values system of the audience. Therefore, epideictic criticism is not the same as redaction criticism.

          To view the gospels as epideictic, as Perelman says, “strengthens the disposition toward action by increasing adherence to the values it lauds” (50). Aristotle instructs: “[In epideictic] one should also use many kinds of amplification, for example if the subject [of praise] is the only one or the first or one of a few or the one who has most done something . . . these things are honorable” (I.9.38). Therefore, when Matthew amplifies the proposed behavior pattern for the rich young man—“If you would be perfect, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and . . . come, follow me” (Matthew 19.21), he increases the audience’s disposition toward action by increasing its adherence to that value. Matthew can then reinforce this adherence by offering Peter’s example: “Lo, we have left all, and followed you” (Matthew 19.27). Then Jesus responds with amplification and laudation for all who have left things and people to follow him (Matthew 19.28–30). Sonja K. Foss, et al., in discussing Perelman, note: “Amplitude in argumentation can be accomplished by adding new evidence to lines of arguments, increasing the range of kinds of argumentative techniques employed, and adding redundancy. In many cases, increasing the amplitude of arguments increases their strength” (105). The redundancy of Luke in exhibiting paradigms of people giving all that they have would almost certainly increase his audience’s adherence to the value of voluntary poverty. The epideictic approach to the gospels differs from much of the current emphasis in rhetorical criticism of the gospels in that it views the gospels from the perspective of a culture (or subculture) whose values are already somewhat established (and seeks to reinforce them) rather than from the perspective of an author who wishes to present new rhetorical argumentation.

          The cluster-agon method of Kenneth Burke assists the researcher in determining not only the values and symbol-system of the author of a given gospel, but also (since the Greek formulations of the paradigms in the gospels are largely the product of early Christian culture) the values and symbol system of something like Perelman’s “universal audience” of a specific gospel.

          After determining the epideictic topoi (as this study does, using the values listed in the Beatitudes), this method begins by identifying the protagonists and antagonists in the story. In Matthew, there seem to be strong indications of an agon between the “the pure in heart” (a beatitude that is not reported in Luke, and terminology that might be used to interpret the meaning of those who are poor “in spirit”) and those whose hearts are disingenuous (hypocrites, Pharisees, those who may appear to be liberal but who are only doing it for selfish, cynical reasons).

          Next, the method would trace the terms that are associated with the protagonists and antagonists by using Burke’s statistical method of equations, where each term—such as “rich,” “poor,” “viper,” “hypocrite,” “Pharisee,” “give,” “low,” “hungry,” “fool,” “forgive,” “good,” “evil,” “perfect,” “all,” “treasure,” “price,” and “alms”—can be placed in either the protagonist bin or the antagonist bin (or the situation in which it has, in the past, been in one bin but is now changing to the other—Burke’s “arrow” notation). The method would also note those terms that seem to be equated with or opposed to those terms, to determine what values are being expressed. This step is actually easier in gospels studies and biblical studies than it is in the analysis of many other types of literature or rhetoric. Elaborate, analytical Bible concordances in English and Greek exist, which make the tracing of terms in biblical literature comparatively easy, while other literature requires detailed analytical work just to form connections between terms in the literary work. As one who has engaged in concordance work in Burkean studies, I find such tasks to be monumental. For a more thorough account of Burke’s entelechial statistical method of elucidating values and symbol systems, the reader is referred to Chapter 6 (“The Entelechial Statistical Method”) in Stan A. Lindsay’s Implicit Rhetoric: Kenneth Burke’s Extension of Aristotle’s Concept of Entelechy.

          Finally, it should be emphasized that epideictic rhetoric is highly entelechial. Lindsay’s Implicit Rhetoric (9–10) observes three levels at which implicit persuasion, or entelechy, operates: Level One is the model that the reader may follow. Paradigms supply such entelechies, if they are paradigms that are placed in the protagonist bin. Level Two is the anti-model, the reactionary level. Lindsay writes: “Not all entelechies are followed. Some are reacted to” (9). Paradigms supply such entelechies, if they are paradigms that are placed in the antagonist bin. Level Three is the literary level. Since literature, to a greater extent than rhetoric, is subject to different perspectives that may produce various and sundry identifications and applications, the “actual attitude . . . engendered by the [literature] might be quite different. It depends, as Burke indicates, upon the situation of the audience member and how s/he identifies with the characters in the” story (10). As Burke suggests, humans unconsciously act upon themselves in accordance with the implicit value systems of the entelechies/stories with which they identify. Hence, values are transmitted.

          Works Cited

          Aristotle. On Rhetoric. Trans. George A. Kennedy. New York & Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991. Print.

          Bitzer, Lloyd. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 1.1 (Jan. 1968): 1–14. Print.

          Burke, Kenneth. Attitudes Toward History. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984. Print.

          —. Counter-Statement. Berkeley: U of California P, 1968. Print.

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

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

          —. The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1973. Print.

          Cicero: Rhetorica ad Herennium. Trans. Harry Caplan. Loeb Classical Library (No. 403). Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1954. Print.

          Clarke, Ruth Anne and Jesse G. Delia. "Topoi and Rhetorical Competence," Quarterly Journal of Speech 65 (1979): 195–215. Print.

          Dibelius, Martin. From Tradition to Gospel. New York: Scribner’s, 1965. Print.

          Foss, Sonja K., Karen A. Foss, and Robert Trapp. Contemporary Perspectives on Rhetoric. 3rd ed. Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 2002. Print.

          Lindsay, Stan A. Implicit Rhetoric: Kenneth Burke’s Extension of Aristotle’s Concept of Entelechy. Lanham, MD: UP of America, 1998. Print.

          —. Psychotic Entelechy: The Dangers of Spiritual Gifts Theology. Lanham, MD: UP of America, 1998. Print.

          Plutarch. Plutarch: Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans (Complete and Unabridged). Ed. Arthur Hugh Clough. Benediction Classics, 2010. Print.

          Olbrechts-Tyteca, L. and Chaim Perelman. The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation. Trans. John Wilkinson and Purcell Weaver. Notre Dame, IN: U of Notre Dame P, 1969. Print.

          Perrin, Norman. What is Redaction Criticism? Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969. Print.

          Simon, Maurice. Soncino Babylonian Talmud Gittin. Ed. Isidore Epstein. Talmudic Books, 1912. Kindle.

          Talbert, Charles A. Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Decision Making in Matthew 5–7. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006. Print.

          —. What is a Gospel? The Genre of the Canonical Gospels. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977. Print.

          Tolpol, L. John. Children of a Compassionate God: A Theological Exegesis of Luke 6:20–49. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2001. Print.

          Creative Commons License
          This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

          Symbolic Action and Dialogic Social Interaction in Burke's and the Bakhtin School's Sociological Approaches to Poetry

          Don Bialostosky, University of Pittsburgh


          Burke and the Bakhtin School both proposed sociological approaches to poetry. Both start from an unsituated word for which they construe a situation. For Burke, the poet responds dramatistically to the scene of writing; for the Bakhtin School, the poem's speaker responds enthymematically to assumed social values and understandings.

          Scholars have noted similarities between Burke and Bakhtin since Holquist and Clarke's 1986 biography of Bakhtin, and there is good reason to think of them together. Margaret Zulick posted an online chronology that reminds us that they were born two years apart in the last decade of the nineteenth century and that they led engaged intellectual lives through more than half a century in the wake of the Russian revolution.  In 2004 she published the only extended essay that treats them together, a discussion of their views of ethics and aesthetics.  Though their lives were radically divergent, both pursued lifelong intellectual inquiries and wrote voluminously over decades without the support or the constraint of conventional academic degrees, disciplines, or careers. Both developed their ideas in dialogue with friends and colleagues. Burke's dialogues are richly chronicled by Selzer and George; Bakhtin's are so intricate that he has been both credited and discredited with authoring texts published under colleagues' names so that it is now common to meld them in a Bakhtin School.  Both the Bakhtin School and Burke wrote in response to major movements in the thought of the twentieth century, Marxism and Freudianism in particular, and to other major philosophers—Plato, Aristotle, and Kant figure for both of them.  For both, literary texts were crucial points of reference in inquiries that ranged well beyond the disciplinary boundaries of literary criticism.  

          Both wrote what they represented as sociological approaches to poetry, Marxism-inflected responses to the formalisms and Freudianisms of their divergent situations (Voloshinov 93ff; Burke, Philosophy, 102, 284, 293, 303).  Neither, however, has become the titular guiding light of a school of poetic criticism.  Burke's account of poetry, as a recent essay has shown, is a footnote to the New Criticism that "went the way of the footnote, sliding almost unobtrusively from the margins of the page to the edges of history," though this essay brings it back to the main text and the historical center (Vrijders 537).  Poetry in Bakhtin's account has been taken by all but a few critics as nothing more than a reductively diminished foil to the novel, though a few, myself included, have seen promising loopholes through which a dialogic sociological poetics might emerge (See Wesling).  One may reasonably wonder why it is worth comparing their thoughts on this topic now.    

          As Vrijders' article makes evident, the New Criticism and its footnotes remain salient topics of historical inquiry, but they are also at least in the U. S. continuing influences on how students in the schools and colleges are taught to read poetry.  Burke's account of poetry as symbolic action articulates a practice familiar in pedagogical reductions as symbol-hunting (see, for recent evidence, Scholes); it has also received influential theoretical elaboration in Fredric Jameson's first level of interpretation as "symbolic act" in his Political Unconscious, which, though it acknowledges Burke, overshadows him with Marx (76-81).  The Bakhtin School, most frequently brought by critics to the study of the novel, has not yet had its day as a poetic theory or pedagogy, but I believe it can offer a defensible and teachable alternative to the New Criticism and its footnotes—a sociological poetics that also accounts for poetry's formal features and enables a rich close reading of social interactions in poems.  Burke's claim that his poetics is also "sociological" and also takes those formal features into account prompts a Bakhtinian like me to engage with his version of the sociological, for perhaps the central Bakhtinian insight is that

          No living word relates to its object in a singular way: between the word and its object, between the word and the speaking subject, there exists an elastic environment of other, alien words about the same object, the same theme, and this is an environment that it is often difficult to penetrate.  It is precisely in the process of living interaction with specific environment that the word may be individualized and given stylistic shape. ("Discourse" 276)  

          In this case, I will sharpen the profile of the Bakhtin School's sociological poetics by comparing it with Burke's and at the same time bring out some of the distinctive features of Burke's poetics.  Burke's approach, we will see, focuses on reading the poet's response to the situation in which he writes, while the Bakhtin School follows the unfolding social interactions of the participants in the implied situation represented in the poem.

          This comparison could be traced through many texts in both oeuvres, but I will confine my inquiry here to a smaller set in which it is opened and elaborated.  Valentin Voloshinov, a close collaborator of Bakhtin's, introduced an explicitly Marxist sociological poetics in response to Russian formalism and to psychological criticism in his 1926 article "Discourse in Life and Discourse in Art," an essay published in English translation as an appendix to, but that originally preceded the publication of, Voloshinov's Freudianism: A Critical Sketch.  Nearly thirty years later Bakhtin wrote an essay translated as "The Problem of Speech Genres," which, though not called "sociological" or Marxist, repeats key points from Voloshinov's essay and connects the language of literature with everyday language of social interaction.  Burke posited a sociological criticism in his 1938 essay "Literature as Equipment for Living," in a journal "closely identified," Selzer and George tell us, with" the League of American Writers" a year before he spoke at the third American Writer's Congress (199); Burke invoked the epithet "sociological" again to name his approach in the long title essay that opened The Philosophy of Literary Form in 1941, in which he also republished "Literature as Equipment for Living."  In the "The Philosophy of Literary Form" the neo-Aristotelians, with whom Burke included the New Critics, play the formalist part that focuses on the internal structure of the poem to the exclusion of its situation.

          Any sociological approach to poetry will offer some way to relate the words of the poem to some understanding of its situation.  Both Burke and Voloshinov open their arguments with the case of an unsituated word and then build their argument by constructing the word's situation.  Burke begins "The Philosophy of Literary Form" writing: "Let us suppose that I ask you: 'What did the man say?' And that you answer: 'He said "yes."'  You still do not know what the man said.  You would not know unless you knew more about the situation, and about the remarks that preceded his answer" (1).  Voloshinov opens his account of discourse in life in this way: "Two people are sitting in a room.  They are both silent.  Then one of them says "Well!" The other does not respond.  For us, as outsiders, this entire 'conversation' is utterly incomprehensible.  Taken in isolation, the utterance 'Well!' is empty and unintelligible" (99).

          Burke never fills in a specific situation for the "yes" but immediately posits that "Critical and imaginative works are answers to questions posed by the situation in which they arose.  They are not merely answers, they are strategic answers, stylized answers.  For there is a difference in style or strategy, if one says 'yes' in tonalities that imply 'thank God' or in tonalities that imply 'alas!'  So I should propose an initial working distinction between 'strategies' and 'situations,' whereby we think of poetry . . . as the adopting of various strategies for the encompassing of situations" (1).   He is moving fast here, and there is already a lot to unpack, but I want to note that Burke presumes the "yes" to be a relieved or disappointed answer to a question, a response to a prior utterance of a particular kind, and not a fist-pumping celebratory evaluation of victory or an affirmative orgasmic outburst.  And he takes the tonal variations he imagines as indicative of strategies or styles without yet saying what the difference might be, what ends the strategies might be directed toward or what persons or decorums the styles might bespeak.  As the argument develops, we will learn that the focus is on an individual speaker revealing through recurrent stylistic patterns unconscious strategies that respond to a prior situation or conscious strategies that aim to affect a future situation.

          Voloshinov explicates his "Well!" as already "expressively intoned" with "indignation and reproach moderated by a certain amount of humor" (9).  Even with this determinate tone, however, the situation of its utterance still remains indeterminate, and he goes on at some length to narrate a story that fills in its requisite unspoken shared determinants in the "extraverbal context" that make the utterance intelligible.  He identifies three factors: "(1) the common spatial purview of the interlocutors . . . , (2) the interlocutors' common knowledge and understanding of the situation, and (3) their common evaluation of that situation."  In this case "both interlocutors looked up at the window and saw that it had begun to snow; both knew that it was already May and that it was high time for spring to come; finally, both were sick and tired of the protracted winter" (99).  The focus here is on the shared natural and social conditions necessary for an evaluative utterance to make an intelligible common evaluation of a present situation for its speaker and listener.

          Burke goes on in Philosophy of Literary Form to articulate the factors in the situation of a poem dramatically as the situating of an act.  Anticipating the dramatism of Grammar of Motives, he considers "literary acts as placed upon a scene" (xviii) and "poetry, or any verbal act . . . as symbolic action" (8).  Later he sums up, "We have drama and the scene of the drama.  The drama is enacted against a background. . . . The description of scene is the role of the physical sciences; the description of drama is the role of the social sciences. . . . There is an interaction between scene and role.  Hence dramatic criticism takes us into areas that involve the act as 'response' to the scene . . .[and] the acts of other persons become part of the scenic background for any individual person's act" (114-15).  Again a lot to unpack here, but a question arises for me regarding how scenes peopled with "the acts of other persons" remain the scenic object of the physical sciences when they would appear to have become socialized and, as Burke's first remarks about words answering earlier words would suggest, dialogized.  In drama, the other actors on a stage are not merely part of the scene but part of the action and verbal interaction, but Burke's incorporation of them into scene appears to objectify them or at least to put them on a different plane from the primary actor whose motives he attends to.  Burke addresses this difficulty by "equating 'dramatic' with 'dialectic'" so that a text responding strategically to a situation must be considered "as the answer or rejoinder to assertions current in the situation in which it arose" (109), but this dialectical addendum still radically limits the kinds of prior utterances to assertions and the kinds of responses to answers or rejoinders.  Burke's account of situation in these terms becomes not just dramatic but philosophical, concerned with claims and counter-claims and the movement of discussion toward the next level of claims.

          Voloshinov articulates the situation of the poem enthymematically rather than dramatically not as an act of a single agent but as an utterance in verbal interaction between a speaker and a listener.  He writes, "the extraverbal situation is far from being merely the external cause of an utterance—it does not operate on the utterance from outside, as if it were a mechanical force"—a formulation with which Burke would agree.  "Rather," he goes on, "the situation enters into the utterance as an essential constitutive part of the structure of its import.  Consequently a behavioral utterance as a meaningful whole is comprised of two parts: (1) the part realized or actualized in words and (2) the assumed part.  On this basis, the behavioral utterance can be likened to the enthymeme [a form of syllogism one of whose premises is not expressed but assumed]" (100).  The situation is partly explicit in the utterance and partly taken for granted by participants in it.  He goes on to say that the assumed part is socially shared, different for intimates and contemporaries than for people separated by time, social position, and way of life.  Something like Burke's "scene" recurs in Voloshinov's assumed "shared spatial purview," but this formulation makes it not the background against which an observer sees Burke's actor but the world on which the interlocutors themselves look out and notice the same thing.  The rest of Voloshinov's assumed situation, the unspoken common knowledge and common evaluation of it, are part of the interlocutors' shared social experience, going without saying and informing the terse utterance that brings them together in a way that "resolves the situation, bringing it to and evaluative conclusion" and joins them as "co-participants who know, understand, and evaluate the situation in like manner" (100). 

          Poems as utterances double the communication situation of everyday discourse by adding the situation of the representing poet to the situation of speaker represented in the poem.  At the latter level poems inscribe utterances between a speaker and a listener in a situation they share with one another.  As scripts made by the poet representing those utterances, however, rather than immediately spoken and heard utterances they cannot "rely on objects and events in the immediate milieu as things 'understood' [by readers] without making the slightest allusion to them in the verbal part of the utterance. . . . Much that could remain outside the utterance in life must find verbal representation"(106) or remain ambiguous to the reader of a poem.  Nor can the reader be presumed to share knowledge and evaluations that the speaker could share with his or her immediate interlocutor.  Footnotes and critical inquiry become necessary where in everyday utterances a nod of shared understanding might have been sufficient.  Finally, the speaker's evaluative intonation is perhaps the most important element that is lost when the spoken utterance becomes a written script.  In spoken communication intonation prompts the listener to share the evaluations of the topic or the hero—the person or personified thing it represents; in poetic texts the evaluation must be communicated by choice of words, the manner of the utterance's unfolding, and the rhythm and formal elements of the versification.  Texts are silent, and their intonation and indeed their meaning must be actively co-created by the reader from textual features.

          The reader's role differs from Burke's to Voloshinov's models. Postulating that poems are strategic acts of poets in scenic situations Burke focuses on the poet as strategic agent whose poem enacts his or her strategy; this orientation makes reading the poem the occasion to infer what that poet-agent is unconsciously (when the poem is read as dream or wish) or consciously (when it is read as "prayer" or communicative act) trying to do and why.  Poems for Burke are occasions to discover  "the motivation, or situation, of the poetic strategy" (78) for "situation is but another word for motives" (20).  This is a discovery reserved for the psychologically oriented critic who is in a position after the completion of the work to observe the patterns of interrelation and image the poet "could not have been conscious of" (20) in writing or for the rhetorical/dialectical critic to read formal and stylistic features of the work as designed toward convincing the reader of its claim. 

          These strategies become "equipment for living" valuable to readers as well as poets insofar as the situations that motivate them are "typical, recurrent situations" (293), the sort of situations Burke says sociological criticism aims to name and codify (301).  Proverbs, the type of utterance Burke turns to in both essays, are prepackaged, memorable responses to recurrent situations to which they may be repeatedly applied.  They 'have a word for" social situations that frequently recur (293), fulfilling the terms of the critical approach he calls the "chart."  Poems, Burke speculates, might be thought of as "complex variants and recombinations of such material as we find in proverbs" (3), strategies for encompassing and addressing more complex but still recurring situations such as those we call tragic and comic.  The Burkean sociological critic reads poems to discover and explicate the situations they respond to and the strategies of their writer's responses to them; the members of the audience, since the play is still the paradigm here, may simply enjoy going through a performance of feelings and attitudes, devised by the poet, to prepare for or get over such situations in the course of their lives.  Poems can strengthen us to face and relieve us from having faced recurrent situations of love, loss, guilt, and other existential emotions without our critical awareness of their patterns or functions or genres.

          Claiming that poems are textual scenarios of verbal social interactions of represented participants that condense and depend upon unarticulated social evaluations, Voloshinov imagines a reader who attempts to bring the poetic text to life as an utterance by discovering signs from which to co-create its evaluative tone and follow the unfolding social relations of its speaker, listener, and topic or hero.  Because the lyric poem is his model instead of Burke's drama, actors have not already realized these tones and relations of participants on stage, and the words on the page guide the competent contemplator's co-creation of them.  "Every instance of intonation," Voloshinov writes, "is oriented in two directions: with respect to the listener as ally or witness and with respect to the object of the utterance as the third, living participant whom the intonation scolds or caresses, denigrates or magnifies.  This double orientation is what determines all aspects of intonation and makes it intelligible" (104-5)Further, "The author, hero, and listener . . . are to be understood not as entities outside the artistic event, he goes on, "but only as entities in the very perception of an artistic work, entities that are essential constitutive factors of the work.  They are the living forces that determine the form and style" (109).  These intrinsic participants are, as Bakhtin would later put it, "on a common plane" ("Discourse" 291), not like the acts of Burke's persons other than the agent, part of the "scenic background" (115) of that primary agent. 

          Indeed, Burke's model of motivational variables—terms of the pentad are already incipient in these essays--focuses on that single agent and gives no formal place to the other actors whom the primary actor answers and addresses.  Burke is clearly alert to dialogic interactions, even in his opening anecdote of the "yes" conditioned by "the remarks that preceded his answer" (1), but neither here nor in the pentad does he add a precedent speaker or an addressee to his dramatistic terms.  His inquiry into motives reads the poem for the psychology of the poet or the strategies of the poet-rhetor, the actor whose strategic act, unconscious or conscious, is the poem, while Voloshinov's inquiry co-creates the text of the poem as an unfolding social interaction among its represented speaker, listener, and hero.

          Voloshinov's model of the internal participants in the poetic utterance includes the addressee and the topic/hero but, like Burke's model, lacks the speaker to whose prior utterance the speaker of the poem responds.  The utterance he starts from, the "Well!" is seemingly unprovoked by a previous remark. It is, as he notes, an utterance with "no immediate verbal context" (102).  Bakhtin's essay on speech genres adds this fourth participant to Voloshinov's trio of them by calling attention to the "dialogic overtones," signs in the language of the poem (and other kinds of utterances) that reflect "others' utterances and others' individual words."   These overtones appear not only in the insertion of "others' utterances and others' individual words" into another's utterances but also in "many half-concealed and completely concealed words of others" and in gestures toward unspecified prior utterances such as apology or self-correction or argumentative defense (92).    

          Quotation of and answers to the words of others not only indicate the speaker's relations with the prior utterances of others but also introduce parts of the textual utterance that "are analogous . . . to relations among rejoinders in a dialogue" though contained within the unfolding utterance of one speaker.  They are among "the various transformed primary genres" that Bakhtin says "play out the various forms of primary speech communication" in "secondary genres of complex communication" like literary works (98). In such genres, "within the boundaries of his own utterance the speaker (or writer) raises questions, answers them himself, raises objections to his own ideas, responds to his own objections, and so on.  But these phenomena are nothing other than a conventional playing out of speech communication and primary speech genres" (72).

          Bakhtin's claim that complex secondary genres are composed of simpler primary genres, such as the question, the rejoinder, the apology, the assertion, the giving of directions, the greeting, the farewell, the invitation, the request, the boast, the command, or the anecdote is comparable to Burke's hypothesis that "complex and sophisticated works of art [could be] legitimately considered somewhat as 'proverbs writ large'" (296).  Both Bakhtin and Burke start from discursive models of what Burke calls "typical recurrent situations" (293) to propose general theories of complex poetic utterances.  The differences in their models are revealing.  Burke's proverbs articulate responses to typical social situations or relations that recur across a variety of settings, such as consoling, foretelling, getting your own back, giving in, or anticipating.  They sound like memorable and reusable utterances that enact the functions of Bakhtin's primary speech genres.  Burke projects that more complex works would similarly address themselves to such functions in more complex and more difficult to name situations.  Poems for him work like proverbs, and Burke invites critics to discover the patterns of relations that reveal the strategies they too symbolically enact.  For Burke; "Sociological classification . . . would derive its relevance from the fact that it should apply both to works of art and to social situations outside of art" (303).

          Bakhtin, by contrast, sees primary speech genres of everyday situations as the elements from which complex secondary genres are composed, but he does not propose that literary genres perform primary functions.  They are secondary speech genres that may incorporate or imitate both primary, everyday genres and secondary genres from other spheres of communication—military, commercial, scientific, technical, or rhetorical.   They share with all complete utterances the common property that they are shaped to enable the possibility of some kind of response, but the response is specific to their being a "literary-artistic event," not an event in "everyday life."  Transfer of genres and styles from discourse in life into literary discourse "alters the way a style sounds . . . but also violates and renews the given genre."  Utterances from life incorporated into poems "lose their immediate relation to actual reality and to the real utterances of others" and "retain their significance only on the plane of the [poem's] content" (62) 

          The sociological poetics of Bakhtin and Voloshinov thus treats discourse in poetry as derived from but not reducible to discourse in life.  They call attention to the origin of poetic language in the genres of other social spheres of communication but insist upon poetry's transformation of those genres and redeployment of them to aesthetic ends.  Burke's sociological poetics, on the other hand, treats poetic works as coded and complex versions of everyday language, reducible to motives similar to those in simpler proverbial versions of discourse in life.  Bakhtin and Voloshinov treat the poem as an enthymeme that depends for its intelligibility on the reader's sharing or reconstructing its unspoken premises and tones.  They invite co-creation of the intimate and hierarchical social relations among the implied participants in the poetic utterance, the speaker, listener, hero, and precedent speaker.  Burke, by contrast, focuses attention on the poem as the poet's dramatic act in a scene.  He invites the critic to discover from patterned relations of terms in the poem the poet's psychological motives and unconscious strategic response to the scene of his symbolic act or his deliberate rhetorical communicative strategies.  

          Burke scholars are familiar with Burke's demonstration of how he would read a poem in his essay "Symbolic Action in a Poem by Keats," and I will not try to summarize it in a journal aimed at them.  Burke's reading, as Vrijders rightly says, "offers highly divergent ways of entry for the aspiring critic, including biographical, psychoanalytical, and especially historical, none of which can be excluded in advance from the domain of critical scrutiny" (545).  What I will note is that the poem is especially well-chosen to illustrate the dialectical side of Burke's dramatic reading, ending as it does in lines that can be taken as a thesis that he can read as transcending opposing terms found earlier in the poem.  Burke's final review of his reading, too long to quote in full here, outlines a series of transcendences and movements from lower to higher levels.  These sentences in the penultimate paragraph will suffice:

           The transcendent scene is the level at which the earthly laws of contradiction no longer prevail.  Hence, in the terms of this scene, he can proclaim the unity of truth and beauty (of science and art), a proclamation which he needs to make precisely because here was the basic split responsible for the romantic agitation (in both poetic and philosophic idealism). ("Symbolic Action"462)

          The biographical, psychoanalytical, and historical readings repeat this dialectical pattern in transcending different opposing terms that bespeak the poet's thoughts in response to his bodily condition and to the ideological contradictions of his time.

          I will offer a Bakhtin-School reading in contrast, though the poem poses some challenges for such a reading.   It focuses on the relation of its speaker to the personified hero-urn and the figures on the urn but shows no evidence of a listener outside that relationship to whom the speaker addresses himself, and the only prior speaker it evokes is the urn itself, imagined as an "historian/ Who canst thus express a flowery tale" that the speaker asks to be told.  And even the hero-urn itself is a work of art whose relation to the speaker we may not readily think of as a social relation.

          But we need only think for a moment to realize that our encounters with works of art are socially organized interactions of persons with what are taken to be the works of other persons made to invite and reward our attention.  The places we encounter such works, and the attitudes with which we approach them are social through and through.  Works of ancient provenance like Keats' urn enjoy in his society and ours hierarchical superiority to their observers and require extra effort to recover the unspoken shared understandings and values that made them intelligible to their original communities.

          I have said that, according to the Bakhtin School, poems too are silent texts that call for co-creative reanimation to make them sound, but they usually at least name their participants and their interactions with words that provide clues to the situation they address.  Keats' urn offers visible figures with no words to situate them.  His speaker's first address to it relates it to quietness and silence as bride and foster-child but still attributes to it the capacity to express a tale.   He immediately turns to inquire into who the characters in the tale are and which of many classical stories it might be narrating. 

          There is of course no answer, and the second stanza responds to the sight of silent pipes and timbrels by declaring their silent melodies preferable to actual melodies addressed "to the sensual ear."  The poet-speaker suspends his inquiry into the tale being represented to comment through this stanza and the next on the suspended animation of the figures on the urn, repeatedly contrasting their permanence with losses experienced in the world of time and sensation.  "Comment" is too mild a word, however.  Repeated adverbs, "never, never, " "For ever . . . For ever . . . For ever, "and adjectives "happy, happy. . . happy . . . happy. . . happy, happy," bespeak intensities of response on the speaker's part (and show no effort at artful variation on the poet's part that would distract us from the speaker's intensities) that call out for a tonal reading.  The figures on the urn have what the speaker of the poem seems intensely to lack--enduring youth and love, unflagging desire, and immunity from death.  But the speaker's repetitious modifiers seem to celebrate their having what he doesn't have rather than to begrudge their having it. As Keats' speaker in "Ode to a Nightingale" declares, "Tis not through envy of thy happy lot/ But being too happy in thine happiness."  But this identification with the unchanging happy figures on the urn sharpens the contrast with the final lines of the stanza in which he starkly and unflinchingly articulates the painfulness of "breathing human passion."

          The speaker's emotional response to this scene here reaches its low point, and the poet has him turn to another scene on the urn whose sacrificial piety and solemnity seem like a response to the recognition of human mortality and unfulfilled desire that ends the preceding stanza.  The speaker again inquires about the identity the figures and the town from which they have come and again receives no answer. He evaluates the town, this time with the single adjective "desolate," a far cry from the multiple happies of the stanza before. 

          In the final stanza the speaker turns from attending to the depicted scenes to look at the urn itself, this time not as a potential narrator associated with silence but as a "silent form," shaped marble "overwrought" with human and natural forms.  The difference between anticipating a "flowery tale" and a "leaf-fringed legend" at the outset and clearly seeing "forest branches and the trodden weed" at the end bespeaks a cooler eye.  He recognizes, I think, that the urn has prompted him to (teased him out of) the thoughts uttered in the previous stanzas and has the capacity to do that not just for him but for "us"--poets perhaps in the first instance, whom he referred to in first person plural ("our rhyme") in the first stanza, or perhaps all humans, with whose plight he contrasted the suspended lives of the figures on the urn and to whom he turns again at the end of the stanza. 

          His final evaluation of the urn seems ambivalent, for he finds it cold but also imagines it as a "friend to man" that will endure beyond the sufferings of the present generation and will finally speak not the tale he had originally hoped for from it but the now famous enigmatic, chiasmatic utterance: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."  He finally imagines the object which has not answered any of his earlier questions saying something that might be taken as a response to them: "My beauty says all I have to say, and that should satisfy you and every other mortal."  The form of the utterance is of course universal, not the urn's answering the speaker's intimate second person direct addresses in its own first person but declaring impersonally its status and the status of every other beautiful thing as fully sufficient in itself and not calling, as Keats put it in a letter, for any "irritable reaching after fact and reason."  If I were to turn to one source outside the poem in Keats' writing, it would be to the letter on "negative capability" that glosses that phrase with the one I have quoted.  The passage ends, "with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration" (Complete Poetical Works 277).

          The Bakhtin-School reading I have invented has followed the unfolding interaction of Keats' speaker with the urn and with his own questions and responses, bringing out the ways "within the boundaries of his own utterance the speaker (and writer) raises questions, answers them himself, raises objections to his own ideas, responds to his own objections, and so on" ("Speech Genres" 72).  Attention to these social interactions and to the participants involved in them is entirely missing from Burke's reading though he declares that "our primary concern is to follow the transformations of the poem itself" ("Symbolic Action" 451).  His attention to the poet's acts in the scene of writing and to the transformations of terms he selects from the poem invents multiple motivated accounts of the poem none of which follow the speaker's utterance and the place those terms have in it. Like the historicist readers who have followed in his footsteps, with and without recognition of his precedence, Burke makes the language of the poem echo, translate, and amplify the language of the scenes that surround it; like the psychoanalytic readers who have taken inspiration as he did from Freud and his followers, Burke makes the language of the poem bespeak struggles within the poet-agent.  What he does not do that a Bakhtin School reading might teach us to do is attend to the language of the poem as the uttered response of the speaker to prior speakers, listeners, topic-heroes, and his/her own unfolding utterance, to attend to the poem itself as a scenario of social interaction that points to a social world of understandings and values beyond itself as it plays out the social interaction of the participants within. 

          I hope in this essay that I have met Burke's criterion for demonstrating an alternative perspective to his dramatic one by making an "explicit proclamation [of a Bakhtin School perspective] and illustrating . . . its scope [and merits] by concrete application . . . to poetic materials" (Literary Form 124).  In publishing that claim here, I submit it to an audience likely to put it to the test.

          Works Cited

          Bakhtin, Mikhail M.  "Discourse in the Novel."  The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin.  Trans Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist.  Ed. Michael Holquist.  Austin: U of Texas P, 1981. 259-422. Print.

          —.  "The Problem of Speech Genres."  Speech Genres and Other Late Essays.  Trans. Vern W. McGee.  Ed. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist.  Austin: U of Texas P, 1986. 60-102.  Print.

          Burke, Kenneth. The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. Berkeley: U of California P, 1973. Print.

          —. "Symbolic Action in a Poem by Keats." A Grammar of Motives and a Rhetoric of Motives. Cleveland and New York: World Publishing, 1962. 447-63. Print.

          George, Anne E. and Jack Selzer.  Kenneth Burke in the 1930s.  Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2007. Print.

          Holquist, Michael, and Katerina Clark.   Mikhail Bakhtin.  Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard, UP, 1984. Print.

          Jameson, Fredric. The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1981. Print.

          Keats, John. The Complete Poetical Works and Letters of John Keats. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1899. Print.

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

          Scholes, Robert. "Reading Poetry." In The Crafty Reader. New Haven, Yale U P, 2001. 1-75. Print.

          Voloshinov, V. N.  "Discourse in Life and Discourse in Art."Freudianism: A Critical Sketch.  Trans. I. R. Titunik.  Ed. I. R. Titunik and Neal H. Bruss. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1987.  93-116. Print.

          Vrijders, Dries.  "History, Poetry, and the Footnote: Cleanth Brooks and Kenneth Burke on Keats's 'Ode on a Grecian Urn.'" New Literary History 42 (2011): 537-52. Print.

          Wesling, Donald. Bakhtin and the Social Moorings of Poetry. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 2003. Print.

          Zulick, Margaret.  "Kenneth Burke and Mikhail Bakhtin: A Common Chronology." n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2015

          —. "The Dialogue of Ethics and Aesthetics in Kenneth Burke and Mikhail Bakhtin."The Ethos of Rhetoric.  Ed. Michael J. Hyde and Calvin O. Schrag. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2004. 20-33. Print.

          Creative Commons License
          This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

          A McKeonist Understanding of Kenneth Burke’s Rhetorical Realism in Particular and Constructivism in General

          Robert Wess, Oregon State University


          Readers of KB Journal likely know Richard McKeon mainly through his essays on rhetoric and his relationship to Kenneth Burke. But McKeon was first and foremost a philosopher who came to rhetoric in mid-career, so that his work is a philosophical path to and defense of rhetoric. This path, moreover, precisely because of its philosophical depth, offers insight into why "the linguistic turn," which began sooner than is commonly thought today, culminated in "the rhetorical turn" that informs constructivist theorizing in general and that is perhaps best  exemplified by Burke's "rhetorical realism" in particular.

          The main inspiration for this essay is the appearance of Richard McKeon’s name among the new rhetoricians linked to Burke in the “Call for Papers” for the Ghent conference on Burke, Rhetoric as Equipment for Living, a milestone in Burke studies. McKeon influenced me more than any of my other teachers at the University of Chicago. He is the principal reason I began studying Burke seriously, and throughout my career, I have been engaged in a McKeonist understanding of Burke. This understanding, furthermore, is inextricably intertwined with a McKeonist view of developments described in this “Call”:

          The second half of the twentieth century has witnessed a number of different but related turns. . . . All these turns recognize the importance of signs and symbols in our interpretations of reality and more specifically the cultural construction of meaning through both language and narrative.

          This notion of “construction” seems to have emerged as the principal fruit of a generation of language‑centered theorizing. McKeon’s capacious philosophical pluralism encompasses both constructivism in general and Burke’s rhetorical realism in particular.

          "Rhetorical realism" is a term I have used elsewhere to identify what distinguishes Burke’s rhetorical theorizing (Wess). One example of this distinctiveness is Burke’s statement, “Whenever we call something a metaphor, we mean it literally” (Brock et al. 27). Burke says this during his debate in the early 1980s with Bernard L. Brock and other Burke scholars, an episode that is famous in the history of Burke scholarship. This debate centered in the issue of whether in his dramatism Burke should be understood as speaking literally or metaphorically. Burke sided with the literal, and while I was not at this debate it is my understanding that in doing so Burke stood alone as the Burke scholars sided with metaphor—a case of scholars telling an author how to understand himself, but perhaps not really as odd as it might sound initially.

          In any case, in subsequent decades Burke scholars have returned to this issue, and these scholars have generally sided with Burke. A notable example is Clark Rountree’s “Revisiting the Controversy over Dramatism as Literal,” which appeared in KB Journal in 2010. Among its strengths, this essay includes an account of what Burke meant to communication scholars in the 1960s and 1970s that explains their reaction to Burke’s insistence that dramatism is literal. Miming their emotions, Rountree exclaims, "Burke was a breath o f fresh air. . . . He warned us about terministic screens. . . . How could the one who helped show us the light turn around and insist that his own view wasn’t merely perspectival, but ontological and literal?"

          I do not propose to return to the details of this debate, but instead to let the Burke statement stand as a “representative anecdote” for his rhetorical realism, which combines theorizing the constructive powers of language with the recognition of language as a reality in its own right, a reality that is not itself a construct, so cannot be understood in constructive terms. This reasoning, as we shall see, informs Burke’s defense of his statement.

          A McKeonist understanding of constructivism in general and Burke’s rhetorical realism in particular is virtually equivalent to understanding the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric in McKeon’s work. What gives this relationship special interest in McKeon’s case is that McKeon was a philosopher first, foremost, and always. Rhetoric is something he turns to but for philosophical reasons. His example is thus simultaneously a philosophical defense of and path to rhetoric. Burke, by contrast, seems to have started with rhetoric. Even in his twenties, during the 1920s, when he concerned himself principally with art and aesthetics, he defined artistic form as a relation of the art work to its audience, as in “Psychology and Form,” for example, which was first published in 1925 and later reprinted in Counter-Statement, where his “Lexicon Rhetoricae” appears. This reliance on rhetoric is all the more remarkable when one considers that modernism was in its heyday in the 1920s and that one of modernism’s maxims was “True Art Ignores the Audience” (Booth 89).

          McKeon’s philosophic path to rhetoric reveals the distinctive explanatory power of his theorizing of rhetoric, but important contributions to the sparse scholarship on McKeon—Charles W. Wegener’s and George Kimball Plochmann’s—see not a path but a detour. A McKeon student in the 1940s, Wegener remembers a McKeon preoccupied with “logical and methodological questions and their close relation to metaphysics,” adding, "[O]ne of the persistent items in the student scuttlebutt which always surrounded him was that he had in mind to write—and perhaps had already written in part—a history of logic" (104).

          Wegener notes that in the 1930s McKeon frequently taught

          a course called “metaphysics and method,” and while that title disappeared from his repertory in the period with which I am here concerned, it would not be a bad title for some of the logical courses, except that it would more accurately reflect the trend of his teaching were it reversed to method and metaphysics. (104)

          Wegener writes this over a decade after McKeon’s death, and even in retrospect he wonders, given the McKeon he knew in the classroom, why McKeon turned to rhetoric, as he asks, “Did [McKeon] follow where the argument led? If so, what is the argument?” (109).

          Wegener leaves his questions unanswered, but he implies that he thinks the answer to the first question is “no,” which erases the second question altogether. For he explicitly leaves explaining McKeon’s rhetorical turn to “historians and biographers” (109), which would seem to put the explanation outside the domain of philosophical argument. With respect to history, Wegener does note that McKeon’s turn coincides with a widespread growth in the prominence of rhetoric in the last half of the twentieth century (109). Nothing comparable appears with respect to biography, although earlier in his essay Wegener does add an endnote contrasting McKeon’s pluralism to the pluralism “his friend Kenneth Burke was developing” in the 1940s from a rhetorical standpoint (106n2, 246). While this suggests a possible influence in McKeon’s biography, Wegener does not make a point of it.

          By contrast to Wegener, my answer is “yes”; it is precisely the “argument” that led McKeon to rhetoric that I aim to outline. McKeon’s friendship with Burke is probably relevant but not decisive. Burke no doubt drew on rhetoric in his many conversations with McKeon, but they became friends as teenagers, before 1920, while McKeon’s turn to rhetoric does not come until mid-century.1 For McKeon to turn to rhetoric, there needed to be a path in the development of his philosophy that led to it.

          The McKeon counterpart to Burke’s early commitment to rhetoric is a commitment to philosophical pluralism. McKeon is a pluralist not in the soft sense of toleration for multiple viewpoints but in the hard sense of seeing the nature of things as fundamentally ambiguous, so that there is no one way to disentangle this ambiguity. He indicates that early in his career he became intrigued by two ideas that anticipated his pluralistic philosophizing: “there is a sense in which truth, though one, has no single expression and a sense in which truth, though changeless, is rendered false in the uses to which it is put” (“Philosopher Meditates” 49). He indicates that these ideas ran counter to his convictions at the time but looking back at them thirty years later, he realizes that they proved to be seminal for him. The development of McKeon’s pluralism, then, is where one must look to find the argument that led to his rhetorical turn.

          From a bird’s eye view, this development has two main stages, with the second occurring around mid‑century when a historical semantics emerges to create a division between philosophical and historical semantics. In this division, philosophical semantics focuses on philosophical issues that cut across historical periods, while historical semantics identifies subject matters relative to different historical periods. The issues that cut across historical periods take different forms depending on the subject matter of different periods.

          The most detailed account of the development of McKeon’s pluralism appears in George Kimball Plochmann’s Richard McKeon: A Study. Plochmann’s account is irreplaceable insofar as it draws on classroom experience and interplay between what McKeon did in class and in publications. Plochmann first took a class from McKeon at Columbia University in 1934, when McKeon turned 34; then, after McKeon moved to the University of Chicago, he followed him there in 1936 (2,5). He also returned to Chicago after WWII for additional work with McKeon in the late 1940s (11).

          Plochmann recounts that McKeon’s earliest pluralistic scheme “was reminiscent of Coleridge’s famous remark that everyone is born a Platonist or an Aristotelian (46). In a course at Columbia, McKeon would put “Plato” and “Aristotle” on the blackboard, then list under these names terms contrary to one another to identify pluralistic options. One essay evidencing this pluralistic scheme (primitive compared to McKeon’s mature pluralism) is “Literary Criticism and the Concept of Imitation in Antiquity,” published in Modern Philology in 1936, then reprinted in Critics and Criticism: Ancient and Modern, the principal volume of what came to be known as the “Chicago School” of literary criticism. Analogous to his classroom practice, McKeon analyzes in this article the different meanings “imitation” has for Plato (149‑59) and Aristotle (160‑68). After these sections, McKeon goes on,

          The word [imitation] was used in still other senses by other writers in antiquity, but considerations of method are not so important in the fashions of their usage, and the systematic implications are not so subtle. None of the writers on literature employed the dialectical method of Plato in any but a highly attenuated and faltering manner. Their definitions are literal like those of Aristotle, but in their writings the term “imitation” does not appear in a context of subject matters distributed in various scientific disciplines. Rather, the meanings in which they use the term are derived for the most part from the meanings which it assumed in Plato’s dialogues, usually degraded and rendered static or, what amounts to the same thing, in a meaning which “imitation” might have had if Aristotle had used it in some other work than the Poetics, as, for example, the Rhetoric. (168)

          McKeon thus sees in descendents of Aristotle and Plato degradations of  Aristotle’s and Plato’s methods and meanings. He finds examples of these degradations among rhetoricians in antiquity and groups them together: “A third variant to the meanings of Plato and Aristotle may therefore be said to derive from the tradition of writers on rhetoric” (168). Rhetoric is thus marginal in McKeon’s earliest pluralism.

          McKeon quickly began moving toward the complexity of his mature pluralism, substituting for the individuals Plato and Aristotle two pluralistic categories: “holoscopic” (Plato) and “meroscopic” (Aristotle) (Plochmann 47). These terms identify a problem of philosophical first principles common to all philosophies: view from the whole (holoscopic) or view from the part (meroscopic). Later, Democritus became the illustration of meroscopic principles and Aristotle was moved to a position between meroscopic and holoscopic (Plochmann 49). While there is a sense in which this part/whole issue appears in its purest form in metaphysical periods, like Plato and Aristotle’s, it reappears in other periods in modified forms.

          As McKeon’s pluralism developed, other pluralistic options appeared, leading to what became philosophic semantics. The evolution of this semantics is Plochmann’s principal concern. The key essay in Plochmann’s account is “Philosophic Semantics and Philosophic Inquiry,” which McKeon delivered as a lecture in 1966 at Southern Illinois University, where Plochmann taught (Plochmann 68). McKeon never published this lecture in his lifetime, but it became legendary among his students as he used mimeographed copies of it in classes, with its fourfold of fourfolds (“Philosophic Semantics” 218.) 

          The philosophical argument leading to McKeon’s rhetorical turn, however, is to be found not in philosophical semantics but in the emergence of historical semantics. Some material relevant to this emergence appears in Plochmann, but very little compared to his extensive attention to philosophical semantics. Plochmann’s response to McKeon’s rhetorical turn, furthermore, is similar to Wegener’s insofar as he does not see the turn as a direction “where the argument led”—that is, a direction where the development of McKeon’s pluralism led him. Rather, he sees the turn prompted by something external to argument. In Wegener’s case, the external is history and biography. In Plochmann’s, it is historical, albeit not the historic revival of rhetoric but instead the formation of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). McKeon’s involvement with UNESCO began in the late 1940s, and continued for many years after in essays directly related to UNESCO projects and, more broadly, to issues arising from UNESCO’s aim to foster international dialogue. Plochmann alludes to this work in observing,

          In the late 1960s and 1970s he [McKeon] turned his attention more and more to the uses of rhetoric, which he now called an architectonic art. This may have been owing to his realization that one must use all available means of persuasion if one hopes to win hostile persons or states over to a search for common understanding, peace, and world unity. Not that McKeon grew disillusioned with philosophy; he merely approached it from another side. (151)

          But if one looks at McKeon’s “A Philosophy for UNESCO,” one sees that it is his pluralism that is ideally suited to fostering international dialogue. His pluralism, one suspects, must have been a key reason for his involvement with UNESCO in the first place. Concern with “world unity” is more a reason to develop pluralism than to approach philosophy from “another side,” as Plochmann suggests in seeming to envision McKeon becoming an Aristotelian rhetor using “all available means of persuasion.”2

          Material in Plochmann relevant to historical semantics appears when he describes McKeon’s classroom experiments with pluralistic options based on subject matters: 

          Things, thoughts, words
          Thoughts, words, things
          Words, things, thoughts 

          In these options, the term on the left is dominant and the two to the right are subordinate. This classroom experimentation begins a few years before McKeon’s essay on G. E. Moore, first published in 1942, which Plochmann cites as published evidence of the skepticism about the option in which words are dominant that McKeon expressed in class (80). There is no indication in Plochmann’s account that history was a consideration in McKeon’s discussion of these options. It would appear, rather, that at this point McKeon was responding to the fact that many philosophers at that time, including Moore, were focusing on language in what came to be known as “the linguistic turn.” The classroom experimentation is evidence that McKeon was looking for ways to incorporate this turn to language in a pluralistic schematism, while his skepticism seems to indicate some doubt about the viability of language, as distinct from thing and thought, as a basis for philosophy. On this point, he would later change his mind.

          At the same time, history was far from foreign to McKeon’s thought insofar as a number of his early essays are concerned with developing a philosophical conception of intellectual history. Notably, he contrasted Plato’s and Aristotle’s conceptions of intellectual history in a 1940 essay, “Plato and Aristotle as Historians: A Study of Method in the History of Ideas.” McKeon spent his 1934-1935 year at the University of Chicago as a visiting professor in the Department of History, before joining the faculty permanently in 1935 with appointments in the Departments of Greek and Philosophy (Levine 92). In this early historical work, McKeon challenged a “conception of intellectual history as the simple record of the development of a body of knowledge by more or less adequate investigations of a constant subject matter” (“Rhetoric” 124).3 This conception assumes unchanging subject matters on one side and thinkers on the other side developing over time better reproductions of these subject matters in their representations of them. This assumption came to be widely questioned in the wake of Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which demonstrates that science proceeds not by accumulating more and more knowledge of an unchanging subject matter but by paradigm shifts that change the subject matter (Kuhn 4-5). McKeon’s early pluralistic interest in changes in subject matter came to its ultimate fruition in his historical semantics. Along the way, in a 1951 essay, he stated succinctly the conception of science that later appears in Kuhn (“Philosophy and Method” 184).

          The “linguistic turn” phrase identifies a change in subject matter whose origins appear no longer to be common knowledge. In a 2013 article, Eileen Joy refers to Derrida as “one of the architects of the `linguistic turn’” (28), when in fact it was already underway when Derrida was born in 1930. McKeon’s historical semantics informs his mature understanding of this historic change in subject matter, which also explains his turn to rhetoric.

          No doubt this phrase became commonplace with the help of Richard Rorty’s collection of essays, The Linguistic Turn: Recent Essays in Philosophical Method, which appeared in 1967, then reappeared in a new edition in 1992, with “Recent” deleted from the subtitle. Rorty attributes the coinage of the phrase to Gustav Bergmann (9). In an essay Rorty includes in his collection, Bergmann indicates that the “turn” begins with the emergence of logical positivism (63), or logical empiricism.4 As Bergmann puts it, “They [logical positivists] all accept the linguistic turn Wittgenstein initiated in the Tractatus” (63), which appeared in 1921, then in English translation in 1922. Rorty’s Linguistic Turn collection, then, was a contribution to the analytic tradition that the logical empiricists launched, so much so that the glut of books on this tradition by the 1960s made it difficult for Rorty to find a publisher for the collection (Gross 178).

          The reason the term “linguistic turn” is applicable to logical positivists is that they made language the subject matter of philosophy. What distinguishes their work from later developments in this focus on language, stretching across many decades, is that they thought philosophy’s job was to align the language of philosophy with empirical science. The language of philosophy, in other words, needed to be not politically but scientifically correct. Moritz Schlick—the figure around whom the Vienna Circle formed in the 1920s to launch logical positivism (Ayer 3)—lays out this philosophical project in simple terms in an essay Rorty puts first in his volume, after his own lengthy introduction:

          Thus the fate of all “philosophical problems” is this: Some of them will disappear by being shown to be mistakes and misunderstandings of our language and the others will be found to be ordinary scientific questions in disguise. These remarks, I think, determine the whole future of philosophy. (51)

          This is philosophy as therapy, that is, philosophy conceived as curing philosophy of mistaken uses of language that led it astray in the past and turning philosophy in the direction of scientific correctness going forward. The dismissal of much earlier philosophy that such therapy involved is completely foreign to McKeon. Looking at the past differently, McKeon also came to look differently at language becoming the subject matter of philosophy. As a result, as we shall see, his work suggests why rhetoric, not scientific correctness, is the logical culmination of philosophy’s turn to language. Rorty himself, after breaking with the analytic tradition, later remarked, first “the linguistic turn,” then “the rhetorical turn,” as Herbert W. Simons records in his Rhetorical Turn (vii). Today, there may be a tendency to conflate the “linguistic” with the later “rhetorical” turn.  

          Subsequent to Plochmann’s classroom example, McKeon added “action” to “word.” In a 1959 essay, he outlined in detail how philosophizing could proceed from three standpoints: thing, thought, or language and action. With respect to language and action, the problem of principle centers in the issue of whether (a) words are fundamentally acts, or (b) acts instantiate fundamental verbal rules (“Principles and Consequences” 395). One can see the (a) option in Burke and speech act theory and the (b) option in structuralism and poststructuralism. The notion of the “linguistic turn” encompasses both.    

          These three philosophical standpoints appear in McKeon’s historical semantics as cycles in the history of philosophy. An excellent introduction to these cycles appears in the work of  Walter Watson, who compiles a lengthy list of texts where one can find McKeon using thing, thought, word, and act—which Watson calls McKeon’s “master topic”—to map “three‑stage cycles in the history of philosophy” (“McKeon” 16n29, 234‑35). These cycles are a pluralism of philosophical subject matters, that is, subject matters that are the changing (historical shifts of subject matter) changeless source (recurrent cycles) of philosophical first principles. Watson indicates that if one puts together all the cycles McKeon identifies in various texts, one finds five altogether in the history of Western thought (Architectonics 11), with the last cycle beginning in the seventeenth century (a metaphysical period) then turning to thought, most prominently in Kant (an epistemological period), then turning to the “linguistic turn” in our time, possibly best characterized as a rhetorical period when one considers that the great revival rhetoric enjoyed in the closing decades of the twentieth century is likely to be seen as among the important rhetorical periods in the long history of rhetoric. Earlier rhetorical periods McKeon cites most often as analogous to our own are the Renaissance and Rome in the time of Cicero (e.g., “Uses of Rhetoric” 205). 

          Watson’s list is a significant indicator of the timing of the emergence of historical semantics. Almost all of McKeon’s discussions of these cycles come after mid‑century. Only two examples appear before 1950, the first in 1943, and arguably they are not worked out as well as the later examples, including examples I witnessed in classes, where McKeon would often review the most recent cycle, beginning in the seventeenth century, to identify the distinctiveness of the intellectual situation in the 1960s. What Watson calls McKeon’s “master topic,” then, arrives late, but when it arrives it becomes the “master.” The same is true of McKeon’s rhetorical turn. There is a connection.

          Before turning to it, one needs to note that any review of a cycle almost automatically raises the question “what next?” McKeon typically leaves that question hanging unanswered, but in a 1967 course called “The Philosophy of Communications and the Arts,” in the context of a review of the most recent cycle, he answered it, predicting that the next revolution in philosophy 

          shall proceed again to a choice between parts and wholes and to the establishment of principles in a new metaphysics. I want to confess that I am subversive in intention. But this course is not a revolutionary one. It is not aimed at the philosophy of the future. It is a simple introduction to philosophy as it is practiced today, rendered a little novel and difficult by exposure to its basis in rhetoric and communication. (“Experience”)

          While this remark links the philosophy of the day to rhetoric, it also points to a different future, which suggests that McKeon saw his turn to rhetoric as suited for his time, not for all time. The remark is also notable in 2013 because there are currently signs that this 1967 prediction is coming true. There is a new philosophical movement that takes its name from a 2007 workshop entitled “Speculative Realism,” held at Goldsmiths, University of London.5 In varying ways, speculative realists advocate a turn to what McKeon’s historical semantics identifies as “thing.” Of these realists, Graham Harman is probably now the most widely known. His variant of speculative realism, “object‑oriented ontology” (OOO), is sometimes confused with speculative realism as a whole. Anyone who follows this movement will see new names popping up the way they did in the theory revolution in the US in the 1970s. What will come of this emergent philosophical movement remains to be seen. But its emergence does add some credibility to McKeon’s prediction, making it something to keep in mind going forward.

          The connection between McKeon’s historical semantics and his rhetorical turn is where one finds the “yes” answer to Wegener’s question, “Did [McKeon] follow where the argument led?” This connection appears clearly in “The Methods of Rhetoric and Philosophy: Invention and Judgment,” published in 1966, where in the first paragraph McKeon introduces the subject matter of the “linguistic turn,” then in the second paragraph argues that rhetoric provides the method needed to philosophize about this subject matter. 

          The first paragraph recounts revolutions in the history of philosophy, ending with McKeon turning himself into the mouthpiece for the twentieth‑century’s revolution, using his “master topic” to do so:

          Since it is absurd to seek to base meanings on alleged characteristics of being or on supposed forms of thought, inquiry into what men say and what they do may be used to provide clarification and test of what they say they think and of what they think is the case. Things and thoughts are in the significances and applications of language and in the consequences and circumstances of action. (97)

          This formulation contrasts sharply with McKeon’s Moore essay, mentioned earlier. Contrasts with this 1942 essay reveal the difference historical semantics makes. While much of this essay is about Moore’s focus on language, there is nothing about how this focus is an example of the twentieth‑century’s revolutionary turn to language and action. Instead, as Plochmann indicates, the essay registers skepticism about the value of this focus. This critical bent in the essay is somewhat anomalous insofar as McKeon’s usual pluralistic practice is to put the figures he discusses in different places, all credible, in some pluralistic schema. Plochmann recalls a McKeon anecdote that encapsulates McKeon charitable reading practice. When reading Kant, McKeon once remarked, "Do not worry at first whether space and time are really subjective forms in the mind, but worry instead about what Kant means when he says they are (205n4)."  In other words, rather than jump to the conclusion that an author is right or wrong, read charitably enough to take time to work out an author’s meanings, even if that entails entertaining assumptions that seem far‑fetched. While McKeon’s Moore essay is laced with critical remarks, McKeon is still charitable enough not to argue that Moore is flatly wrong. Instead, his essay moves to a conclusion where McKeon underlines Moore’s separation of thing, thought, and word. McKeon accepts Moore’s separation of these three. His criticism is that Moore fails to find productive connections among them: "[Moore’s] entire philosophy is devoted, once the separation of the three has been ensured, to a vain effort to find legitimate connections between things, thoughts, and statements (478)." This “vain effort” claim is supported by a motif, running through the preceding pages, that states in varying ways that Moore’s work does not add up to much. (455–56, 457, 459, 460).  After the emergence of historical semantics, by contrast, McKeon sees that the twentieth‑century’s turn to language can add up to a great deal.

          But for this to happen, the second paragraph argues, one must turn to rhetoric. Having briefly sketched “revolutions in the first decades of the twentieth century” that inaugurated the turn to language and action, McKeon goes on,

          The vast and difficult task undertaken in these revolutions lacked instrumentalities needed to carry it out successfully, because no art of rhetoric had been formed adequate to the possibilities of communication or to the contents or ends to which communication might be adapted. (97)

          McKeon’s philosophizing of rhetoric is a rhetorical turn that takes a step beyond not only the therapeutic philosophy at the beginnings of “the linguistic turn” but also the later constructivism that rejected scientific correctness in favor of deconstructive exposure of constructs everywhere, prompting some, as Joy illustrates, to mistakenly think that Derrida’s deconstruction launched this “turn.” The now commonplace constructivist argument takes as its premise that words are mediations: one does not have direct access to a thing, which in turn guides one’s use of words to represent it; instead, words are mediations that construct things linguistically, not in their full materiality, as if language were godlike, but in their meaning, as in the example of sexually differentiated bodies mediated through gendered meanings. To claim these bodies inform these meanings is to essentialize. The constructivist counterargument exposes such essentializing as a construct forged in history.

          McKeon’s step beyond both centers on the premise in this reasoning. The constructivist argument that words mediate shows how words do this mediating, this verbal mediating being the premise that grounds the inferences in the argument. What tends to go unnoticed is that this argument’s insistence that this mediating actually happens testifies to the sense in which verbal mediating is a mode of existence. As an existent, it is a thing, different from other things, but nonetheless a thing. In a 1960 essay, “Being, Existence, and That Which Is,” delivered as the Presidential Address at a meeting of the Metaphysical Society of America, McKeon explicitly called for a broadening of our notions of what things can be “to include things we say and things we seek” (254).     

          A similar recognition appears in Burke. In “What are the Signs of What?” he puts words in four categories: natural, verbal, sociopolitical, and supernatural, then adds, “Though there are many differences among them with regard to their referents, all four are equally real so far as their nature as sheer words is concerned” (374). Burke goes on, 

          And of all situations having to do with language, the only time when something can be discussed wholly in terms of itself, is when we are using words about words. Insofar as nonverbal things are discussed in terms of words (or symbols generally), they are necessarily discussed in terms of what they are not. (375; see also Grammar 58)

          All of us have no doubt lost count of our encounters with words about words. For decades, few things have been more common than words (a book on one’s desk) that claim to explain what words do, what they cannot do, and so on (the book’s subject matter).

          Books on one’s desk telling one about words, moreover, are the result of a thing being accessed directly, this thing being verbal existents that are distinct from the books that claim to represent them correctly. This result is unique in a constructivist world; such access occurs nowhere else. These existents inform the constructive process, but they themselves are not constructs. In the notable case of Derrida, the key existent is “differance,” which is the immanent formal cause of verbal meanings. Perhaps unwittingly, Derrida underlines the sense in which “differance” is a distinct existent when he insists, “Differance is neither a word nor a concept” (130). From the standpoint of McKeon’s “Principles and Consequences,” discussed earlier, “differance” is a rule of rules, prior to acts.

          While words are secondary to things and thoughts in some senses, as well as in much philosophy in previous centuries, there is also a sense in which words are not only existents, but also the primary existents, the one and only gateway to everything else. These primary existents are a reality in their own right and as such, they are a philosophical subject matter, as McKeon’s historical semantics recognizes. Attending to this reality, one can go beyond the negativity of therapy and deconstruction to philosophizing constructively the reality of a rhetorical world. Instead of viewing verbal mediating as something requiring therapeutic attention or deconstructive exposure, one can view it as a reality, indeed, a primary reality, and then inquire into what is needed to philosophize this reality.

          In his subtitle to “The Methods of Rhetoric and Philosophy,” McKeon suggests that key components to such constructive philosophizing appear in “invention” and “judgment.” To indicate the philosophical significance “judgment” acquires, he first reviews Aristotle’s four fundamental questions, especially the “why” question of ultimate first principle. He then considers the rhetorical revision of these questions, wherein the answer to “why” appears in “judgment,” which occurs in the context of “individual persons and determinate times, places, and circumstances” (101). A related passage appears in McKeon’s 1970 essay, “Philosophy of Communications and the Arts”:

          Rhetoric is an art of invention and disposition: it is an art of communication between a speaker and his audience, and it is therefore an art of construction of the subject‑matter of communication, that is, of anything whatever that can be an object of attention. What is, is established by the convictions and agreements of men. (317)

          Here the “judgment” function appears in “convictions and agreements.” One can conceive this function appearing in other forms. The specific form is less important than its general function of establishing “what is,” which in a rhetorical world consists of verbal existents.

          Philosophizing rhetoric, one explains what comes into existence by of means of what words can do. Instead of looking, say, to nature for foundational causes of existents, one looks to human “judgment” for the foundational cause of verbal existents and their uses in forming constructs. The structure of a philosophical ultimate principle reappears but in a different form, centering on human “judgment” rather than a cause independent of humans, because humans are the ultimate cause of the emergence and dissolution of constructs. Different views of just how this “judgment” works, and even what to call it, shape philosophical controversy at the level of first principle. As a reality, a rhetorical world is limited when compared to an encompassing metaphysical reality that explains everything. Compared to such an encompassing reality, rhetorical reality is small, a bubble in a cosmos. But in the “linguistic turn,” rhetorical reality is as big as it gets.

          “Invention” is at the beginning of the process that ends in “judgment.” It is “judgment” that seals the deal, giving a thing brought into existence by means of words the stability it needs to be an existent, a “what is,” at least for a time, before it is displaced by another “what is” in the context of a different “judgment.” Invention” is the beginning and is unlimited except in one respect. No “invention” can preclude future inventions (“Methods” 100). What words bring into existence is determined by “judgments,” which are alterable. Agreements today may tomorrow no longer be agreements. Existence in rhetorical reality is always open to new existents, so that any representation of this rhetorical reality must be open to the new to represent it accurately. A claim that a particular “what is” is true for all time is false.

          This McKeonist standpoint clarifies the sense in which Burke’s pentad represents rhetorical reality. The philosophical significance of the pentad is aided by Burke’s applications of it in “The Philosophic Schools” (Grammar 125-320), but its applications are not limited to philosophies. The important point is that the pentad is consistent with the principle that, because of the variability of “judgment,” no “invention” can preclude future inventions. In rhetorical reality, “what is” is “invented” and can change with changes in “judgment.” What is unchanging are the principles of rhetorical reality that limit “invention” and empower “judgment” in these ways. Rhetorical reality is a world always open to the new. To represent it accurately, one’s representation must incorporate a principle of openness, as in the pentad, which is open forever to new uses.

          Further illustration appears in possible philosophical debate centering on the issue of open-endedness. For example, one could pit the pentad against Burke’s theory of terministic screens, which argues that terminologies are “selections” from reality so that they are both “reflections” and “deflections” (“Terministic” 45). Because there is always “deflection,” a terminology always leaves open the possibility of a future terminology attending to what it looks past. Is this theory more open-ended than the pentad? Possibly, but one could counter that this openness is achieved by moving to a higher level of abstraction that looks past the concreteness of scene, agent, act, agency, and purpose. My purpose is not to settle this hypothetical debate between two Burke texts, but to use such a possible debate to illustrate the fashion in which debate about reality in a rhetorical world properly centers on the issue of the open‑ended that McKeon pinpoints in the principle that no “invention” can preclude future invention.

          It is true that forms such as Burke’s pentad and the trio of selection, reflection, and deflection are forms presented as eternal truths. But they are rhetorical variants of eternal truths. For the truth claimed to be eternal is the truth that guarantees openness to new possibilities. For openness to be possible, some things must be permanent.

          Returning to Burke’s claim that “whenever we call something a metaphor, we mean it literally,” it helps to return to the earlier point that philosophizing rhetoric explains what comes into existence by means of what words can do. Words as existents have discernible characteristics that determine what they can and cannot do. It is on the level of such characteristics that Burke supports his claim. Here is the key passage: 

          there is a difference between “horsepower” as referring to a horse, as referring to a car, and as referring to an orator’s diction. One could say that any word applied to a horse’s characteristics is but an arbitrary (fictive) title. But the mere fact that all linguistic entitlement is necessarily a mode of abbreviation when applied to any situation, the details of which are necessarily unique, shouldn’t require us to treat a word like “horsepower” as the same kind of (if you will) “metaphor” when applied to a horse as when applied to an orator’s diction. (Brock et al. 28)

          The characteristic isolated here is that “linguistic entitlement” is “necessarily a mode of abbreviation.” For a word as existent to function, it must be applicable to multiple situations that differ in their details. Imagine a horse in multiple situations: at a racetrack, grazing, in a barn, etc. For “horse” to function, it must be applicable to all these situations. If one demanded a unique word to match the uniqueness of each unique situation one would have racetrack‑horse, barn‑horse, grazing‑horse, etc. In other words, one would quickly have too many words for words to function. A word depends for its existence on “abbreviation.” This is part of what is essential to this kind of existent. 

          Consequently, there is a sense in which a word such as “horse” identifies a similarity in situations that are differ in their details, so that one could use this characteristic to argue that every word is a metaphor. But even at this level, one would be giving a literal account of words and how they work to explain the sense in which a word is metaphoric.

          Furthermore, to turn to Burke’s main contention, such an argument simply rephrases the issue because it leaves one with the need to distinguish two kinds of metaphor: the first would be the similarity cutting across the racetrack-horse, barn-horse, and grazing-horse to produce “horse”; the second would cut across the difference between a horse and an orator’s diction. Without such a distinction, one would be arguing in effect that there is no difference between these two kinds of difference. But even if one decided to do without this distinction, Burke could counter by arguing that only a literal account of words as existents can explain exactly what was not being distinguished. At every point, one gets to the level of words as existents that McKeon identifies as the subject matter properly treated with rhetorical methods. Inferences based on these existents always refer to them literally. In a rhetorical world, words as existents are things and these are the things to which one has direct access, without mediation.  

          The proper conclusion of this McKeonist understanding is a reminder that McKeon turned to rhetoric for his time, not for all time. If the recent emergence of the speculative realists is a harbinger of the new metaphysics that McKeon envisioned, then we are at the dawn of a new metaphysical age. Such an age would need a reconfiguration of rhetoric, not its abandonment. For rhetoric does account for a portion of reality. It is properly contained, not eliminated, by metaphysics. A step toward such a reconfiguration would be a precise charting of the contours of rhetorical reality. This charting could take the form of a historical narrative in which the extraordinary revival of rhetoric in the closing decades of the twentieth century is seen as the telos of the “linguistic turn” that began early in the century. For this charting, one needs to turn away from therapeutic dictates and deconstructive exposures to McKeon’s philosophizing of rhetorical reality.


          1. Jack Selzer’s authoritative chronology indicates that early in 1917, a few months before turning 20, Burke entered Columbia University and began taking a ferry to classes with McKeon (186), who was three years younger. McKeon was born in 1900; Burke, in 1897. It is not altogether clear but Douglas Mitchell, one of McKeon’s many dedicated students, seems to imply that McKeon’s commitment to rhetoric coincides with the beginning of his friendship with Burke during their student days at Columbia University (396). That is not supported by the evidence, but in any case it is a minor point in what is otherwise a review-essay filled with valuable insights into a number of McKeon’s essays.

          2. An important work of scholarship that remains to be written would combine a detailed historical study of the formation of UNESCO with an in‑depth analysis of McKeon’s work relevant to it. A glimpse of what a chapter of such a book might look like appears in Erik Doxtader’s “The Rhetorical Question of Human Rights—A Preface,” which draws extensively on a large number of McKeon essays that address UNESCO concerns in varying ways.

          3. This quotation comes from McKeon’s 1942 essay, “Rhetoric in the Middle Ages.” The 1942 McKeon is the McKeon both Wegener and Plochmann worked with closely and distinguished from the later rhetorical McKeon. The “rhetoric” in the title of this essay should not be mistaken as a sign of a turn to rhetoric. As the quotation indicates, this essay theorizes a conception of intellectual history and applies this conception to the subject matter of rhetoric in the middle ages. 

          4. In The Age of Analysis: 20th Century Philosophers, Morton White indicates that the “marriage of the empirical and logical traditions was first solemnized by the name `Logical Positivism’ in order to indicate the two families united, but this was later changed to `Logical Empiricism’ when it was realized how bad the odor of the word `positivism’ was for those who associated it with the narrowness of Auguste Comte” (204). Bergmann nonetheless uses “logical positivism,” explaining, “The very name, logical positivist, is by now unwelcome to some, though it is still and quite reasonably applied to all, particularly from the outside” (63).

          5. Four philosophers participated in this workshop: Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harman, and Quentin Meillassoux. Harman subsequently published a book on Meillassoux (Quentin Meillassoux: Philosophy in the Making, 2011). Meillassoux’s After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency (published in French in 2006 and in Brassier’s English translation in 2008) played an important role in the emergence of the movement. For a convenient summary, see Harman’s “The Current State of Speculative Realism.”

          Works Cited

          Ayer, A. J., ed. Logical Positivism. New York: Free P, 1959. Print.

          Bergmann, Gustav. “Logical Positivism, Language, and the Reconstruction of Metaphysics (in part).” Rorty 63-71. Print.

          Booth, Wayne. The Rhetoric of Fiction. 2nd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1983. Print. 

          Brock, Bernard L., Kenneth Burke, Parke G. Burgess, and Herbert W. Simons. "Dramatism as Ontology or Epistemology: A Symposium." Communication Quarterly 33.1  (1985): 17-33. Print.

          Burke, Kenneth. A Grammar of Motives. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

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

          —. “Terministic Screens.” Burke, Language 44-62. Print.

          —. “What Are the Signs of What? (A Theory of `Entitlement’).” Burke, Language 359-79. Print.

          “Call for Papers.” Rhetoric as Equipment for Living: Kenneth Burke, Culture and Education. Ghent University, Belgium. May 22-25, 2013. Web. 3 Dec. 2012. <>.

          Derrida, Jacques. “Differance.” Speech and Phenomena and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs. Trans. David B. Allison. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1973. Print.

          Doxtader, Erik. “The Rhetorical Question of Human Rights—A Preface.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 96.4 (2010): 353-79. Print.

          Gross, Neil. Richard Rorty: The Making of an American Philosopher. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2008. Print.

          Harman, Graham. “The Current State of Speculative Realism.” Speculations: A Journal of Speculative Realism 4 (2013): 22-28. Web. 8 June 2013.

          Joy, Eileen J. “Weird Reading.” Speculations: A Journal of Speculative Realism 4 (2013): 28-34. Web. 8 June 2013.

          Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 2nd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1970. Print.

          Levine, Donald N. Powers of the Mind: The Reinvention of Liberal Learning in America. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2006. Print.

          McKeon, Richard. “Being, Existence, and That Which Is.” McKeon, Selected Writings 1: 244-55. Print.

          —. “Experience and Reality: Problems and Categories.” Philosophy of Communications and the Arts: Rhetoric and Poetic. Department of Philosophy, University of Chicago. 26 July 1967. Lecture.

          —. “Literary Criticism and the Concept of Imitation in Antiquity.” Critics and Criticism: Ancient and Modern. Ed. R. S. Crane. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1952. 147-75. Print.

          —. “The Methods of Rhetoric and Philosophy: Invention and Judgment.” McKeon, Selected Writings 2: 97-103. Print.

          —. “A Philosopher Meditates on Discovery.” McKeon, Selected Writings 1: 41-60. Print.

          —. “Philosophy and Method.” McKeon, Selected Writings 1: 183-208. Print.

          —. “A Philosophy for UNESCO.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 8.4 (1948): 573-86. Print.

          —. “Philosophy of Communications and the Arts.” McKeon, Selected Writings 2: 307-25. Print.

          —. “Philosophic Semantics and Philosophic Inquiry.” McKeon, Selected Writings 1: 209-21. Print.

          —. “Plato and Aristotle as Historians: A Study of Method in the History of Ideas.” Ethics 51.1 (1940): 66-101. Print.

          —. “Principles and Consequences.” Journal of Philosophy 56.9 (1959): 385-401. Print.

          —. “Propositions and Perceptions in the World of G. E. Moore.” Philosophy of G. E. Moore. 2nd ed. Ed. Paul Arthus Schilpp. New York: Tudor, 1952. 451-80. Print.

          —. Rhetoric: Essays in Invention and Discovery. Ed. and introd. Mark Backman. Woodbridge, CT: Ox Bow P, 1987. Print.

          —. “Rhetoric in the Middle Ages.” McKeon, Rhetoric 121-66. Print.

          —. Selected Writings. Ed. Zahava K. McKeon and William G. Swenson. 2 vols. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1998-2005. Print.

          —. “The Uses of Rhetoric in a Technological Age: Architectonic Productive Arts.” McKeon, Selected Writings 2: 197-214. Print.

          Mitchell, Douglas. Rev. of Rhetoric: Essays in Invention and Discovery, by Richard McKeon, ed. and introd. Mark Backman. Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric 6.4 (1988): 395-414. Print.

          Plochmann, George Kimball. Richard McKeon: A Study. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1990. Print.

          Pluralism in Theory and Practice: Richard McKeon and American Philosophy. Ed. Eugene Garver and Richard Buchanan. Nashville: Vanderbilt UP, 2000. Print.

          Rorty, Richard, ed. The Linguistic Turn: Essays in Philosophical Method. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992. Print.

          Rountree, Clarke. “Revisiting the Controversy over Dramatism as Literal.” KB Journal 6.2 (2010): n. pag. Web. 27 Dec. 2012

          Schlick, Moritz. “The Future of Philosophy.” Rorty 43‑53. Print.

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

          Simons, Herbert W, ed. The Rhetorical Turn: Invention and Persuasion in the Conduct of Inquiry. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1990. Print.

          Watson, Walter. The Architectonics of Meaning: Foundations of the New Pluralism. Albany: State U of New York P, 1985. Print.

          —. “McKeon: The Unity of His Thought.” Pluralism 10‑28, 231‑39. Print.

          Wegener, Charles W. “Memoirs of a Pluralist.” Pluralism 92-109, 246. Print.

          Wess, Robert. Kenneth Burke: Rhetoric, Subjectivity, Postmodernism. Cambridge: U of Cambridge P, 1996. Print.

          White, Morton, ed. The Age of Analysis: 20th Century Philosophers. New York: Mentor, 1955. Print.

          Creative Commons License
          This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

          Toward A Dramatistic Ethics

          Kevin McClure and Julia Skwar, University of Rhode Island


          This essay presents an initial response to the challenge that scholars begin to flesh-out the possibilities for a Dramatistic ethics. In turn we consider the status of ethics after the poststructural and linguistic turns and explore the potential in Burke's work as a response to the impasse that these turns have created for ethics. Next, we argue that a Dramatistic ethics begin as a mode of inquiry and advance pentadic analysis as a holistic framework for continuing ethical scholarship. Last, we provide a synoptic pentadic analysis of five ethical theories as suggestive points of critical entry.


          The field of ethics has been particularly challenged by the linguistic and poststructural turns in the humanities and the social sciences.  Among the troubling challenges of poststructural thought for ethics are the decentering of the subject as the locus of meaning and action and the subversion of the metaphysical grounds of traditional ethical theories.  For some, the upshot of these challenges has led to a certain ethical malaise that involves the loss of shared moral standards and notions of the good, and a search for new grounds upon which to construct ethical theories. For others, the demise of ethics is viewed as a liberation that presents an opportunity for a variety of critical unmaskings.1

          While Burkean scholars have long noted the centrality of ethics in Dramatism, both Smith and Crusius (The Question of) opine that scholars have collectively missed the potential in Burke’s work to develop a Dramatistic ethics and challenge Burkean scholars to begin to flesh-out the possibilities of a Dramatistic ethics. This essay presents a tentative response to these challenges by considering the possibilities that Dramatism offers in reconfiguring the field of ethics.  We begin with a review of the status of ethics after the linguistic and poststructural turns. Next, we consider the contribution that Dramatism offers theoretically to the contemporary conversation on ethics, including both the affinities and disparities of Burke’s thought with that of poststructuralism.  Building on that discussion, we argue that an initial Dramatistic ethics begins as a mode of inquiry. In an effort to further this initiative, we advance the pentad as a particularly apt critical method for engaging the ethical. A synoptic pentadic analysis that charts representative ethical thought follows.  The pentadic synopsis is intended to be suggestive of potential points of entry for a Dramatistic ethics of inquiry and to provoke alternative starting points.  Finally, we argue that dramatism invites a shift in the contemporary conversation on ethics toward a discussion of ethics as equipment for living that transcends both modernity’s universalizing impulses and poststructuralism’s deconstructive desires.

          The Status of Ethics

          A number of scholars have noted that by mid twentieth century Burke was already working through many of the problems posed by poststructuralism.2 While there are many challenges to a variety of disciplines, the two most problematic poststructural tenants for ethics are the rejection of ethics as a meta-discourse concerned with the search for a universal concept of the good, and the displacement of the autonomous Cartesian subject.3 

          Burke is, in many ways, in-hand with poststructuralism regarding the problems associated with the poststructural distrust of the study of ethics as a meta-discourse concerned with finding the ethics.  However, perhaps because Burke spent 70 years working through a similar position of skepticism towards claims of truth, he moved beyond the strict detached relativism such a posture implies or, in its extreme, the Derridean silence it encourages. Crusius hints at this in his essay on the possibility of a Burkean ethics when he notes that a Burkean ethics will be both a “practical” ethics and simultaneously an “ethics of resistance” (The Question of).  Put another way, a Burkean ethics will encompass a poststructural skepticism in the spirit of its resistance against truth, certainty, and absolutism but it will also be a pragmatic ethics—as equipment for living.  Any endeavor to develop a Burkean ethics must recognize that Burke’s thought is skeptical but not “just” skeptical, in the sense that “just” skepticism or doubt interferes with praxis (Crusius, The Conversation After 29).  Burke’s move beyond skepticism underscores how a Dramatistic ethics is inclusive of poststructural thought.

          Burke began in Counter-Statement with a skepticism that looks similar to Lyotard’s “incredulity toward metanarratives.”4 At this point in his career Burke noted that his work was situated toward using art and aesthetics as a counterpoint to the technologic and scientistic ideology of capitalism. To this end, the themes running through his earlier work encourage “doubt . . . [in] . . . certainties” and “ . . . advocat[ing] nothing, . . . but a return to inconclusiveness” (91).  He was wary of the “deceptive allurement of tradition” (105) and was using literature and art as a means to combat “the practical, the industrial, the mechanized [which are] so firmly entrenched” (113).  At this juncture we find a Burke who at his core values skepticism and aesthetics as a means for counteracting the hegemonic and ideological values of Western society – a Burke that is simpatico with current poststructural thought.

          As Crusius points out, something happened to Burke’s ridged skepticism in the period between Counter-Statement and Attitudes Toward History (The Conversation After 31-32), and we contend that something really happened when Burke arrived at Dramatism in A Grammar of Motives.5 As Crusius notes, Burke mid-career “discards antinomian skepticism because he comes to see it as unlivable and ineffectual” in the sense that rigid skepticism is deconstructive and builds nothing – it denies the possibility of claims to truth that merit even temporary allegiance (The Conversation After 32). It is with the development of Dramatism that Burke gets ahead of current lines of thought.  By A Grammar of Motives, Burke makes the turn away from an inflexible skepticism and an unequivocal rejection of “Truth” toward the assertion that getting closer to “Truth” is possible (and not invaluable) if all perspectives on a given subject are viewed in concert: “insofar as one can encompass . . . opposition, seeing [a] situation anew in terms of it, one has dialectically arrived thus roundabout at knowledge” (367).

          This dialectical treatment of perspectives is at the heart of Burke’s development of Dramatism and its corresponding pentadic method of analysis set out in A Grammar of Motives.  Burkean thought responds to the poststructural challenge of incredulity toward “Truth,” in its many forms, with a mode of inquiry that is contemplative and reflexive, yet active and engaged. Burke’s Dramatism offers a mode of inquiry that the study of ethics presently needs, since Dramatism is focused on human action, and “action implies the ethical, the human personality” (Burke, LASA 11).          

          In Burke’s treatment of Dramatism the notion of ethics is critical – it is in the constant unraveling of human motives, the attempting-to-understand more perspectives in order to find the “strategic spots at which ambiguities necessarily arise” and it is in those ambiguities that human being can hope to get closer to the good (GM xviii).  Part of the good for Burke is to “understand our symbol-driving motivations better and through increased understanding achieve greater self-control” (Crusius, The Conversation After 3). Surely, Burke would not imagine replacing traditional ethics with yet another inflexible and stringent system. Rather, as Smith notes, Burke offers “a basic position toward ethics” instead (173), a position that finds value in critiquing and unraveling the motivations of traditional ethical theories without discarding any of them.

          Dramatism also encompasses Burke’s view of reality, or his ontology, which is a pragmatic one based on the definition of human being as a “symbol-using, symbol-making, and symbol-misusing animal” (On Symbols 60). There are instances in Burke’s writing when he describes Dramatism as literal:

          . . . man [/woman] is defined literally as an animal characterized by his [/her] special aptitude for ‘symbolic action,’ which is itself a literal term . . . And from there on, drama is employed, not as a metaphor  but as a fixed form that helps us discover what the implications of the terms “act” and “person” really are. Once we choose a generalized term for what people do, it is certainly . . .  literal to say that “people act.” (CS 448)

          And in other instances, he concedes that, like any other system, it need not be taken as absolute:

          I should make it clear [on Dramatism]: I am not pronouncing on the metaphysics of this . . . maybe we are but things in motion. I don’t have to haggle about that possibility. I need but point out that, whether or not we are just things in motion, we think of one another . . . as persons. And the difference between a thing and a person is that the one merely moves where the other acts. For the sake of the argument, I’m even willing to grant that the distinction between things moving and persons acting is but an illusion. All I would claim is that, illusion or not, the human race cannot possibly get along with itself on the basis of any other intuition. (LASA 53)

          This is Burke’s distinct kind of ontology, it does not resemble traditional monistic ontologies in which the concept of reality or Being is understood as uniform, knowable and immutable.  Rather Burke’s Dramatistic ontology folds back in on itself, it uncoils language as language recoils back into it. Burke understands that human beings are bodies that use language, and are used by language. It is a pragmatic ontology that is grounded in the embodied use of language, which is to say that it can “move through language to a position on language, and in that sense beyond language” (Williams 217).  And, because ethics is tied up in symbol-use, this is the kind of ontology that allows ethics to exist and to be critiqued. Understood against the assertion that there is no ontological substructure, no basis for reality, and thus there exist no coherent subjects, Burke’s ontology affirms a foundation of reality (we are bodies that learn language) from which a coherent, albeit still linguistically-constructed, subject can exist – and one that can act ethically.

          Dramatism can also work through the second challenge that poststructuralism poses for ethics: the decentering of a freely acting and autonomous subject. The self or subject that poststructuralism deconstructs is the Cartesian, sovereign, unitary subject, who is conscious, rational, and detached. After poststructuralism’s deconstruction of this subject, it is effectively “‘decentered’: no longer an agent of action in the world, but a function through which impersonal forces [texts] pass and intersect” (Waugh 5). People are constituted and conditioned by language, which is always situated, and which reproduces certain social structures that inscribe difference.  The poststructural move to decenter the Cartesian subject is one that often aims to respect Others. Yet, instead of creating space for both the self and the Other to exist, the deconstruction of the subject is a “death” of the self and the Other. In claiming that subjects are nothing more than the intersection of external textual forces —as Nelson explains, “the autonomy of language . . . belongs to language, not to those who use it” (169) —the ability of subjects to act (ethically or not) of their own will is thus wholly displaced. 

          Burke’s Dramatistic view of language centers on action, and “action implies the ethical, the human personality” (LASA 11).  Language affords subjects (or, Burke’s word, agents) with the ability to act, and “[t]o say that action is motivated is to say that one is not (entirely) a victim of circumstances, but that one must make a choice” (GM 250). Action and choice are inextricably tied to judgments of good and bad, or right and wrong— for “when one talks of the will, one is necessarily in the field of the moral” (PC 136). Burke’s theory of Dramatism, in which the act contains ethical choice, is thus dependent on a subjective, conscious agent (Hassett 181). In order to understand how Burke allows for an ethical agent that has the ability to act and choose, while still accounting for the linguistically-constructed nature of agents, we look to his notion of language as embodied action.

          For many poststructuralists there is “nothing outside the text” (Derrida 158). While Derrida’s declaration is not necessarily representative of all forms of poststructural thought, all too often poststructuralists follow Derrida and insist that there isnothing beyond texts, discourses, or the play of language or “nothing beyond the fetishes of the commodity – [in poststructuralism there are] no bodies” (McNally 6). Human experience is but the play of language and text, and the subject is but an illusion of determining discourses.

          For Burke it does not follow that we are only language or that we are wholly controlled by it. We are symbol-using animals grounded in a realm of non-symbolic motion. As animals we are a part of that non-symbolic realm; as symbol-users, we separate ourselves from it. Utterances are spoken by and through a non-symbolic body, and it is this interplay of our linguistic abilities in the context of our bodies, or “central nervous systems” that makes us individual agents.

          By learning language the human body, a composite creature, combines the realms of non-symbolic motion and symbolic action. The body thus provides a principle of individuation that is grounded in the centrality of the nervous system. But this separateness as a physiological organism is “transcended” by the peculiar collective social nature of human symbol systems. (cited in Blankenship, Pivotal Terms 147)

          For Burke individual bodies can never disappear into a hyper-reality of texts. As Crusius points out, “the poststructural contention that an individual (a unique identity) cannot result from impersonal and universal forces must be an error” (The Conversation After 40). While the subject is certainly linguistically constructed, in Burke we are also in constant dialectical tension with the nonverbal realm.  It is this tension and the very human ability to separate ourselves from our sheer animalness through symbol use – through the negative — that creates or affords human agency. In The Rhetoric of Religion, Burke plays out a conversation between the Lord (TL) and Satan (S) about TL’s creation of humans, wherein Burke dramatically describes the uniquely human ability to choose or “deviate”:

          TL . . . When I introduce words into my Creation, I shall really have let something loose. . . In dealing with ideas one at a time (or, as they will put it, discursively) they can do many things which can’t be done when, like us, all ideas are seen at once, and thus necessarily corrected by one another.
          S . . . I see it! . . . By their symbolocity, they will be able to deviate! . . . and to that extent that will really be free . . . by the dramatistic nature of their terminology, they are in a sense ‘forced to be free,’ since they will think of themselves as persons, and the idea of personality implies the idea of action, and the ideas of both freedom and necessity are intrinsic to the idea of an act. (282-83)

          While words can be acted onto us, the very nature of our ability to use words allows us to deviate from those words—recalcitrance.  Put another way, while we are “symbol-used” we are also “symbol-using” and thus able to make choices. Burke’s understanding of human language implies an active agent who is both empowered through language and limited by it.

          In this way Burke allows for the possibility of the ethical whereas poststructuralism does not. Yet it should be underscored that Burke acknowledges that individual agents are also linguistically constructed by social and institutional forces. Sharing this notion with poststructuralism is one reason why Dramatism so adequately responds to that important insight. Indeed, for Burke “the so-called ‘I’ is . . . a unique combination of partially conflicting ‘corporate we’s’” (PC 264).  Burke’s agent is no bourgeois individual, unitary and fixed, rather she is an amalgamation of social and corporate forces acting on the agent and the agent’s particular embodied response to those forces in her own skin. Burke’s self is “polyvocal, both an inner dialogue of voices and a potential for dialogue with other individuals whose identity is also both collective and unique” (Crusius 41).

          It is clear that Burke’s thought can help us move through the challenges poststructuralism poses for the study of ethics. As a scholar who for decades was working through many of the same problems that we are now dealing with, it seems as if Burke, while he recognizes many of the same basic “problems” of language and reason, provides a way through these challenges. In Burke’s pragmatic ontology, a critical dialogue about ethics can be grounded in a reality that understands language as metaphorical and thus always skeptical of “Truth” but not frozen in inaction and silence. In Burke’s view of language there exists an agent/a body—that can and does act, and that can resist becoming nothing but automata in a complex system of symbols at play. Burke’s view of language “privileges the human subject, not truth or knowledge” (Williams 217), and in doing so provides for the possibility of the ethical, although in a new and discounted form.

          In the next section we shift our concerns from the theoretical grounds in Dramatism that provide the basis for constructing an ethics and toward suggestive points of entry for a Dramatistic ethics of inquiry. We do so by advancing the pentad as a particularly apt critical method for engaging the ethical and by employing the pentad in a synoptic analysis of representative ethical theories as an initial act of inquiry.  Given the brevity of a journal article and the expanse of a project on a Dramatistic ethics, our preliminary foray using the pentad as a meta-theoretical critical method provides a rich basis from which a number of critical departures can be generated.

          The Pentad as a Meta-Theoretical Method6

          Indeed a Dramatistic ethics that responds to poststructuralism will have to begin as a mode of inquiry. To this end, the study of ethics can benefit from what sociologist Zhao calls meta-study, or second-order analysis of the ethical theories and critiques within the discipline itself.  Zhao goes on to describe meta-study as the “remapping of . . . a changing discipline . . . if primary study is a long journey to an unfamiliar place, then meta-study involves frequent pauses for rest, identifying directions, revising travel plans, or even having second thoughts on the final destination” (381).

          Overington notes that Burke’s pentad provides an ideal meta-methodological framework for studying “explanatory discourses” about human action, or theories about human action (133). In the pluralized dialectic operationalized via the pentad, Burke sought to displace the totalizing and authoritative privileging of any particular rhetorical construction or version of reality by seeking out “counter-statements” and “corrective rationalizations” to the dominant orientations.  Thus, any complete or well-rounded treatment of a subject needs to include the full panoply of discourses, representations, and orientations detailed in Burke’s discussion of the pentadic ratios because no one perspective is capable of being fully correct.  In symbolic action wo/men “seek vocabularies that will be faithful reflections of reality. To this end, they must develop vocabularies that are selections of reality. And, any selection of reality must . . . function as a deflection of reality” (GM 59). What is said is in dialectical tension with what is left out. For Burke, any chosen or selected terminology “necessarily directs the attention into some channels rather than others” (LASA 45), and the choice to direct attention to a particular channel is a motivated act. In order to tease out the motivations inherent in symbolic acts, Burke codifies them in the pentad, a five-pronged pattern that is apparent in “any rounded statement” about reality:

          In any rounded statement about motives, you must have some word that names the act (names what took place in thought or deed), and another that names the scene (the background of the act, the situation in which it occurred); also, you must indicate what person or kind of person (agent) performed the act, what instruments he used (agency) and the purpose. (GM xv)

          Burke points out that even the “primary philosophical languages . . . are to be distinguished by the fact that each school features a different one of the five terms” (127): realism is tied to act, materialism is tied to scene, idealism to agent, pragmatism to agency, and mysticism to purpose. While any statement about reality will be grounded in one of these philosophies or terms, many statements favor one term or a ratio of two terms over all others (i.e., scene-agent or agent-purpose). Pentadic analysis allows critics to ferret out the motives of symbolic acts (and tie these motives to a philosophic school or modes of thought). With “the pentad as a generating principle,” Burke contends that:

          . . . we may extricate ourselves from these intricacies [of motive], by discovering the kinds of assertion which the different schools would exemplify in a hypothetical state of purity. Once this approach is established, problems are much less likely to conceal the underlying design of assertion, or may even serve to assist in the characterizing of a given philosophic work. (131)

          While expressions of motives through “terministic screens” are unavoidable, Burke maintains that there are some uses of terminologies that are more representative of reality than others. Terminologies that feature one term or ratio as the “perspective of perspectives” and that suppress other terms or ratios in the pentad are less representative of reality, since any “rounded” or full statement features all five terms (PLF 89).  That is, terminologies arrive closer to reality as they move toward greater inclusiveness of all five terms by providing a greater circumference of perspectives.  In this way the pentad is an ideal method for “asses[ing] the degree to which discourse is open (or closed) to a range of reality orientations” (Anderson and Prelli 88). Because the pentad makes no authoritative claims “in the form of some final synthesis culminating in the truth” it shares an attitude with poststructuralism that reaches superior ends by approaching discourse from a multi-perspective position (73).

          Poststructuralist discourses normally feature the agency of language as a “perspective of perspectives” and hence are more “closed” in their nature. Whereas Burke’s pentad, by way of the ratios borne of five perspectives, is a pluralized dialectic that:

          . . . avoids a totalizing metaphysics insofar as no particular discourse is viewed as authoritative; rather, it is a ‘dialogue of many voices’ in both agreement and disagreement . . . In this sense, Burke’s pluralized dialectic seeks to cultivate openness to many perspectives with each perspective correcting the other. (McClure and Cabral 76)

          Thus pentadic analysis is a particularly apt methodology for moving beyond incredulity toward conceptions of “the Good” and toward a better understanding what might be good in any particular case.

          In what follows, then, we employ the pentad synoptically to chart an overview of representative ethical theories. In turn we consider Kantian ethics, classical utilitarianism, Marxist ethics, Aristotle’s virtue ethics, and Nietzsche’s individualist ethics. A pentadic meta-critique of ethical theories will make more apparent the extent to which those theories can be seen as orientations in a dialogue of many voices that constitute conceptions of the good.  While the depth and scope of our analysis is limited, it is suggestive of analyzes that could be conducted on the panoply of ethical theories with much greater depth. The analysis, then, functions as a representative heuristic that invites further inquiry and counter-statements. As we progress through the analysis a dominant term or ratio(s) is ferreted out of each theory illuminating the perspective by which each is motivated. Moving through a pentadic analysis of ethical positions allows for a fuller understanding of each perspective on ethics and offers a productive approach for moving forward with a Dramatistic ethics as a mode of inquiry.

          Pentadic Analysis

          Burke makes it clear that because morality is contained within the act, all ethical theories feature the act.  In A Grammar of Motives, while discussing the philosophical schools, he notes that “so far as our dramatistic terminology is concerned . . . the ethical requires the systematic featuring of act” (210). In his critique of Kantian duty theory Burke observes that “[E]thics builds its terminology around the problem of action” (LASA 436).  Thus, in the following analysis the act is the pentadic grounding on which all theories of traditional ethics are formulated; act as a term, then, will not be explicitly discussed, as it is the central term of any pentadic view of ethics. Accordingly, our pentadic overview of five ethical theories seeks to identify each theory’s featured ratio as motive grounding in the act of theorizing. While each theory features a distinct ratio, traditional and modern theories of ethics, especially those premised on the Cartesian subject, tend to consistently feature agent as a prominent perspective; therefore, it is also noteworthy that each of the following theories places the agent in either a primary or secondary position in its featured ratio. Put simply, these theories vary insofar as how they position the ethical subject or agent in relation to acts.

          Aristotle’s virtue ethics, as it is explained in his Nicomachean Ethics, is grounded in an understanding of human agents as beings capable of developing characteristics– virtues—that lead to the agent engaging in ethical action. For Aristotle, the human good is viewed as “a soul in accordance with virtue” (Rosenstand 424). In order to become virtuous, people must engage in habitual practices that encourage development of the virtues early in life. These virtues are further developed later in life by participating in social practices that require virtue intrinsically. For Aristotle, then, ethical knowledge is not just rational knowledge accessible by studying texts. Rather ethical knowledge is gained through the agent’s active participation in civic practices that experientially encourage the development of culturally virtuous characteristics that improve society: “we learn by doing, for example, people become builders by building and lyre players by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts” (Chappell 78). Aristotle believed that acting virtuously not only moves society closer to perfection, but that human beings should strive to be virtuous or ethical because it leads to “human flourishing.” Pentadically, then, Aristotle’s virtue ethics features an agent-purpose ratio, wherein the agent, capable of virtue, develops virtuous characteristics in society in order to fulfill his or her purpose or end—flourishing or happiness.

          Unlike Aristotle’s ethics, which recognizes that ethical choices made by virtuous people may vary according to the situation, Immanuel Kant’s deontology asserts that there exists one fundamental principle of morality on which all other moral duties are based—the categorical imperative: “Act only accordingly to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become universal law” (Kant 421). An action is thus conceived as ethical on the basis of its universal application. Johnson describes the means by which a rational agent arrives at the judgment of a course of action as moral or not moral.  First, formulate a maxim that enshrines your reason for acting as you propose. Second, recast that maxim as a universal law of nature governing all rational agents in these circumstances. Third, consider whether your maxim is even conceivable in a world governed by this law of nature. If it is, then, fourth, ask yourself whether you would, or could, rationally act on your maxim in such a world. If you can, then your action is morally permissible. From this brief explanation of Kantian ethics, the pentadic ratio can be charted. The goal or purpose of Kant’s ethics–establishing a rational universalization of moral maxims–necessarily deemphasizes the scenic nature of ethical matters while featuring the purpose of universalizing. While purpose is the dominant term, the agent is featured secondarily, creating a purpose-agent ratio. The agent is a rational subject able to decide whether or not a certain course of action is ethical based on the universal application of reason.

          Conversely, classical utilitarianism, an ethical framework popularized by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, views actions as right or ethical in terms of the utility of the consequences it produces (Irwin 364-66).  In utilitarian ethics, “the ultimate value is happiness or pleasure . . . what is good is pleasurable, and what is bad is painful . . . hedonism (pleasure seeking) is the basis for [utilitarian] moral theory” (Rosenstand 216). As a normative and consequentialist theory, utilitarianism mathematically calculates the likely consequences of human actions by numerically ascribing conceptions of intensity, duration, certainty, remoteness, fecundity, purity, and calculating the extent to which an act will produce pleasure or pain. As long as an action is likely to produce more pleasure than pain for the individual or the community, it is deemed as right action. Utilitarianism thus seeks to end the accumulation of misery by compensating for it with pleasure. Many of these calculations are aimed at eliminating “bad” laws that were a concern in the early nineteenth century: if a law causes more misery than pleasure, it should be eliminated. Thus, utilitarianism posits that moral value of an action should be determined instrumentally.

          The ethical act, while implied in any theory of ethics, plays a relatively insignificant role in utilitarian ethics. Act is featured insofar as utilitarianism attempts to calculate good acts, but the act is seen as relative to the ends it produces by way of mathematical calculation. Thus, agency, understood here as the means by which ethical action is achieved, suggests that agency is the featured term. The agent is presented as calculating and autonomous, and important to the extent that it is the agent’s rationality that determines or calculates ethical actions. Agent is subsumed beneath agency or instrumentality. Thus, utilitarianism is understood as an explanation of good action that features agency (as instrumental) as the dominant term, with the rational agent as secondary. Agency-agent is the likely dominant ratio here.

          Marxist ethics, however, is largely a critique of the naive “bourgeois mentality” of Bentham’s ethics (Wood 147). Marx holds that an ideal or ethical society is one in which all human agents are endowed with the right to live sustainably, not necessarily pleasurably. For Marx, “to receive according to need, and to give according to ability” (Rosenstand 323) is the basic foundation for a good and ethical life. Based on a critique of the capitalist state, Marxism equates value or justness with material needs being met by social systems (i.e., governments) so that people might engage in meaningful work without suffering and struggling in a system of labor that values profitability over the sustainability of human life (Wood). Marx asserts that the oppressed social classes must rise up against oppressive governments and create this more just social system.

          Agents for Marx are important; in order for the ideal social system to exist, agents, willing to improve their own situations, are assumed. But the character of agents in Marxism are derived from human consciousness across historical periods by the material conditions of the prevailing time. Burke calls the Marxist treatment of conditions (scene) as “dazzlingly concrete” (GM 200). Human consciousness, goodness, and contentedness are products of the material conditions of agents. Thus, Marxism can be said to feature scene in relationship with the agent, resulting in the featuring of a scene-agent ratio. The agent is grounded and controlled by the capitalist scene, which is also the ground for agents creating a more just society.

          Friedrich Nietzsche expressed similar concerns with modern society. It is difficult to locate a secure launching point for an analysis of Nietzschean ethics. Because Nietzsche contends that “the voluntary is absolutely lacking, everything is instinct” (251), his ethical philosophy does not square with traditional ethical theories that center on a conception of agents as rational and autonomous. While Nietzsche’s concept of the “will to power” values an agent who strives to master his or her environment, he also recognizes that  the agent “continually encounters similar efforts on the part of other [wills] and ends by coming to an arrangement (‘union’) with those of them that are sufficiently related to it: thus they conspire together for power” (340).  We can find an ethics, though, in the characteristics Nietzsche believes constitute an excellent person, which centers on agents who disengage from public life, who pursue a creative project in solitude, and who deal with others only instrumentally. He encourages “gifted” agents or Ubermensch (such as himself) to “reject the herd mentality of the majority [so that] the individual can reach an authentic set of values for himself” (Rosenstand 480). While there is a stark contrast here to Aristotle’s virtue ethics, there are also underlying similarities in that both thinkers put forth the idea that the potential for goodness lies in the character of an agent. For Nietzsche the ideal agent is one who can resist power and affirm his or her own life unconditionally (his concept of a “Dionysian” life) and go beyond good and evil in a state of nature. Nietzsche’s novel brand of virtue ethics, then, heavily features the agent–but the agent is limited to one that is aloof, solitary, creative and standing alone and in a natural state; goodness is not transcendental, tied to any religion or mystic scheme, but occurring in the agent. Here, the dominant ratio is likely agent-scene, with the scene conceived as the location where human beings are apart from society in a return to a state of nature.

          We believe that the synoptic pentadic mapping of these five ethical theories’ ratios offers a good starting point for a conversation about ethical scholarship in general. Ethics can no longer prescribe unilateral, monistic frameworks for ethical action. The postmodern critique is valuable insofar as it demonstrates that monistic/modernist theories cannot work in a globalized, diverse, linguistically-constructed and constrained world. Instead of discarding theories though, Burke would have those theories act in dialogue with each other, “in co-operative competition,” creating a dialectic that when “properly developed can lead to views transcending the limitations of each” (CS 188). The aim here is to find what reality orientations (the ratios) of theories of ethics so that we might better understand them singularly and, more importantly, in relationship to one another.

          Each of these five theories position the agent as either primary or secondary in their controlling ratios: Aristotle’s virtue ethics features an agent-purpose ratio wherein agents develop themselves to reach the teleos of human being—a good life; Kant features a purpose-agent ratio wherein the goal or purpose of universalizability limits the agent’s ability to make ethical choices; utilitarianism features an agency-agent role where the process of means-end calculation serves as the agency by which rational agents decide on ethicality; Marxism features a scene-agent ratio, where the scenic conditions of bourgeois capitalist society are the grounds on which a better life must be forged by agents;  and Nietzsche articulates a radical brand of virtue ethics featuring an agent-scene ratio, where the agent, separate from society in a scene of nature, forges his or her own good life.  Poststructuralism, however, challenges the featuring of the agent by doing away with the agent all together, arguing that the agent is wholly constructed by the agency of language (as is ethics itself). This killing off of the agent, though, is also problematic.

          Yet, the pushback on the part of poststructural thought is grounded in a valuable critique of monism; any approach toward ethics must avoid a unilateral foundation. It is argued here that Burke’s approach—a dialogue of many voices, a perspectivism that is pluralistic while it avoids relativism—offers a position that goes beyond an absolute denial of the agent. In applying Burke’s method of pentadic analysis to ethical theories, the critic avoids any claim to absolute ethical “Truth,” while striving to open closed discourses by pointing out the terministic screens by which ethical discourses are formed. In viewing all ethical frameworks pentadically, a Burkean approach will find ways in which some of these theories are more apt as frameworks for application in any particular case than others. A pentadic approach will also help ethics as a field of study find points of ambiguity in its theories, allowing opportunities for correcting or amending theories that tend toward totalization. A Dramatistic ethics as inquiry offers a constructive avenue after the deconstruction of modern ethical theories. 


          This essay presents a tentative response to the challenge that scholars begin to flesh-out the possibilities for a Dramatistic ethics.  In turn we considered the status of ethics in the context of poststructuralism and explored the potential in Burke’s work as a response to the impasse that poststructuralism has created for ethics. Next, we argued that a Dramatistic ethics begin as a mode of inquiry and advanced pentadic analysis as a holistic framework for continuing ethical philosophy and for beginning to flesh-out the possibilities for a Dramatistic ethics of inquiry. Lastly, we provided a brief synoptic pentadic analysis of five ethical theories as suggestive points of critical entry. The challenge of constructing a Dramatistic ethics is broad and deep, so we see this study as a preliminary and tentative response to that challenge.  While the depth and scope of our analysis is limited, it is intended to be suggestive of analyzes that could be conducted on the panoply of ethical theories. Thus, our analysis also functions as a representative heuristic that invites further inquiry and counter-statements.

          Future research might expand the inquiry on the theories pentadically considered here or explore more contemporary theories of ethics such as Emanuel Levinas. Alternatively, in response to the meta-study offered here, future research might focus instead on a pentadic analysis of social-ethical problems. In any case, the utility for Burke’s theory of Dramatism and his method of pentadic analysis for ethical studies is clear.


          1. Among these are: Albrecht; Chappell; Cornell; MacIntyre, After Virtue and “The Claims”; Madison and Fairbairn; Mason; Racevskis; and Vattimo.
          2. See Brock; Crusius, The Conversation After; Bentz and Kenny; Wess, Kenneth Burke; Hassett; and Southwell.
          3. For examples see Arenson; Bauman; Comas; Cornell; Hoffmann and Hornung; Jarvis; MacIntyre, After Virtue and “The Claims”; and Madison and Fairbairn.
          4. Lyotard essentially defined the postmodern condition as an “incredulity” toward the definitive narratives of modernity. Burke shared this insight and it informed his construction of Dramatism. See Crusius, The Conversation After 62-63; Weiser; and Wess, Kenneth Burke 62-63.
          5. For an excellent analysis of the shift in Burke’s thought leading up to A Grammar of Motives, see Weiser.
          6. There are numerous exemplary critical studies that employ and discuss Burke’s pentad, among these are: Anderson and Prelli; Birdsell; Blankenship, Murphy, and Rossenwasser; Blankenship, Fine, and Davis; Brummett; Conrad; Fergusson; Fisher; Hamlin and Nichols; King; Ling; Overington; Signorile; Tonn, Endress, and Diamond; and Wess, “Pentadic Terms.”

          Works Cited

          Albrecht, James M. “Saying Yes and Saying No: Individualist Ethics in Ellison, Burke, and Emerson.” Modern Language Association 114.1 (1999): 46-63. Print.

          Anderson, Floyd and Lawrence Prelli. “Pentadic Cartography: Mapping the Universe of Discourse.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 87.1 (2001): 73-95. Print.

          Arenson, Pat. Exploring Communication Ethics: Interviews with Influential Scholars in the Field. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2007. Print.

          Bauman, Zygmunt. Postmodern Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell, 1993. Print.

          Bentz, Valerie M. and Wade Kenny. “Body-As-World: Kenneth Burke’s Answer to the Postmodernist Charges Against Sociology.” Sociological Theory 15.1 (1997): 81-96. Print.

          Birdsell, David. “Ronald Reagan on Lebanon and Grenada: Flexibility and Interpretation in the Application of Kenneth Burke’s Pentad.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 73.3 (1987): 267-79. Print.

          Blankenship, Jane, Marlene Fine, and Leslie Davis. “The 1980 Republican Primary Debates: The Transformation of Actor into Scene.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 69.1 (1983): 25-36. Print.

          Blankenship, Jane, Edward Murphy, and Marie Rossenwasser. “Pivotal Terms in the Early Works of Kenneth Burke.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 7.1 (1974): 1-24. Print.

          Brock, Bernard L. Introduction. Kenneth Burke and the 21st Century. Ed. Bernard L. Brock. Albany: State U of New York P, 1999. 1-19. Print

          Brummett, Barry. “A Pentadic Analysis of Ideologies in two Gay Rights Controversies.” Central States Speech Journal 30.3 (1979): 250-61. Print.

          Burke, Kenneth. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley: U of California P, 1966. Print.

          —. Counter-Statement. 2nd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1968. Print.

          —. A Grammar of Motives. 2nd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

          —. The Rhetoric of Religion; Studies in Logology. Berkeley: U of California P, 1970. Print.

          —. The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1973. Print.

          —. Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984. Print.

          —. On Symbols and Society. Ed. Joseph R. Gusfield. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1989. Print.

          Chappell, Timothy. Values and Virtues: Aristotelianism in Contemporary Ethics. Oxford: Clarendon P, 2006. Print

          Chesebro, James W.  “A Construct for Assessing Ethics in Communication.” Communication Studies 20.2 (1969): 104-14. Print

          Comas, James N. Between Politics and Ethics: Toward a Vocative History of English Studies. Carbondale: Southern Illinois U P, 2006. Print

          Conrad, Charles. “Phases, Pentad and Dramatistic Critical Process.” Central States Speech Journal 35.2 (1984): 94-104. Print.

          Cornell, Drucilla. “Toward a Modern/Postmodern Reconstruction of Ethics.” University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 133.2 (1985): 291-380. Print.

          Crable, Bryan. “Defending Dramatism as Ontological and Literal.” Communication Quarterly 48.4 (2000): 323-42. Print.

          Crusius, Timothy. Kenneth Burke and the Conversation after Philosophy. Carbondale: Southern Illinois U P, 1999. Print.

          Crusius, Timothy. “The Question of Kenneth Burke’s Ethics.” Kenneth Burke Journal 3.1 (2006): N.p. Web. <>.

          Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U P, 1976. Print.

          Fergusson, Francis. “Kenneth Burke’s ‘grammar of motives’.” Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke. Ed. William Rueckert.  Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1966. 173-82. Print.

          Fisher, Jeanne. “A Burkean Analysis of the Rhetorical Dimensions of Multiple Murder and Suicide.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 60.2 (1974): 175-89. Print.

          Hassett, Michael. “Constructing an Ethical Writer for the Postmodern Scene.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 25.1-4 (1995): 179-96. Print.

          Hamlin William and Harold Nichols. “The Interest Value of Rhetorical Strategies Derived from Kenneth Burke’s Pentad.”  Western Speech 37.2 (1973): 97-102. Print.

          Hoffmann, Gerhard and Alfred Hornung, Eds. Ethics and Aesthetics: The Moral Turn of Postmodernism. Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1996. Print.

          Irwin, Terence.  The Development of Ethics: From Kant to Rawls. 3 vols. Oxford: Oxford U P, 2009. Print.

          Jarvis, Darryl. International Relations and the "Third Debate": Postmodernism and its Critics. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2002. Print.

          Johnson, Robert. Kant's Moral Philosophy. 2004. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 5 June 2011. <">

          Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. Thomas Kingsmill Abbott. Radford, VA: Wilder Publications, 2008. Print.

          King, Robert. “Transforming Scandal into Tragedy: The Rhetoric of Political Apology.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 71.3 (1985): 289-301. Print.

          Ling, David. “A Pentadic Analysis of Senator Edward Kennedy’s Address to the People of Massachusetts, July 25th, 1969.” Central States Speech Journal 21.2 (1970):81-6. Print.

          Lyotard, Jean-Francois. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1984. Print.

          MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P, 1984. Print.

          MacIntyre, Alasdair. “The Claims of After Virtue.The MacIntyre Reader. Ed. Kelvin Knight.  Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P, 1998. 69-72. Print.

          Madison, Gary and Marty Fairbairn. The Ethics of Postmodernity: Current Trends in Continental Thought. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern U P, 1999. Print.

          Mason, Mark. “The Ethics of Integrity: Educational Values beyond Postmodern Ethics.” Journal of Philosophy of Education 35.1 (2001): 47-69. Print.

          McClure, Kevin and Kristine Cabral. “Clarifying Ambiguity and the Undecidable: A Comparison in Burkean and Derridian Thought.” Qualitative Research Reports in Communication 10.1 (2009): 72-80. Print.

          McNally, David. Bodies of Meaning: Studies on Language, Labor, and Liberation. Albany: State U of New York P, 2000.

          Nelson, Cary. “Writing as the Accomplice of Language: Kenneth Burke and Poststructuralism.” The Legacy of Kenneth Burke. Ed. Herbert W. Simons and Trevor Melia. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1989. 156-73. Print.

          Nietzsche, Friedrich W. The Will to Power. Trans. Walter A. Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale. New York: Random House, 1967. Print.

          Overington, Michael. “Kenneth Burke and the Method of Dramatism.” Theory and Society 4.1 (1977): 131-56. Print.

          Racevskis, Karlis. Modernity’s Pretenses: Making Reality Fit Reason from ‘Candide’ to the Gulag. Albany: State U of New York P, 1998. Print.

          Rosenstand, Nina. The Moral of the Story: An Introduction to Ethics. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006. Print.

          Signorile, Vito. “Ratios and Causes: The Pentad as an Etiological Scheme in Sociological Explanation.” The Legacy of Kenneth Burke. Ed. Herbert W. Simons and Trevor Melia.  Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1989. 74-98. Print.

          Southwell, Samuel B. Kenneth Burke and Martin Heidegger: With a Note against Deconstructionism. Gainesville: U of Florida P, 1987. Print.

          Smith, Daniel. Rev. of The Rhetorical Imagination of Kenneth Burke, by Ross Wolin. Philosophy and Rhetoric 36.2 (2003): 172-76. Print.

          Tonn, Mari Boor, Valerie Endress, and John Diamond. “Hunting and Heritage on Trial: A Dramatistic Debate over Tragedy, Tradition, and Territory.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 79.2 (1993):165-81. Print.

          Vattimo, Gianni. Nihilism and Emancipation: Ethics, Politics and Law. Ed. Zabal Santiago. NY: Columbia U P, 2004. Print.

          Waugh, Patricia. Introduction. Postmodernism: A Reader. Ed. Patricia Waugh.New York: Routledge, 1993. 1-10. Print.

          Weiser, M. Elizabeth. Burke, War, Words: Rhetoricizing Dramatism. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2008. Print.

          Wess, Robert. “Pentadic Terms and Master Tropes: Ontology of the Act and Epistemology of the Trope in A Grammar of Motives.” Unending Conversations: New Writings by and about Kenneth Burke. Ed. Greig E. Henderson and David C. Williams. Carbondale: Southern Illinois U P, 2001. 154-75. Print.

          Wess, Robert. Kenneth Burke: Rhetoric, Subjectivity, Postmodernism. Cambridge: U of Cambridge P, 1996. Print.

          Williams, David C. “Under the Sign of (An)Nihilation: Burke in the Age of Nuclear Destruction and Critical Deconstruction. The Legacy of Kenneth Burke. Ed. Herbert W. Simons and Trevor Melia. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1989. 196-223. Print.

          Wolin, Ross. The Rhetorical Imagination of Kenneth Burke.  Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2001. Print.

          Wood, Allen. Karl Marx. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2004. Print.

          Zhao, Shanyang. “Metatheory, Metamethod, Meta-Data-Analysis: What, Why, and How?” Sociological Perspectives 34.3 (1991): 337-90. Print.

          Creative Commons License
          This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

          Attitudes as Equipment for Living

          Waldemar Petermann, Lund University, Sweden


          This article explores Burke’s concept of attitude through an overview of its use in his writings, connecting it to the concept of literature as equipment for living, using the comic frame and research into the practical impact of attitudes in rhetorical situations, in order to better understand both concepts.

          Attitudes as Equipment for Living

          In his article “Literature as Equipment for Living,” found in The Philosophy of Literary Form, Kenneth Burke proposed that literature can be used as what he calls “equipment for living,” as tools for dealing with encountered situations (Philosophy 293-304). Here he used proverbs as models for equipment for living and described them as “strategies for dealing with situations” (Philosophy 296). He also suggested that these strategies can be seen as attitudes. In the discussion of which term to use, Burke made clear that the process of using literature as equipment for living should neither be seen as completely conscious, nor as especially methodical (Philosophy 297). If literature is equipment for living and functions like proverbs, proverbs that are strategies for dealing with situations, and strategies are attitudes, then clearly attitudes are equipment for living. While attitude features a lot in Burke’s writing and often in a very central place in his theory of symbolic action, it is hard to get a clear picture of the concept as it is treated rather differently in different works. And since attitude is poorly understood, so is the meaning and implication of attitudes as equipment for living. The connection between attitude and equipment for living can, however, be of help when exploring the attitude. Equipment for living can serve as a focus when reconciling or synthesizing the different descriptions of attitude provided by Burke’s works and different readings of them.

          Scholars have proposed rather dissimilar explanations for what attitude is supposed to be in Burke’s writings: Sarah E. Mahan Hays & Roger C. Aden see attitude as something almost wholly cognitive in nature (35), Debra Hawhee, in her Moving Bodies, criticizes them for over-emphasizing A Grammar of Motives and views attitude as something very much grounded in the body (108), while Stephen Bygrave, in his reading of Burke’s 1978 article “(Nonsymbolic) Motion / (Symbolic) Action” finds the meaning of attitude “so extended as to designate any kind of response to a stimulus” leading to an attitude that loses its “distinctiveness.” (87). Depending on scholar attitude can evidently be of the mind, of the body or occupy some sort of amorphous, indistinctive middle ground.

          It his perhaps tempting to view these differences as a result of scholars reading different works of Burke’s substantial production, however it does seem to be a bit more complicated. While, as mentioned, Hawhee does criticize Mahan-Hays & Aden for over-emphasizing A Grammar of Motives when constructing their version of a Burkean attitude, it is indeed a question of emphasis since Mahan-Hays & Aden do delve into the earlier works – e.g. The Philosophy of Literary Form (34-36). And when Bygrave charges attitude with indistinctiveness, he does so in a chapter spanning about half a century of Burke’s works (77-106).

          Taking a closer look at Burke’s use of the term attitude, it turns out that its meaning and place in his theory of symbolic action can be dealt into three periods: the early period containing Permanence and Change, Attitudes toward History and The Philosophy of Literary Form, the intermediate centering around A Grammar of Motives and the late period containing the developments after Grammar, including an addition to a 1962 edition of the same work, later articles and forewords to earlier volumes as well as some of his letters.

          In the early period, and more specifically in the two companion volumes Permanence and Change and Attitudes toward History, Burke often used attitude as a word meaning “mood” or “state of mind” , as Ann George & Jack Selzer notes (257). Burke did, however, make clear in Attitudes toward History that there is a difference between attitude and mood. While moods can be changed without any trouble at all, attitudes, especially if they have become “rationalized,” demand conflict in order to be changed (Attitudes 184). In terms of attitudes as equipment for living, this is interesting. It suggests that considered as a tool, an attitude should be chosen with care as it cannot necessary always be discarded with ease. As evidenced by “Literature as equipment for living,” cultural texts can be seen as strategies for dealing with situations – keeping in mind that attitude is another term for strategy. As Michael Denning notes in The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century,the center of Burke’s theory of symbolic action in early works, is a quite flexible view on strategy—attitude—and situation (438-439).

          Attitude is, however, not quite as unambiguously just a state of mind or an abstract strategy for handling a class of situations. From time to time a more basic physical connection emerges in Burke’s early works. In the conclusion of Attitudes toward History, attitude and bodily action are described as counterparts, which makes an interpretation of bodily act as manifested attitude possible. However, the order of Burke’s description goes in the other direction: acts of grasping are counterparts to attitudes of grasping, but the “predacious” body, “the original economic plant,” may require acts of grasping. Were attitudes purely mental things, and acts just physical manifestations of these, the body would not require anything in relation to attitude, but instead just act in accord with the dictates of attitude. Evidently, there is the possibility of an important bodily dimension of attitude. A specific bodily act is tightly tied to a specific attitude. Burke here used the metaphor of dancing to describe the expression of an attitude—you dance the act to a corresponding attitude (Attitudes 339).

          Burke makes heavy use of Paget and his discussion of words as physical acts in Attitudes toward History, and as Hawhee notes, Burke went quite far in his interpretation of Paget (115). To further reinforce the bodily connection of attitude, Burke criticized Richards in The Philosophy of Literary Form as being “too sparse in realistic content” (Philosophy 9). Richards’ view on attitude, which can be found in his Principles of Literary Criticism from 1924, differs from Burke’s in that it is completely abstract and entirely of the mind (98-103). With the physical—behavioristic—side of the attitude, Burke also introduced the possibility of multiple conflicting manifestations of attitude in the same subject, at the same time. In The Philosophy of Literary Form, he told the story of a man, who during a visit to the dentist tries to dance a calm attitude – and does so – but is betrayed by the attitude his body dances in form of thickening saliva. His calm is a “social façade” and his sticky saliva the dancing of his “true” attitude, but nevertheless, both are danced (Philosophy 11). The body performing to the tune of the mind. Of course, here, the body has its own idea and performs a second dance to a second tune. This plurality of attitudes opens up for Burke’s later concept of identification and it may therefore not be surprising that he, as Hawhee observes, wrote about identification for the first time when discussing Paget’s ideas of words as physical acts. At least in this early version, identification is as much a bodily construct as it is a part of the psychological and social realm (116-117).

          All taken together, the early Burkean concept of attitude and its relation to symbolic analysis is rather complex. Attitude clearly has a both mental and bodily dimensions. On the one hand, attitude is central in symbolic analysis as one member in the attitude-situation pair. On the other hand, the body-oriented attitude with its behavioristic touch paves the way for persuasion in the form of identification. As part of the attitude-situation pair, the concept of attitude as equipment for living seems straight forward and well in line with the description in “Literature as Equipment for Living,” but the bodily dimension is not as easy to reconcile with it. The nature of the connection between the physiological and mental part of attitude is not quite clear and especially the idea of the primacy of the body makes it unclear how that part of attitude can work as equipment for living.

          During the early 1940s something happens to Burke’s view on attitude and its relation to symbolic analysis. If his earlier works sometimes showed a lack of properly worked out and presented methodology—something which rendered him a bit of critique according to George & Selzer (158-161)—he set out to change that radically in A Grammar of Motives. Here  he chose to motivate his choice of terms, the pentad, by demonstrating that they led to a working methodology (Grammar 92). The place of the earlier pervasive attitude in the new pentadic model is explained in the first chapter, where it is declared a part of the agent (Grammar 20). Attitude has been subsumed by the pentad.
          A Grammar of Motives deals with attitude here and there, but attitude is here described as an incipient, or delayed, act. This view of attitude is heavily influenced by I A Richards’ thoughts on the matter in his Principles of Literary Criticism, that is referenced, but in contrast to Burke’s marking of distance to Richards’ very abstract view in The Philosophy of Literary Form, such is not forthcoming, here. Burke points out that there is an inherent ambiguity to attitude as an incipient act, in that it may be either the substitute for an act or the first step towards an act (Grammar 235-236). This view puts attitude in an interesting position between action and non-action. Furthermore attitude as delayed action has an interesting connection to motion and the body, as Burke thinks that the delayed action, the mental attitude, must have a bodily posture and so be supported by motions (Grammar 242). While this is interesting, the bodily connection of attitude is not especially prevalent and Paget, a strong influence for the earlier Burke, is entirely absent. Attitude is here something more of the mind than the body.

          The lack of Pagetan influence in the section on attitude in A Grammar of Motives does, however, not mean that it lacks information on the role attitude plays in Dramatism as a whole. From George Herbert Meade, Burke takes the notion of distinction between action and motion and then places attitude in the middle. Motion is an act of the body, action an act of the mind and attitude connects the two. The action is a motion with a will or intent and what separates an act from another might be nothing more than the attitude toward that motion. (Grammar 237) As Burke explains later in the Grammar: “Two men, performing the same motions side by side, might be said to be performing different acts, in proportion as they differed in their attitudes toward their work” (Grammar 276). This relation of motion and action is, as Hawhee observes, of utmost importance to the ambiguous and changeable relations between the terms of the pentad (123).

          As it turns out, attitude also performs an important function for rhetoric and persuasion in Burke’s intermediate period. In A Grammar of Motives, when discussing the ambiguity of attitude as incipient act, he claimed that rhetoric can induce action by making listeners adopt appropriate attitudes—advertising being one of his examples (Grammar 236). Burke returned to the concept in A Rhetoric of Motives, where he wrote that “rhetorical language is inducement to action (or attitude, attitude being an incipient act)” (Rhetoric 42) and “often we could with more accuracy speak of persuasion ‘to attitude,’ rather than persuasion to out-and-out action” (Rhetoric 50). Attitude is evidently an important target for persuasion.

          Taken together, then, the attitude of the intermediate period has been subsumed into the pentad and lies in the realm of the mind too a much higher degree than in the earlier period. Attitude does, however, perform a central function as a connective between action and motion and is an important target for persuasion. That attitude fulfils an important function for rhetoric by being a target for persuasion, is interesting and speaks to the relevance of considering it as an equipment for living. Furthermore, while Burke made the attitude more mental in nature, the conception of it as connective between action and motion opens up possibilities for explaining how the earlier more physiological parts of the attitude fits with the concept of equipment for living. As a connective of action and motion, the intentional and non-intentional, the attitude can potentially form a bridge between its earlier parts of mental strategy and bodily manifestation. Since the attitude—especially the bodily dimension—is so diminished here, however, it is just a potentiality.

          The new nature of the attitude as a thing almost wholly of the mind that was established in A Grammar of Motives and upheld in A Rhetoric of Motives would, as it turns out, not last long. In a 1952 article in Quarterly Journal of Speech, ”A Dramatistic View of the Origin of Language,” just two years after the publishing of the latter volume, Burke wrote that “Dramatistically, we watch always for ways in which bodily attitudes can affect the development of linguistic expression.” and then adds a parenthetical comment on Paget (“A Dramatistic View” 254).

          The bodily aspect of the attitude is back and so is Paget. It may be a small comment, but as Hawhee remarks, Burke’s interest in the Pagetan side of the attitude would persist for a long time, even if it not always obviously so (124).

          The subsumption of the attitude into the pentad would not last either. In the 1962 Meridian paperback version of A Grammar of Motives and A Rhetoric of Motives, Burke added a comment where he declared that he “sometimes” added attitude to the other terms of the pentad (Grammar 443). While the comment is short, there is evidence that Burke put quite some thought into it. As evidenced by letters to from the editor of the volume, Aaron Asher, Burke had intended to include a lengthy postscript, but due to printing technicalities, the editor was not keen on adding any pages. Burke then instead decided to add comments that could be inserted in the volume without requiring any additional pages (Letters to and from Aaron Asher). Regardless, with the comment, attitude is brought up on the same level as the other pentad terms.
          In the 1983 afterword, “In Retrospective Prospect,” to a new edition of Attitudes toward History, Burke had the opportunity to comment his earlier pervasive attitude. Far from reducing the importance of attitude, he instead choose to explain important features of the volume in terms of attitude. He emphasized the importance of the bureaucratization of the imaginative, a perspective by incongruity carrying the meaning that the institutionalization of an idea turns it into something else, effectively destroying it, and equates it with history of the attitude (Attitudes 413).

          In comparison with the early and intermediate periods, the late attitude forms something of a synthesis: the attitude is elevated to the pentad, forming an hexad with all its practical implication, it is an important connective between action and motion, it is clearly of both body and mind and is an important target for persuasion. This synthesis also allows for attitude to be that bridge between mental strategy and bodily manifestation that had to remain a potentiality in the intermediate period. As a connective between action and motion, attitude takes a central place in the theory of Dramatism and as a part of the hexed pentad, it is an important part of its methodology. Together, this makes attitude a potentially very useful equipment for living.

          Considering the above review of attitude in Burke’s works, the theoretical use of attitude within his theoretical framework should not be considered strange. The range of possible uses is impressive. Attitude has been used successfully in such a fashion in rhetorical analysis, e.g. Clarke Rountree’s analysis of Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s rhetoric (33-48). Attitude as a part of regular hexadic analysis, interesting as it is, however, is not the end of it. The nature of attitude as a connective between action and motion, the conscious and the below-conscious, suggests a usefulness beyond that. Judging by its place in the dramatistic theory, attitude seems to be well suited to analyse fully and partly unconscious expressions. The interaction of attitude and persuasion is bidirectional. You can persuade toward an attitude but attitude also forms a basis for the possibility of persuasion. Expressing an attitude may help persuade by way of identification, but adopting that attitude also opens up for new persuasion of the adopter. This is analogous to the problematization of text and context that exploded in the 20th century history of ideas, where Derrida can serve as an example. Seen from this perspective, attitude has possible connections to concepts such as Pierre Bourdieu's habitus, habitual structures that governs and are governed by our actions, and Judith Butler's ideas on the performativity of identity. Indeed, Dana Anderson, in his article ”Questioning the Motives of Habituated Action: Burke and Bourdieu on Practice,” connects a Burke to Bourdieu, influenced by Butler's reading of the latter, and argues that practice can be interpreted as a sort of attitude-act ratio in order to better capture the nature of practice that according to him is both physiological and symbolic (255-274). This opens up for attitude to be used as an immediate analytical tool when examining situations that contain instances of practice, but also for the individual to better be able to influence the own behaviour in such situations by way of considering and adapting attitudes. Together with the earlier mentioned observation that the change of attitudes may require conflict, this can also provide an explanation for the difficulty of breaking a pattern of conflict.

          However, attitude can be used to a more immediately practical gain. In Brigitte Mral’s “Attitude matters' – Attitydyttringar som retoriska medel,” she performs an analysis of manifestations of attitude in discussions on nuclear waste disposal. Mral draws from Michael Billig's take on latitudes of attitude as well as Burke’s concept of attitude and makes an important distinction between attitude and its expressions. Here it becomes clear that displayed attitude (of the wrong kind) can actively hinder identification (28-29). Reconnecting this to the concept of literature—or attitudes—as equipment for living potentially results in a useful rhetorical tool. From an analytical point of view, the article shows that attitude can successfully be used as the focus of rhetorical analysis when trying to understand and explain the outcome of a discussion. In terms of attitudes as equipment for living it also indicates that by choosing an appropriate attitude, you adopt a strategy suitable to the situation.

          Attitudes in Burke’s writing clearly possess an impressive range. Attitude can be a strategy for dealing with a particular situation. When Burke describes attitude as connected to “quo modo,” manner, in the 1962 addition to A Grammar of Motives, this is precisely what he is describing (Grammar 443). The manner in which you perform something is in a sense a strategy for dealing with the particular situation at hand. In “Literature as Equipment for Living,” proverbs are manifestations of attitudes generalized to a category of situations. In congruence with Burke’s earlier mentioned equating of bureaucratization of the imaginative with a history of attitudes, “The Curve of History” in Attitudes toward History (Attitudes111-175) can be seen as a history of such generalized attitudes—albeit on a larger scale. At the end of that part of the volume, in “Comic Correctives” (166-175), attitudes are in a way considered on a meta-level, as attitudes toward attitude. As Ross Wolin points out in his The Rhetorical Imagination of Kenneth Burke, Burke wanted to create a perspective on perspective taking (95), and the comic frame—the comic corrective—is precisely such a perspective on perspectives, or an attitude of attitudes, which is what Burke names it in his 1955 introduction to Attitudes toward History (3rd page of “Introduction”). The comic frame is, as George & Selzer point out, the guiding principle of Burke’s (early) symbolic analysis. It is the embodiment of a synthesizing attitude – a comic attitude (161). In bringing together two ideas, two perspectives, the comic frame proscribes an accepting synthesis between the two and thereby creates an idea on top of the others, a perspective containing both of the starting ideas. While this attitude of attitudes can form a perspective by incongruity, it is also a guideline for what to do with a perspective by incongruity. It is in that sense definitely an equipment for living. Through this attitude of attitudes Burke provides a strategy for dealing with situations where ideas clash.

          Altogether the attitude displays an impressive range of uses. It can be a strategy for dealing with a particular situation, a generalized strategy for dealing with a category of situations and it can be a strategy for dealing with strategies. Seen from a theoretical perspective, a benefit of considering attitudes as equipment for living is that it clearly connects the concept of equipment for living with Burke’s Dramatism in several ways due to its nature both as central to the theory and as part of the methodology. Seen in another way, thinking of attitudes as equipment for living may be helpful both for understanding the concept of attitude and the concept of equipment for living. On the one hand, attitudes as equipment for living suggests that attitudes are practically used as just that—keeping it from being just a necessary theoretical concept or a point of analysis. On the other hand it can help clarify the process of applying something as equipment for living. When discussing this process in The Philosophy of Literary Form,  Burke comments that his choice of the word “strategy” for the process is somewhat problematic as it suggests an “overly conscious procedure,” but that the alternative, “method,” is at least as problematic as it suggests an “overly methodical” one (Philosophy 297). The attitude fits this concept perfectly. As connective between action and motion, it lies partly—but not fully—in the realm of the conscious and as a part of the hexed pentad it is part of a method, but not a method in itself.

          Attitude is an important and fascinating part of Burke’s theories, but as equipment for living it becomes directly usable in innumerable situations. Moreover, as well as being equipment for dealing with situations on different levels—be it hammering with diligence, generally meeting people with friendliness or striving for the synthesizing of meeting attitudes through the comic corrective—it also drives home the point that there are more benefits to an adopted strategy than what the adopter thinks of directly. By adopting a friendly attitude, for example, the adopter will in all probability exhibit a range of behaviours that it identifies with being friendly. And this without needing to plan or even consciously think of all these behaviours. Attitudes can so be seen as shortcuts to the (hopefully) successful handling of rhetorical situations. In this sense, attitudes as equipment for living become powerful tools for handling our everyday rhetorical lives.

          Works Cited

          Asher, Aaron. Letter to Kenneth Burke. 22 May 1961. MS. Burke Archives. Penn State, State College.

          Anderson, Dana. ”Questioning the Motives of Habituated Action: Burke and Bourdieu on Practice.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 37.3 (2004): 255-274. Print.

          Burke, Kenneth. Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose. 1935. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984. Print.

          —. Attitudes toward History. 1937. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984. Print.

          —. Letter to Aaron Asher. 18 May 1961. MS. Burke Archives. Penn State, State College.

          —. Letter to Aaron Asher. 20 January 1962. MS. Burke Archives. Penn State, State College.

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

          —. ”A Dramatistic View of the Origin of Language.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 38.3 (1952): 251-264. Print.

          —. A Rhetoric of Motives. 1959. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

          —. The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. 1941 Berkeley: U of California P, 1973. Print.

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

          Denning, Michael. The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century. London and New York: Verso, 1998. Print.

          George, Ann & Selzer, Jack. Kenneth Burke in the 1930s. Columbia: U of South Carolina P., 2007. Print.

          Hawhee, Debra. Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2009. Print.

          Mahan-Hays, Sarah E. & Aden, Roger C. “Kenneth Burke’s ”Attitude” at the Crossroads of Rhetorical and Cultural Studies: A Proposal and Case Study Illustration.” Western Journal of Communication 67.1 (2003): 32-55. Print.

          Mral, Brigitte. “'Attitude matters' – Attitydyttringar som retoriska medel.” Rhetorica Scandinavica 56 (2011): 6-30. Print.

          Richards, I. A. Principles of Literary Criticism. London: Routledge, 2001. Print.

          Rountree, Clarke. ”Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s Calvinist Rhetoric of Election: Constituting an Elect.” Journal of Communication and Religion 17.2 (1994): 33-48. Print.

          Wolin, Ross. The Rhetorical Imagination of Kenneth Burke. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2001. Print.

          Creative Commons License
          This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

          Burke's New Body? The Problem of Virtual Material, and Motive, in Object Oriented Philosophy

          Steven B. Katz, Clemson University


          Distinguishing between Object Oriented Philosophy and Actor-Network Theory this essay applies Burkean theory to question whether in the former Objects as actants can have agency if not motive. Burkean concepts of pentadic ratios, entelechy, Spinoza’s method, intrinsic/extrinsic, symbolic of the body, and catharsis are used to rhetorically analyze claims of Object Oriented Philosophy.

          Burke's New Body?

          Cosmetics, prosthetics, cybernetics, social medias, actor-network theories, digitalities, virtual realities, electracies, online literati, object-oriented ontologies. In the first two decades of the twentieth-first century alone, philosophies that attempt to shift the focus and privilege the study of (meta)physical systems of objects in the world over traditional human-centric philosophies have quickly emerged in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities (see Dolphijn and Der Tuin), including the field of rhetoric (see Rickert; Barnett; Rivers, "Circumnavigation"). To varying degrees, these new philosophies, loosely collected under the nomer New Materialisms, seem to be in a process of sublimating if not supplanting and replacing the physical human body as the (only) source of motivated agency, intelligence, audience, and language, the traditional subjects of most rhetorical study from the ancient Greeks and Hebrews until now. (The Hebrew tradition of rhetoric is generally not regarded as distinct from the Greco-Roman classical rhetorical tradition, or from the Judeo-Christian rhetorics. For a discussion not unrelated to OOP, see Katz, "Socrates as Rabbi.")

          In what we can see as (at least) two movements within New Materialisms, Object Oriented Philosophy (OOP) tends to focus more on the Objects themselves as solipsistic entities (Harman, Speculative; Tool-Being; Bryant; Morton, passim), whereas Actor-Network Theory (ANT) tends to focus on objects in 'equal' and different interactions with one another (Latour, Reassembling; Rivers, "Rhetorical Theory"; Bennett). Latour distinguishes himself from the extremes of OOP by his focus on the different 'social' configurations of objects in the world (most recently in/as "modes of existence"), rather than the transcendental withdrawal of Objects from the world in OOP, and has pushed back somewhat against this more 'extreme' philosophy—even as he co-edits a press with Harman (Latour, Harman, and Erdélyi; cf. Harman, Prince; Latour, Modes of Existence).

          In this short essay, the latter 'relationlists' will be less of a consideration; their social stripes, much like rhetoric's, are quite visible, as they manifest themselves in movements of New Materialism (e.g., see Coole and Frost). Because it does not focus on relations as much as Being, Object Oriented Philosophy (OOP) is the most philosophical and therefore least rhetorical of new materialisms (see Rivers, "Rhetorical Theory"; cf. Barnett), and will be the primary focus of this essay. (Henceforth, I will capitalize "Objects" throughout this essay not only to distinguish my use of the term to refer the entities under discussion vs. the more general sense of the word "objects," but also to suggest the Idealistic quality of the term in Object Oriented philosophies, vs. the more socially interactive nature of objects in Actor-Network Theory.)

          This essay joins an already ongoing discussion of how these emergent philosophical movements might square with key Burkean concepts of rhetorics and poetics (e.g., see Rickert, esp. 159-90) that in the end still appear to remain recalcitrantly rooted in the human body and language as the source of agency and meaning, and thus in a stubborn distinction between motion and agency, object and body, world and language (see Hawhee; Rickert). But rather than ask how new materialism might apply to and clarify Burke's work on the relation of bodies/rhetoric to language/objects, which has been a new thrust in Burkean studies, this paper asks: can Burke's work begin to help us comprehend the implications of new materialisms, in particular, OOP, for rhetorics, poetics, and even ethics in the twenty-first century? In the language of OOP, Objects are "actants." That is, Objects don't merely behave according to sheer mechanical causation or motion, but rather are characterized as having agency and purpose. From Burke's more humanistic rhetorical perspective, if Objects have agency and purpose, would they be considered to possess motives? Inversely, if humans are Objects/objects in the world, what are some of the rhetorical and moral implications from a Burkean perspective? By necessity this essay will limit its brief exploration to one branch of new materialism, OOP, and barely scratch that. But we will begin to peel back some key rhetorical (t)issues by examining in fine-grained detail salient and sometimes underexplored parts of Burke's corpus: not only his obviously pertinent discussions of substance, materiality, and agency, but also his discussion of entelechy and mimesis in Medieval and Romantic poetics; his pentadic reading of Spinoza's in relation to motion and determinism vs. agency and free will; a book review in which Burke addresses the problem of machine and human consciousness growing out of the physical body; and coacle movements—and/as catharsis—as the basis of a symbolic of substance, motives.


          This is the reaction I got when describing OOP to a disbeliever, as if Western philosophy had put its big metaphysical foot right into poo. But (deriving much from the work of Heidegger, who I cannot much discuss here because of space constraints [see Harman, Tool-Being; cf. Rickert]), in many ways OOP is not only elegant but also quickly coming to constitute what Harman calls "speculative realism" (Harman, Speculative). OOP began in the 1970s as Object Oriented Programming, morphing into Object Oriented Ontology (as if keeping up with the reality it was creating), and now is newly (re)minted by Graham Harman, Levi Bryant, and Timothy Morton, among others. Dubbed "the Speculative Turn," as opposed to "the now tired tiresome 'Linguistic Turn,' a phenomenological of subjectivity [that has] become….infested with linguistic marks," Object Oriented Philosophy (OOP) is a counterforce in continental philosophy "[a]gainst the reduction of philosophy to an analysis of texts or of the structure of consciousness" (Bryant et al. 4).

          As Bryant et al. continue in The Speculative Turn, "Deleuze was a pioneer in this field, including in his co-authored works with Fèlix Guatarri [who] set forth an ontological vision of an asubjective realm of becoming, with the subject and thought being only a final, residual product of these primary ontological movements" (4). In the historical introduction to what is an apologia for posthumanism, critiquing everything before, Bryant et al. state:

          Humanity remains at the centre of these works, and reality appears in philosophy only as the correlate of human thought. In this respect phenomenology, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction, and postmodernism have all been perfect examples of the anti-realist trend in continental philosophy. Without deriding the significant contributions of these philosophies, something is clearly amiss in these trends. In the face of the looming ecological catastrophe, and the increasing infiltration of technology into the everyday world (including our own bodies), it is not clear that the anti-realist position is equipped to face up to these developments…. By contrast with the repetitive continental focus on texts, discourse social practices, and human finitude, the new breed of thinker is turning once again to reality itself. (3)

          Unfortunate metaphors aside here to describe the philosophical effect of prior work, including that of the Jewish Derrida, Bryant et al. rightly claim that OOP is at the intersection of a new realism. Critiquing Heidegger's concept of Zuhandenheit—"ready to hand," by which Heidegger understands our relation to nature as means-ends, consciousness as Enframing, and nature itself as "Standing Reserve" for human need and use, in Toward a Speculative Realism Graham Harman comments: "[T]he theory of equipment is not an account of human practical comportment, but an ontology of entities or objects themselves"; Harman thus uses "the word 'objects' interchangeably with 'beings' or 'entities', despite Heidegger's own restriction of the term 'object'; to the pejorative sense of 'mere correlate of a representation'" (46). To summarize Harman's position briefly, OOP holds the following tenets: that all Objects, even inanimate objects, are "actants" in social networks; that humans, as Objects, are ontologically co-equal—at best (see Bryant's Democracy of Objects); that humans become aware of Objects only as they emerge in consciousness when we need them and/or when they malfunction as we use them; and that empirical knowledge and control of the Objects themselves remain, in their infinitudes of relations, beyond us.

          Among some new object oriented philosophers, there is a feeling that the fields of philosophy, rhetoric, social sciences, should recognize and move beyond its historically human-centric position to consider the reality and realm of Objects. Speaking of Latour's three "purifications" in We Have Never Been Modern—"naturalization, "socialization," and "deconstruction"—Harman states: "[S]cience deals neither with reality nor power nor rhetoric, but with all of these insofar as they belong to a network of animate and inanimate actors…"; quoting Latour, Harman continues: "'Rhetoric, textual strategies, writing, staging, semiotics—all these are really at stake, but in a new form that has a simultaneous impact on the nature of things and on the social context, while it is not reducible to one or the other'" (Harman, Speculative 77).

          Thus, Objects, properties as the only known entities, appear to be not merely at the mercy of the sheer mechanical motion of things, but also possess the self-determination of beings that exist equally and electrate in the new ontological frames of material, social, and digital matrices and networks. Indeed, as a philosophy of rhetoric, OOP can be understood to ontologically underlie both cybernetic and 'virtual' theories of meaning and agency. Once understood as the natural result of subjective, material, and physical bodies (with all the ambiguities of "substance," which Burke etymologically explicates in the Grammar of Motives), meaning and agency are now considered the effect of super-objective post-human Objects (seemingly without any of the rhetorical ambiguity of substance at all). OOP will be seen to appear to presuppose, if not will itself, to become the ontological ground of some contemporary developments in philosophy, science, and technology. Within a rising maelstrom of quantum and genetic modification, communication technologies, and artificial intelligences, OOP, and new materialism generally, can be understood going forward as the ontological basis not only of rhetorics of new media and digital experience (Bay and Rickert), but also of physics (Barad; cf. Rickert 281-84, 303n.5), synthetic biology (see Thacker; Coole and Frost), and non-sentient life forms (Morton, Realist Magic).

          Society is treated as the domain of all that pertains to the human in the form of freedom, agency, meaning, signs, and so on, while nature is treated at the domain of brute causality and mechanism without agency. As a distinction, the concept of society thus encourages us to focus on content and agency, ignoring the role that nonhuman actors or objects play in collectives involving human beings. Within the distinction pertaining to nature, nature is treated as already gathered and unified and we are encouraged to focus on causality and mechanism alone. (Bryant 270-271; cf. Latour, Politics; Assembling; Bennett; Davis)


          For Bryant, Harman, Morton, and other Object Oriented philosophers, both human and nonhuman actors, or objects, are "actants"—material entities that don't merely behave according to sheer mechanical causation or motion postulated and presumed by Newtonian science; they also 'act', are not entirely predictable, and possess their own purpose within a system of relations that are not wholly or even mostly known to us. The realm of unknowable and infinite realm of Objects is a "flat ontology" (Bryant 245-290). Perhaps the pressing issue is that Objects are not only actants along with humans, but also are becoming the more important focal point of philosophy and rhetoric in a 'posthuman', digital age. And these Objects include machines: "[W]hen Deleuze and Guattari refer to machines," says Bryant, "I see no reason not to treat these machines as objects. In short, a collective is an entanglement of human and nonhuman actors" (270). As Katherine Hayles' states in How We Became Post-Human, a study of cybernetics, literature, and society:

          The contemporary pressure toward dematerialization, understood as an epistemic shift toward pattern/randomness and away from presence/absence, affects human and textual bodies on two levels at once, as a change in the body (the material substrate) and as a change in the message (the codes of representation). The connectivity between these changes is, as they say in the computer industry, massively parallel and highly interdigitated. (29)

          Of particular concern in this essay on Kenneth Burke, then, is the "new consciousness" of electronic being in relation to agency, to which both OOP and ANT lead if not bring us. At the time of this writing, new algorithms, e-life forms, viruses, procreate and proliferate, are continuously forming in, from, and around media (think smart phones and computers), e-mersing, e-merging, mixing, and replacing bodies (think telepresence and screens), morphing, generating, and instantly publishing new versions of themselves (think Facebook, Twitter), all through a new reality of media, social networks, satellites, and clouds. If we can imagine such a thing, are these virtual bodies real outside of ANT, OOP's Speculative Reality, and other ecologies of New Materialism? (Are they real virtual bodies? Are they virtually real?) Quoting Delanda, who is citing Deleuze, Harman states: "'The virtual is not opposed to the real but to the actual. The virtual is full real insofar as it is virtual…. Indeed, the virtual must be defined as strictly as part of the real object—as though the object had one part of itself in the virtual into which it is plunged as though into an objective dimension'" (in Speculative 175; cf. Bryant 105-106). More importantly, whether they are "real" or not, and even whether they possess sentience yet, if Objects as actants possess agency, do they possess intention? Motive? Free will? If not, what kind of (un)real bodies are these? And what about their philosophical relation to human bodies, our bodies, half flesh, half media prosthetic?


          The Objects and ontologies of OOP are not ones Kenneth Burke specifically anticipated in his theory of Dramatism. (Nor do these continental ontologies acknowledge this American "philosopher," where until the first conference on Kenneth Burke in Europe at the University of Ghent, Belgium, from whence the essays of this special edition of the KB Journal come, Burke had only a marginal presence.) Can Burke's work, particularly his pentad of motives (Grammar of Motives) or any of the many analyses derived from it, such as entelechy and mimesis in poetics, and his analysis of Spinoza, help us account for or at least better understand these "new" Objects, which are presented as both actants and environment (agents and scenes, whether virtual and real), in which human and nonhuman activities, operations, and interactions exist and conceal themselves?

          We will start with the basic premise that OO Objects, like other virtual entities, are all created, supplemented, enhanced, and supported not only by science and technology, but also by rhetorics and poetics. Because the Objects of OOP are presented to us as a vision of a future realism in its infancy (e.g., Bryant et al. 7), we can and will treat them as we would any rhetorical, poetic or philosophical objects—without diminishing their ontological potency by ignoring their persuasive power. That is, we will treat them as metaphors, which transcendental, postmodern, and posthumanist philosophers (Nietzsche; Derrida; Ulmer, Teletheory, respectively) have argued underlie philosophical forms of knowledge.

          Where in the pentadic ratio would Burke locate the "actant" Object? As Act? Agent? Agency? Scene? Even Purpose? In accordance with OOP, the actant Object might occupy any/all of these. We will see that this ubiquity is important. For now, we will place the Object in the agent/scene ratio, where the Object can be seen to either shift between the active actant and the environment, or to totally fill both sides of the ratio simultaneously, even overflowing the equation and so overwhelming the ratio, space. Thus, scientifically, the Object (as object in environment) is either seen as an existing thing subject to mechanical causality, or dramatistically, the Object becomes in its totality its own entire and only motive (if it has one). This pentadic view of the Object is in keeping with OOP as articulated here. (The issue of mechanical or scientific causality vs. motivated or embodied agency also can be understood to animate much of the corpus of Burke's work.)

          But we will see through Burke's own analyses that this dramatistic proposition is much too simplistic and unsatisfactory to reveal motive. Would Burke regard Objects as having "motive," as understood in the humanistic rhetorical tradition from which Burke emerges? To the exclusion of human will, as presented by Object Oriented philosophers? How might physical or virtual Objects act with agency but not have motive?—an important question as we create new biological and mechanical life forms. (Will there come a time when it can be said that Objects possess free will? What will the ethics of those life forms be?) Or, despite the supposed protestations of Object Oriented Philosophy, does the Object qua rhetoric represent what Burke might call "scientism"—with the focus and force mechanically relayed as material power alone? We will apply Burke's distinction and discussion of agent/scene, which also indicts act, agency, and purpose and so engages the entire pentad of motives, to help us understand not only the nature of Objects as the new Forms of Actors/Environments (or as objects/mechanistic causality) that are emerging and merging in "speculative realism" as a new empiricism. Through our pentadic analysis we will 'begin to arrive' at the ethical relationship of the Object/object to the human bot, and some implications for OOP, human agency, and the valuation of rhetorical self-determination in a posthumanistic world.


          In A Grammar of Motives, Burke discusses at length in various places the problem of substance as it relates to issues of causality and will: mechanical action vs. agency, determinism vs. freewill. Dramatistically, the issue is discovering motive in thought, matter, and motion, specifically that of the human/body. Even scene embodies the paradox of substance (Grammar 21-24); in a discussion of the pentadic method, Burke sums up the issue this way: "In behavioristic metaphysics (behaviorists would call it No Metaphysics) you radically truncate the possibilities of drama by eliminating action, reducing action to sheer motion" (Grammar 10). Therefore the comprehension of motion with a motive must connect act or agency or agent to purpose, rather than simply to scene, to give the agent freewill.

          We get a hint of the implications of the actant as operant in the scene/agent ratio in Burke's discussion of entelechy—of teleology or purpose—in dramatic stereotypes in the Middle Ages, based on one of Aristotle's Four Causes, the last of which, Final Cause, finds the agent 'by nature' teleologically bound up with its own purpose. (For the sake of metaphorical analogy, and in keeping with a dramatistic analysis, I will suggest that we can and should also look at the actant Objects in OOP as "characters," which is sometimes how Object Oriented philosophers seem to discuss or advocate for those Objects.) For the first problem of action vs. motive in the scene/agent ratio becomes the problem in drama of entelechy vs. its absence. In his essay "A Dramatistic View of 'Imitation'," Burke argues that beginning in the Middle Ages, the translation of mimesis as "imitation" no longer completely captured the philosophical dimensions of Aristotle's concept of mimesis; for Burke, the translation was too scientific, too representationally "statistical," to be "particularlistically," and thus morally, accurate. Even more, in such translations, the stress was on the "scenic" element of the pentad—the spectacle, according to Burke, which for Aristotle was the lowest of six parts of tragedy ("Dramatistic" 6-7). Burke adds that what is missing from the concept of imitation from the Middle Ages is Aristotle's notion of entelechy, "the idea that a given kind of being fully 'actualizes' itself by living up to the potentialities natural to its kind" ("Dramatistic" 8).

          Indeed, "'entelechy' is essentially Dramatistic, a term for action, in contrast with the great Renaissance inquiries into motion" ("Dramatistic" 7). The more mechanical version of mimesis that Burke in "A Dramatistic View of 'Imitation'" locates as motion in the Middle Ages is perhaps a phenomenon that would become increasingly magnified not only with the scientific discoveries of the sixteenth century, the Newtonian revolution of the seventeenth, and the rise of industrial societies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but also with the development and propagation of cybernetics in the 1950s, the world wide web in the 1970s and 80s, digital and social medias in the 1990s, and increasingly articulate avatars in highly well-animated environments in the first decades of the twenty-first century and beyond. The problem in medieval drama, for Burke, is the difference between scientistic and entelechal notions of imitation (i.e., causality and motion).

          For Burke, the scientistic conception of imitation that emerged in the Middle Ages resulted in a set of deviations from Aristotle's conception of entelechy. For Aristotle, the potential to be realized in the human being is rationality (Burke, "Dramatistic" 8). In medieval and Renaissance poetry, "[t]he didactic emphasis (the Renaissance stress upon 'instruction' as an important element of poetry" [10]), and "the use of stock characters and stock situations" (11)—all of which ends in "moral pragmatism"—is scientistic, even "to a faulty analysis of poetic excellence" (12). In short, the characters became too rigid, socially, morally and emotionally, too much like allegorical categories in a chemical formula. Could this also describe the Objects as actants in OOP? Commenting on literary criticism, "Critics would suggest that the writer appealed by purely naturalistic imitation," says Burke, "after several centuries during which 'nature' came progressively to be equated with the processes of technology" (13). More than mere anthropomorphism, is this what Object Oriented philosophers do with actants?

          Of course, the answers are not this stable, and perhaps even wrong. Just as the stuff of the scientific study of nature, its categories of apprehension, and its apparatuses of entelechy and detection, increasingly became the substance of nature, so too in rhetoric and poetry such models became the reality that defined mimesis. Both the arts of rhetoric and poetry during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance demonstrated this degeneration from degraded genus to type that Burke discusses. As Burke suggests, "low canons of rhetoric would spontaneously lead mercenary playwrights into this path since one must appeal through an audience's sense of the 'natural,' and a convention can become 'natural' in this sense" (11). Thus the typical becomes the natural, Burke suggests, which then can be tested scientifically against particulars, such as the characteristics of an audience: this is the new "bond" between "'imitation' and the 'universal'" as an "idealization." Hence, Kenneth Burke's comment about Coleridge, that "an obscuring of the distinction between imitation and copy results…from the use of Aristotle's term without reference to the theory of the 'entelechy' that was an integral part of it" ("Dramatistic" 7) perhaps can be understood to apply only to the functioning of the 'secondary imagination' and the 'fancy,' to the definitiveness of forms as objects of synthesis or mimesis, and not to the 'primary imagination'. In short, it is clear that just as in Medieval plays, a character, or in science, the empirical object, can become an ideological sign or social symbol for any analogue (cf. Harman, Speculative 16). But a reading of any of the philosophical texts of OOP (ironically) reveals that the Objects as actants are not simply stereotypes of "objects."

          Kenneth Burke's assertions concerning the lessening role of entelechy and the increasing role of mechanism in mimesis (as well as any corresponding ethic of causation as an entelechy of "natural law") merely suggests, then, that the Object as an actant in OOP may be a problem of telos. Since OOP itself postulates that we only know the Object via our "stance" or "attitude" toward it (my use of Burkean terms to suggest the ambiguity of "substance" in the first place, and the unarticulated pentadic motive [attitude] in the second [cf. Hawhee]), it is actually impossible (and apparently not necessary) to know the teleology or whole reality of an Object, human or no (e.g., see Bryant 105-106; cf. Turing; Simon). This goes much further than early Latour, for example, for whom normal scientific "fact" was a closed black box into which all the history, theories, examples, experiments, apparatuses, arguments, assumptions, and uncertainties have been stuffed, and by consensus, shut (e.g. Latour, Laboratory Life; Science in Action).

          In addition, since teleology itself is its own teleology, a kind of "natural determinism" that can be understood in its strong form to actually preclude freewill (the ability to become something else), our discussion thus far merely implies that OOP is a debased version of a philosophy of Final Cause, one that is perhaps more closely related to Material Cause (substance), Formal Cause (form), or in 'worst case' scenarios, Efficient Cause (its 'trigger,' or origin), than Final Cause, which is the most purposeful (see Aristotle, Physics). While OOP is more "action-oriented" and less "motivated," this in and of itself does not negate agency, although it lessens that component of rhetorical motive within it. Therefore, to say that Burke would regard OOP as a new scientism, never mind a transcendental empiricism that also would compete with Dramatistism, is merely to acknowledge possible positional relations of philosophical and rhetorical elements within and without the Object, which for Object Oriented Philosophers is central to "understanding" the unknowable interior (what used to be called 'essence'?), as well as the only partially knowable exterior of Objects (see Harman, Speculative; Bryant 106-108).


          This distinction between "interior" and "exterior," or to use Burke's terms in the Grammar, "intrinsic" and "extrinsic," also may be important in comprehending the metaphysical empiricism of some kind of "speculative realism"—not only as new materialism, which the collectives of philosophy and media theory seem to embrace to interface and bring the virtually real into physically being (see Ulmer, Avatar xv), but also as transcendental idealism that they ethically may rebuke but that nevertheless motivates them and their movement (I am thinking of Heidegger here). Of course, Burke has explored the phenomenon of intrinsic and extrinsic too in a Grammar of Motives, in his detailed analysis of the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza. A necessarily quick examination of Burke's discussion of Spinoza, into whose geometric labyrinths many philosophies, including OOP, can trace some of their tangled roots (see Bryant et al.), would help us determine what kind of "bodies" the Objects of OOP are, and the implications for humans who already inhabit their virtual media worlds—whether in textual stasis, the subatomic topoi of random affect, or "flash reason" in an age of diffused electracy (Ulmer, Avatar xvi)—and the rhetorical and ethical prospects for talking about and interacting with post-human objects we meet on and off line everyday.

          In his close reading and cross-ranging treatment in The Grammar of Rhetoric, Burke exposes in Spinoza's work every pentadic swell, great and small, every ratio swing in Baruch's book, shifting with constantly active and moving motive, sentence by sentence, right to the cliff-hanging edge of reasoning, affect, and materialism. Burke begins with the problem of a "naturalistic ethics" in which "God equals Nature," or "action equals motion" (Grammar 137), where Spinoza's sheer geometric equation clearly seems to imply there is no room for human motive or freedom since God would fill all of space. (We noted the similar effect when Objects are both agent and scene in the agent/scene ratio.) For Burke, the ethical choices that remain are to submit to a religious absorption (or substantiation) into a transcendental deterministic value system, or to be left laying helplessly at the non-mercy of a brute, mechanistic empirical realm run by an ethics of causality and necessity (see Burke's analysis of Hobbes in the Grammar, 132-37).

          But to better comprehend the complexity of Spinoza's treatise, Burke asks us to shift the terms of "Nature" away from our "over-naturalist usage by thinking of 'Nature' also in the sense we have in mind when we speak of a person's or poem's nature" (Grammar 138). From a Dramatistic point of view, Burke says, we have the theological moment in history, when we seem to have a "narrowing of the circumference from a scene comprising both creation and creator to a scene comprising creation below" (Grammar 138), which could have been enacted by Spinoza. "Dramatistically," Burke implies, "this narrowing meant the shift from a poetic or moralistic vocabulary of action and passion to a scientific or mechanistic vocabulary of motion" (Grammar 138). But for Burke, this is at best ambiguous in Spinoza: "[B]y proclaiming the two circumferences to be identical in scope," Burke suggests, "Spinoza leaves you somewhat undecided whether he has naturalized God or deified Nature. The thought readily suggests why pantheism provides a perfect transition from theistic to naturalistic vocabularies of motives. And we also can see why materialists could claim Spinoza as one of their own, by stressing the Nature side of the equation…" (Grammar 138). (The less obvious ambiguity of the [in]decision—which appears to be lacking in OOP—is crucial for understanding the operation of the scene/agent ratio. For the separation provided by the slash equals human freedom.)

          But Burke is not done yet. The key turning point and term (Burke's "god-term") in Spinoza's ethics is not Nature, but Reason. Thus Burke begins a discussion of Spinoza's concept of "action and passion" (139), which unlike Hobbes' movement of motive by "strict reduction to motion," proceeds "formalistically and systematically with the whole structure of terms developed in accordance with such dramatistic logical" (Grammar 139). That is, Spinoza's geometry of ethics, in which "purpose retreats behind the concept of rational necessity," is ultimately motivated by Reason, which leaves purpose in his philosophy as a "terminology of action" (Grammar 139). Thus, Burke argues, "Spinoza's naturalism is primarily ethical in its stress" (Grammar 139). Further, for Burke, "Reason is as essentially dramatistic a term as Substance, the key word of the entire Spinozistic terminology" (Grammar 139). Without going into all the machinations, Burke argues that "'[C]ause' would contain connotations of action and freedom, while 'Caused' would contain the connotations of passivity and constraint" (Grammar 141). The result for Burke is that Spinoza's philosophy contains both an "active" and "passive" causality, in which God "caused," not "causes," and Nature is rhetorically stressed, thus leaving room in this partial and past determinism for agency (Grammar 140-41). "If we are but the partial cause of something, we are constrained or passive to the extent of this partiality," Burke explains (Grammar 141). Likewise, "intrinsic motivation" for Burke involves totality being delimited so that the part or individual can express if not contain the whole (Grammar 468). Thus, in Spinoza's world, unlike the Object world of OOP, God, universe, action, as scene, withdraw, making room for creation, agency, passion.

          Therefore, Book I Definition 7 of Spinoza's Ethics "gives us explicit justification for equating action with freedom and passion with necessity or determined things," which Burke points out is similar to Spinoza's disquisition on the affections in Book III of the Ethics (Grammar 141). Pointing out and pursuing the strong pragmatic, materialistic, and geometric form of Spinoza's reasoning, Burke arrives at what is most important for our inquiry here into OOP: that unlike OOP, Nature as a scene in Spinoza is only partially determined, even though it is also only partially knowable. "Just as Infinite Substance goes on forever, so every finite or determinate mode of Substance would forever persist in its nature if its existence were not terminated by the boundaries imposed on it by other determinate things" (Grammar 144).

          Geometries of Virtual Power

          In OOP, the opposite of the above seems to pertain to Objects, not only as scenes, but also as actants or agents: they too are only partially knowable (even when 'virtual', or human-made), but they seem to be largely determined intrinsically! As Bryant demonstrates:

          The virtual always belongs to a substance, not the reverse. Moreover, the virtual is always the potential harbored or carried by a discrete or individual being. In this regard, we must distinguish between the two halves of any object, substance, or difference engine. On the one hand, there is the actual side of the object consisting of qualities and extensities, while on the other hand, there is the virtual side of substances, consisting of potentialities or powers. (105)

          Thus, in OOP, at least this version, the Object, motivated intrinsically, would be the universal scene. It is the Object as scene, not as the actant, that is the source of agency for Objects in OOP. And the motive of that agency, even in OOP, would be relational. According to Bryant, for Deleuze, "the virtual is relational. These relations, however, are not relations between entities, but constitute the endo-structure of an object, its internal topology" (Bryant 105). We might remind ourselves that the internal structure of the Objects is unknowable (Simon). Indeed, so are at least some of the Objects themselves—or as Harman wrote, "whatever objects might turn out to be, which remains a mystery for now" (Speculative 115). "[I]t is entirely possible—if not common— Bryant adds, "for actually existing entities to remain in a state of virtuality such that they are fully real and existent in the world, fully concrete, without producing any qualities and extensities" (Bryant 105). These are Objects whose reality is totally out of reach of humans.

          In the Ethics, Burke concludes, Spinoza dramatistically has shown us the moral relationship and benefit of the physical to the human, but also perhaps the benefit of the human to the physical world—a world of realized and lived-in reason, ethics. It's not just that rhetoric as a phenomena of language compensates for division and helps us overcome mechanical causality by building with intent consubstantial bridges of relational action—not just identification vs. "function." More pentadically precise, compensation is the "purpose" the motions of rhetoric serve, and their natural or non-human objects use. Virtual Objects, on the other hand, are focused wholly on themselves. Like their teleology (in OOP), the relations of virtual Objects serve nothing but themselves, and neither want nor need nor know any relations with humans even as other-motivated objects. In short, Objects in OOP occupy the totality of space, just as Burke argues God does not for Spinoza. The Object is an amoral, indifferent, and overly determined virtual universe.

          Whose Body Is this Anyway?

          Where does the Object in OOP leave the human being? Within physical constraints and among numerous (and noumenal) Objects (according to Kant, noumenal objects are those independent of the mind). But for Burke, the existence and exercise of agency and free will belong to the physical human being as a symbol using entity and animal, as an agent of meaning and change. In Burke's analysis of Spinoza we've seen not only how scene may change to agent, but also how scene becomes agent, and what happens when it does. And the human body as object? It is cast among decidedly physical and thus rhetorical and poetic objects—unlike the metaphorical Objects of the virtual world—objects that we have struggled to define in an ever-indeterminate and meaningful structure that we have called daemon, soul, psyche; id, ego, mind; consciousness, individual, self; persona, personality, presence; social construction, agent, actant; robot, android, avatar; cyborg, clone, cloud. Burke ends his discussion of Spinoza by saying: "As for purpose: it is apparent that the endeavor towards self-preservation provides at least for a stimulus in the purely biological sense, and we shall see that the equating of self-preservation with action and the development of adequate ideas gives us purpose in the rational sense…" (Grammar 145).

          But even if human bodies are not Objects (or parts of other Objects) in OOP, we are still left with the question of how to account for dramatistic motive of the physical human body as a material scene. In "Thinking of the Body," as well as books reviews such as "More Dithyrambic than Athletic" (Equipment 351-55), Burke troubled about the entelechy of flesh. As he remarks in this 1967 review of Norman O. Brown's book, Love's Body,

          As regards the term 'body'…[t]he more one speculates upon the paradoxes of the term "substance," the more difficult becomes the task of isolating the 'individual'. We all merge into our environment, the circumference or scope of which can be extended to the farthest limits of 'nature' (and beyond, to the 'supernatural', if you are theologically minded). Even when considered close up, the identity of the 'self' or 'person' becomes part of a collective texture involving language, property, family, reputation, social roles, and so on—elements not reducible to the individual. The same is true of our physical nature. (Equipment 351-52)

          But Burke adds, "with one notable exception. Physiologically, the centrality of the nervous system is such that…I as a person may sympathetically identify myself with other people's pleasures and pains…." (Equipment 352).

          It's Personal

          These questions of object vs. body, cause vs. motive, were not just abstract or bizarre for Burke. Burke often referred to himself as "'a word man'" and his own poetry as a "'wordy human body,'" by which David Blakesley said Burke meant "a word-being. Who 'he' is—the cluster of physiological and motivational drives—is indistinguishable in the molten center of being but emergent in his distinguishable becoming" (xvii-xviii). But according to William Rueckert (Towards a Symbolic xviii-xix), one of Burke's students and close friends, Burke wrestled with the symbolic of the body, particularly the basic bodily functions, such as the "coacal motives," his whole life (see "Thinking of the Body"). Rueckert affirms that this struggle arrested the full development of Burke's projected third book, a Symbolic of Motives, in his rhetorical trilogy of the Grammar and the Rhetoric (of Motives). For as Burke knew and grappled with, the grotesqueness of the actual physical body entails some unpleasant attributes. As Bakhtin wrote in Rabelais: "[t]he main events in the life of the grotesque body, the acts of the bodily drama, take place in this sphere. Eating, drinking, defecation, and other elimination (sweating, blowing of the nose, sneezing), as well as copulation, pregnancy, dismemberment, swallowing up of other bodies—all these acts are performed on the confines of the body and the outer world, or on the confines of the old and new body" (317; see Hawhee, esp. Ch 7).

          Debra Hawhee asserts that Rueckert seemed to have resented this blockage, and the physical body that was the cause of it. As she demonstrates in a 'medical examination' of a "body biography" (Burke's personal letters during the attempted writing of the Symbolic of Motives), "[i]n the 1950's, Burke's own body was falling apart" (Hawhee 129). Indeed, there seems to be a correlation between the "mechanical breakdowns" of Burke's body, and the writing. In various essays contained in Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives, 1950-1955 (e.g., "Goethe"; "Mind, Body"; "Rhetoric and Poetics"; "Thinking of the Body"), Burke can be seen to struggle with how to understand and represent the "physical" as motive, as symbolic action, without falling into the trap of causality and mechanical force. Hawhee believes Burke does this in part through the concept of catharsis, discussed below. We now know that OOP will not help this effort—cannot provide a rhetorical metaphysic for human motivation (cf. Rickert, who argues for a rhetorical metaphysic that is not based on the human body at all, but rather the rhetorical interrelations of everything in the environment as "ambient"). But from Burke we have no full dramatistic treatment of bodily functions as motives in rhetoric and poetry (but cf. Hawhee 105-155, who does give us a treatment).


          This question of the body, too, can be related to Aristotle's theory of poetics—this time, to catharsis. But perhaps like Burke, we may discover that Aristotle's notion of catharsis was a wholly rational process (cf. Hawhee [136-146], who persuasively makes the case for a more physical conception catharsis in Aristotle than I do). In the essays for the Symbolic, and according to William Rueckert, subsequent unsuccessful revisions of them, Burke sought to counterbalance and supplement Aristotle's treatment of catharsis by taking into literary and rhetorical account bodily excretions and purging. For Hawhee, Burke, in his writings on the subject ("Catharsis"), finds some relief by considering catharsis as a crowd-polluted collective, and in the awful offal of ecology (141-147). As Rueckert discusses in his introduction to Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives, to Aristotle's non-physical notion of catharsis, Burke adds not only pity, fear, and pride to emotions purged in tragedy, but also "the whole concept of body thinking (the demonic trinity, the physiological counterparts of pity, fear and pride—the sexual, urinal, and fecal—to the cathartic process)" (xviii). In fact, says Rueckert:

          "Catharsis—the purgative, redemptive motive"—has been at the center of Burke's thinking about literature since The Philosophy of Literary Form, but what is added in "Poetics, Dramatistically Considered" is what Burke describes as his great 'breakthrough' in his thinking about his dramatistic poetics… Burke's insistence in that essay [is] that, to be complete, all cathartic experiences must also express the three major bodily motives, or Freud's cloacal motive, the whole realm of privacy. (xviii-xix )

          In this, Rueckert and Hawhee seem to agree (see Hawhee 146-147).

          While Burke's work on the body bogged down and at least in part defeated his attempt to complete the "trilogy," it also obviously points to the painful need Burke felt to try account for poetic catharsis as a physical as well as an abstract, rational process, and to situate symbolic motives in the material processes and conditions of the organic body itself. This may still be a problem for us, especially in light of OOP and the increasing dematerialization of the human body. As Nietzsche wrote in On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense, "Does nature not conceal most things from him—even concerning his own body—in order to confine and lock him within a proud, deceptive consciousness, aloof from the coils of the bowels…?" (6). It's so much nicer, easier, neater, cleaner, to consider and speculate on the symbolic of the Object as opposed to the symbolic of the body, the holic, the colic, the bawlic, the coacle, the cocoa in the middle of the warm we don't know. Perhaps more important than how to make meaning out of human mush are questions such as the morality of all that stuff.

          Genwarks and Netsomes?

          I agree that this short exposition is far too general, and not fair. For example, discussions of New Materialisms that emerge out of Bruno Latour's Actor-Network Theory, which I am sure we would all agree seems to account to a degree for the value that social-epistemic rhetorics can bring. And the idea that to survive and succeed in our communication and our daily actions we interpersonally interact with and require not only other human beings, but also things, lots of things, both visible and hidden, seems completely reasonable to me. And that these things play essential parts in our genwarks and netsomes (and the next level of our nature and being as bodies, our netquarks and genano technologies) will be acceptable as well. But Turing's test always strikes me as a bit of a "behaviorist" hoax. And now we have the Object's disappearing act. And we might be amazed at how far this can go. What was once metaphorical is now ontological. And in this ontological scheme, Objects in OOP…natural and technological… not only make up the environment, what Burke dubbed scene, but also facilitate a complete and contradictory transformation of all Burke's ratios, in which Objects are both agents/scene, with their own agency for "their own" purposes, both known and indeterminate, extrinsically and intrinsically, collapsing everything into total, all-encompassing metaphysical Scene.

          On the face of it (pun intended), this description of Objects in nature or technology is otherwise quite ordinary, a simple chain reaction, a feedback loop; any thermostat can tell you that! But the symbolic of it!! Given Turing, OOP would seem to exist solipsistic, to have a purpose if not a kind of consciousness of its own. (As Katherine Hayles explains in How We Became Posthuman, the thermostat, with its self-regulating mechanism, was only the first stage [in the first wave] of cybernetics in the fifties. I don't know what wave we're on now.) But accepted without the benefit of Burke's rhetoric, if the Objects in this ontology are taken as fact into which all questions of empiricism are stored, the Objects are metaphysically stacked. OOP does have potential uses in the physical world. I believe OOP can be seen as the epistemological basis of the virtual, the art-ificial (art-official—the opposite of Benjamin's riddance of "ritual" in art). I also intimate that OOP now provides an amoral ethical ground for genetic modification, social engineering, and synthetic biology itself. And it is also my prediction that OOP may constitute the nascent ontology of the independent, sentient, non-human life forms we are working so hard to create. According to our exposition, Objects as actants would seem to lack an "extrinsic" entelechy—or is it that we lack knowledge of their entelechy? Has the mechanical notion of purpose critiqued by Aristotle or Burke become the manifest, non-mimetic, teleological cause in OOP? Or are we imposing the whole Aristotelian philosophy of teleology—or Dramatism—or Object Oriented Philosophy—on Objects, which according to OOP primarily may be undiscoverable? (Would OOP exist if humans weren't here to think it?)

          It is perhaps significant that Bryant et al. state: "we must not conclude that collectives as such are composed of human and nonhuman actors," and goes on to point out that "planets and asteroids, and so on," can be considered collectives "without any human involvement whatsoever" (271). Is it a question of consciousness? Comparing human existence to the existence of Objects within contemporary European philosophy, Harman states: "[T]he difference between unconscious use and conscious awareness is insufficiently fundamental. Instead of a single privileged gap between human and world…there are actually trillions of gaps; or rather, an infinite number" (Speculative 115).


          Just as Latour, Bennett, and Davis, to respectively increasing degrees, open up for us social and ethical black boxes of nature based on a priori social and/or moral conditions of a rhetoric of relations, our inquiry into Burke's corpus opens up our relation with machines as well. After all, like our bodies, it is machines, Bryant and others state, that also provide Objects a home. In critiquing "mechanistic" notions of causality vs. motivism, Burke would say that when action is reduced to mere motion, humans become objects. Is the inverse true as well? Would Burke say that Objects in OOP, with their solipsistic teleology and relations, have motive, freewill as well? For Burke, this might be the "true test" of sentience in machines. As Burke writes in "Mind, Body, and the Unconscious," "The computer can't serve as our model (or 'Terministic screen'). For it is not an animal, but an artifact. And it can't truly be said to 'act.' Its operations are but a complex set of sheerly physical motions. Thus, we must if possible distinguish between the symbolic action of a person and the behavior of such a mere thing" (63).

          If in the posthuman Scene there are no absolute demarcations, no essential differences between bodily existence and object simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biology, causality and substance, we may now say: if Burke had a choice, we might know a little better what kind of ethical relationship with objects, humans, machines he would deem more rhetorical, and why (cf. Katz and Rhodes).

          Works Cited

          Aristotle. Barnes, Jonathan, ed. The Complete Works of Aristotle. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1984. Print.

          —. Physics. Trans. R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye. Vol. 1, Barnes 315-446.

          —. Poetics. Trans. I. Bywater. Vol. 2, Barnes 2316-2340.

          Bakhtin, Mikhail Mikhaĭlovich (see also Vološinov, V. N.). Rabelais and His World. Trans. Hélène Iswolsky. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984. Print.

          Barad, Karen. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham: Duke UP, 2007. Print.

          Barnett, Scot. "Toward an Object-Oriented Rhetoric." Enculturation: A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture 7 (2010): n. pag. 7 April 2014. Web.

          Bay, Jennifer, and Thomas Rickert. "New Media and the Fourfold." JAC 28.1-2 (2008): 209-244. JSTOR. 7 April 2014. Web.

          Blakesley, David. "Introduction: Kenneth Burke—Word Man." Late Poems, 1968-1993: Attitudinizings Verse-wise, While Fending for One's Selph, and in a Style Somewhat Artificially Colloquial. Ed. Julie Whitaker and David Blakesley. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2005. xvii-xxvii. Print.

          Bryant, Levi. The Democracy of Objects. Open Humanities Press, 2011. Print.

          Bryant, Levi, Nick Srnicek, and Graham Harman, Eds. The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialisms and Realism. Melburn:, 2011. Print.

          Burke, Kenneth. "A 'Dramatistic' View of 'Imitation.'" Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives: 1950-1955. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2007. 5-18. Print.

          —. "A Dramatistic View of the Origin of Language and Postscripts on the Negative." Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley: U of California P, 1966. 419-79. Print

          —. "Catharsis—Second View." Centennial Review of Arts and Science 5 (Spring 1961): 107-32.

          —. Equipment for Living: The Literary Reviews of Kenneth Burke. Ed. Nathaniel A. Rivers and Ryan P. Weber. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2010. Print.

          —. "Goethe's Faust, Part I." Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives: 1950-1955. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2007. 283-310. Print.

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

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

          —. Late Poems, 1968-1993: Attitudinizings Verse-wise, While Fending for One's Selph, and in a Style Somewhat Artificially Colloquial. Ed. Julie Whitaker and David Blakesley. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2005. Print.

          —. "Mind, Body, and the Unconscious." Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley: U of California P, 1966. 63-80. Print.

          —. "More Dithyrambic than Athletic." Equipment for Living: The Literary Reviews of Kenneth Burke. Ed. Nathaniel A. Rivers and Ryan P. Weber. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2010. 351-55. Print.

          —. "Rhetoric and Poetics." Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley: U of California P, 1966. 295-307. Print.

          —. A Rhetoric of Motives. New York: Prentice, 1952. Print.

          —. "The Thinking of the Body." Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley: U of California P, 1966. 308-43. Print.

          Coole, Diana, and Samantha Frost, eds. New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics. Durham: Duke UP, 2010. Print.

          Davis, Diane. Inessential Solidarity: Rhetoric and Foreigner Relations. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2010. Print.

          Derrida, Jacques. "White Mythology." Margins of Philosophy. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1982. 207-72. Print.

          Dolphijn, Rick, and Der Tuin, Iris van. New Materialisms: Interviews & Cartographies. Open Humanities Press, 2012. Print.

          Harman, Graham. Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics (Anamnesis). Melbourne, Australia:, 2009. Print.

          —. Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects. Peru, IL: Carus Publishing, 2002. Print.

          —. Towards Speculative Realism: Essays and Lectures. [Winchester]: Zero-Hunt, 2010. Print.

          Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1999. Print.

          Hawhee, Debra. Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2009. Print.

          Katz, Steven B. "Socrates as Rabbi: The Story of the Alpha and the Aleph in an Age of Information." An Introduction to Jewish Rhetorics. Eds. Janice Fernheimer and Michael Bernard-Donals. Waltham, MA: Brandeis UP. Print.

          Katz, Steven B, and Vicki W. Rhodes. "Beyond Ethical Frames of Technical Relations: Digital Being in the Workplace World." Digital Literacy for Technical Communication: 21st Century Theory and Practice. Ed. Rachel Spilka. London: Routledge, 2010: 230-56. Print.

          Latour, Bruno. An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns. Trans. Catherine Porter. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2013. Print.

          —. Pandora's Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1999. Print.

          —. Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2004. Print.

          —. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.

          —. Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987. Print.

          —. We Have Never Been Modern. Trans. Catherine Porter. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993. Print.

          Latour, Bruno, Graham Harman, and Peter Erdélyi. The Prince and the Wolf: Latour and Harman at the LSE. [Winchester]: Zero-Hunt, 2011. Print.

          Latour, Bruno, and Steve Woolgar. Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1986. Print.

          Morton, Timothy B. Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2009. Print.

          —. Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality. London: Open Humanities P, 2013. Print.

          Nietzsche, Friedrich. On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense. Chicago: Aristeus, 2012. Print.

          Rickert, Thomas. Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2013. Print.

          Rivers, Nathaniel A. "Circumnavigation: An Interview with Thomas Rickert." Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 18.2 (2014): n.pag. 7 April 2014. Web.

          —. "Rhetorical Theory/Bruno Latour." Enculturation: A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture 15 (2012): n. pag. 7 April 2014. Web.

          Rueckert, William, ed. Introduction. Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives: 1950-1955. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2007. xi-xxi. Print.

          Simon, Herbert A. The Sciences of the Artificial. 3rd ed. Cambridge: MIT P, 1996. Print.

          Spinoza, Benedict de. Ethics. Edwin Curley, Ed and Trans. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1994. Print.

          Turing, A.M. "Computing Machinery and Intelligence." Mind 49 (1950): 433-60. Print.

          Ulmer, Gregory L. Avatar Emergency. Anderson, SC: Parlor Press, 2012. Print.

          —. Teletheory. New York: Atropos, 2004. Print.

          Creative Commons License
          This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

          Volume 10, Issue 1 Summer 2014

          Contents of Issue 10.1 (Summer 2014)

          Terministic Screens of Corruption: A Cluster Analysis of Colombian Radio Conversations

          Adriana Angel, Universidad de Manizales (Colombia)
          Benjamin Bates, Ohio University


          To explore understandings of corruption in Colombia, we analyzed public talk on Hora 20, a very popular Colombian radio program. Using Burke’s concept of terministic screens and his method of cluster analysis, we found that Hora 20’s radio speakers express six terministic screens regarding corruption. Each cluster triggers different programs of action with diverse linguistic and practical implications, both for addressing problems of corruption in Colombia and for complicating Burke’s cluster analysis method.

          A PUBLIC DISCUSSION OF CORRUPTION in Colombia is certainly needed. Transparency International confirms that Colombia is a highly corrupt country; on a scale of transparency from 0 to 10, Colombia only reached 3.4, and, out of the 183 countries that are measured, Colombia ranked number 80 (Morales). In 2011, corruption emerged in different fields including land, health, military forces, and public administration. Several cases investigated by the Attorney General, the Public Prosecutor, and the Comptroller, as well as many studies conducted by NGOs and academic institutions, reveal the magnitude of the administrative irregularities in the country (Semana).

          According to the last Gallup Survey, 63% of Colombians believe that the country has serious problems of corruption (Samper). According to Samper (2011), the Colombian state recovers only eight of every 1,000 pesos stolen. Likewise, one-tenth of all public budgets are diverted to improper payments. This means that, annually, Colombia loses about 18 trillion pesos (about $10 billion) due to corruption. To overcome this problem, the government has created more than 4,500 internal control units, but, according to the Attorney General (Samper), they have not succeeded. Out of 26,000 cases of bribery, extortions, and embezzlement, only a few of them are fully investigated and adjudicated (Samper). In fact, impunity in Colombia can be as high as 90%, which means that most authors of corruption are neither accused nor punished (Cepeda 1).

          To address cases and even scandals of corruption, the intervention of media is necessary because it is through media that information becomes public and known (Tumber and Waisbord 1143). An event of corruption becomes a scandal only after mass media have communicated or denounced it to a nation’s public (Restrepo 68). The few Colombian scholars who have studied media representation of corruption agree that we must study corruption’s causes, implications, and its relationship to media if we are to resolve this problem (Fedesarrollo 49; Ureña 213). These claims presume, however, that there is a shared meaning given to the term “corruption” in Colombian media. But there is not.

          To explain the lack of agreement about the definition of corruption and to understand the construction of corruption in Colombian radio media representation, we turn to Burke’s concept of the terministic screen (Philosophy 109) as well as his method of cluster analysis (Attitudes 232). Given the multiple understandings of corruption, Burke’s concept of the terministic screen helps us to understand each perspective of corruption as a different frame of interpretation that motivates speakers and that also triggers different programs of action with diverse linguistic and practical implications. But Burke’s ideas are not only important from a theoretical perspective. They are also helpful from a methodological standpoint in the sense that Burke provides some methodological guidelines and teaches us how terminologies come together in clusters so that they reflect and reproduce particular understandings of reality. Burke’s cluster analysis allows us to explore different terministic screens of corruption and how they are reproduced through language.

          To access terministic screens of corruption, we performed a cluster analysis of Hora 20, a very popular Colombian Monday-to-Friday radio program. On this program, journalists, politicians, and scholars discuss important news of the day. Corruption was a common topic on the program in 2011. This cluster analysis method reveals understandings of corruption in Colombia and provides clues on how to start managing the problem. We decided to perform this cluster analysis on radio conversations considering the importance of this medium in Colombia.

          Since its arrival to the country, radio has played a fundamental role in Colombian society. Colombian radio has been used to entertain (Antequera and Obregón 147), to provide news (Lalinde 47), to educate (Kaplún 147; Mwakawago 307), and to advocate for social change (Mejía and Gómez 140; Mwakawago 308; Bonilla, Restrepo, Vásquez and Betancur 241; Vaca 254). People of all ages, genders, social classes and occupations, and in all parts of the country, often listen to radio (Centrao Nacional de Colsutoria; Mastrini and Becerra 9). Radio is the second most widely consumed medium in Colombia after television; 67% of the Colombian population listens to radio every day (ACIM).

          One of the most popular radio programs is Hora 20. In 2011, Hora 20 devoted several episodes to issues of corruption, as levels of corruption increased significantly during this year. Despite spending many hours trying to construct the causes and consequences of this increase, the radio speakers invited to the program rarely achieved agreement. The conversations were highly controversial, in part, because they lacked consensus on what “corruption” is.

          We begin this article with a brief review of the literature regarding Colombian corruption. Turning to cluster analysis, a Burkean method of analysis, we examine the radio program Hora 20 to show the clusters of terms that give rise to six different constructions of corruption’s meaning in Colombia. Finally, we offer implications that these findings have both for addressing problems of corruption in Colombia and for complicating Burke’s cluster analysis method.

          Colombian Corruption

          Even though every country in the world has corruption, what is considered to be a corrupt act varies from country to country (Rønning 158). Scholars have defined corruption as “the abuse of public office for private gain and the abuse of public power for private benefit” (Vargas-Hernández 270). In some cases, corruption involves the payment of bribes to finance a State decision. In other cases, corruption implies clientalism, a system of privileges in which “resources are controlled by patrons and delivered to clients in exchange for deference and various kinds of support” (Yusha’u 162). Corruption not only involves the payment of money but also some kind of exchange of favors or benefits (Solimano, Tanzi and del Solar 270).

          Scholars have also classified the kinds of corruption according to the magnitude of the scandal (Ureña 211), the type of agent who commits the act (Solimano, Tanzi and del Solar 270), the kind of result that the act seeks (Vargas-Hernández, 285), and the theoretical framework that is used to explain its causes (Jain, part II). Given the diversity of definitions, operationalizations, and examples, we do not adopt a priori a definition of corruption. Rather than imposing a definition, whether it be a moralistic or legalistic definition, we seek to understand how Colombians have articulated the meaning of corruption. To do this, we turn to Hora 20 as a representative anecdote for how Colombians discuss corruption.


          Text Selection

          Every day, Monday through Friday, Hora 20 is broadcast live from the most prestigious and widely heard radio station in the country, Caracol Radio, to all cities in the country (AICM). Hora 20 is one of the most important journalistic programs of opinion among all kinds of Colombian media, which explains its large audience (Duzán). The producer of Hora 20 has told us that the audience of the program is over one million listeners, which makes Hora 20 the most important radio program of opinion and news information in Colombia (C. Torres, personal communication, July 15, 2011). This data, of course, is not entirely reliable because it comes from the producer of the program. However, the general idea among citizens and media producers is that Hora 20 is the most important program of opinion in the country because of the depth of the analysis and discussion that if offers (Duzán). Indeed, in addition to being listened to by 44% of the population each week, Caracol Radio is judged by Colombians to be the most trustworthy source of  news and information (Intermedia). And, of the programs on Caracol Radio, Hora 20 is the most popular program. Overall, Caracol Radio and its flagship programs nationwide enjoy a 62% audience share for news and current affairs (Prisa). Hora 20 is consumed across many social classes and regions of the country.

          Néstor Morales hosts the program every day, but his guests vary. These guests are politicians (usually congressmen and former government officials), widely known journalists in the field, or scholars with high positions in important universities. Over one hour and a half (7:30 PM to 9:00 PM), Morales asks questions to his guests about one topic that has been relevant during the day, often the most controversial political topic of the last 24 hours.

          Major corruption events in Colombia occurred in March 2011 and Hora 20 covered them through the analysis of their causes and implications. To analyze how the notion of corruption is constructed and communicated in Colombian news-talk radio, we recorded all episodes where the main topic was corruption broadcast by Hora 20 from the beginning of March of 2011 until October 31 of the same year. Because of the several kinds of corruption occurring in Colombia in 2011, we selected the four broadcasts that Nestor Morales named as approaching corruption as a general phenomenon. These episodes were likely to provide some perspective about the context and general characteristics of corruption without concentrating on specific cases. We also included cases of corruption in both the health and the agriculture systems for three reasons. First, these broadcasts represent cases of corruption of national scope. Second, they were quantitatively the most discussed cases of corruption, as the numbers of broadcastings show. Third, corruption in the health and the agriculture sectors have been considered the most serious instances of Colombian corruption over the last decades in the history of the country (Pizano). In total, 13 episodes of Hora 20 and, therefore, about 20 hours of spoken discourse, were selected.  Once we transcribed these 13 broadcasts (about 750 pages), we performed a cluster analysis to examine how the notion of corruption was communicated by radio speakers.

          Cluster Analysis

          In Attitudes Toward History (19-24, 293-298) and Permanence and Change (19-36), rhetorician Kenneth Burke presented his preliminary ideas about how certain terms reflect individuals’ motives and, therefore, their attitudes toward action. He posited that when speakers use terms to communicate about a certain idea, their terminologies come together in “clusters.” Clusters, as defined by Burke, are “what goes with what” in terms of what vocabularies begin to be associated with one another when a speaker speaks (Philosophy 20). Cluster analysis allows the researcher to explore “what subjects cluster about other subjects” because speakers will use associated terms in ways that demonstrate patterns of uses where some terms are commonly used with other terms to create a set and, further, these terms are against some other cluster of terms (Attitudes 232). Through cluster analysis, other scholars have studied American racial politics (Lynch), the question of women priests in the Episcopal Church (Foss 1), and John Kennedy’s speech (Berthold 302) by exploring what goes with what and what is against what.

          Although it is common to use frameworks like Burke’s pentad to derive a single rhetor’s motivational vocabulary, we must consider Burke’s argument that it is all-too-common for interpreters to ignore the dramatic and dialectical origins of group motives when they posit that a single principle motivates a text. This move to place unified motives above the actual dialectic of a society becomes “an act of supererogation” in which the unified motive cannot account for conflicting motives within the group that the text claims to represent (Rhetoric 367). Multiple motives can exist in a society, and when different speakers speak, they may be motivated by these different vocabularies differently. At a social level, and as Burke has noted, however, “ideals, or wishes, need not be consistent with one another. . . . Yet one might wish for both dispensations at once” (Grammar 374). This inconsistency is not fatal to the organization of group motives; it is essential to them. This is why Burke claims we must acknowledge that multiple terministic clusters exist and that they are in agonistic and complementary relationships at the same time:

          There are principles in the sense of wishes, and there are principles in the sense of interrelationships among the wishes. Principles as wishes are voluntary and arbitrary, inasmuch as men can meet in conference and decide how many and what kind of wishes they shall subscribe to. But once you have agreed upon a list of wishes, the interrelationships among those wishes are necessary or inevitable. (Rhetoric 375)

          The specific means of identifying these principles (or motives) and their associated vocabularies is not fully clarified by Burke.

          To conduct this analysis, we therefore followed four traditional steps of cluster analysis (Berthold 304-306; Burke Attitudes 3-30; Lynch). First, we began by establishing “corruption” as the a priori key term that guided the consecutive search for other terms. That is, we explored the main terms that news-talk radio speakers use when they define and describe corruption. While we predetermined corruption as the key term, other terms emerged a posteriori from the reading of the text.

          For the second step of cluster analysis, we identified the terms often used by speakers when referring to corruption. As Lynch observes, at this stage of the analysis it is necessary to identify “terms that appear in the same context as the key term(s) and rank them according to frequency of appearance and the intensity or power of the term.” Terms of high frequency are those that repeatedly appear in a text and terms of high intensity are those charged with special meaning and connotations in the sense that they are used to define, describe, or undermine key terms (Foss 2-3).

          The third step to conduct the cluster analysis consisted of identifying the clusters of terms that showed patterns of meaning insofar as they referred to broad and more complex narratives about corruption. These patterns of meaning referred to similar ideas or narratives that speakers often convey when describing and analyzing corruption. These terms can, at this time, also be classified by following Burke’s (Attitudes 3-30) ideas about frames of acceptance and rejection. These acceptance and rejection frames allowed us to identify the agons or terms in opposition to corruption. This agonistic relationship, as Lynch calls it, is developed “through some form of contraposition which includes direct opposition and negation, description of a potential competition between terms, imagery portraying, opposition or struggle, indirect opposition vis a vis a third term, and enumeration.” In this sense, we explored the ideas that news-talk radio speakers accept and reject through the analysis of the terms that they employ to construct corruption; different terms show the practices, characteristics, and dimensions that are included and excluded in their constructions of corruption.

          The fourth and final stage of cluster analysis consisted, as Foss explains, of “naming the rhetor’s motives on the basis of the meanings of the key terms” (367). Unlike a psychological approach, it is important to notice that these motives are not related to the speakers’ intentions or to their mental states. According to Burke (Permanence 19, Attitudes 293, Rhetoric 99-101) motives are systems of interpretation that work as frames of orientation through which individuals perceive the world. Thus, motives exist in the realm of meaning and, therefore, in the specific vocabularies that individuals use of define the world (Jasinski 367). Through the terms that we use, we not only communicate meaning, but also refer to particular attitudes and actions over the world. The purpose of exploring radio speakers’ motives when discussing corruption did not aim at establishing their intentions, but to examine the systems of interpretation and the frames of orientation through which they construct their discourses about corruption.


          When invited to analyze Colombian corruption, Hora 20’s radio speakers express their different approaches to this phenomenon and talk radio allows them—and the audiences—the possibility to share these different constructions. The conversation led radio speakers to reproduce six main terms that name the clusters speakers use to frame corruption: invasive decay, illegal practice, piñata, irregular action, unethical behavior, and normal practice. Each of these terms constitute what Burke (Language 44-45) calls a terministic screen, or a frame of interpretation from which speakers define and reproduce specific approaches to corruption. While terministic screens are vocabularies or lenses that speakers use to define and understand the world, the method of cluster analysis allows researchers to study the way in which those terms group, relate, and distinguish from others. Thus, reality is already mediated by language and cluster analysis allows us to study the forms and the consequences of that mediation.

          In tracing terministic screens that reveal motives of a social (or non-unified) rhetor, it would be a mistake to claim that there must be a single, consistent, principle (or motive) that guides the text (Burke Rhetoric 61-62). Rather, in a collectively articulated text in which multiple speakers come together to express different terministic clusters surrounding a phenomenon, it is more likely that there will be multiple articulations of principles and motives, and that these motives will operate agonistically (in some dialogues/dialectics) and consistently (in other dialogues/dialectics). Indeed, we must take care to recognize and protect these terministic tensions within a social text.

          We did not consider one of these six different voices or understandings of corruption as correct and the others wrong because, as Burke argues “charts of meaning are not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’—they are relative approximations to the truth. . . . In fact, even in some of the most patently ‘wrong’ charts, there are sometimes discoverable ingredients of ‘rightness’ that have been lost in perhaps ‘closer’ approximations” (Philosophy 108). Moreover, because the drama within a text comes from the dialectical negotiation of terms to chart meaning, “we shall automatically be warned not to consider it [the text/document] in isolation, but as the answer or rejoinder to assertions current in the situation in which it arose” (Philosophy 109).  It is less important, then, to identify the voice of single speaker in a text; rather, the tracing of terministic clusters, allows us to hear the motives of “a group dance in which all shared” as rhetors in a society (Philosophy 109). To examine the motivations within this group dance that creates multiple meanings of corruption, we present the six different clusters of Colombian corruption.

          Corruption as Decay

          When talking about corruption as a long term problem in Colombian society, some news-talk radio speakers frame corruption as an invasive decay. The following brief radio excerpts illustrate this terministic screen: “Many institutions that are fundamental to the State are today gnawed” (Santos); “Corruption is the plague of the Colombian State” (Nieto); “So, according to what you all have been saying, the diagnosis is that we are corroded by corruption” (Morales); and, “Corruption is corroding the soul of Colombians” (Esguerra). Insofar as corruption is presented as a decay in the form of plague, rot, rust, or virus, the identity of corruption is ambiguous and unclear. The gnawing, corroding, plaguing agent is not named. Corruption may simply be a natural phenomenon that comes from age. In this cluster, corruption is not an illegal practice or an unethical behavior, but a vague entity that attacks institutions and individuals. The motive for decay, then, is not one of ill intention. Like rusting metal or rotting wood, corruption-as-decay is motivated by natural causes. And, like rusting metal or rotting wood, humans can use cleaning and maintenance to prevent or ameliorate corruption as a stopgap solution, but, in the long term, decay is inevitable.

          Corruption as an Illegal Practice

          By presenting corruption as an illegal practice, radio speakers give a severe and very negative connotation to corruption by clustering “corruption” together with terms from legal settings. A corrupt action constitutes an illegal act insofar as it violates the law so that a few people can gain some private benefit. Defining corruption in terms of legality and illegality is a matter of controversy in the scholarly literature on corruption. Some scholars consider that what makes an event an act of corruption is not its condition of illegality, but the violation of ethical principles of justice. In the following excerpt, offered as a representative example, journalist and researcher for the United Nations, Claudia López, frames as illegal the use of public money to finance two political campaigns:

           I do believe, I have no doubt, I think that it is common sense to think that taking advantage of the money that we Colombians pay in taxes in order to support some campaign funders is not only unethical, but it’s clearly a crime of favoritism and an abuse of public office.

          Terms like prison, law, crime, and judicial system cluster around this understanding of corruption as an illegal practice. When radio speakers frame corruption in this sense, they define corrupt practices as actions that categorically and certainly constitute violations of law. For example, when debating the judicial consequences of corruption, radio speakers who frame corruption as an illegal practice claim that individuals implicated in cases of corruption have to go to prison since corruption implies the violation of law. Those who frame it differently (see below) consider excessive a punishment like this since corruption does not mean crime, but an irregular action of less severe nature. Finally, unlike corruption as a decay, the corrupt act here is committed by a specific agent and not by an unknown specimen or element (time, rust, something) of uncertain nature. While the former approach tends to consider corruption as a condition of a system, the latter views it as the attribution of an illegal behavior of a particular agent.  Thus, corruption-as-illegal practice is motivated by the law as guiding principle. For corruption to be understood as illegal practice, it emerges because corruption is performed in opposition to or in violation to the Law. And, in turn, the solution to corruption is to strengthen the reach of the Law.

          Corruption as a Piñata

          A third cluster of terms—terms naming corruption as a piñata—is similar to the construction of an illegal action, but it is not exactly the same. Rather than being an action that violates the law, corruption as piñata refers to contexts of celebration and feast. Likewise, a piñata is a container filled with treats and gifts, which are given to the guests of a party. In the context of agricultural corruption, for example, some radio speakers  frame Secure Agricultural Income1, a government program to subsidize smallholding farmers, as a piñata in the sense that agricultural programs like this was designed as a system of gifts according to which quick-witted individuals could appropriate “treats” that were in fact large amounts of money. This cluster emerges clearly in the following example:

          Forero: We are talking about giving public resources to private individuals without making any public bidding and many times those individuals didn’t have to return those resources.

          Later in the same episode, Forero is more direct and claims:

          Forero: Through Secure Agricultural Income [the government] created a very dangerous piñata that produced incentives for corruption.
          Rangel: A piñata?!
          Forero: If this program had been very well regulated, I wouldn’t use that word.
          Rangel: A piñata? Is it a piñata a program that helped 316 thousand families? Please! 

          In this excerpt Forero points out that subsidies were given to private individuals without any process of public bidding or corroboration of information, which stimulated corruption.

          Finally, a piñata refers to an opportunistic scenario where every person strives to use his/her skills to collect as many treats as he/she can. Thus corruption is represented as extravagance, wastefulness, and squandering. This last excerpt by professor and Congressman Jorge Enrique Robledo illustrates these ideas:

          [When we were discussing] the creation of Secure Agricultural Income in the Congress I clearly explained that it was obvious that [through this program] the government decided to give money away. When we talk about these subsidies for land we are talking about the government giving the money away. Gifts for some people, for who? For those families or more witted individuals who could take advantage and receive that money. 

          When corruption is seen as a piñata, individuals undertake corrupt acts out of opportunism. Here, corruption is not motivated by an opposition to the law that informs individual practice broadly; rather, corruption is motivated by one-time opportunities to take a fleeting advantage. Once the piñata has burst and the treats collected, the individual is not likely to engage in corrupt practices. Thus, the solution to corruption is to either not fill the piñata with treats; the advantages from fleeting acts of corruption must be minimized.

          Corruption as an Irregular Action

          In a variation of corruption as wrong, yet not illegal or exploitative (as in the piñata), other news-talk radio guests approach corruption as an irregular practice. This cluster includes many other terms such as deviation, trick, cheat, abuse, and taking advantage. Many radio speakers’ statements can be placed under this cluster according to which corruption is neither an illegal nor a completely “normal” program. The following claim made by the former Minister of Health, Diego Palacio, is an example of construction of corruption as an irregular practice.  Diego Palacio, was invited to the May 5 broadcast of Hora 20 to talk about a scandal of health corruption that occurred when he served as Minister of Health. When asked about the magnitude of the events, Palacio starts by framing them as irregularities and abuses, not crimes:

          I think that one has to analyze two or three things understanding that there are problems with the [health] service and understanding that there are problems of lack of control. But I think that one has to separate what is abuse from what is corruption, these are different things.

          Throughout the episode, Palacio seeks to show both that these events are legal and that they do not constitute corruption. By claiming that it is necessary to differentiate abuse from corruption he tries to minimize the scope of health corruption. Speakers like Palacio specify their understandings of corruption by stating, for example, that there are differences between illegal and improper practices in the sense that some behaviors might be unconventional but not necessarily illegal. Speakers argue that even though abuses, tricks, and cheats are improper actions, they are not intrinsically illegal practices. Most of the time, law is used as the main criterion to frame corruption as an irregular practice. In this context, the magnitude of corruption is not as severe as it is in previous constructions of the term because it does not refer to violations of law, but to procedures that are legal even though they might be dishonest or misleading. Because corruption-as-irregular practice is not motivated by opposition to law, but motivated by opposition to convention, the objection to state regulation is not part of its motivation. As such, to resolve corruption, one cannot simply attempt to enforce laws against corruption, one must understand the conventions that allow corruption to emerge. Corruption, here, is understood as motivated by the failure of social conventions to apply.

          Corruption as an Unethical Behavior

          The construction of corruption as an unethical behavior constitutes one of the less severe approaches to corruption. This is also the subcluster of terms less-often used by news-talk radio speakers. Radio speakers rarely define corruption in terms of ethics, and the few times that they do so the construction of ethics is so ambiguous that it is difficult to understand the way in which they approach this relationship between ethics and corruption. Speakers minimize the scope and magnitude of corruption by claiming that certain events do not constitute violations of law, but they are just unethical actions. When defining corruption as a problem of a lack of ethics, radio speakers frame corruption as the attribute of an action in which the values of a given individual come into conflict with the broader system of values of a society. Thus, unlike corruption as irregular activity, corruption is seen as regular yet also improper. Unlike law, this system of values is intangible and may become entangled in the culture of a given society. For example, lawyer Juan Manuel Charry frames health corruption as an ethical problem:

          I think we have a serious problem in the health sector and what it hurts me is the lack of ethics of many of the individuals who took advantage of [the lack of] legal circumstances. I’m a bit surprised because, as far as I understand, what is happening is not corruption itself, but unethical investments.

          This excerpt also constitutes an example of the many times that speakers define corruption in terms of a dichotomy in which corruption is either an illegal act or an unethical behavior; it cannot, in this cluster, be both. In this cluster, corruption is not formally punishable because it exists outside the law and, thus, is left to the realm of ethics. Unlike corruption-as-irregular action, corruption-as-unethical practice places the motivation for corruption as the individual level. It is a flaw in character that motivates corruption, not a flaw in social convention or in the Law. Therefore, to resolve corruption, one must teach ethics and morals to individuals, and have those individuals embrace ethics and morality.

          Corruption as a Normal Practice

          This last subcluster of terms refers to the least radical approaches to corruption. Each of these previous clusters names corruption a bad thing to be resolved. Yet, some news-talk radio speakers strive to show that some acts of corruption are normal and there is no need to frame those events as corrupt. This normalization of corruption is accomplished in different ways. For example, the number of times that a probable corrupt event occurs may be an indicator that the event is not perceived as corrupt, but perceived as normal. During the July 21, 2011 episode of Hora 20, lawyer Rafael Nieto, claimed that it is common for some institutions to avoid public bidding and for some investigated individuals to agree on a version to testify. He did this not once, but many times. Such repetition contributes to normalization. In the following excerpt professor and journalist Juan Carlos Flores strives to undermine this normalization of corruption:

          But Rafael [Nieto], the fact that we have accustomed to do so doesn’t mean that it’s ok. The fact that we have done so for years doesn’t mean that it is legal [. . . ]. Rafael Nieto’s argument is very dangerous: We have been doing so for years, what is the problem that we do it now? Amazing Rafael! I’m stunned, the truth, I confess.

          In this excerpt Flores problematizes Nieto’s argument according to which some practices have become normal because they have been done so for a long time. If corruption is normal, then the motive for corruption need not be understood. Corruption is simply part of being human, and need not (and perhaps cannot) be resolved. Under this motivational cluster, corruption is not a problem, and therefore needs no solution.

          The Agon(s) of Corruption

          Unlike other cluster-agon analyses (Berthold 302; Foss 1; Lynch) in which authors present a terms that stand in oppositional pairs, in the case of radio conversations about Colombian corruption the agon terms work according to the context because of the multiple meanings of the word corruption. While the term “control” appears as an important agon to health corruption, this term is not present when speakers analyze other cases of corruption. In addition, the uses of the words “justice” and “ethics” are so ambiguous that it is hard to say if both of them are positively or negatively associated with corruption. Agon terms emerge according to the way in which radio speakers approach corruption. For example, when speakers define corruption as an illegal practice, normality emerges as an agon; however, normality is not agonistic as they construct corruption as an irregular practice yet irregularity is often presented as normal. Thus, we should not claim that corruption has a particular agon term, but that the polysemy of the word as well as the context of the conversation originates different agon terms that work according to the context (i.e., ethics or justice).


          Different approaches to corruption correspond with different terministic screens. The invitational nature of radio makes possible the co-existence of various terministic screens in which different perspectives of corruption are represented through language. Beyond the realm of discourse, this polysemy of corruption has material consequences leading to the normalization of corruption.

          Polysemous Nature of Corruption

          The different constructions of corruption presented above vary according to the terministic screen that is used when discussing a particular corrupt event. For example, seen from the terministic screen that considers corruption as an illegal act, corrupt events are illegal practices through which individuals attempt to increase their capital (i.e., political, economic, symbolic, or social). The severity of corruption is far higher here than in the terministic screen that approaches corruption as an irregular behavior, which might be illegitimate, but not necessarily illegal.

          This polysemous condition of corruption extends Burke’s classification of positive and negative terms as frames of acceptance and rejection. According to Burke, negative terms stand against positive terms insofar as the latter contradict the former. Specifically, the co-existence of various terministic screens of corruption complicates Burke’s categorization in the sense that, rather than having a dialectic relationship between positive and negative terms which rotate around a shared ultimate term, the analysis of Hora 20 shows six different constructions of corruption operating simultaneously. In other words, the analysis of news-talk radio conversations shows that there is not one term that clearly stands against another, but six different terms whose nature is not always entirely positive nor negative. For example, the way in which radio speakers frame corruption as an irregular practice is neither positive nor negative, but stands between both values. In addition, the fact that there is not a clear agon term illustrates the complexity of the kinds of relationships that emerge among the terms that speakers use to describe corruption. Finally, unlike previous cluster analyses, in this study we did not find two main clusters of terms which relate to each other in a dialectic manner, but six different clusters of terms that represent corruption in a diversity of ways. According to the context, some terministic screens operate as positive terms. However, seen in relation to other screens they might be considered as dialectical terms. The abstract idea of corruption constitutes the ultimate term around which they rotate. Moreover, the six clusters and their vocabularies also work to disable any agon term to corruption. In this set of texts, the opposite, the agon, of “illegal” could be said to be “legal,” but that which is legal is normative and “normal” has already been articulated as a cluster term characterizing “corruption.” Or, the agon could be “ethical,” but the speakers dissociate legality and ethicality as both could be “normal,” but one is wrong in the juridical sense whilst the other is wrong in the moral sense.  In addition, if corruption is a natural process as it is when named decay, corruption is again “normal.” Of course, as ultimate term, corruption is related to the world of principles and systems of thought and is argued to manifest itself as a concrete phenomenon in the realm of positive terms when some speakers name acts of corruption. Nonetheless, because corruption is polysemous, and because the six clusters operate agonistically (at times) and cooperatively (at others), this polysemy prevents the emergence of a dialectical “god-term” to stand in opposition to corruption as ultimate “devil term” in all six clusters at the same time.

          Each terministic screen can be considered as a set of specific vocabulary, rhetorical resources, and figures of language that works as a particular system of interpretation of corruption. The conversational character of talk radio allows speakers the possibility to present, argue, and reproduce their own terministic screens on corruption. The agonistic tone that Ong attributes to pure orality is indeed present in the secondary orality of radio where speakers confront their own terministic screens and undermine others’. The tone of the program is agonistic itself since we have six different perspectives on corruption, each of which struggles to be accepted as “the one” correct perspective. In this sense, the construction of corruption is polysemous but attempts to be monosymous. News-talk radio reproduces an agonistic tone not so much because there might be verbal confrontations between radio speakers, but especially because talk radio becomes a scene of dispute or competition among different terministic screens that present corruption in very different ways.

          Normalization of Corruption

          Each terministic screen exists in the vocabularies and rhetorical strategies that speakers use to define corruption and to frame it according to specific characteristics. However, beyond reproducing different constructions of corruption, terministic screens also suggest diverse programs of action. Here we return to Burke’s  notion of program of action to explain how the frames of orientation through which individuals perceive the reality not only ground their perception of the world, but also reflect speakers’ motives for acting. To recall Burke’s example, “To call a man a friend or an enemy is per se to suggest a program of action with regard to him” (Permanence 177). In a similar sense, the six different terministic screens that radio speakers use to construct corruption suggest distinct programs of action with respect to this phenomenon. For example, to define corruption as an unethical act suggests a program of action centered on an individual’s behavior and, specifically, on his or her system of values. On the other hand, to construct corruption as an illegal practice suggests a different program of action that is focused on the legal system of a Nation-State.

          This idea of identifying several motives is consistent with Burke’s warning against allowing a single motive to determine the meaning of a social text: once in the case of the rise of fascism and again in condemning the rush toward anti-Communism. In tracing terministic screens that reveal motives of a social (or non-unified) rhetor, it would be a mistake to claim that there must be a single, consistent principle (or motive) that guides the text. Rather, in a collectively articulated text in which multiple speakers come together to express different senses (or terministic clusters) of a phenomenon, it is more likely that there will be multiple articulations of principles and motives, and that these motives will operate agonistically (in some dialogues/dialectics) and consistently (in other dialogues/dialectics). The acknowledgment that multiple terministic clusters, rather than unified meaning, operate allows for multiple intellectually competing, yet socially co-present, motivations within a social text to be engaged and considered.

          This linguistic polysemy of corruption has material consequences. One of the main consequences of this polysemy has to do, precisely, with the lack of agreement on the definition of corruption. Despite a great deal of analysis, consensus is also lacking about the nature, causes, and consequences of corruption (as explained above). This is evident in the fact that, for example, according to one terministic screen corruption represents an invasive decay of unknown nature while, according to another, it is a deliberate illegal business. The difficulty in coming to a shared definition of corruption prevents both linguistic and practical cooperation. As Burke argues, “If language is the fundamental instrument of human cooperation, and if there is an ‘organic flaw;’ in the nature of language, we may well expect to find this organic flaw revealing itself through the texture of society” (“Meaning 330). Acts of corruption may be the revelation of the organize flaw of not being able to cooperate linguistically in creating a shared meaning of corruption. In the context of several competing approaches to corruption, several programs of action also compete, even those where there is nothing to do against some practices of corruption because they have become normal, and therefore, legitimate. The inability to act against corruption, because we cannot cooperate in defining corruption, may allow those in Colombia who profit from corruption to continue their acts and at the cost of the larger Colombian society.

          The second—but related—material consequence of this polysemy is the normalization of corruption. For instance, some radio speakers argue that the practices that occurred within health and the agricultural fields are normal and should not be framed as corrupt events. In addition, the number of times that a probable corrupt event occurs may become an indicator that this event does not constitute corruption anymore. In this sense, because they are culturally accepted, these practices become legitimate even though law forbids them. This hiatus between law and culture is a main consequence—and cause—of the normalization of corruption (Mockus 2). In addition, this hiatus is maintained by the reliance on particular terministic screens. Speakers claim that the fact that some actions have always been done in the same way justifies continued practices or corruption.

          The fact that there is not a definitive and explicit term that stands against corruption as its main agon term also confirms the polysemy of corruption. The most striking case is the speakers’ use of the term normal to both define what corruption is and to describe what its opposite action is. That is, they use “normal” both as a cluster term and as an agon term. Some radio guests minimize acts of corruption because they consider that there were not corrupt practices involved, but normal actions that do not represent violations of law, unethical behaviors or major irregularities. Ultimately, we are still uncertain about which the opposite of corruption is. It might be values, ethics, cleanliness, control, normality, and legality, among others. In this context of dispute among different agon terms, it is also difficult to find a solution to corruption. The existence of competing terministic screens of corruption and agon practices implies the existence of competing programs of action against corruption; we cannot know if the program of action must address particular individuals, entire social structures, or some unknown agent. The inchoate program of action makes suggesting solutions to the problem of corruption more complex and uncertain.


          This scenario of dispute among programs of action against corruption might seem daunting or challenging, to say the least. However, knowing what the different vocabularies are constitutes an important step in the fight against corruption. While some scholars think that communication plays a very important role in this fight (Jarso 40-45; Yusha’u 155-156; Mockus 2), others accuse mass media of trivializing issues of corruption and turning them into a spectacle (Breit 620; Giglioli 390-391; Pásara). Rather than approaching Hora 20 as a program that turns corruption into a spectacle, we can consider this talk radio show as a scenario where speakers analyze issues of corruption and help Colombian audiences to understand the way in which these events occur. The lack of agreement about corruption does not make of Hora 20 a weak program. On the contrary, it provides a kind of radiography about how Colombians construct corruption. The different terministic screens embraced by radio speakers reveal Colombians’ cultural perceptions of this phenomenon. Moreover, it illustrates the programs of action that each of these terministic screens carry with them.

          In addition, talk radio shows why some scholars claim that communication represents the first step against corruption. To have a dialogue in which some Colombians discuss whether or not corruption is an illegal, unethical, irregular, or normal practice constitutes the first – and one of the most important – steps to decide how to deal with this phenomenon. Insofar as a society can have a dialogue that allows it to share and confront its different constructions of corruption, this society might more easily know what programs of action to undertake; the competition of terms allows the negotiation of meaning. Hora 20 not only shows that Colombians do not agree on what corruption even is, but also that a large hiatus separates culture from law so that illegal actions that seek to benefit private interests may be considered legitimate. Once Colombians realize that, even though corruption is one of the most serious problems of the country, and there is no agreement on what it is and how to avoid it, it might be easier for Colombian society to decide the kinds of cultural, economic, legal, and political measures required to decrease this phenomenon if they begin to seek a shared vocabulary. Thus, communication is a key strategy to articulate and implement different programs of action against corruption.


          1. As a way to prepare the economy for a possible free trade agreement between Colombia and the United States of America, the Colombian Minister of Agriculture, Andrés Felipe Arias, created in 2007 the Secure Agricultural Income program [Agro Ingreso Seguro, AIS] whose main objective was to protect small farmers and to ensure their participation in the international market. Through illegal maneuvers such as falsification of documents and subdivisions of land, politicians and businessmen obtained the subsidies that were aimed at smallholding farmers. The Prosecutor General accused Arias of using the Secure Agricultural Income program as a platform for his presidential campaign Arias is currently in jail awaiting trial for embezzlement and misappropriation of state funds (Boyd).

          Works Cited

          AICM. Estudio general de medios. 2011. Web. 16 Mar. 2012.

          Antequera, Juan Carlos, and Obregon, Rafael. “La radio como dinamizadora de procesos sociales y culturales en Barranquilla (Colombia).” Investigación y Desarrollo. 10 (2002):146-169. Print.

          Berthold, Carol. “Kenneth Burke’s Cluster-Agon Method: Its Development and an Application.” Central States Speech Journal 27 (1976): 302-309. Print.

          Boggs, Carl, and Dirmann, Tinna. “The Myth of Electronic Populism: Talk Radio and the Decline of the Public Sphere.” The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy  5 (1999): 65-94.

          Bonilla, Jorge Ivan, Restrepo, Adrian, Vásquez, Katalina, and Betancur, Juan Gonzalo “Cinco estudios de caso sobre buenas prácticas para superar el conflicto armado en Antioquia: Claves, lecciones y balances”. Comunicación, desarrollo y cambio social. (2011): 241-286. Ed. J. M. Pereira, y A. Cadavid. Bogotá: Editorial Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. Print.

          Boyd, Alice. “Corruption Trial Opens Against Ex-Minister Arias.” Colombia Reports. 13 Oct. 2011. Web. 12 Jan. 2012.

          Breit, Eric. “On the (Re)Construction of Corruption in the Media: a Critical Discursive Approach.” Journal of Business Ethics 92 (2010): 619- 635.

          Burke, Kenneth. “The Meaning of C. K. Ogden.” New Republic 78 (1934): 328-31. Print.

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

          —. Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose. Los Altos: CA: Hermes, 1954. Print.

          —. Attitudes Toward History. Los Altos, CA: Hermes, 1959. Print.

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

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

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

          Centro Nacional de Consultoría. Estudio continuo de audiencia radial. 2011. Web. 20 Feb.2012.

          Cepeda, Fernando. La corrupción en Colombia. Bogotá: Tercer Mundo Editores, 1997. Print.

          Cepeda, Fernando. "La financiación de la política y la corrupción". 9th International Anti-Corruption Conference, IACC,  Durban, South Africa. Oct. 1999. Web.14 Apr. 2012. 

          Colombia. Secretaría el senado. Agro Ingreso Seguro: Ley 1133. 9 abr. 2007. Web. 22 Mar. 2012.  

          Duzán, Maria Jimena. “El periodismo entró a la Unidad Nacional”. Revista Semana. 10 Sep. 2011. Web. 22 Mar. 2012.

          Ekströ, Mats. “Announced refusal to answer: A study of norms and accountability in broadcast political interviews”. Discourse Studies 11(2010): 681-702. Print.

          “Exministro de Protección Social se pronuncia frente al « carrusel de la salud»”. Revista Semana. 30 Nov. 2011. Web. 22 Mar. 2012.

          Fedesarrollo. "Causas de la corrupción". La corrupción en Colombia. (1997): 49-57.  Ed.  F. Cepeda. Bogotá: Tercer Mundo Editores. Print.

          Foss, Sonja. “Women Priests in the Episcopal Church: A Cluster Analysis of Establishment Rhetoric”. Religious Communication Today 7 (1984): 1-11. Print.

           —. Rhetorical CriticismExploration and Practice. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland, 1989. Print.

          Giglioli, Pier Paolo. “Political Corruption and Media: The Tangentopoli Affair.” International Social Science Journal 48 (1996): 381-94. Print.

          Hutchby, Ian. Confrontation Talk: Arguments, Asymmetries, and Power on Radio. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 1996. Print.

          Intermedia. Urban Colombia: Communication profile. Ago. 2010. Web. 15 Jun.2013.

          Jarso, James. “The Media and the Anti-Corruption Crusade in Kenya: Weighing the Achievement, Challenges, and Prospects.” International Law Review 26 (2011): 33-88. Print.

          Jain, Arvind, ed. The Political Economy of Corruption. New York: Routledge, 2001. Print.

          Jasinski, James. Sourcebook on Rhetoric: Key Concepts in Contemporary Rhetorical Studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2001. Print.

          Kaplún, Mario. “Why Educate?” Communication for Social Change Anthology: Historical and Contemporary Readings. (2006): 147-156. Ed. A. Gumucio-Dragon, and T. Tufte. South Orange, NJ: Communication for Social Change Consortium. Print.

          Lalinde, Ana Maria. “Radio informativa: ¿Es posible la participación?” Signo y Pensamiento 33 (1998): 47-58. Print.

          Lynch, John. “Race and Radical Renamings: Using Cluster Agon Method to Assess the Radical Potential of ‘European American’ as a Substitute for ‘White.’” KB. Journal 2 2006. Web. 16 Mar. 2012.

          Mastrini, Guillermo, y Becerra, Martin. “Estructura y dimensión de las industrias infocomunicacionales en América Latina." Palabra Clave 12 (2005): 9-28. Print.

          Mejía, Gabriel, y Gómez, Juan Carlos. "Para entender la radio comunitaria hoy.” Signo y Pensamiento 38 (2001): 140-47. Print.

          Mockus, Antanas. “¿Por qué competencias ciudadanas en Colombia?” Bogotá: Al Tablero 27 (2004): 1-3. Print.

          Montilla, Gabriela, and Jackman, Robert. “Sources of Corruption: A Cross-Country Study.” British Journal of Political Science 32 (2002): 147-70. Print.

          Morales, Fernando. (2011, December 1). “Colombia otra vez rajada en percepción sobre corrupción.” El Espectador 1 Dec. 2011. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.

          Mwakawago, Daudi.. “Radio as a Tool for Development.” Communication for Social Change Anthology: Historical and Contemporary Readings. Ed. A. Gumucio-Dragon and T. Tufte. South Orange, NJ: Communication for Social Change Consortium, (2006): 307-13. Print.

          Neckel, Sighard. “Political Scandals: An Analytical Framework.” Comparative Sociology 4 (2005): 101-11. Print.

          Ong, Walter. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. New York: Routledge, 2002. Print.

          Pásara, Luis. El conflicto entre medios de comunicación y justicia. MA Thesis. Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. 2003. Web. 6 Feb. 2012.

          Pinseler, Jan “The Politics of Talk on German Free Radio Stations.” Westminster Papers in Communication & Culture 5 (2008): 67-85. Print.

          Pizano, Daniel. “Nos chupó la corrupción.” Revista Semana. 27 Feb. 2011. Web. 2 Mar. 2013.

          Prisa. “Caracol Radio Consolidates Its Lead with 8,826,600 Listeners.” 6 Feb. 2010. 15 Jun. 2013.

          Programa Agro. “Programa Agro Ingreso Seguro ha beneficiado a hijos de políticos y reinas de belleza.” Revista Cambio. 23 Sep. 2009. Web. 12 Jan. 2012.           

          Restrepo, Juan. "El escándalo: Una construcción social y política de la corrupción en los medios de comunicación.” Escribanía 15 (2005): 69-77. Print.

          Roeh, Itzak. The Rhetoric of News Radio in the Israel Radio: Some Implications of Language and Style for Newstelling. Bochum, Germany: Studienverlag & Brockmeyer, 1982. Print.

          Rønning, Helge. “The Politics of Corruption and the Media in Africa.” Journal of African Media Studies 1 (2009): 155-71.

          Samper, Daniel. “Nos chupó la corrupción.” El Tiempo. 27 Feb. 2011. Web. 2 Mar. 2011.

          Semana, (2011, July 30). “La hecatombe del ‘irremplazable.’” Revista Semana. 30 Jul 2011. Web. 1 Aug. 2011. 

          Solimano, Andres, Tanzi, Vito, and Del Solar, Felipe. Las termitas del Estado: Ensayos sobre corrupción, transparencia y desarrollo. Santiago de Chile: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2008. Print.

          Tumber, Howard, y Waisbord, Silvio. “Political Scandals and Media Across Democracies.” American Behavioral Scientist 47 (2004): 1143-52.

          Turbide, Oliver, Vincent, Diane, and Laforest, Marti. “The Circulation of Discourse: the Case of Deprecating Remarks on Trash Radio.” Discourse Studies 12 (2010): 785-801.

          Ureña, Nubia Esperanza. "Corrupción y ética: Polos opuestos de la misma realidad". La corrupción en Colombia. Ed. F. Cepeda. Bogotá: Tercer Mundo Editores, 1997: 211-31. Print.

          Vaca, Hernando. “Procesos interactivos mediáticos de Radio Sutatenza con los campesinos de Colombia”. Signo y Pensamiento 58(2011): 254-69.   

          Vargas-Hernández, José. “The Multiple Faces of Corruption: Typology, Forms and Levels.”Contemporary Legal & Economic Issues 3 (2009)269-90.

          Yusha'u, Muhammad. “Investigative Journalism and Scandal Reporting in the Nigerian Press.” African Journalism Studies 30 (2009): 155-74.

          Podcast Reference List

          Charry, Juan Manuel. "Intervención de Saludcoop, llegó tarde el gobierno?" Hora 20. 12 May. 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2011.

          Esguerra, Juan Carlos. "Cuestionamientos a Conservadores: La corrupción es de un solo partido?" Hora 20.  14 Mar. 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2011.

          Flores, Juan Carlos. "Fiscalía imputa cargos contra Andrés Felipe Arias: Irá a la cárcel?" Hora 20. 21 Jul. 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2011.

          Forero, Alvaro. "Hacia dónde va la imputación de cargos contra Andrés Felipe Arias?" Hora 20. 13 Jun. 2011. 10 Nov. 2011.

          López, Claudia. (2011, July 26). "  Por intentar obstruir la justicia: Andrés Felipe Arias a la cárcel" Hora 20. 26 Jul. 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2011.  

          Nieto, Rafael. "Facultades a Santos: Una reforma para el fin de la corrupción?" Hora 20. 15 Mar. 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2011.

          Palacio, Diego. "Escándalo por nuevo cartel de la salud, un nuevo carrusel de corrupción?" Hora 20. 5 May. 2011. Web.

          Rangel, Alfredo.  "Hacia dónde va la imputación de cargos contra Andrés Felipe Arias ?" Hora 20. 13 Jun. 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2011.

          Robledo, Jorge Enrique. “Por intentar obstruir la justicia: Andrés Felipe Arias a la cárcel .Hora 20. 26 Jul. 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2011.

          Santos, Alejandro. "Facultades a Santos: Una reforma para el fin de la corrupción?" Hora 20. 15 Mar. 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2011..

          Touffou, Marie. "La corrupción en Colombia vista por los analistas internacionales: Problema cultural, nacional o universal?" Hora 20. 13 May. 2011. Web 10 Nov. 2011.  

          Uribe, Néstor. "Cuestionamientos a Conservadores: La corrupción es de un solo partido?" Hora 20. 14 Mar. 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2011.

          Creative Commons License
          This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

          Reflections on the First European Kenneth Burke Conference

          Rhetoric as Equipment for Living: Kenneth Burke, Culture and Education

          Kris Rutten, Ghent University
          Dries Vrijders, Ghent University
          Ronald Soetaert, Ghent University


          This special issue of KB Journal is the first of two issues that offer a compilation of papers that were presented at the conference Rhetoric as Equipment for Living: Kenneth Burke, Culture and Education, which was held in May 2013 at Ghent University, Belgium. The aim of this conference was to introduce rhetoric as a major perspective for synthesizing the related turns in the humanities and social sciences—linguistic, cultural, ethnographic, interpretive, semiotic, narrative, etc.—that focus on the importance of signs and symbols in our interpretations of reality, heightening our awareness of the ties between language and culture. The conference focused specifically on "new rhetoric," a body of work that sets rhetoric free from its confinement within the traditional fields of education, politics and literature, not by abandoning these fields but by refiguring them. (On this, see Dilip Gaonkar.)

          The conference’s focus on this "new" kind of rhetoric was inspired by Kenneth Burke, who together with scholars such as Wayne Booth and Chaim Perelman, was a foundational thinker of this new conception of symbolic exchange. As a rhetorician and literary critic interested in how we use symbols, Burke described human beings as the symbol-making, symbol-using and symbol-misusing animal. Our interpretations, perceptions, judgments and attitudes are all influenced and "deflected" by the symbols that we make, use and misuse, and we are at the same time used by these symbols. This implies that we can approach the world either symbol-wise or symbol-foolish. The conference aimed to explore how rhetorical concepts (specifically those developed by Kenneth Burke) can be deployed as tools—equipment—to make students, teachers, scholars and citizens symbol-wise: to understand the way linguistic, cultural, narrative . . . symbols work, and to develop effective means of critical engagement with, as well as on behalf of, those symbols. The conference furthermore aimed to explore if and how (new) rhetoric can still be relevant in a world that is becoming ever more complex and paradoxical by political, economic and cultural differences on a global scale.

          In what was the first major event devoted to Kenneth Burke outside the United States, the second aim of the conference was to explore the international legacy and potential of this seminal thinker. By introducing Burke to scholars and fields of research that are as yet less familiar with his ideas, the conference aspired to initiate a lively exchange between people, scholarly domains, and geographical regions. Under the banner of “Rhetoric as Equipment for living,” the broad call for papers resulted in a highly varied program that explored Burkean conceptions of rhetoric in pedagogy, social work, psychology, cultural studies, management, and communication, and from the perspective of education, citizenship, literature, literacy, technology, games, (new) media . . . And with over a 100 attendees from 20 different countries, this mix of topics and perspectives also resulted in a true crossover between national and intellectual traditions.

          Thanks to what we believe was a successful conference that realized its double aim—introducing Burkean new rhetoric into new areas of research and new geographical domains—and the generous response to the ensuing call for papers, we are very happy to change roles from being satisfied conference organizers to becoming excited guest editors of two special issues of KB Journal. This first Summer 2014 issue is devoted exclusively to non-US scholars, with contributions by authors coming from Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, the UK, and South Africa. This issue will offer both an overview of the conference set-up, as well as a practical incarnation of its international and explorative spirit. In the second issue (to be published in the fall of 2014), we will continue with a more theoretical examination of Burke’s international legacy, by giving a stage to scholars who confront Burke’s ideas with the work of European thinkers such as François Lyotard, Chaim Perelman, Augustine, and others. Before introducing the contributions to this first special issue, however, we would like to take some time to look back (with both the satisfactions and benefits of hindsight) to the May 2013 conference. For those unable to attend, we will first give an overview of the set-up of the conference and the different topics that have been dealt with.

          Keynote Speakers

          Driven by our aspiration to explore the international legacy of Burke, we invited two speakers from Europe and two speakers from the US, selecting speakers who would address the theme of the conference "rhetoric as equipment for living" from a broad range of different perspectives and disciplinary backgrounds (philosophy, communication, rhetoric and literature).

          The first keynote speaker was Michel Meyer, Professor of Rhetoric and Philosophy at the Université libre de Bruxelles (Belgium) and former student of Chaim Perelman. In his opening keynote, he confronted the work of Burke with that of Perelman. In his lecture on Burke, Perelman and Problematology: Three Different Views of Rhetoric? Meyer argued that Perelman deeply respected Burke’s vision of rhetoric and that he resorted several times to the notion of a Burkean ethos. In addressing the question of what it is in Burke’s work that was so relevant for the rhetorical conception of Perelman, Meyer focused on the conception of the interacting person playing with identification at all levels. However, whereas Burke offers a vision of man and his dramatic expressions through rhetoric, Perelman provides a vision of rhetoric, and for Meyer this difference is specifically clear in their respective views on tropes. In his lecture, Meyer integrated both Burke’s and Perelman’s views into a single vision of rhetoric, more specifically the question-view or problematological approach that Meyer himself has developed in recent years.

          The second keynote lecture was given by Barry Brummett, Charles Sapp Centennial Professor in Communication at the University of Texas at Austin, who introduced A Burkean Framework for Rhetoric in the Digital Age. Starting from Burke’s observation that new rhetoric today creates an existing audience rather than appealing to a preexising one, the paper developed a general perspective on the development of rhetoric in our current digital age. Working on a metaphorical level, the paper claimed that people today can be understood as terminals. Our consciousness is made up of the images grounded in the material pixels of the screen, yet the images are not physically real. These images must be cognitively integrated and assembled following culturally shared forms. The paper addressed the question as to where the individual stands in connection to cultural discourses if the individual is conceptualized as a terminal.

          The third keynote lecture was given by Steven Mailloux, President’s Professor of Rhetoric at Loyola Marymount University, who gave a lecture on Under the Sign of Theology: Kenneth Burke on Language and the Supernatural Order. The paper examined Burke’s rhetorical paths of theological thought in the 1960s. In his lecture, Mailloux explored “Theotropic Logology” as a way of characterizing Burke’s approach in a series of publications and conference papers during that period. Mailloux argued that through theotropic logology, or words about words about God, Burke developed a distinctive rhetorical hermeneutics in addressing questions at the intersection of what he called (in “What Are the Signs of What?”) the linguistic and supernatural orders.

          The final keynote lecture was given by Jennifer Richards, Professor of Early Modern Literature and Culture in the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics at Newcastle University, who gave a lecture on Kenneth Burke: Literary-Rhetorical Thinker. In this lecture, she explored how a literary-rhetorical frame of mind equips us not only to live, but also to live well with each other. She explored what Burke meant by describing ‘literature’ as ‘equipment for living’ and how this might also work for rhetoric. Initially, Richards argued, it is hard to see how Burke’s major contribution to rhetoric, A Rhetoric of Motives (1950), equips us for living, because its mode of argument is so difficult. Richards unfolded what is difficult and, apparently, impractical about A Rhetoric of Motives by comparing it with a recent attempt to revive rhetorical analysis, Sam Leith’s You Talkin’ to Me (2011), which does set out self-consciously to ‘equip’ readers with a method of rhetorical and political analysis. She compared these two works not to show up Burke but to try to understand what was different about the use of rhetoric he had in mind. Despite the difficulty of A Rhetoric of Motives, its mode of argument does aim to equip to live well. To help explain how, Richards turned to Burke’s short essay on "Literature as Equipment for Living," focusing on his conception of literary writing in terms of proverbial wisdom: strategies or attitudes for different situations. Burke’s comparison of literary genres to proverbs provided Richards with a starting point for re-thinking rhetoric, and the rhetoric of literary experience, that might clarify Burke’s own style of thinking. What Burke can give us is equipment for thinking, Richards argues, because he furnishes us with a different style of thinking in utramque partem (i.e. on different sides).

          Plenary Sessions

          Next to the keynote lectures, we also organized a series of plenary sessions that offered detailed explorations of specific aspects that are of importance for the theme of the conference. To set the scene for the conference, we started with a panel on The Rhetorical Turn in the Human and Social Sciences, which explored Burke’s importance for anticipating (and influencing) the (re)turn to rhetoric of the past century. In Kenneth Burke and the Rhetoric of the Human Sciences Herbert Simons (Temple University) focused on the way Burke anticipated what has come to be called the Rhetorical Turn in the human sciences. The rhetorical turn has been an intellectual movement that refashioned the human sciences in rhetorical terms by criticizing commitments to objectivism and to foundationalist presuppositions. Simons argued that when used disparagingly, the term “rhetoric” can be something of an ironic entitlement, summoning images of scholars as flatterers and deceivers, con artists and propagandists and raising questions about relationships between science and ideology, scholarship and political practice. Simons claimed that while traditionalists might be pleased to learn that the project to re-conceive the human sciences has a reconstructive aspect—that it is not all criticism and deconstruction—they might still legitimately conclude that while the news from the rhetoric front is somewhat mixed, it is generally bad for them. Simons addressed the question how there can be progress in the human sciences absent foundations and with objectivity called into question.

          From an anthropological perspective, Ivo Strecker (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany) honored Kenneth Burke, who pioneered the rhetorical turn in the study of culture, and who demonstrated that symbolization and figuration play a crucial role in art, science and everyday-life. Strecker argued that Burke hardly ever used the term “culture” but preferred to speak of “human relations,” the “human condition” or simply “ourselves and others.” Strecker’s contribution first reflected on the metaphor of “rhetoric as equipment for living” and then presented two new approaches to the study of rhetoric, which are greatly indebted to Kenneth Burke. Firstly, the homo rhetoricus project which is based at the University of Tuebingen and which derives its innovative power from a new alliance between philosophical anthropology and rhetoric. Secondly, the rhetoric culture project—a project that originated at the Johannes Gutenberg University (Mainz) and Rice University (Houston) but has now become thoroughly international and nomadic—and that derives its innovative thrust from a new alliance between anthropology and rhetoric. In his paper, Strecker explored the many different ways in which rhetoric molds culture and culture molds rhetoric.

          One of the aims of the conference was to explore what it implies to become symbol-wise and this inevitably also implied a focus on new developments, such as digitization. Therefore, in collaboration with DiGRA Flanders we organized a plenary session on Videogames as Equipment for Living which was chaired by Jeroen Bourgonjon. Christopher Paul presented a paper on Identification in Play: People, Processes, and Paratexts in which he focused on the concept of identification as the core of Burkean notions of rhetoric. According to Paul, identification works to build a sense of ‘we’ among individuals and, through consubstantiality, can demonstrate representations of what can bring a group together. In moving from an approach to rhetoric predicated on persuasion, a Burkean focus on identification rather facilitates a focus on connections and interactions. Christopher Paul argued that this kind of approach is particularly suited for the analysis of video games and their multifaceted platforms for interaction. Applying Burke’s ideas about identification to the study of video games indeed enables a richer understanding of games.

          In his presentation Burke, Bogost, and Foucault in Colloquy on the Rhetoric of Games Gerald Voorhees (Oregon State University) aimed to put Kenneth Burke’s notion of literature as equipment for living in conversation with Ian Bogost’s conception of procedural rhetoric and Michel Foucault’s theory of discourse, knowledge, and power. Burke’s explanation of literature’s capacity to identify both recurrent situations and strategies for negotiating them has been applied to study a diverse range of mediated communication, including games. Games not only teach players which ways of interaction "make sense," according to Voorhees, they also assess player input and provide feedback evaluating the effectiveness of the player’s action. This paper explored how games offer a more responsive equipment for living that communicates knowledge about recurring situations. Voorhees argued that games advocate the effectivity of specific responses by dynamically modeling the outcomes afforded by different possibilities for action.

          Seeing that the conference theme also specifically explored the educational dimensions of Burke’s corpus, we organized a panel on Rhetoric as Equipment for Education. In this session, Kris Rutten and Ronald Soetaert focused on the question: How can rhetoric and narrative function as equipment for living? They discussed how Burke argues for the importance of literature by focusing on his major concepts as: "equipment for living," "everything is medecine" and "proverbs writ large." They discussed some "representative anecdotes" from recent literature, films, and TV to illustrate how these concepts are thematized and problematized in recent fiction. By presenting a set of case studies they discussed how rhetoric and narrative can serve as equipment for education.

          The final panel of the conference was an informal one that explored the current status and the possible future of the international legacy of Kenneth Burke. Noting suitable points of exchange between Burke and European scholars, the panel also discussed potential obstacles to the integration of Burke into different national traditions of scholarship. The main obstacle, the panel agreed, is the lack of suitable translations of Burke’s work. Burke himself, it was noted, earned a living in part as a translator: this meant he was very susceptible to the different shades of culture and meaning that are present in language. Transposing Burke’s idiosyncratic vocabulary into different tongues might make us more aware of these different shades in Burke’s conceptual metaphors, exposing prospective common ground between Burkean ideas and those of other thinkers. Such common ground, it was argued, might provide a basis for more comparative scholarship on Burke and contemporary European thought. Also, it was hoped, such scholarship might be flanked by studies that tackle the European (Freud, Marx) and classical (Plato, Aristotle, Augustine) sources from which Burke’s scholarship draws.


          It is obviously beyond the scope of this introductory essay to describe how the many and diverse paper sessions of the conference interacted with, and deviated from, the topics discussed in the keynote lectures and panels. For a full overwiew of the presented papers and panels we are happy to redirect you to the conference program. Still, before introducing the conference papers that made it to this first special issue, we would like to point out some general tendencies, developments and hiatuses that struck us as the conference unfolded.

          Despite the specific focus in the Call for Papers on the implication of Burke's work for (and in) education, only a minority of the presented papers explicitely explored the relationship between Burke and education. As we stated before (in “Narrative and rhetorical approaches to problems of education”), Burke has only written one essay explicitly about education—“Linguistic Approach to Problems of Education”—which was published in Modern Philosophies and Education: The Fifty-Fourth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. In KBJournal 7.2 William Cahill already extensively discussed the specific volume that this essay was published in and he argued that “[t]hough Dramatism could be called a philosophy, and there were people who regarded it as such in the period, it was still a stretch to call it a “general philosophy” in the sense implied by the Yearbook’s editorial committee, which brought together in the volume the main philosophies studied in academic departments of the day—Thomism, Pragmatism, Realism, etc. Burke’s philosophy was not studied in this way at that time” (¶2). His exploration of the context of this publication specifically raised the question: “How did Burke come to appear in this book whose other writers, with one exception, were professors of philosophy in universities and one a professor of education?” (¶2). Probably, as we argued (“Narrative and rhetorical approaches to education”), it is even today still more or less exceptional to give Kenneth Burke a major role in educational studies. However, our (continuing) aim is to re-visit the work of Burke for educational studies by exploring if and how Burke’s ideas are still relevant for contemporary discussions in education. We concur with Peter Smudde, that ‘to take Burke seriously calls for an examination not only of the substance of his corpus, but also of the implications of that substance for how we function as educators,’ which does not imply to ‘develop or advance any singular view on education, except to have Burke as the nexus for thinking about and acting on education’ (xii, our emphasis).

          A second notable (near) absence was that of papers that tried to strike a bridge between classical rhetoric and Burke’s new breed of identificatory symbol usage. Does this suggest a radical break between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ rhetoric on which our Ghent Conference focused? Or have Burke studies as yet to convince those scholars of Aristotle, Aquinas and Ramus that Burke also speaks to them—and do we new rhetoricians, in turn, need to get in touch with our classical roots? Whatever the case, it seems that there is still a lot of scholarly ground that needs covering before we can establish more accurately the novelty of Burke’s thinking, and ours in its wake. Related to this is a third notable (near) absence: that of papers that explore Burke’s relation to those great European thinkers—Marx and Freud—that shaped his thought. Here, too, European scholars still have their part to play.


          In his paper “In Pursuit of Persuasion: Burke’s Rhetoric of Motives and the Artistic Practices of the Painter Frank Auerbach,”Derek Pigrum (University of Bath, United Kingdom) starts from Jean-Luc Nancy’s claim that ‘there is an incapacity, an infinity, an impossibility inherent in writing about, to writing in the face of painting, for which every text on painting must account’ (341). He starts his paper with this claim and, accordingly, has chosen to view Frank Auerbach’s painting in terms of his practices and what he terms his ‘quest.’ Pigrum argues that this quest has vital links to key notions in Kenneth Burke’s A Rhetoric of Motives that, although it deals primarily with works of literature, has, according to Pigrum, a relation to the painting practices of Auerbach and perhaps other painters too. Thus, this paper is experimental and exploratory in terms of the relation between Burke’s rhetoric and the visual arts. In the paper Pigrum characterizes Auerbach’s endless practice, that Weiss terms "erasure and restitution," as part and parcel of the "self-address" of the artist in pursuit of "pure persuasion," which according to Burke, is "the furthest point of rhetoric."

          In her paper “The Vox Populi in Poems: Ramsey Nasr as Poet Laureate and Public Intellectual,” Odile Heynders (Tilburg University, The Netherlands) puts the spotlight on the work of Dutch Poet Laureate Ramsey Nasr. In the four years of his official appointment, he wrote poems and essays articulating a critical perspective on the current political conjuncture in the Netherlands. The Poet Laureate can be considered a public intellectual in that he shows engagement in regard to concrete societal issues and translates this into poetry. Using ideas and rhetorical tools from the work of Kenneth Burke, Heynders shows how Nasr’s poetry prompts readers to identify with his perspective while illuminating how such identification leads to division from a perspective that frames nationalism in terms that would exclude multiethnic citizenship.

          In his paper “Urban Motives. Rhetorical Approaches to Spatial Orientation, Burke on Lynch's ‘The Image of the City,’” Pierre Smolarski (University of Bielefeld, Germany) argues that whoever raises questions about the legibility of the city must notice that the metaphor of legibility involves the ideas of interpreting signs and symbols under different motivational axes, which leads to the creation of different scopes of reading, understanding and acting. Thus, the legibility of the city involves the idea of a rhetoric of the city. Smolarski examines Kevin Lynch’s inquiry, The Image of the City, in terms of the rhetorical theory developed by Kenneth Burke. The aim of this confrontation is to see what happens when Lynch’s central terms are discussed rhetorically, and to show that Lynch’s categories can be understood as rhetorical motives. In conclusion, he argues that The Image of the City can be interpreted rhetorically, and in a more fundamental way the paper aims to demonstrate that problems of orientation in the metropolis have an essential rhetorical dimension. Finally, Smolarski interrogates the results of the rhetorical impact on urban environmental design.

          In their paper, “Expanding the Terministic Screen: A Burkean Critique of Information Visualization in the Context of Design Education,” Anneli Bowie and Duncan Reyburn (University of Pretoria, South Africa), start from what information design theorist Richard Wurman has dubbed "information anxiety" to argue that information visualization has become a widely accepted tool to assist with the navigation of the symbolic world. Information visualizations, or infographics, are essentially external cognitive aids such as graphs, diagrams, maps and other interactive and innovative graphic applications. It is often argued by design theorists that information visualizations are rhetorical texts in that they have the ability to persuade. From this perspective, Bowie and Reyburn assert that information visualization may be understood as one expression of Kenneth Burke’s notion of the "terministic screen." This paper aims to interrogate the rhetoric of information visualization within the domain of design education in South Africa by analyzing two student visualization projects. Moreover, it explores the selective and deflective nature of visualization alongside issues regarding the interplay between ideology and Robin Kinross’s idea of a visual "rhetoric of neutrality." Burke’s explanation of synecdoche is shown as a useful approach to understanding how visualizations function rhetorically. Furthermore, Burke’s concept of perspective by incongruity, which is echoed in the notion of "Critical Design" is shown as an alternative method with the potential to ameliorate the problems with traditional infographics. Bowie and Duncan present Burke’s rhetorical theory as a critical tool for developing more ethical communication design education and praxis.

          In her paper, “‘You’re Not Going to Try and Change My Mind?’: The Dynamics of Identification in Aronofsky’s Black Swan,” Yakut Oktay (Bogazici University, Turkey) focuses on the movie Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky, to analyse how the rhetoric of ballet is used as a tool for shaping, and interrupting, the journey of the hero. The movie follows its main character Nina, who is dangerously obsessed with becoming the perfect swan for the new production of Swan Lake, which requires the principal dancer to embody both the White and the Black swans. By focusing on her struggle with identification, this article aims to pinpoint these instances by utilizing the theory of the monomyth, propounded by Joseph Campbell.

          In her paper, “Who are you working for? How 24 Served as Post-9/11 Equipment for Living,” Laura Herrmann (Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen, Germany), focuses on the groundbreaking television series 24. Portraying a post-9/11 society, 24 has been an interesting show to watch and analyze, Herrmann argues. Not only did it tie viewers all over the world to their screens, it also attracted fierce criticism in regards to its depiction of society, its war on terror, and the means by which it was fought. Times author James Poniewozik put an interesting point to these discussions, asking: “Is 24 just a TV show or right-wing propaganda? Or, to turn Jack Bauer’s frequent refrain on him: Who are you working for?” (“The Evolution of Jack Bauer“). This paper argues that 24 worked for us; as equipment for living to a post-9/11 society. As 24 "sized up" (Burke, Literature 298) a status of exception of a post-9/11 era, it offered us attitudes and strategies to symbolically (Literature, 299) overcome our fear. Employing a pentadic analysis, it examines the portrayal of a post-9/11 status of exception, its promoted strategies and attitudes. The idea is that these attitudes bear different notions of self: they offer facets of identity to a post-9/11 society, which had to deliberate on how our actions morally define us, how they not only determine our identity, but also create it anew.


          Cahil, W. (2011). Kenneth Burke’s pedagogy of motives, KB Journal, 7(2).

          Gaonkar, D. (1993). "The revival of rhetoric, the new rhetoric, and the rhetorical turn: some distinctions." Informal Logic 1, 53–64.

          Rutten, K. & Soetaert, R. (2013). Narrative and rhetorical approaches to problems of education. Jerome Bruner and Kenneth Burke revisited. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 32(4), 327–43.

          Smudde, P.M. (Ed.) (2010) Humanistic Critique of Education: Teaching and Learning as Symbolic Action. Anderson, SC: Parlor Press.

          Creative Commons License
          This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

          In Pursuit of Persuasion: Burke’s Rhetoric and the Artistic Practices of the Painter Frank Auerbach

          Derek Pigrum, University of Bath


          Jean-Luc Nancy states “there is an incapacity, an infinity, an impossibility inherent in writing about, to writing in the face of painting, for which every text on painting must account” (341). I began this paper with this in mind and, accordingly, I have chosen to view Frank Auerbach’s painting in terms of his practices and what he terms his “quest” but a quest that I believe has vital links to key notions in Kenneth Burke’s A Rhetoric of Motives that, although it deals primarily with works of literature, has, I will argue, a relation to the painting practices of Auerbach and perhaps other painters too. Thus, this paper is experimental and exploratory in terms of “how far one might systematically extend the term rhetoric” (44) to include the visual arts. In the paper I characterize Auerbach’s endless practice of what Weiss terms “erasure and restitution” (löschung und restitution) (15), as a ’realism of the act” (Burke 44) and as such part and parcel of the artist’s pursuit of “persuasion available in (the) given situation” (Burke 46) of painting and drawing.

          My interest in rhetoric originates in the context of my PhD thesis at the University of Bath and subsequently in a book on what I term “Multi-Mode Transitional Practices.” It was while looking at drawing as a means of generating, modifying and developing ideas that I came across the work of Michael Summers who closely relates artistic practices to rhetoric as involving a process of change, constant transformation and the final persuasion that effects closure. Burke states “wherever there is persuasion, there is rhetoric” (172). Auerbach’s practice of “erasure and restitution,” in which he all but removes the painting of the previous day and then begins to paint the subject all over again is one of change and transformation directed towards the achievement of persuasion that the work is complete.

          In the first section of the paper I outline Auerbach’s “topics” or the way he restricts his drawing and painting to the area of Camden Town and to the sitters that come to his studio according to a strict schedule—some of them for over twenty years. I explore the transitional and transformational changes these undergo in Auerbach’s sketching, painting and drawing process. This is followed by a section on “erasure and restitution” in Auerbach’s artistic practices that I relate to Burke’s notion of “standoffishness.’

          In the next section the emphasis is on the all-important role of mark- making in Auerbach’s practices as involving what Burke terms “nonverbal conditions or objects (that) can be considered as signs by reason of persuasive ingredients inherent in the meaning they have for the audience to which they are addressed” (161). In terms Auerbach’s of the painting practices of Auerbach this involves a notion of the self -address of internal rhetoric. Burke states that “nothing is more rhetorical in nature than a deliberation as too what is too much or too little, too early or too late” (45). This deliberation is at the root of Auerbach’s painting practices and when “fused with the spirit of the formative moment” (Burke 323) results in a state of closure akin to Burke’s notion of “pure persuasion” (267). However, I suggest that there is a tension between Burke’s notion of art as “construction of the self” and Auerbach’s account of what for him counts as a state of closure, or “pure persuasion” in which he rejects our accustomed way of thinking about painting as self-expression and self-discovery. In my conclusion I go over the main points again and suggest how Burke and his notion of “self-address” could provide a bridging principle between the work of painting and drawing and the realm of rhetoric. I also outline some directions for further research where Burke’s ideas on rhetoric could expand our understanding of the practices of visual artists.

          Auerbach’s “Topics”

          To begin with let us consider the two main themes in Auerbach’s painting: the area of Camden town where his studio is situated and the sitters that come according to a strict schedule to his studio, some of them for over twenty years. It is these two external entities that have been Auerbach “topics.” Topics that he approaches through charcoal drawings made outside the studio in the city and inside the studio in the presence of a sitter. The drawings as such are a bridging principle between what is seen, drawn and then painted. Auerbach, talking about the cityscape, states,

          buses come across and people move and then you do more drawings and all sorts of sensations about pace and speed and the plastic coherence of the material you are dealing with, and people walking across begin to appear in space, and you just make these drawings and take them back to the studio and it gives you an impetus you know, to do something with the painting you’re working on. (Tusa 9).

          Thus, the drawings continually inform the act of painting. In Auerbach’s paintings both the sitter and the cityscape are lifted temporarily out of the continuous flow of life. The marks that Auerbach makes in the process of sketching, drawing and painting stand for a relation between observer and observed where something is abstracted from what is seen. Burke states in his comments on poetic observation, there is “no naked relation between an observed object and the observer’s eye” (Burke 219). The to-and-fro between painting and drawing, like that of poetic observation, turn what is perceived into an image that moves at another level from that of empirical perception. This produces work that, in the words of Nancy, is “utterly, infinitely different from the image of reality which is neither its opposite, nor its reversal” (Nancy 162) but open to infinite possibilities.

          Erasure, Restitution and “Self-Address”

          Robert Hughes describes Auerbach’s drawing and painting process as a pattern of continual erasure and re-appearance carried out in an effort “to stabilize and define the terms of his relations to the real, resistant and experienced world” (Hughes 202). In his book on Auerbach Hughes states that “each days drawing is left over night, taken up the next day when the sitter arrives, and then scrubbed back to a grey blur—usually to the sitter’s disappointment as there seems no end to all this(198).” Hughes tells us that such drawings go through up to thirty states of erasure and that, before Auerbach began to use much heavier paper, he often applied a patch to where the paper had become perforated by “the abrasive action of the charcoal [and] the rubbing of the rag” (ibid). According to Hughes, when asked why he did not begin again on a fresh sheet of paper, Auerbach said that he felt that “the ghosts of erased images “in” the sheet contribute some pressure to the final version, which he is loath to lose” (ibid). My former professor Ralph Lilleford attended the Royal college at the same time as Auerbach and sent me the following recollection of Auerbach at work:

          He was a strong, well built man and put emotional power into his thrashings and murderous avenge by holding the board with an inch of paper on it and ravaging it with a fist clenched round a handful of willow charcoal sticks, holding a rubber to devaluate what he had drawn, quite a performance -along with the 10 meter path of trodden in charcoal where he walked back and forth to the easel. He would draw through several sheets in inches, in furrows, flaking paper off in a ragged way. He wore all black, generally industrial clothing, black hair, very serious [and with] no relation to any one else in the studio, expecting complete silence except for his crunching underfoot and groans and yells at the easel. He did painting from four-gallon cans occasionally. I can’t think of any model or other artist he based his actions on. . . .” (email)

          For Auerbach, drawing and painting are always on the verge of both losing and finding, or what Burke describes as “a ritual of getting and not getting” (273) that, I would argue, involves, in Burke’s terms, an element of “self-address.” In this self-address erasure is not total obliteration nor restitution or return to what has gone before but its ghost, and this is then subjected to a renewed act of making, a kind of Penelopewerk or work of Penelope where, as Walter Benjamin states, “hier löst der Tag auf, was die Nacht wirkte” (here the day unravels what the night has woven) (in Fleckner 268). Auerbach’s process of “erasure and restitution “ is closely related to what Burkes says concerning amplification that “of all rhetorical devices (is) the most thoroughgoing” (67) because “it increases persuasiveness by sheer accumulation” ibid).

          It is interesting to note that the importance Auerbach assigns to the “grey traces of obliteration” (Feaver 19), is echoed by the German writer Matthias Politycki on the process of writing. He states, “The first draft, even if not a word of it remains, is always crucial in every text because its pressure remains in all subsequent versions” (“Die Erstniederschrift, auch wenn davon kein einziges Wort am Ende erhalten bleibt, ist allerdings für jeden Text ausschlaggebend, weil als Druck darin durch alle Fassungen spürbar.’) (Politycki 23). This process of making, erasing, and re-emergence becomes, in Auerbach’s painting, marks, streaks, scratches, trails and traces that are subject to a process of attrition, accretion, upheaval, erasure and restitution.

          In a recent BBC radio interview with John Tusa Auerbach describes how he works:

          things are going well and I feel it’s almost as though something arose from the canvas of its own accord, you know, the various attempts one has been making come together and an image seems to form out of the paint: when I’m actually in pursuit of this I no longer quite know what I’m doing because all my energies are engaged in this pursuit of the possibility that’s arisen on the canvas. (8)

          Tusa goes on to ask why Auerbach, despite what he has just said, will look at the painting at the end of the sitting and then “scrape it off.” Auerbach’s reply is that “at the end of the sitting I’ll put it on the floor and look at it and turn it to the wall” (ibid). He then goes on to describe how his working habits have changed over time so that instead of scraping the paint off at the next sitting he now waits three or four days and then “I blot it off with newspaper so that I have . . . a sort of flattened version of the image which gives me a basis to go on the next time but without the paint on it . . . “ ibid). Later, in the same interview, Auerbach talks more about the necessary role of destruction in his painting process as “the only possible progress” and if he feels a “slight unease, even if the thing seems plausible and presentable and nobody else might notice that it’s no good, one’s got to destroy it” (9).

          In Auerbach’s practices this is a to-and-fro of “making, erasing and restituting” that seems to know no rest. In terms of creative practices, the sculptress Louise Bourgeois sheds light on this:

          [What] I do is an active state. It’s positive affirmation. I am in control, and move forward, toward a goal or wish or desire. . . . The undo is the unraveling. The torment that things are not right and the anxiety of not knowing what to do. There can be total destruction in the attempt to find an answer, and there can be terrifying violence that descends into depression. . . . The re-do means a solution is found to the problem. It may not be the final answer, but there is an attempt to go forward. You get clearer in your thinking. You are active again. (368)

          This doing, undoing, and redoing is closely related to Burke’s view of the formal situation as involving “winding–up and unwinding, finding and losing, loosening and binding” (Burke 11). It is this “loosening and binding” that must be given priority because it is concerned with actively making, responding to and transforming marks together with a specific form of self-address.

          The Stimulus of the Mark

          The mark belongs to what Peirce termed the “third universe,” that is to say “everything whose being consists in the active power to establish connections” and as such is “essentially a sign” (in Liske.2). There is also a sense in which the mark is the outcome of what Peirce termed “pure play” (ibid) that produces a form of “musement’; once the mark is there it sets in motion a lively give-and-take of possibility produced by accretions that Peirce relates to purposes which have essentially shaped the “springs of action,” or what Burke would term “motivation,” that is purpose accompanied by the “habit of expectation” and of surprise, but also the possibility of temporary failure. Thus the mark can induce an affective state of excitation. Certain marks stop us in our tracks, move us in some way, often without our knowing why, and at the same time move us on or forward, albeit tentatively and provisionally, seizing upon the “material sign” of the mark as an inducement to act.

          In terms of the mark and primary linguistic signifiers Seebald, in his novel Austerlitz describes the experience of becoming aware of the perceptual nature of the signifier of the linguistic sign akin to the painters recognition of the mark or the trace when he states, “The sentences are dissolved into many individual words, and the words into letters, and the letters into broken signs and these, here and there, into a lead grey shiny trace . . . “ 180). (“Die Sätze lösten sich auf in laute einzelne Worte, die Worte in eine willkürliche Folge von Buchstaben, die Buchstaben in zerbrochene Zeichen und diese in eine blei-graue, da und dort silbrig glänzende Spur’).

          Auerbach says that each painting begins “as an almost nothing, an incoherence worked on, worked at, worked with . . . “ (in Feaver 19). Auerbach comments on this primacy of the mark as a point of departure when, even after long years of practice, he has

          totally forgotten how to paint . . . and then a mark may happen at any time that reminds one what it is like to paint, and one tries to do the thing with the energy at one’s disposal before the feeling goes. And what happens on those occasions is that I find myself making certain marks. It’s what happened to me rather than what I mean to do, it’s what’s happened to me in the thrill of the chase, with the quarry in sight. I’ve done my best, I’ve forgotten myself, and this is how it has come out. (Peppiatt 9)

          There is an echo here of Bourdieu’s notion of habitus as an “estimation of chances . . . of objective potentialities, immediately inscribed in the present, things to do or not to do, in relation to a forthcoming reality which . . . puts itself forward with an urgency and a claim to existence excluding all deliberation” (Bourdieu 76). The mark is in the order of an inaugural moment, a beginning, something close to what Said, referring to the writer Erich Auerbach, termed an “Ansatzpunkt” or point of departure that has a quality that is intelligible in the same way that Said states that “an X is intelligible in an algebraic function . . . yet its value is also unknown” 68) until , like the mark, it is seen in relation to other marks. At this moment something emerges and is actualized, a coming, or potency that is grasped as an opening, a point of departure that is a tightening or slackening of the mark from which variations flow. Above all the mark is a sign occurrence where the subjective and the objective, the signifier and the signified have not yet been separated.

          Elkins comes as close as perhaps anyone has ever done to providing a description of painting. One of the people Elkins contacted in order to verify his findings was Frank Auerbach who stated: “as soon as I become consciously aware of what the paint is doing my involvement with the painting is weakened. Paint is at its most eloquent when it is a by-product of some corporeal, spatial, developing imaginative concept, a creative identification with the subject”(qtd. in Elkins 74). In this sense the making of marks and their erasure are what Burke would term “successive moments in a single process(187) that he likens to a “footfall” that continues to “echo in the memory” because fused with the taking up again of the “formative moments . . . as vague adumbrations of later possibilities” (323).

          According to Elkins the mark has “the dual nature of the pictorial trace” (240) and as such is partly semiotic and partly non-semiotic. We might see the mark as sub-semiotic, that is to say meaningless until by accretions it forms into a meaningful sign. But Elkins counters this reduction of the mark to something like the status and role of the morpheme in linguistics, and instead places the mark “beyond the reach of linguistic analogies” (824) on the grounds that the mark can produce a response or incitement that is “un-coded.” Elkins argues that although small changes to marks can alter their syntactic and semantic function “this does not correspond well with the ways that pictures are actually made or viewed” (828).

          Some marks might have a significance open to deliberation and as such are what Burke terms the “putting,” the “may” or “must,” “will” or “ought” (153) of deliberation, stating “nothing is more rhetorical than a deliberation as to what is too much or too little” (45).

          We might say then, following Burke’s ideas, that Auerbach makes a mark that “sets up demands of its own . . . demands conditioned by what has gone before but not foreseen” (269). This is what Auerbach is seeking, this is the “quest.” There is a sense in which this “quest” is imbued with a “predatory principle” shaped by the principles specific to each kind of cultural activity” (134). But this raises the very difficult philosophical question of the relation between temporality and affect. In other words, what are the qualities in a painting that, at a particular moment, reach a state that persuades Auerbach that he has caught in the paint what he is after.

          In Pursuit of “Pure Persuasion’

          For Burke “the furthest we can go, in matters of rhetoric, is the question of “pure persuasion” (267). Auerbach’s “self-address,” is intertwined with his repeated “erasures and restitutions” but we have suggested that many of the decisions he makes are unconscious. The question is how does this equate with a notion of Burkian “self-address.” Nienkamp develops a notion of ’internal rhetoric” as affecting the way we act at an intentional conscious level and the unconscious level of what she terms “primary internal rhetoric” that she equates with Burke’s notion of “a wide range of ways whereby the rhetorical motive, through the resources of identification, can operate without conscious direction . . . in varying degrees of deliberativeness and unawareness” (20). An example of this primary rhetoric is provided by Elkins when he describes the turning of the body against itself” (17). What he means here is how in the process of painting the body is countered in its inclination towards a predictable pattern of marks that “stems from a fleeting momentary awareness of what the hand might do next” (18).

          But what is it that ultimately persuades Auerbach, in the “formal situation,” that the work is completed? The very fact that Auerbach does not immediately erase a day’s work on the canvas or on paper suggests that the “pure persuasion” that Auerbach seeks lies in “a thing one doesn’t understand and which one suspects may work” (qtd. in Feaver 19) which implies a temporal gap between completion and final persuasion, or what Burke describes as an “element of standoffishness” (269). Auerbach’s painting practices rely on an immersive moment or state. It is of great interest in this context that Fried in his book on Caravaggio, uses the term “immersive moment” to describe that state in which the painter is to be imagined as continuous with the picture on which he is working and a subsequent “specular moment” that we might identify with Burke’s “standoffishness” in which he separates or cuts himself off or detaches himself from the painting to view the possibilities that have emerged.

          In Auerbach’s case, this is a day away from the moment when he is persuaded that the painting “stands up for itself, and I no longer see the trace of my will and hopes in it” (in Feaver 19), words that cast a whole new light on the notion of closure and its consequences for the painter, and on some of our accepted notions on the relation between the work of art and the artist.

          Auerbach’s account of what constitutes for him closure, as quoted at the end of the previous section, does not include a notion of either identity or Burke’s notion of the way we “construct the self” (45). It is in fact far closer to Adorno’s notion of “the factor in a work of art which enables it to transcend reality . . . found in those features in which discrepancy appears: in the necessary failure of the passionate striving for identity” (131).

          In the case of Auerbach the completed work is by definition implicated in what Burke would term as belonging “in a larger unit of action” (27). I suggest that this “larger unit of action” for Auerbach has two main components: the way his work relates to painters and paintings of the past and the way in which the “pure persuasion” that constitutes closure also anticipates and leads to further action, to further painting.

          For Auerbach paintings of the past are fundamentally incomplete, leaving traditions, like the tradition of portrait painting, open to startling revisions. At the same time, the present moment of painting constitutes the indispensable point of reference by means of which past painting achieves its significance for Auerbach. While painting Auerbach will sometimes “pull a book from the shelves, flick it open . . . and dump it on the floor as assurance, or incitement, or aid to reflection” (qtd. in Feaver 5). These books are among his formative influences together with the teachings of David Bomberg and the work of artists such as Francis Bacon, Alberto Giacometti and Chaim Soutine, all of who have had motivational processes similar to those of Auerbach, but none of this subtracts from Auerbach’s autonomy because such influences have been intuitively absorbed and interwoven with the particulars of Auerbach’s practices. Auerbach’s recourse to these books and artists is closely related to what Burke says about the need “ . . . to keep trying anything and everything, improvising, borrowing from others, developing from others . . . schematizing; using the incentive to new wanderings, returning from these excursions to schematize again” (265).

          I would argue that Auerbach’s paintings, by means of the to-and-fro between drawing and painting and erasure and restitution, shift from the initial sensory image of the cityscape or sitter to a non-empirical image that is not reducible to either a positive mimetic image or to the dialectical order of ideas but nevertheless achieves what Burke would term a “mythic image” 203). But why mythic? The explanation Burke provides is that such an image embodies or “summarizes successive positions or moments in a single process” (187). Here I would remind the reader of the “ghost” in the painting that is blotted out with newspaper and how Auerbach applies successive drawings on the same sheet of paper, all of which are subsumed in a final act of painting that I suggest is comparable to Burke’s notion of “pure persuasion.”

          In Burke’s expanded view of rhetoric “pure persuasion” is a balancing act on the very edge of finding and losing, which, as we have seen, is the way Auerbach describes his painting process. However, Bryan Crable mentions Burke’s insistence on human beings as “symbol using/making/misusing animals (of) the inclination and aptitude to verbal appeal (that) shapes all aspects of our uniquely rhetorical existence” (231). The question here is if we can assign to the moment when Auerbach sees that a painting “stands” to a verbal appeal, albeit one that takes place internally but at the same time is beyond“rational terms of definition” (268–69).

          According to Deleuze Aristotle’s view of the transition from potentiality to actuality is that which has left behind all uncertainty. We leave behind all uncertainty of form when we achieve closure. But how do we know when to stop, to call a halt of closure as the end result of a series of events that begin with possibilities and end in the imperative cessation of activity that Burke termed “pure persuasion” (267). However, and most interestingly Burke related “pure persuasion” to a “non-existent limit.” Non-–existent because the limit set by “pure persuasion” opens into “vague adumbrations of . . . higher possibilities” (323). In other words, the work, although subject to the limit of closure, is always arriving. This I believe is of the essence of Burke’s notion of “pure persuasion” and the impetus that continuously fuels Auerbach’s painting.

          But there are further grounds for admitting painting to the order of “pure persuasion.” Crable argues that Burke’s “pure persuasion” shatters a “primary unity” that “is a ground, in both agent and scene, beyond the verbal” (324) but which, “contains the potentiality of the verbal” (290) that once actualized “interposes distance” or a “standoffishness” (271) that is the differentiation and distance created by symbolic or other sign use as an incentive for the maintenance of appeal.

          But no more profound question exits than that of how and when our capacity to create verbal and written signs began. One thing seems to emerge: that the written sign was preceded by the iconic sign and this would seem to have been prefigured by marks of different sizes and shapes with different spacing that did not produce any recognizable image. I would argue then that one of the first ways human beings created distance or Burke’s “standoffishness” was through mark making. Marks made either by fingers dipped into some pigment and then applied to a cave or rock wall or incised on some such surface. It is interesting to note here that the root of the English word to write is the German word ritzen, to scratch or incise. I would further argue that the writer’s words on blank sheet of paper or a painter’s marks on the blank canvas are acts that initiate the distance required for the maintenance of appeal that is essence of rhetoric.


          The reader might think that I am filling in my own blank check in this paper with regard to rhetoric and Burke’s notion of “pure persuasion” in the painting practices of Frank Auerbach in which the verbal does not seem to play a part. However, Burke mentions “sources of mystery beyond rhetoric, found among other things in “the non verbal” where the “unutterable complexities” to which the implications of words themselves, or, in Auerbach’s case, marks, give rise. Finally he talks about the “super-verbal” that “would not be nature minus speech, but nature as the ground of speech, hence nature itself as containing the principle of speech” (180) and here I would add nature itself as containing the principle of the mark and the iconic sign.

          Auerbach’s external world is transformed into drawings and paintings that involve an integrated rhythm of painting, drawing, or what Burke’s calls the “formal situation,” where the illusive nature of the mark acts as an incitement and inducement to act. The mark as a point of departure subject to deliberative self-address that involves erasure and restitution in a tireless quest over time for the “pure persuasion” of closure. What for Auerbach constitutes “pure persuasion” is the “surprise” that no one painting can fulfill.

          A direction in future research would be to explore in far greater depth than has been possible here, the nature of the stimulation produced by the mark and those practices that develop its use. An additional direction for future research would be to explore Burke’s notion of “primary inner rhetoric.” Burke’s A Rhetoric of Motives could act as a way of bringing forward and making connections between the “formal situation” and the work or labor of painting as a liberation form, rather than an expression of the ego. In this connection I would argue that Auerbach’s deep interest in certain artists of the past suggests, contrary to popular belief, that influence is not an obstacle to creativity but rather an enhancement, something we learn from in complex ways. A future research direction would be to examine the importance of influence on visual artists in much the same way that Harold Bloom has done this for writers in his book “The Anxiety of Influence.” Finally, I believe that this essay provides a starting point for utilizing Burke’s A Rhetoric of Motives to reassemble and achieve a new and improved understanding of the disparate aspects of individual artistic practices.

          Works Cited

          Benjamin, Walter. Das Penelopewerk des Vergessens in Fleckner, U. Hrsg. (1995) Die Schatzkammern der Mnemosyne: Ein Lesebuch zur Gedächtnistheorie von Platon bis Derrida. Göttingen: Verlag der Kunst 1929. Print.

          Bloom, Harold. The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1973. Print.

          Bourgeois, Louise. Destruction of the Father Reconstruction of the Father. Writings and Interviews 1923–1997. Ed. M.L. Bernadac and H.U. Obrist. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005. Print.

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

          Crable, Bryan. “Distance as Ultimate Motive: A Dialectical Interpretation of A Rhetoric of Motives.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 39.3 (2009): 213–39. Print.

          Elkins, James. “Marks, Traces, Traits, Contours, Orli, and Splendores: Nonsemiotic Elements in Pictures.” Critical Inquiry 21 (Summer 1995): 822–870. Print.

          —. The Domain of Images. Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1999

          —. What Painting Is: How to Think about Painting Using the Language of Alchemy. London: Routledge, 1999

          Feaver, William. Frank Auerbach. New York: Rizzoli, 2009

          Hughes, Robert. Frank Auerbach. London: Thames and Hudson, 1992

          Fried, Michael. The Moment of Caravagggio. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2011. Print.

          Lilleford, Ralph. Email to the Author (6 March 2013).

          Liske, James, Jacob. A General Introduction to the Semeiotic of Charles Sanders Peirce. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1996. Print.

          Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Birth to Presence. Trans. by Brian Holmes. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1993. Print.

          Nienkamp, Jean. “Internal Rhetorics: Constituting Selves in Diaries and Beyond.” Culture, Rhetoric and the Vicissitudes of Life. Ed. Michael Carrithers. New York: Berghahn Books 2012. 18­­–33. Print.

          Peppiatt, Michael. Interviews with Artists 1966 to 2012. New Haven: Yale UP, 2012. Print.

          Pigrum, Derek. Teaching Creativity: Multi-Mode Transitional Practices. London: Continuum, 2009. Print.

          Politycki, Matthias. “Schräglage zur Welt: Was bringt den Schriftsteller zum Schreiben.”Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Samstag 15 (Dec. 2012): 23–24. Print.

          Said, Edward. Beginnings: Intention and Method. New York: Columbia UP, 1985. Print.

          Seebald, Winfried Georg. Austerlitz. München: Carl Hauser Verlag 2001. Print.

          Summers, David. Michelangelo and the Language of Art. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1981. Print.

          Tusa, John. Frank Auerbach. Interview.BBC-Radio 3 (7 Oct. 2001).

          Weiss, Judith Elisabeth. “Frank Auerbach’s Porträts und Köpfe.” Trajekte 25 (Oct. 2012): 14–20. Print.

          Creative Commons License
          This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

          The Vox Populi in Poems: Ramsey Nasr as Poet Laureate and Public Intellectual

          Odile Heynders, Tilburg University


          This paper puts the spotlight on the work of Dutch Poet Laureate Ramsey Nasr. In the four years of his official appointment, he wrote poems and essays articulating a critical perspective on the current political conjuncture in the Netherlands. The Poet Laureate can be considered a public intellectual in that he shows engagement in regard to concrete societal issues and ‘translates’ this into poetry. Using ideas and rhetorical tools from the work of Kenneth Burke, I will show how Nasr’s poetry prompts readers to identify with his perspective while illuminating how such identification leads to division from a perspective that frames nationalism in terms that would exclude multiethnic citizenship.

          The Poet Laureate as Public Intellectual

          ON MONDAY JANUARY 28, 2013, DUTCH POET RAMSEY NASR (b. 1974) was one of the guests on the popular Dutch TV talk show De Wereld draait door (DWDD),1 being invited on the showin connection with the festivities surrounding the annual ‘Poetry Week’ and the termination of his four-year appointment as Poet Laureate (from 2009 to 2013). On the evening in question, however, he did not get a chance to discuss literature at all, the program being interrupted by a Breaking News item in which the Dutch Queen announced her abdication. After this, the discussion at the DWDD table turned to her thirty-three-year reign and remained there for the rest of the show. The next day, Nasr appeared on the program again, in full swing now, since that morning he had written a long poem addressed to the queen,2 thus underscoring his position as Poet Laureate. He read the poem in a solemn voice, delivering it flawlessly as the trained actor that he is. On Wednesday January 30, Nasr reappeared again on DWDD, this time to really discuss his ideas on the potential and the power of poetry, and his past performances as poet Laureate. Some of his poems and statements had caused quite a stir, being considered by some to be too left wing and, perhaps even more importantly, because they were clearly pro-Palestine.3

          Nasr’s appearing on an important prime-time television show three evenings in a row, and expressing his views on political and social topics, reaching a wide general audience in the process (much broader than that of the average readers of poetry), underlined his cultural authority (Collini 452). The prestige involved not only lay in his being Poet Laureate, but also in a broader structure of relations (Collini 52), including his being invited by top TV personality Van Nieuwkerk and his editorial team, expressing clear opinions on the Queen and the monarchy, having met the challenge and writing an appealing poem in response to her abdication, which, as an actor, he could recite convincingly. A successful television appearance on a quality talk show is an obvious indication that one is performing one’s role well, doing the right thing at the right moment.

          The Poet Laureateship was introduced into the Dutch literary context when quality newspaper NRC Handelsblad in collaboration with the Poetry International organization and Dutch Public television NPS decided to organize a contest to choose a renowned poet who was to promote poetry by writing on important current events and special occasions. The Poet Laureate was to be an ambassador for poetry. The first to be chosen as Poet Laureate was famous poet and anthologist Gerrit Komrij (1944–2012), in January 2000.4 Four years later the less canonized, light verse poet Driek van Wissen (1943–2010) was elected after an elaborate campaign (which he had organized himself). In 2009, Ramsey Nasr became the third Poet Laureate. When his term was over, a committee of connoisseurs was formed to choose his successor in order to avoid the public voting-procedure, which had turned out too easy to manipulate. The current Poet Laureate is Postmodernist poet Anne Vegter (b. 1958), who accepted the honor in January of 2013.

          The Poet Laureate is a historical institution, going all the way back to the Roman Empire in which poets, such as Horace, were officially appointed by the Capitol to compose texts for special events. This institution developed into the tradition of the court poets in the Middle Ages. The Poets Laureate Petrarch and Chaucer are famous representatives of the position in the Renaissance.5 In 1668, the laureateship acquired royal status in the UK when Dryden was appointed to the post and was the first to receive the official title. In England, the Poet Laureate writes for the court at national events. It is a job for life. Ted Hughes was one of the most renowned Poets Laureate in the 20th century. In the US, the Poet Laureateship was introduced as recently as 1937, and there the Poet Laureate is appointed by the Librarian of Congress for a period of only eight months. S/He is supposed to write poetry for a broader audience. In addition, every Poet Laureate can choose his own personal project to pursue. There is a wide variety of choices open to him, ranging from writing columns on poetry, or compiling an anthology, to organizing poetry projects at schools. Today, every American state has its own Poet Laureate, comparable more or less to the city poets in Dutch cities.

          The Dutch Poet Laureate position is obviously a bit different from the ones in the UK and the USA. In the Netherlands, this position has been configured at arm’s length from government—neither the public broadcaster NPS or Poetry International though both subsidized can be taken as representative of the state—whereas in the other countries mentioned the appointment does have clear ties to the state. This, indeed, shapes the auditor’s and reader’s expectations: in the Dutch context the configuration is much more unofficial and progressive. The poet can make his point without taken the representativeness as such as too restrictive.

          Ramsey Nasr, born from a Palestinian father and a Dutch mother6, is a jack-of-all-trades: poet, essayist, renowned actor and director. In 2000, he published his debut, the collection 27 Poems & No Song (27 gedichten & Geen lied). His second book of poetry, awkwardly flowering (onhandig bloesemend) appeared four years later. In 2005, Nasr was appointed city poet of Antwerp, a city in the North, Dutch-speaking part of Belgium. His third poetry volume our-lady-zeppelin (onze-lieve-vrouwe-zeppelin) (2006) includes all his ‘Antwerp poems’ along with detailed commentary and historical photographs of the city. A selection of articles on art and politics was published in 2006 under the title Of the Enemy and the Musician (Van de vijand en de muzikant). Aside from his literary work, Nasr is also a gifted actor and director. In May 2013, he was appointed a member of the prestigious theatre company Toneelgroep Amsterdam (TGA). He has played parts in films and television series.7 In 2010, Heavenly Life appeared, the first English-language collection of the work of Ramsey Nasr, translated by David Colmer and published by Banipal Books.

          The Dutch Poet Laureate is supposed to write at least four poems a year on an international event of a cultural, political, sports (sic) or societal character. The poems are published in the NRC newspaper.8 In the four years of his Poet Laureateship, Nasr wrote 23 poems on occasions such as a shooting in a provincial town with seven people dead and seventeen injured (‘the spring gun’ (‘het lentekanon’)), the attack on Queen’s Day—a national Dutch holiday—in 2009 (‘In the land of kings’ (‘In het land der koningen’)) and the installation of a new government in October 2010, made possible by the support from Geert Wilders’ populist Party PVV (‘Mijn nieuwe vaderland’ (My new fatherland)). He also wrote memorial poems on the death of three renowned Dutch writers: Harry Mulisch, Simon Vinkenoog and Gerrit Komrij and, as said, ended his official Poet Laureateship with a poem on the announced abdication of Queen Beatrix.

          In this article, I argue that Nasr as Poet Laureate demonstrates how the generic expectations associated with poetry can be ‘sized up’ rhetorically to accommodate the expression of timely political critique. Nasr, so to say, successfully mingles poetry and politics and in doing so intertwines various linguistic dimensions in the Burkean sense, in order to underscore the authority of the poet and the importance of his voice in judging the societal conjuncture. The Poet Laureate is an example of the literary author as a public intellectual,9 addressing an audience on conflicting cultural or social issues that need to be interpreted and commented upon. The ‘intellectual’ element emphasizes the writer having (a certain amount of) authority, often rooted in an academic education or on the prestige of his oeuvre, and being able to judge things from a wider perspective. The ‘public’ element refers to the author performing a role as a social critic and mediator, both from the sideline and from the centre of a public sphere.

          Italian philologist Antonio Gramsci, locked up in prison by Mussolini’s fascist regime, wrote in his Prison Notebooks (1926–1937) that “all men are intellectuals” though not all of them have the function of intellectuals in society (Gramsci 9). He distinguished between the traditional intellectual (teacher, priest, literary writer and so on, occupying specific professions in between classes deriving from historical formations in rural society), and the organic intellectual (the organizing and reflective element in a particular social class or group). At first sight, the contemporary Poet Laureate typically is a traditional intellectual, performing the role of the Man of Letters. Today, however, in our mediatized society, the intellectual finds himself in a more organic position in which he frequently has to bridge the gap between intellectualism (high education, well-informed) and the general public (partly well-educated and interested in poetry, and partly not reading poetry at all, but interested in the public figure as a celebrity). While the unique and defining characteristic of intellectuals is that they take a stand on issues and deliver critique from a universal or sophisticated point of view, public intellectuals by the very fact of their having to present their ideas to the general public and performing a role in the media, are forced to popularize their ideas. They find themselves in the middle of a public sphere that they also consciously have to detach themselves from, in order to be active as artists. It is this paradox or bi-dimensionality10 that becomes explicit in the performances of Ramsey Nasr as Poet Laureate, and I will examine it with the help of some of Kenneth Burke’s ideas and rhetorical tools. The particular focus will be on concepts such as poetics, engagement, associational cluster, identification and symbolic action.

          As regards the latter, poetry as symbolic act can be analyzed in three subdivisions: the poem as dream, prayer and chart. Burke elaborates on this in the first chapter of Philosophy as Literary Form (1941).11 The prayer and chart dimensions make us aware of the communicative aspect, as well as of the potential of the “realistic sizing up” of poetry, which is relevant when discussing these politically motivated poems. Nasr’s observation is that art-for-art’s-sake (he calls it “postmodern art”) is a luxury, though social and political commitment should be part of poetry without affecting the poetic dimension. This is what he writes in a pivotal passage in one of his essays:

          Is it possible to let engagement enter poetry without affecting the poetry? I think it is, as long as one has enough talent and manages to keep solutions at a safe distance. As long as your pen wriggles and lives and slips out of your hands. And particularly: as long as it is up to the reader to decide what is a love poem and what is politics. Engagement is not to choose in favor of or against a party, engagement is simply being engaged in life itself and participating, if only in language (Van de vijand en de muzikant 78).12

          This ties in with certain ideas on “life, literature and method” put forward by Burke, connecting the aesthetic with the concrete or referential. What I am aiming at is an analysis and understanding of the political, cultural and social potential of an aesthetic text such as a poem, an examination of the public performance of the poet, and of the responses of the lay audience. The question addressed is: does the audience comprehend the combination of aesthetic practice and popularized political statements, that is inherent in the position of and exemplified by the practice of this Poet Laureate? This article develops as follows: first I will discuss some of Burke’s ideas and analyses, and subsequently relate them to a number of Nasr’s poems. Secondly, I will go into the poet’s performance and the public responses to it. Finally, the third part will present an argument on cultural authority, linguistic dimensions and civic participation.

          Burkean Perspective on Poetry

          Ramsey Nasr’s My New Native Country, Poems of Crisis and Fear (2011) is a collection of sixteen poems and two polemic texts—entitled ‘Beyond Freedom’ (De vrijheid voorbij) and ‘But we put Orcs in charge of Culture’ (Alleen op cultuur zet je een ork)—representative of his laureateship. As such, the volume immediately confronts the reader with the problem of deciding on the attitude to take with regard to the content. After all, one cannot help but recognize that the poetry is written from an official Laureate’s position and thus inspired by particular societal events that the poet was invited to write about as Laureate. Two of the lectures Nasr delivered as Poet Laureate are collected in the volume, which not only makes it more than just a collection of poetry, but also provides a specific context in which the poems are placed and thus, one would assume, are expected to be read. In Burkean terms: these poems are not just poems in their own right—they are explicitly presented in a more broadly defining general language context. Moreover, Nasr’s poems can be considered to be didactic poetry, as Burke has described this poetic category in Attitudes Toward History; the didactic impliying: “coaching the imagination in obedience to critical postulates” (75). Poets can deal with issues that cannot be solved by essayistic legislation, Burke observes, and the didactic poet attempts to avoid the confusion of synthesis by a schematic decision to label certain people “friends” or “enemies,” though this sometimes leads to oversimplification and sentimentality (79). Nasr is not unfamiliar with an enemy discourse, and more than once feels tempted to make others aware of the dangers of fascism and anti-Islam sentiment. In a ‘Letter to my Enemy’ from 2006, he confronts Dutch (Jewish and evidently pro-Israel) writer Leon de Winter with his negative and bellicose rhetoric in regard to Palestinian issues (Van de vijand en de muzikant 108). Nasr’s plea is to resist the simplification of putting Israel and Palestine in opposition, and considering all Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians as the same people.

          Before we focus on Nasr’s poetry, it will be helpful to draw some more ideas from Burke’s texts. In the essay ‘Poetics in particular, Language in General’ (from: Language as Symbolic Language, Essays of Life, Literature, and Method), Burke discusses Edgar Allen Poe’s famous essay ‘The Philosophy of Composition,’ and observes that for the 19th century American author “supremeness, perfection” is the ideal, not only with regard to composition but also with regard to the things one writes about. The most poetical topic in the world, according to Poe, is the death of a beautiful woman. Burke points out that this should not just be taken at face value, as capturing the quintessential characteristic of Poe’s poems. There are other motivating factors besides those of a poetic nature that stand out in this work, the most conspicuous being the necrophile theme that is linked to the psychiatric disorder the poet was suffering from. In other words, what we might say about a poem as a poem “might not adequately cover the wider motivational problem of what we might say about the poem ( . . . ) as aspects of language in general” (27). Hence, we can make a deliberate choice to read a poem beyond its poetic dimension.

          Poetics is but one of the four primary linguistic dimensions: there are also logic, rhetoric, and ethics (28). The poetic motive is understood by Burke as “the sheer exercise of ‘symbolicity’ for its own sake” (29). As said, an approach to the poem in terms merely of poetics is not enough in itself; sometimes a poem requires an analysis as an example of language in general. Burke is very clear on this issue when he states that “the very attempt to discuss the poem purely as the product of a poet should eventually help sharpen our perception of the respects in which the poem must be analyzed rather as the product of a citizen and taxpayer, subject to various social embarrassments, physical ills, and mental aberrations” (38). In an earlier reading of Coleridge (1941) he had pointed at the “associational clusters” that can be picked up in a work, implying that acts, images, personalities and situations come together and have to be examined to disclose the structure of motivation in a work. The poet as a person survives in his work. It is clear that the four dimensions of language are related, and that poetics is the principle of perfection, in the sense that component parts of a work are produced in perfect relationship to one another. But the aesthetic principle should not be viewed in too simple a sense. The study of a work in terms of poetics alone is not sufficient, if we are also “inquiring humanistically into the poem’s full nature as symbolic act” (Language as symbolic Language 41).

          Burke’s essays and readings help to clarify the complicated motives underlying the poems of Poet Laureate Ramsey Nasr; motives rooted in personal experiences, political contrasts, as well as in the societal conjuncture, and motives involved in his efforts aimed at reaching and encouraging a general audience. Burke’s point of poetry as symbolic action moves midway between a formalistic and a Marxist approach, the former studying the text in terms of poetics and treating the work as anonymous, the latter studying the text as language in relation to the author and his environment. Burke rediscovers, so to say, the rhetorical elements that aesthetics had banned. It is important to become conscious of this essence of Burke’s work, in order to make his ideas even more functional in the contemporary political context of the poetry of Ramsey Nasr.

          This being said, we can zoom in on another concept relevant when discussing this didactic poetry: identification. Burke discusses this notion as a key term for rhetoric, and argues: “identification ranges from the politician who, addressing an audience of farmers, says, ‘I was a farm boy myself,’ through the mysteries of social status, to the mystic’s devout identification with the source of all being” (A Rhetoric of Motives XIV). Rhetorical analysis throws light on literary texts and human relationships in general, since there are two main aspects of rhetoric: its use of identification and its nature as being or intended to be addressed. Aristotle refers to rhetoric as the art of persuasion. Burke refines this to “rhetoric as art of identification,” thus placing the activity of speaking in a wider context. He underlines that in regard to the relation between identification and persuasion, we might keep in mind “that a speaker persuades an audience by the use of stylistic identifications; his act of persuasion may be for the purpose of causing the audience to identify itself with the speaker’s interests; and the speaker draws on identification of interests to establish rapport between himself and his audience” (46). This seems particularly applicable in the context of Nasr’s work as poet Laureate, thus as public figure, prompting the reader to think and to form an opinion about literature as well as politics, without blurring the two categories.13

          Burke appears to have been ahead of his time, since we observe that feminist literary theories, postcolonial theories, and cultural studies in the second half of the twentieth century started from a similar assumption that texts cannot fully be understood in terms of their aesthetic qualities only. The rhetorical project of identification is indeed based on the idea that language is used by individuals to persuade others, and to identify and recognize themselves in regard to others. Values and beliefs are shaped in ways we are not always aware of. It is precisely in the unawareness of expressions and the use of language, that identification as association becomes most clear. This is often achieved without rational assent. Burke, as Jennifer Richards has clearly pointed out, “makes us routinely and deeply suspicious” of the words used (166).

          In the third part of A Rhetoric of Motives Burke discusses three elements of vocabulary: positive terms (naming the things of experience; the imagery of poetry is positive to the extent that it names things having a visible, tangible existence), dialectical terms (referring to ideas, concerned with action and idea rather than things) and ultimate terms (placing competing voices in a hierarchy or sequence, it is the guiding idea or unitary principle behind the diversity of voices) (183–187). He uses these terms to analyze poetry as a form of identification, and discusses works by T.S Eliot, W.B. Yeats, and other canonical poets. These are analytical tools that can likewise be applied to the poems of Nasr, and they can help us grasp the device of identification as well as the various linguistics motives underlying the poetry, thus locating the poet’s voice moving in between poetic and general language.

          To sum up, I argue that Burke’s texts offer an appropriate framework for analyzing and understanding the poems of Dutch Poet Laureate Ramsey Nasr, since these poems are strong in rhetorical aspects of identification, and specific in their prickly critique of current societal and political issues. The singularity of Nasr’s didactic poetry lies in particular in its popularizing lyrical voice, effective in prompting a broad audience to react. A purely poetic approach would not be sufficient to understand the tough public dimension of these poems.

          The Poems of the Poet Laureate

          To build up my argument, I will focus on four poems from the volume, My New Native Country, Poems of Crisis and Fear. The first poem that I would like to analyze is entitled ‘My new native country.’ It consists of seven stanzas of eight rhythmic lines each. In terms of form and phrasing, this poem explicitly refers to the lyrics of ‘Wien Neerlands bloed’14, written by 19th century poet Hendrik Tollens (1780–1856), which was the Dutch national anthem before the well-known ‘Wilhelmus’ was chosen to replace it 1932. Nasr wrote the poem in the autumn of 2010, honoring Tollens as predecessor, as a first Poet Laureate so to say. The occasion on which Nasr wrote this poem was the installation of the first ‘Mark Rutte coalition’ government. This was a right-wing minority coalition of liberal conservatives and Christian democrats made possible by the support (laid down in an official agreement) of the PVV,15 the anti-Islam party led by populist politician Geert Wilders. In return for his support, Wilders got stricter immigration checks, a ban on burqas, and conditional passports for new immigrants. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek warned in The Guardian that Wilders is part of a European trend in which centrism is being challenged by populist neo-fascism.16

          In the poem, we find Poet Laureate Nasr identifying with and at the same distancing himself from his predecessor Tollens, who in no mistaken terms wrote about the “cleanliness of his country.” Indeed, it was Tollens who introduced the image of Dutch blood “free from foreign stains” (“Wie Neerlands bloed in d’aders vloeit / van vreemde smetten vrij”—“All those with Dutch blood flowing through their veins/ free from foreign stains”). Nasr uses this image and ironizes it, ridiculing the connotations of a stainless native land by deliberately referring to the populist politician: “Today I sing my song of joy / for fatherland and scum.” Here I quote the complete first stanza,

          Wie Neerlands bloed in d’aders vloeit
                van vreemde smetten vrij
          wiens hart voor volk en orde gloeit
          verhef uw zang als wij.
          Vandaag zien wij weer één van zin
          de vlaggen afgestoft
          Vandaag zet ik mijn feestlied in
          voor vaderland en schoft.

          All those with Dutch blood flowing through their veins
                free of foreign stains
          whose hearts for our people and order burn,
          join us in song and sing in praise.
          Today once more in unison we see
          the flags are dusted down
          Today I sing my song of joy
          for fatherland and scum.17

          Tollens, whose patriotic ideas were expressed in response to and as a rejection of the Napoleonic reign, can be considered a Poet Laureate because of his ambition to appeal to and reach a specific public.18 This public first of all consisted of the audience of the ‘literary societies’ in which his poems found response and support. In this intimate circle, the poet was free to express his thoughts; publishing, on the contrary, was a more restricted activity. Thus, the first identification in this poem is with Tollens as a voice raised against suppression, immediately followed, if not simultaneously accompanied by, a critical distancing from his words and images.

          In the second stanza, the lyrical voice uses the clear and positive term fascist: “and most high sits a fascist / supporting you and me / as long as he decides.” I use the qualifying term positive in the Burkean sense of it, referring to something that has a tangible, visible existence. Nasr is very clear in his statement that fascism is not just a thing of the past—a dialectical term—“when in the name of the country / a whole people was burnt”,19 but very much also a thing of the present, as evidenced by the presence of Geert Wilders as a politician at the center of power in Dutch politics. Fascism also is an ultimate term, as recognizable behind the voices of the people deliberately misbehaving in the fourth stanza: “Humiliate what you don’t like / destroy what you deny / show how you love this fatherland / embrace it at its smallest.”20 The voices of the people heard here are not just those of the Dutch white trash21, but also the voices of educated citizens expressing the view that freedom of speech is sacred, thus implying that every offensive and hurtful remark should be tolerated. The lyrical voice, by contrast, seems to address mainstream democratic politicians and other opinion-leaders and intellectuals, inviting them to be braver and more outspoken in combating this sort of inflammatory rhetoric. The final words are very clear: “I’d rather be raped by Huns than to be taken along by this vortex of scum and fatherland.”22

          Identification is a multifaceted rhetorical strategy central to this poem. As said, Nasr, while at the same time identifying with and distancing himself from Hendrik Tollens, also identifies with the common people–“you and me”—who, against their will, though effected by the system of representative democracy, are ruled by a government supported by and thus depending on a populist politician. Populism inflates democracy; the people have voted for someone who brings democracy down. This is the message of the didactic poem; speaking out and addressing others immediately presupposes an act of identification as well as of distanciation.

          What we have read here is a poem based on an intertextual link with another poem, in which the current situation in Dutch politics is brought to the fore. In both poems, the 19th and the 21st century one, a political statement is made in poetical language. The reader has to open up the lyrical context in order to really grasp the political critique. This, obviously, can be understood as a negotiation between a poetical and a general language reading, as found in Burke’s essay on Edgar Allen Poe. Yet, there also is another text by Burke, which is relevant here. In ‘Literature as equipment for living,’ an early text from the volume The Philosophy of Literary Form (1941), Burke emphasizes the importance of a “sociological criticism of literature,” focusing on what we might call the proverbial aspect of literature, i.e., its succinct manner of expression in short, well-known pithy sayings, stating a general truth or piece of advice. It is the proverb-like or proverbial quality of literature that is designed for consolation or vengeance, for admonition, exhortation, or foretelling. His argument is again a stimulating one: could we consider literary texts as proverbs, and as such could we apply them to life in general? In other words, can literature be used in a non-literary, social situation, be considered as social knowledge? Although Burke, in my opinion, is somewhat imprecise in working out this argument, I do think that his idea about the wider applicability of literature is encouraging. Striking recent examples can be found in the work of Martha C. Nussbaum (Poetic Justice) or Rita Felski (Uses of Literature). Returning to Nasr’s poem, we notice that certain lines can indeed be read deliberately as proverbs, warning us about the consequences of populist politics in contemporary western societies.

          Burke’s texts offer a framework for analyzing and understanding the poems of the Dutch Poet Laureate, since these poems are strong in the rhetorical aspect of identification and in using proverbial phrasings in relation to current societal issues. The poet as a public voice criticizes the political circumstances in his native country, and takes responsibility as a recognizable authoritative voice in offering the audience a counterstatement regarding the anti-Muslim accounts of a prominent politician. A purely poetic approach to this poem would fail to bring out its specific social and political dimensions.

          Similar observations can be made with regard to another work by Ramsey Nasr, that I would like to discuss. It is a series of three sonnets (en)titled ‘Transatlantic.’ The poems were translated into English by David Colmer and they once again reveal a sharp critique of politics. This time the focus is not merely on the disquieting Dutch political climate, but also on American imperialist strategies. I quote the sonnets in the English translation.

          I—hudson’s shortcut
          our outcome was that you were in the way
          we sailed to that conclusion on a dream
          dreamt by a fool: our captain hudson claimed
          that he could find a shortcut to the east
          go straight and keep the north pole on your left
          then you can slip down quickly to the indies
          and we believed the guy and followed him
          yes, even when he said: “or maybe west . . . ?”
          henry hudson had been dismissed before
          and when he swore on the shore of a foreign bay
          that all we had to do to reach the orient
          was set a course straight through america
          we’d wisely lowered sail—already wedged
          from stem to stern in this new continent

          This straightforwardly written poem refers to the discovery of America, and Hudson’s historic enterprise. Henry Hudson (1565–1611) was an English navigator and explorer who sailed on a Dutch ship in 1609 to find a short route from Europe to Asia, through the Arctic Ocean. The outcome of this adventure was,—“our outcome” as the poet says, ironizing his words as if he is speaking for and identifying with the Dutch representative majority—that “you were in the way.” It turned out America lay on the perceived route to the East-Indies, effectively blocking it, and the Dutch ship got stuck on its way as a result. However, after this catastrophe, New Amsterdam was built on the new-found shore and became the city of colonizers and entrepreneurs, and as such representative of “the true world champions of immigration.” This is what we read in the next poem.

          II—new amsterdam
          the waiting bay lay like an outstretched finger
          at the end of an invisible dutch arm
          we went exploring, stamping round we found
          our way in a deserted fertile backwater
          perhaps no other body but ours, which never
          managed to win one god, one people for itself
          which rose from drifting, loose minorities
          could lay the seed for such a babelopolis
          who taught you how to use the melting pot?
          who said, be equal, be diverse and free
          your trade, who told you, dreams can spread like shares?
          the true world champions of immigration
          we were, a distant spark of liberty
          america, the netherlands writ small

          The people from New Amsterdam, then Dutch and now American, were the champions of immigration. The lyrical voice here is obviously mocking the anti-immigration rhetoric of the populist politicians. If we take the words of Geert Wilders as an example: “because immigration results in enormous problems for Dutch society (problems of integration, crime, and too much of a strain on the welfare system), it is more than reasonable to stop family reunion in regard to not-western “allochtonen” (i.e., immigrants and their offspring) in the coming five years.”23 It is not only Wilders, however, who employs this kind of rhetoric, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxime Verhagen, seemed to accept this kind of talk as normal as well. He was party leader of the Christian-Democrats and very much in favor of forming a government with the support of the PVV (some 30% of his fellow party members, including many high-ranking ones, such as former ministers and party leaders, were dead against it). In the last stanza, the humanist ideals, which the Dutch were so fond of in the Golden Age, are pushed aside by the Christian-Democrats, accepting the American rule without any critical thought.

          III—new netherland
          oh font of humanism, oh shining beacon
          oh cradle of exemplary citizenship
          who listens to us now? we have our leaders
          they blare their christian values round the place
          and mount the moralistic foghorn high
          but in america their frightened faces
          all gleam with drooling pride, it’s not prime time
          but still we steal a slot in the cool white house
          what kind of model country toes this line?
          we bob along behind the big boss boat
          impressive, don’t you think? a fifty-state fleet
          with an inspiring airbed at the back
          WANTED URGENTLY: foolish fools with vision
          who dare to dream and make the cold sea crack24

          The Netherlands has become the fifty-first state of the US by accepting American rules and strategies on a global level. The Dutch and their representatives are the “foolish fools.” Most likely, Nasr is making an intertextual link here to Erasmus of Rotterdam, contemporary of Hudson, who wrote The Praise of Folly (1509), in which he advocated a return to a more simple Christianity. The lyrical voice expresses a strong and critical opinion, and in fact expresses it on behalf of a “we.” It is not easy to decide who exactly this “we” is meant to represent. Whose words do we hear resonating in the words of the poet? Whose voices are encapsulated, or—following M. Bakhtin -, should we say ventriloquized, by Nasr? Since he is the Poet Laureate, it is obvious that Nasr speaks for the Dutch in general, he expresses the vox populi, the opinions or beliefs of the majority, for whom politics is becoming more and more incoherent. But if we take a look at the responses to Nasr’s poems and performances generated on the web, we can no longer be quite so sure that the poet does indeed speak the general public’s mind.

          Public Responses and Engagement

          The words of the lyrical voice did not leave any room for doubt in regard to his ideas on the emerging populist current in Holland. The poem as symbolic act is a very public affair. The subsequent step now is to raise the question if this reflects the personal opinion of the poet, Ramsey Nasr himself, and if so, what the implications of these words are if we expect a Poet Laureate to also represent the vox populi, the voice of the people, and to reflect the communis opinio.

          The poem ‘My new native country’ was published in NRC Handelsblad on 28 October 2010 and a day later in the Belgian newspaper De Standaard. On the evening of the 28th, Nasr read three stanzas of the poem on the television talkshow Pauw & Witteman and discussed his political ideas with Stef Blok, the leader of the liberal conservative VVD party. Nasr explained that what had inspired him to write the poem was a television interview with working people from Volendam (a well-known provincial town, famous for its singers, and showing one of the largest percentages (one in three) of populist party PVV voters).25 Interviewees from Volendam had uttered opinions such as: “the taxpayer isn’t getting anything in return for his money,” “nobody works anymore,” “nothing is transparent.” It is phrases like these, Nasr emphasized, that are representative of the climate of silliness created by Dutch politics.

          Thus, asked to read parts of his poem in a television talk show, the poet expresses his personal commitment and ideas, including his aversion in regard to the political climate of stupidity and lack of nuances, and he positions himself as an engagedwriter criticizing ordinary men as well as politicians. This is how he gives additional substance to the Poet Laureateship: he not only writes poems, he also discusses the context in which they were written, and takes a personal stand underlining the superficiality of the public debate. Nasr makes a point of calling attention to the fact that Geert Wilders’ ideas are essentially fascist and dangerous. This interview caused a lot of commotion. Responses to the poem and to his television performance, mainly in blogs by lay people, were both positive and very negative in character. Some bloggers applauded Nasr as “the true Poet Laureate,” others called him “a communist” and “Left-wing extremist.” Other comments included “a left-wing Muslim telling me that Wilders is a fascist” and “neo-nationalist.”26 Dominique Weesie, hosting the right-wing TV show Powned, made it very clear that he did not consider Nasr his Poet Laureate: “Away with Ramsey Nasr.”27

          The Poet Laureate writes engaged poetry, prompting the audience to respond, to identify with his words. And bloggers do indeed react, though more often in negative rather than positive terms. But what exactly does this engagement involve? Is it something the poet decides upon, or something that the reader arrives at, brings in, or reads into it? It is precisely this question that Nasr answers in the essay ‘Look, there! The engagement of the poet,’ published in Of the Enemy and the Musician. Starting with an anecdote on reading poetry on tours in Indonesia and Palestine, Nasr points out that in non-western societies engagement is quite a different issue from the way it is interpreted in the west. Thus, his Palestinian audience interpreted a poem on love as being a political poem: “not only did they misunderstand the poem, ( . . . ) crying men came to shake my hands afterwards” (72).28 His Indonesian listeners interpreted a poem on a painting as being a pro-Islam statement, and Nasr realized that “not the poet but the public had given birth to a huge monster” (74).29 He subsequently states that it probably is not the poet but his audience that decides what the work is about: “The artist is the worst exegete. It is the reader, the public, the listener, who can pick up the engagement, whether it is there or not” (74).30 Engagement is not the result of the wish to engage in politics, but emerges from events in which politics rule life. Engagement, Nasr stresses, is not writing pamphlets. Engagement implies having a heart, being a living human being in a world that does not make sense. Nasr ends with the sentence already quoted: “engagement is simply being engaged in life itself and participating, if only in language” (78). This, I think, ties in exactly with Burke’s ideas on poetics and symbolic action: on the poem as poem, and the poem as language. Engagement is understanding the symbolizing poem as general language, and acting on it when the community asks for responsibility and participation. This presupposes identification and establishes the Poet Laureate’s cultural, political and social authority.


          Ramsey Nasr addresses the audience in various ways: by writing poems that are published in a newspaper and thus are immediately readable in the context of particular events, by speaking out on political and social issues and by doing so in the public sphere—on television, in demonstrations, at cultural events–, and by writing and publishing official volumes of poetry and positioning himself as a writer. The role of Poet Laureate is that of a public intellectual who has already built up artistic prestige