Issues of KB Journal

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

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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          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.

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          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. 

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          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.”

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          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.

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          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 1950s 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.

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          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).

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          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.

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          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.

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          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 with his writings, and subsequently expresses his views on the political, ethical and social landscape. The public intellectual is a mediator in articulating and popularizing ideas and as such he again and again confirms his cultural authority.

          In analyzing Nasr’s activities, I have distinguished the various linguistic dimensions that Burke discussed. The rhetorical dimension is opened up when the poet addresses the audience and identifies with the people in general or with particular social groups. In addressing them, he encourages their identification. The ethical dimension can be observed when the poet shows and requests explicit engagement. And the poetical dimension is recognized when the poet articulates what poetry is about—the poem as poem. Nasr’s specific position as Poet Laureate emphasizes his conviction that poetry, art and culture demand responsibility. An artist cannot stay “pure” and “naïve” (Mijn nieuwe vaderland 8). The examination of the various activities and linguistic dimensions also shows how specifically symbolic and more general linguistic actions are interwoven in the performances of the Poet Laureate. Analyzing Nasr’s work in the context of Burkean ideas, one becomes aware both of the layered quality of linguistic dimensions, and of the various strategies and discourses employed by the public intellectual voice. Participation in the debate on television requires another voice than speaking before an audience of poetry readers, or when taking the floor at a cultural protest meeting on behalf of fellow-artists. The poet accepts his civic responsibility, he identifies with general, political as well as artistic audiences. In the last few decades, literary studies have put too much energy in distinguishing literariness from discursive language. Arguments based on the uselessness of literature (Bloom 1994) were supposed to disengage the aesthetic from the social and the ideological. Recently, scholars like Rita Felski and Marjorie Garber in the footsteps of Martha C. Nussbaum have tried to bridge the divide.31 In this article I have shown that Kenneth Burke defended the same position as early as the 1930s.

          The final question is whether the identification of the poet can also be comprehended as a form of engagement, even though Nasr himself looks upon engagement merely as a reader’s perspective. What is it that the poet wants to share and advocate, is it experience or knowledge, belief or truth? Obviously, it is difficult to draw the line between participation and teaching, or between being one with the people and keeping a distance as an intellectual public figure. This leads us back to the challenges involved in the conceptualization of the notion of a public intellectual as someone who is committed and aloof at the same time, both contributing to discussion and keeping a certain distance, moving up and down from the center of the debate back to the writing desk in order to recapitulate ideas and discussions. Ramsey Nasr, as I hope to have shown, deliberately unites the various interventions. He is poet and columnist, artist and critical observer, commentator and actor at the same time. His voice is heard in didactic poems as well as in presentations, performances, interviews and other media appearances, and in all these various manifestations Nasr articulates the dynamic process of identifying as an intellectual in a complicated political conjuncture. The main message of this engaged Poet Laureate is that democracy is at stake. Identification requires that the auditors and readers affirm the value of a democratic mediatized culture, that is ethnically and religiously plural in its constitution.


          1. The World keeps on turning [De wereld draait door] is a TV show broadcast live from an Amsterdam studio every day between 7.00 and 8.00 p.m., in which host Matthijs van Nieuwkerk discusses politics, culture and social issues with various guests. More than one million people watch this infotainment program every day. See <> [Accessed on 8 October 2013]

          2. The poem was entitled ‘O, zoete onbereikbaarheid’ (‘Oh, sweet unreachable one’) and marked the end of his Poet Laureateship.

          3. A clip was shown from Pow Nieuws, another Dutch TV show, in which host Dominique Weesie declared that Nasr was too left-wing and should resign as Poet Laureate: ‘Ramsey Nasr, take your leave, You are not my poet.’ Pow Nieuws 29–10–2013.

          4. Gerrit Komrij was chosen by the general public—some 3000 people had voted—as ‘second best.’ The poet who had actually won the election was Rutger Kopland (1934–2012), but he rejected the job.

          5. The origin of the term lies in the metamorphosis myth of Apollo and Daphne; he tried to seize her, upon which she turned into a laurel tree. He ordained that the laurels should be the prize for poets and victors, Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, 682.

          6. For more biographical information, I refer to his official website <> [Accessed on 9 May 2013].

          7. Including De man met de hond (1998), Mariken (2000), Liefje (2001), Magonia (2001) and Het Echte Leven (2008).

          8. As described on the official website: “De Dichter des Vaderlands hoeft niets in opdracht te schrijven, hij schrijft alleen wanneer hij zich daartoe bewogen voelt. Aan hem zal slechts worden gevraagd zo’n vier keer per jaar een gedicht te schrijven bij een (inter)nationale gebeurtenis van culturele, politieke, sportieve of maatschappelijke aard. Welke gebeurtenis dit is, bepaalt de dichter zelf, er zijn geen verplichte thema’s. De gedichten zullen worden geplaatst in NRC Handelsblad.” <—2016> [Accessed on 18 May 2013]

          (“There is nothing the Dutch Poet Laureate will be commissioned to write on; he will only write on things when he feels the urge to do so. All that will be asked of him is that he write a poem some four times a year on a national or international event or occasion of a cultural, political, or societal nature, or sports event. It is up to the poet himself to decide which events or occasions these will be; there are no required themes. The poems will be published in NRC Handelsblad”).

          9. See Heynders (2013) for a comprehensive conceptualization of the public intellectual.

          10. It was French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu who defined the intellectual as both “a paradoxical being” and a “bi-dimensional being.” The paradox involves the classical combination of pure culture and political engagement. The intellectual as literary writer grounds his authority in the autonomous world of art, and on the basis of this prestige interferes in political life. The intellectual is a bi-dimensional being, because he has to fulfill two conditions: he has to belong to an autonomous intellectual field, independent from religious, economic and political powers, while at the same time investing his competence and authority in political action which occurs outside the intellectual field proper. Cf. Bourdieu 1991 and Heynders 2013.

          11. “We might make the following three subdivisions for the analysis of an act in poetry: dream (the unconscious or subconscious factors in a poem) . . . , prayer (the communicative functions of a poem, which leads us into the many considerations of form, since the poet’s inducements can lead us to participate in his poem only in so far as his work has a public, or communicative, structure . . . ), chart (the realistic sizing-up of situations that is sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit, in poetic strategies . . . ).” (5–6)

          12. “Is het mogelijk engagement in de poëzie toe te laten zonder dat het die poëzie aantast? Ik ben overtuigd van wel, zolang je maar genoeg talent hebt en oplossingen buiten de deur houdt. Zolang je pen maar kronkelt en leeft en uit je handen glipt. En vooral: zolang het maar aan de lezer wordt overgelaten wat een liefdesgedicht is en wat politiek. Engagement is niet het kiezen voor of tegen een partij, engagement is eenvoudigweg in het leven staan en deelnemen, desnoods alleen in taal (Nasr 2006, 78).”

          13. When Ramsey was appointed ‘Poet of the city of Antwerp’ he was involved in a polemical debate on the difference between ‘fiction and propaganda.’ Being accused of mixing politics and his function, he defended himself by saying that he had an opinion “not as city poet, but as human being” (2006, 128).

          14. This poem was the national anthem from 1815 to 1932.

          15. Party for Freedom.

          16. Zizek: Liberal multiculturalism masks an old barbarism with a human face. < >[Accessed on 21 May 2013]

          17. Translation Hans Verhulst, Tilburg University.

          18. See: N.C.F. Sas, 2008: “Voor de ideale dichter van deze tijd was de dichtkunst nauw verweven met deze ‘orale communicatiesituatie,’ die weer aansloot bij het verlichte sociabiliteitsideaal. De literaire genootschappelijkheid gaf de dichtkunst zowel een klankbord als een draagvlak. Dichters als Helmers, Loots en Tollens waren geen toevallige enkelingen, geen roependen in de woestijn, zoals wel is gesuggereerd. Ze waren juist de steunpilaren van deze genootschappelijkheid. Van belang is ook dat op de katheder een grote mate van vrijheid gold.”

          (“For the ideal poet of his time, the art of poetry was closely interwoven with this ‘situation of oral communication,’ which in turn linked up with the ideal of sociability. The literary societies provided the art of poetry with a sounding board as well as support from others. Poets like Helmers, Loots and Tollens were not isolated single individuals, not voices crying in the wilderness, as some have suggested. On the contrary, they were pillars of this structure of societies. It is also important to realize that the lecterns of these societies were characterized by a great amount of freedom.”)

          19. ‘toen in het landsbelang / een heel volk werd verbrand’

          20. Verneder dus wat u niet zint / sla stuk wat niet bevalt / laat zien hoe u dit land bemint / omhels het op zijn smalst.’

          21. White trash in the sense as used by another Dutch public intellectual Anil Ramdas (1958–2012): white people not interested in civilization, social order, or education. These people are often considered as dangerous because they are unpredictable, and without respect for authority whether it be political, legal, or moral.

          22. “Veel liever word ik door een volk / van hunnen aangerand / dan mee te gaan in deze kolk / van schoft en vaderland.”

          23. As stated on the PVV website, accessed on 8 October 2013: <

          24. Poets’s Note: 400 years ago, in September 1609, a Dutch East India Company ship sailed into an unknown bay on the North American coast. Captain Henry Hudson hoped to find a shorter, northern route to the Indies. Instead he stumbled upon a territory that would be populated in the years that followed by Dutch merchants and colonists, eventually developing into the most renowned city in the world: New Amsterdam, later New York.

          The 400th anniversary of Dutch-American relations was celebrated in the Choir Church in Middelburg on 2 September 2009 in the presence of Princess Margriet, the U.S. ambassador and the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxime Verhagen. At the invitation of the Roosevelt Study Center, Ramsey Nasr wrote three sonnets, which he recited during this ceremony. That same day the poems were published in the NRC Handelsblad. See:

          < > [Accessed on 8 October 2013]

          25. > [Accessed on 21 May 2013]

          26. See: < > [Accessed on 21 May 2013] and < > [Accessed on 21 May 2013]

          27. Pownews 29–10–2010.

          28. ‘Niet alleen begreep men het gedicht ( . . . ) verkeerd, de mensen waren tot tranen toe geroerd. Huilende mannen kwamen me na afloop de hand schudden (2006: 72).’

          29. ‘Niet de dichter maar het publiek had een groot monster gebaard (2006: 74).’

          30. ‘Ik vraag me sterk af of de kunstenaar zelf in staat is te bepalen waarover zijn werk gaat. De kunstenaar is zelf zijn slechtste exegeet. En het is de lezer, de toeschouwer of de luisteraar, die engegament kan opzoeken—of het er nu is of niet (2006: 74).’

          31. As Garber (116) writes: “literature is a status rather than a quality. To say that a text or a body of work is literature means that it is regarded, studied, read, and analyzed in a literary way.”

          Works Cited

          Bloom, Harold. The Western Canon. The Books and School of the Ages. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company: 1994. Print.

          Bourdieu, Pierre. “Universal Corporatism: The Role of Intellectuals in the Modern World.” Poetics Today, 12.4 (Winter 1991): 655–69. Print.

          Burke, Kenneth. Attitudes Toward History. Third edition, with a new Afterword. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984 [1937]. Print.

          —. “Literature as Equipment for Living." The Philosophy of Literary Form, Studies in Symbolic Action. Louisiana: State UP, 1941. 293–305. Print.

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

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

          Collini, Stefan. Absent Minds, Intellectuals in Britain. Oxford: Oxford UP, reprint 2009. Print.

          Cuddon, J.A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. London and New York: Penguin, 1999. Print.

          Felski, Rita. Uses of Literature. Malden & Oxford: Balckwell, 2008. Print.

          Garber, Marjorie. The Use and Abuse of Literature. New York: Pantheon, 2011. Print.

          Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Ed. and trans. by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowel Smith. New York: International Publishers, 1971. Print.

          Heynders, Odile. “Individual and Collective Identity—Dutch Public Intellectual Bas Heijne." Journal of Dutch Literature, 4.1 (2013). Web.

          Ramsey, Nasr. Van de vijand en de muzikant. Essays, artikelen, opiniestukken. Amsterdam: de Bezige Bij, 2006. Print.

          Nasr, Ramsey. Mijn Nieuwe Vaderland, Gedichten van Crisis en Angst. Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 2011. Print.

          Nussbaum, Martha C. Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995. Print.

          Richards, Jennifer. Rhetoric. Abingdon: Routledge, 2008. Print.

          Van Sas, N.C.F. De metamorfose van Nederland. Van oude orde naar moderniteit, 1750–1900. Amsterdam: Amsterdam UP, 2005.

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

          “If one language is not enough to convince you, I will use two”: Burkean Identification/Dissociation As a Key to Interpret Code-Switching

          Marco Hamam, Università di Sassari (Italy)

          PEOPLE ARGUE EVERY DAY. Convincing others, by letting them identify with the way we look at the world, is everyone’s bread-and-butter activity, everyone with his own rhetorical abilities. But how do bilinguals argue? Is the sociolinguistic phenomenon known as code-switching  rhetorically significant? What has Burke to tell us about code-switching? This article is based on spoken language and will try to provide some insights on how rhetoric can offer a coherent reflection in order to understand code-switching. Its intent is to show how the Burkean approach to rhetoric and especially the Burkean concept of identification (and its contrary dissociation1), as a crucial rhetorical concept, have contributed to influence the sociolinguistic reflection on code-switching and, in particular, to the development of the approach to discourse analysis known as “ethnography of communication.” Finally, Burkean concepts such as motion and action will be exploited to describe the distinction between writing and speech as the symbolic “capital” from which code-switching draws. Focus will be place on Arabic for the extreme symbolism of its diglossic system.2

          1. Introduction

          To begin with, Burke agrees with the main classic Aristotelian goal of rhetoric, which is to persuade: “Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, or a study of the means of persuasion available for any given situation” (RM 46). But more specifically, the term “rhetoric” is mainly used by Burke with the sense of every symbolic interaction: “Rhetoric is rooted in an essential function of language itself, a function that is wholly realistic and continually born anew: the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols” (RM 43). For Burke human beings are rhetoricians because they are “symbol-using animals” (Language as symbolic action 16). Symbolic action, grammar, rhetoric and dialectic are all elements, according to the Burkean system, useful to describe the strategies men use to affect situations and audiences. What can be found out approaching code-switching in the light of the Burkean system is that the latter is a powerful framework to rhetorically understand code-switching. Burke has a lot to say on code-switching. Although, to my knowledge, he never directly dealt with this phenomenon, nonetheless his views are, in many points, convergent to those of other authors who worked on code-switching such as John J. Gumperz, to the extent that one may presume Burkean influences. As far as Gumperz is concerned, we do not know whether he actually read Burke or not. It is not unlikely that Gumperz might have known Burke at the suggestion of Hymes who worked for many years with Gumperz. Both of them are considered as the major contributors to the field of study called “ethnography of communication.” In fact, Hymes could have been the link between Burke and Gumperz because we do know, thanks to Jordan’s work, that Hymes was deeply influenced by Burke’s work, especially in his Ethnography of speaking (1962). Gleaning from both published literature and the correspondence between Hymes and Burke housed at Penn State University, Jordan traces how Hymes was affected and adapted to his theoretical framework many Burke’s concepts such as identification. As Jordan advocates "Hymes could speak about Burke’s work with considerable authority: he had been a student of Burke’s during a critical reading seminar fourteen years earlier and since then had read, advised on, and published various pieces of Burke’s writing, adapting quite a bit of it along the way as he explored the implications of his own work" (Jordan 265).

          Although admitting that to many linguists Burke’s enterprise seems unknown, Hymes saw in the Sixties that Burke, not only could offer an important contribution to the new-born field of sociolinguistics, but that, in fact, he pioneered in the sociolinguistic reflection in studying language use rather than language as an abstraction. Hymes writes:

          Underlying parallels can be found between Burke’s work and recent trends in linguistics, and there are possibilities of convergence of the two. Indeed, it would seem that Burke has been first in the field, commonly enough by a generation, with regard to standpoints toward language that recent linguists take to be recent on the American scene. He is still ahead of us in some respects (Foundations in Sociolinguistics 136; emphasis is mine)

          Burke, Hymes and Gumperz have in common their profound interest in the influence society, topic and speakers exercise on language and in the linguistic settings, communication and speech analysis. They all advocated language as a non-neutral medium. As far as code-switching is concerned, Burke’s rhetorical reflection anticipated in many aspects the sociolinguistic comprehension of this phenomenon.

          2. Code-Switching as a Rhetoric, Thus Symbolic, Phenomenon

          Code-switching concerns mainly spoken language, although we can find it also very frequently in written texts. A general, broad definition of code-switching to move from and which will circumscribe the kind of approach adopted here for code-switching would be this:

          Within the verbal interaction, [code-switching] is the functional transition from a linguistic system to another, in conjunction with a change in the communicative situation: for example in the communicative intent, topic, interlocutor to whom one addresses, functions, key etc. (Grassi, Sobrero, and Telmon 186; translation is mine)

          The peculiarity of code-switching is its having an essentially contrastive value: it breaks up the speech flow and draws attention to a change in code and in the symbolic structure of the speech. This contrast allows the speaker to achieve a main goal: emphasize. By doing this he highlights certain speech segments or marginalizes them, helping him argumentatively structure his discourse. It is like using a camera: the speaker continuously focuses and defocuses, back and forth.

          There exist dozens of approaches to code-switching and the proposed models are often in competition with each other. Mainly, the linguistic boundaries and the kind of focus adopted represent what differentiates one approach from another. In fact, code-switching may go from a broad definition that includes all the combinations of any grammatical or lexical-grammatical element at any of thelevels of the sentence to a narrow definition that relates to the functional switch from a code or a language system to another at a higher level of the sentence, namely at an intersententiallevel3. Approaches could be summarized in two main: a grammatical approach, trying to answer the question ‘how do codes mix?,’ and a functional/pragmatical/rhetorical (terminology is fluctuating), trying to answer the question ‘why do codes mix?.’ The two main groups of factors at the base of the motivations for which bilinguals switch (rhetorical approach), according to Grosjean are: A) social-related motives and goals,4 B) discourse-related motives and goals.5 Factors often overlap: "Rarely does a single factor account for a bilingual’s choice of one language over another", says Grosjean (143). Here a rhetorical, discourse-related approach will be followed, as already stated in the preliminary definition of code-switching.

          Discourse-related motives and goals concern what Blom and Gumperz, who studied language use in Hemnesberget, a small village in northern Norway, called the ‘metaphorical’ code-switch, a code-switching that "relates to particular kinds of topics or subject matters rather than to change in social situation" (Blom and Gumperz 425). The classic example of metaphorical code-switching, provided by Blom and Gumperz, is the one found in a conversation at the local community administration office, where two villagers switch from the standard variety of Norwegian, in which they have been discussing official business, to the local variety to discuss family and other private affairs. It is clear that the rhetoric of code-switching is shared around common symbolism. A shared symbolism makes a common experience and common meaning possible.

          It is interesting to notice that Hymes proposed to stick to Burke’s term “symbolic competence” in opposition to the Chomskian “linguistic competence.” For Hymes while language has a universal symbolic peculiarity, it is locally, ethnographically, symbolic: every “speech community” (to use a Hymesian term) has its own symbols to refer to (cfr. Review of Language 667). For Gumperz too, symbolism is the key to interpret code-switching. The individual’s choice of a code has, for Gumperz, "a symbolic value and interpretative consequences that cannot be explained simply by correlating the incidence of linguistic variants with independently determined social and contextual categories" (VII). Gumperz specifies this “symbolic value” by saying that "rather than claiming that speakers use language in response to a fixed, predetermined set of prescriptions, it seems more reasonable to assume that they build on their own and their audience’s abstract understanding of situation norms, to communicate metaphoric information about how they intend their words to be understood" (61) Burke would agree that meaning is created through a symbolic codification and decodification of speech/text and that behaviour, and especially linguistic behaviour, has a polysemic character. The Burkean dramatistic pentad is a tool that helps read and interpret a kaleidoscopic rhetorical situation with many co-existing and co-working factors. For Burke and Gumperz, speakers/writers are not passively influenced by the situation but they manipulate it conveying specific metaphoric information. If objects and events are given meaning through symbolic codification and decodification, then those who possess the right symbolic keys of interpretation will give a meaning closer to “truth.” For bilinguals code-switching is meaningful and represents a communicative resource because they possess these keys while, for ‘outsiders’ who do not share the same “second grammar” as Gee would call it, code-switching would seem unpredictable or unintelligible. At the very beginning of The Philosophy of Literary Form, in 1941, thus very much ahead of the sociolinguistics reflection, Burke gives this example: "Let us suppose that I ask you: “What did the man say?.” And that your answer: “He said ‘yes.’” You still don’t know what the man said. You would not know unless you knew more about the situation, and about the remarks that preceded his answer [ . . . ] There is a difference in style or strategy, if one says “yes” in tonalities that imply “thank God” or in tonalities that imply “alas!”" (1; my emphasis). Burke, not only acknowledges the essential role played by paralanguage in conveying meaning, but also highlights the importance of the rhetorical strategy, as an essential tool to construct meaning. Similarly Gumperz sees, in this regard, that only by focusing on the strategies "that govern the actor’s use of lexical, grammatical, sociolinguistic and other knowledge in the production and interpretation of messages in context" (Discourse strategies 35) in order to convey meaning and to convince, one can really analyse and interpret spoken language. Describing these strategies Gumperz uses adjectives such as “persuasive,” “conversational,” “contextualization,” “verbal.” But, in his well-known 1982 work Discourse strategies, he uses eight times the expression “rhetorical strategies.”

          3. Code-Switching’ Rhetorical Function: Identification/Involvement; Dissociation/Detachment

          One of the most common functions of code-switching is identification and dissociation. The terms involvement (instead of identification) and detachment (instead of dissociation) are also common in literature. Despite a diverse terminology, identification/involvement (and its opposite, dissociation/detachment) is a cross-function, reflecting what Goffman has described as footing, i.e. changes in alignment we take up to ourselves, others and toward the material or content. While we speak we often shift from one foot to another, signalling this in various way, code-switching being only one of these signalling devices (cfr. Goffman 22). Switches in footing can range from gross changes in social settings to the most subtle shifts in tone.

          According to Tannen (Oral and literate strategies 9; Talking voices 25–42), involvement is seen as the product of the following factors:

          1. devices by which the speaker monitors the communication channel (rising intonation, pauses, requests for back-channel responses) (spoken language);
          2. concreteness and imageability through specific details;
          3. a more personal quality; use of 1st person pronouns;
          4. emphasis on people and their relationships;
          5. emphasis on actions and agents rather than states and objects;
          6. direct quotation;
          7. reports of speaker’s mental processes;
          8. fuzziness.
          9. emphatic particles (really, just).

          On the contrary, detachment is seen as characterized by:

          1. a higher degree of abstraction;
          2. emphasis on states and objects having things done to them;
          3. impersonal aspect;
          4. while involvement deals with events in an ‘experiential’ and detailed manner, detachment gives a more abbreviated report.

          Identification and dissociation are found in many loci. Auer (120) calls conversational loci those parts of discourse, or those rhetorical and argumentative mechanisms, that are particular susceptible to code-switching. In doing this, Auer distinguishes locus from function: in every locus, code-switching produces a series of functions. Thus, for instance: involvement is a function, whereas reiteration and quotation are the conversational loci in which this function can take place. In this sense, when Tannen talks about the importance of reiteration in rhetoric, she states that speakers might try to convince by "instilling in the reader a sense of identification with its point of view" (“Spoken and written language” 7). Quotation is another locus where identification/dissociation are at work. Especially in speech, quoting is used as a tool to identify or to dissociate from a person or an idea, normally to build or to strengthen one’s own argumentation. This rhetorical movement can even be stated explicitly either before or after the quote in a meta-communicative introduction or conclusion or it can be emphasized through paralinguistic elements such as vocal features (voice tone, pauses, emphasis, laugh etc.) or non-vocal features (gestures, facial expression etc.). Imaginary quotes exploit to the utmost this double function: the speaker says something in the form of a quote but, at the same time, he/she identifies or dissociates himself/herself from what is stated. The use of one or another code enables the speaker to personalize/depersonalize the content, attributing it to an external voice. This allows him/her to delegate the responsibility of what is said to another person (whether this person exists or not it does not matter, whether he/she said or not those words does not matter either) and, at the same time, to provide it with greater objectivity and meaningfulness.

          Gumperz calls this function personalization vs. objectivization: "The code contrast here seems to relate to such things as: the distinction between talk about action and talk as action, the degree of speaker involvement in, or distance from, a message, whether a statement reflects personal opinion or knowledge, whether it refers to specific instances or has the authority of generally known fact" (80; my emphasis).

          Burkean concept of identification is clearly here and confirms the rhetorical value of code-switching. His definition (or it should better be said definitions) of identification is scattered throughout his works. Yet, as it will be clearer through the following excerpts, it seems that the Burkean concepts of sympathy or antithesis, two of the possible ways in which identification can explicit itself, are not only used to create identification between interlocutors/writers and readers, but also with the speech/text. Here the consubstantiality, that is the "common sensations, concepts, images, ideas, attitudes" (RM 21) that make men identified in a same substance, is between what is said/written and the speaker/writer who hopes that also his listeners and readers will, by their turn, identify with his identification. There is an acting-together (see Burke RM 21) with the speech/text and then an acting-together with the audience. Commenting on Burke’s concept of identification Jordan states that "identification, ambiguously locating as it does both division and the tendency to transcend division, presents the possibility for rhetoric, figures the inevitability of rhetoric, and stresses the need for rhetoric in language and in social relations" (269).

          For Burke identification is the condicio sine qua non one has to fulfil in order to persuade:

          You persuade a man only insofar as you can talk his language by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying your ways with his (RM 55; my emphasis)

          As for the relation between “identification” and “persuasion”: we might well keep it 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. So, there is no chance of our keeping apart the meanings of persuasion, identification (“consubstantiality”) and communication (the nature of rhetoric as “addressed”) (RM 46)

          Commenting on the importance of identification in Burke’s work, Gusfield states that: "Identification is the key process through which poets and ordinary people further rhetorical purposes in attempts to persuade others. In the use of symbols there is a bid toward others, or to self, to be joined or to oppose the identities which are proffered" (18).

          4. Examples of Code-Switching

          I.a. Sociolinguistic conventions

          I.b. Transcription conventions

          / short pause (less than 1’’)

          // medium pause (nearly 1’’)

          ? interrogative intonation

          | conclusive intonation

          . . . hesitation

          as far as the Arabic transcriptions are concerned

          : or :: vocalic lengthening

          ɂ glottal stop that is etymologically a /q/

          [yixlaɂ à x l q]

          /ð/ ḏ

          /θ/ ṯ

          // ḏ̣

          I.c. Glosses and other abbreviations

          2 second person

          excl part exclamatory particle

          imp imperative

          f feminine

          m masculine

          p person

          pl plural

          poss possessive marker

          rel relativizer

          s singular

          voc prep vocative preposition

          EN English

          SP Spanish

          HI Hindi

          SA Standard or Substandard Arabic

          NA Native Arabic

          EA Egyptian Arabic

          YA Yemeni Arabic

          4.1. Excerpt 1

          In excerpt 1, two Chicano (Mexicans grown-up in the US) professionals are talking. The speaker talks about her attempt to cut down on smoking:

          (1) EN à SP à EN dialogue

          (Gumperz 83–84)

          The speaker talks about her attempt to cut down on smoking.


          They tell me “How did you quit Mary?” I don’t quit I . . . I just stopped. I mean it wasn’t an effort that I made (EN)


          que voy a dejar de fumar por que me hace daño o (SP)

          that I’m going to stop smoking because it’s harmful to me or


          this or that uh-uh. It’s just that I used to pull butts out of the waste paper basket yeah. I used to go look in the . . . (EN)


          se me acababan los cigarros en la noche (SP)

          my cigarettes would run out on me at night


          I’d get desperate(EN)


          y ahi voy al basarero a buscar, a sacar, (SP)

          and there I go to the wastebasket to look for some, to get some


          you know.(EN)

          Commenting on the latter example, Gumperz states: "The code contrast symbolizes varying degrees of speaker involvement in the message. Spanish statements are personalized while English reflects more distance. The speaker seems to alternate between talking about her problem in English and acting out her problem through words in Spanish" (81; italics are mine). In this passage, Spanish is used to express feelings, convey intimate and personal feelings while English is used to convey facts. This wavering between two linguistic codes show an ambivalence in the attitude of the woman of the example in relation to the question discussed. It appears evident how code-switching can be a bearer of meaning as much as lexical choice. Identification/dissociation here are primarily between the speaker and the part of the message conveyed. But there is also an identification/dissociation with the interlocutor and the linguistic group they both belong to. This kind of identification/dissociation will become clearer in the next excerpt.

          4.2. Excerpt 2

          This brings to the distinction ‘we-code’ and the ‘they-code’ theorized by Gumperz. The ‘we-code’ is "associated with in-group and informal activities" (66; emphasis is mine) while the ‘they-code’ is normally the majority language (he speaks about situation of bilingualisms) which is "associated with the more formal, stiffer and less personal out-group relations" (ibid; emphasis is mine). The identity opposition ‘we’ code/‘they’ code has not only psycho-social signification. He writes: "Participants are likely to interpret ‘we’ code passages as personalized or reflecting speaker involvement and ‘they’ code passages as indicating objectification or speaker distance. But this does not mean that all ‘we’ code passages are clearly identifiable as personalized on the basis of overt content or discourse context alone. In many of these cases it is the choice of code itself in a particular conversational context which forces this interpretation". (83–84; Italics are the author’s). Gumperz states that in order to really understand the semantic processes that are at work in code-switching, one must see whether code-switching’s direction is from a ‘we code’ to a ‘they code’ or the contrary. He proposes these four examples:

          (2) We-code vs. They-code

          code-switching they code à we code

          code-switching we code à they code


          Father talking to his five year old son, who is walking ahead of him through a train compartment and wavering from side to side:

          Keep straight (EN). Sidha jao (‘keep straight,’ HI)


          Adult talking to a ten year old boy who is practicing in the swimming pool:

          Baju-me jao beta, andar mat (‘go to the side son, not inside,’ HI). Keep to the side! (EN)


          A Spanish-English sequence taken from a mother’s call to children:

          Come here. Come here (EN). Ven acá (‘come here,’ SP).


          A Spanish-English sequence taken from a mother’s call to children:

          Ven acá. Ven acá (‘come here.’ SP). Come here, you (EN).

          In 2/1 and 2/3 the code-switching is from the ‘they code’ (EN) to the ‘we code’ (HI and SP) while in 2/2 and 2/4 the code-switching is reversed. When speakers were asked if there was a changing in meaning, they agreed that the reversal normally does make a difference: "The shift to the ‘we’ code was seen as signifying more of a personal appeal, paraphrasable as “won’t you please,” whereas the reverse shift suggests more of a warning or mild threat" (Gumperz 92). The ‘we code’ and ‘they code’ can have metaphorical extension. They can, in fact, mean the oppositions: warning/personal appeal; causal remark/personal feeling; decision based on convenience/decision based on annoyance; personal opinion/generally known fact (Gumperz 93–94). Here Burkean identification clearly acquires another sense: speakers use a given code to flag an identification with, or a dissociation from a linguistic group. Which, in its turn, is translated as an identification/dissociation with the role the father wants to play with the child. This sense will be better illustrated in the next excerpt.

          4.3. Excerpt 3    

          Arabic is not far from these mechanisms. The state of diglossia, that is, according to Ferguson (1959), that particular linguistic situation which characterizes the Arabic language, in which, in addition to the primary dialects of the language (Low), there is a divergent, highly codified superposed variety (High), does not prevent code-switching. On the contrary, it exploits to the utmost the particular symbolic charge of the Arabic linguistic situation.

          The well-know Egyptian leader Ğamāl ‘Abd al-Nāṣir (Nasser) is one of those Arab politicians who exploited the rhetorical power of code-switching the most. Here is an excerpt taken from one of his speeches.

          (3) SA à EA monologue

          (Holes 34); glosses added, transcription adapted

                      The Egyptian leader Ğamāl ‘Abd al-Nāṣir (Nasser) addressing a speech.







          bi-ntiṣa:ra:tihi /


          voc prep

          my brethren

          we look


          With-its victories

          Today, my brethren, we look at the past with its victories,







          we look

          at-the -past

          with-its battles

          we look


          With-its martyrs

          we look at the past with its battles, we look at the past with its martyrs,





          bi-n-naṣr [ . . . ]


          and-we look



          we raised them


          and-we remember

          we look at the flags that we raised in victory [ . . . ] and we remember






          our flags


          they were stained



          our blood stained flags.




          xwa:ni /



          bi-ntia:ra:tu /


          voc prep

          my brethren

          we look

          at-the -past

          With-its victories

          Today, my brethren, we look at the past with its battles,



          bi-maʕarku [ . . . ]





          we look


          with-its battles

          we look



          with-its martyrs

          we look at the past, we look at our past with its martyrs,

          nbuṣṣ [ . . . ]





          bi-n-nar [ . . . ]


          we look




          we raised them

          with- the-victory

          And-we remember

          we look [ . . . ] at our flags that we raised in victory [ . . . ] and we remember










          they were stained

          with-the- blood


          our blood stained flags.

          Paragraph 1, in SA, and paragraph 2, in EA, are almost identical. Paragraph 2 ‘rewrites’ paragraph 1 in another code. According to Holes between the two a process of lexical replacement occurs in the first place: ‘today’: al-yawm (1.)à in-naharda (2.);‘we look’: nanuru (1.)à nbuṣṣ(2.); ‘we remember’: nataðakkar (1.)à niftikir (2.). The need to deliver twice the same concept with two different codes is explained by Holes by the fact that the first ‘we’ (nanur, nataðakkar) refers to Egypt on a international level, an Egypt that works for peace and stability while the second ‘we’ (nbuṣṣ, niftikir) refers to the Egyptians themselves, to the public. We will come back to this kind of identification in §4.4.

          Here, the coce-choice reflects also a more rhetorical issue: the ‘important’ messages, what are perceived as ‘truths,’ ‘theorizations’ are expressed in SA and are paralinguistically marked by a slow elocution; the ‘organizational speech,’ which is not central to the message, and it is thus marginal, it is said in EA and in a faster way. SA is used by Nāṣir to express abstract, idealized, metaphoric messages, and without any kind of personalization. It conveys maxims, slogans. EA is used, instead, to channel what is felt as concrete and physical and it is strongly linked to the personalization of the facts (see Holes 33). The two varieties are used in tandem: SA conveys the abstract aspect of a question and EA amplifies, personalizes its effects in the real world. Holes summarizes this dynamics stating that "the ʕāmmiyya organizes for the audience in ‘real time’ the ‘timeless’ fuṣḥā text" (Holes 33). Burke refers to a sort of “doubling of language,” which allows for different symbol-systems, when he says

          A notable aspect of language is that it makes for a kind of doubling. For language variously refer to, or bears upon, or takes from in “context of situation” outside itself; and it can convert one symbol-system into another, by translations with varying degrees of literalness or freedom" (Above the Over-Towering Babble 88)

          In this sense, this repetition/translation is not only meant to stress the same concept but also to convey two different symbol systems. Identification here is with the text and the role: code-switching helps Nāṣir assign a rhetorical function to every segment; moreover code-switching helps him flag the strategic role he identifies with. But also the audience is important in influencing the code-switching: SA marks distance between the leader and the people, conveying the political slogan as an international leader. On the contrary, the EA segment reduces distance and lets Nāṣir put himself in the people shoes, consubstantiating himself with them. EA segment seems more a sentence extrapolated from a conversation between fellow Egyptians.

          4.4. Excerpt 4

          (4) SA à EA monologue

          (Bassioney 174–175); translation is the author’s, glosses added,

          transcription slightly adapted

                      The ousted Egyptian Ḥusnī Mubārak addressing a speech.


          θa:niyan /



          fi l-miza:ni

          t-tuga:ri /

          ʕan ṭari:qi


          redressing of




          By way of

          Secondly, redressing the deficit in the trade balance, by




          l-ʔisti:ra:d /




          increasing of


          and-controlling of


          so-issue of



          increasing exports and controlling imports. [This is because] the issue of the Egyptian exports


          maṣi:riyya /






          l-fiʔa:t /



          it has to



          interest of



          is a crucial issue that has to occupy the minds of everyone





          ʕibʔ /



          fi maṣr /






          and-responsibility of


          in Egypt

          who is involved in Egyptian production.


          l-muʔassasa:ti /



          min agli


          of all





          security of

          [This issue should also occupy the mind] of all establishments that work for the security of


          l-maṣri /





           the Egyptian economy [ . . . ]


          da ʔana


          ʔana kunt /

          fi šarm iš-ši:x /




          excl part I


          I was

          in Sharm El Sheikh

          you (pl) know



          I was in Sharm El Sheikh the other day. Do you know these kites



          fi l-fallaḥi:n

          di /


          di /



          we were

          we make them

          at the peasants




          and-we fix them

          with reed

          we used to make in the countryside? the ones made from papers, the ones we used to fix with reed



          wi-nṭayyarha /


          mi l-barazi:l /



          and-piece of


          and-we let them fly

          we bring them

          from the-Brazil



          and a piece of string and then we would let them fly? They import these kites from Brazil! Of course this


          ha:yif /

          bi-yʔul lak

          wi-da mablaġ? /



          masal /



          he tells you

          and-this amount


          I give


          is a trivial amount of money. Then someone comes and tells you “is this an amount worth bothering about?” But I am just giving an example.


          mi l-barazi:l


          they buy them

          from Brazil!


          They buy them from Brazil! [applause]

          Bassiouney discusses this excerpt taken from one of the discourses of the ousted Egyptian president Ḥusnī Mubārak twice: when talking about the role the speaker wants to play vis-à-vis the audience (cfr. §4.3.) and when discussing detachment and involvement. In the first case, she says that code-switching signals the passage from the role of ‘governor—governed’ to that of ‘good old friend’ or ‘fellow Egyptian.’ This brings to mind this other definition of identification given by Burke in his The Philosophy of Literary Form (227):

          By “identification” I have in mind this sort of thing: one’s material and mental ways of placing oneself as a person in the groups and movements: one’s way of sharing vicariously in the role of leader or spokesman; formation and change of allegiance; the rituals of suicide, parricide, and prolicide, the vesting and divesting of insignia, the modes of initiation and purification, that are involved in the response to allegiance and change of allegiance; the part necessarily played by groups in the expectancies of the individual [ . . . ]: clothes, uniforms, and their psychological equivalents; one’s way of seeing one’s reflection in the social mirror.

          It appears clear, in the previous excerpt and here, how important the role played by the psychological and social aspects is in identification. Man has to deal with multiple identifications which are psycho-socially grounded. Identification would be useless if it were not provided with—Burke uses an amazing image—a “social mirror,” if it had no applause and no objection. As in excerpt 3, here too Mubārak uses code-switching to psychosocially mark different roles, form and change allegiances (namely he doses distance with the audience), vesting and divesting insigna (he puts up the clothes of the president, then those of the fellow Egyptian) etc.

          In the second case, when Bassiouney discusses detachment and involvement, she comments on this code-switching by saying that "Mubarak decides to tell a story to explain a fact, which increases the level of involvement of the audience. The story is very appealing to the audience because it involves allusions to shared childhood memories" (212; her emphasis), that is shared symbolism. We encounter again of a triple identification: with a role, with an audience, with a message. Which comes first is difficult to say.

          4.5. Excerpt 5

          (5) SA à EA monologue

          Mattā al-Miskīn (Hamam 262);  glosses added

                   Father Mattā al-Miskīn commenting on Mt 25,31–46




          yasu:ʕ il‑masi:h


          fi kull



          wa‑mašlu:l /

          he was


          Jesus the-Christ

          he sees

          in every




          The Lord Jesus Christ saw in every sick, weak and paralytic





          xa:liqihi | /




          he was

          he sees

          in him

          image of

          his Creator

          he was

          he sees

          isn’t it (that)

          the image of his Creator. He saw . . . doesn’t [the Bible say]









          come on

          we make



          our image

          so-he was

          he takes delight


          “Let Us make man in our image” [Gen 1:26]? Christ used to take delight





          xayran |




          he wanders

          he makes



          in going about doing good all day long.



          fi l‑maʕmu:diyya

          ɂal lina






          in the-Baptism

          he said-to us

          excl part

          you became

          Then, in the Baptism he told us: “Take, then. You have become

          wla:di /



          ʕamali /


          Ɂide:ku /

          zayy ma

          my children

          dress me.imp


          my work


          your hands


          my children put me on, do my works, stretch out your hands, as










          I stretched them





          wear yourselves out


          I did to every blind and poor man, wear yourselves out, night



          fi l‑giba:l





          in the-mountains



          and day, then climb the mountains and pray.

          This excerpt is taken from a homily that the contemporary Coptic hegumen father Mattā al-Miskīn (1919–2006) delivered to his disciple monks. Paragraph 1 comes after a brief passage in which father Mattā synthesizes the point that on earth we see Christ under the form of the sufferer (Mt 25:31–46). Paragraph 2 continues the argumentation of the previous passage and adds a link between action and prayer. But here father Mattā lightens up the point: he paraphrases the previous movement and personalizes it in EA with an imaginary dialogue between Christ and believers. These imaginary quotes are extremely powerful from a rhetorical point of view. As Saeed states they "occur in the form of illustrative examples, short stories, episodes and scenarios that support the position of the speakers. This strategy—presenting examples or supporting evidence in the form of dialogic scenarios or narrative-like styles—serves to add vividness and is a device to convince the audience of the logic and sensibility of speakers’ arguments" (Saeed 143). Burke, in his The rhetoric of religion, points out the paradox of theological language: words are borrowed from the material realm to describe the supernatural realm, which then can be borrowed back to describe the material realm in new ways because of the implications gained from the supernatural usages (see 7). 

          Moreover, code-switching continues to work as a tool to mark identification. Father Mattā has already said elsewhere in the same homily that we must be Christ-like. Here he repeats the same concept by using, again, a triple rhetorical identification: the role (he identifies with Christ whom he embodies and lets speak in plain language), the audience (he identifies with the listeners to whom he directly addresses with a dialogue), the message conveyed (he wants to stress the link between action and prayer). Here SA in the first paragraph is not used to dissociate from the message but for abstraction, which is, in some way, a rhetorical distanciation, as we have already seen in §4.3. . We will come to this point back later on.

          4.6. Excerpt 6

          The contrary can happen too. This kind of imaginary quotes can also have the function of "saying something, but at the same time distancing oneself from what one is saying. The use of the other code makes it possible to depersonalize the expressed point of view, attributing it to a voice external to the interaction, with the purpose both of not taking the responsibility for what it is said and to provide it with greater objectivity and meaningfulness" (Alfonzetti 136; translation is mine). This is clear from this example in which direction in code-switching is particularly indicative:

          (6) YA à SA monologue

          (Saeed 147); Saeed’s translation; glosses added, transcription slightly adapted

                   A Yemeni Islamic cleric talking about the Islamic banking



          yugu:l lak

          bi-šarṭ /





          he says to you

          on-one condition




          After that he tells you: “On condition.” There must be conditions. “What [are they]?.”



          ği:b lak

          al-muhandisi:n [ . . . ]


          he said


          I bring to you



          “I supply you with the engineers,” he replies [ . . . ]




          ʔaz-zira:ʕi /




          l-xabi:r |

          it came




          take it



          When an agricultural project comes, [the Islamic bank says] “Take it to the expert.”




          he studied



          Once it has been examined by the expert:




          na:ğiḥ /




          fi: l-ʔida:ra /






          we will share

          with you

          in the-management

          “Oh, it is a [potentially] successful project.” [The Islamic bank then suggests:] “Let’s be partners in the project. We will administer it together,




          ʕank |


          for us


          for you

          a representative from our side and one from your side,



          kaða:               wa-kaða:




          such and such


          and the administration should be as such and such

          Here we find two imaginary quotes (story-tellings): between a loan customer and another from a representative of a non-Islamic country or bank (paragraph 1) and between a loan customer and a representative of an Islamic bank (paragraph 2). Saeed says that in the first example, the code used is always YA to "show the loan lender’s deception" (148) while in the second example the cleric switches to SA in order to "convince the audience of the soundness of his categorization of Islamic banks as humane, and Islamic banking as an honest way of banking" (1997:148), within a function Saeed calls ‘iconic.’ "This kind of code manipulation", states Saeed "can be considered a form of iconicity, in that the form of the language mirrors the content [ . . . ] In other words, the H [High] code [SA] is used to express what is perceived to be [+ positive] and the L [Low] code [Native Arabic] to express what is seen as [- positive]" (117). When discussing the function of exemplifying he states that in his corpus Native Arabic (NA)6 is used for hypothetical, non-real examples while SA is used for real examples. This is very common in his corpus. The goal, according to Saeed, is to distinguish what has been highly thought of, or what is very serious (SA) (see 142–143) from what "they do not value or respect, possibly to downgrade its importance, or to ridicule it or its significance" (NA) (131). Once again code-switching flags identification and its contrary, dissociation, in a triple way: with/from the message, with/from the role, with/from the audience.


          In conclusion, from the excerpts above it emerges that identification/dissociation is a threefold process: the speaker identifies or dissociates himself with/from a role he wants to play, with/from the audience he addresses to and with/from the content he is conveying. When theoretically discussing the Burkean perspective on identification, Radcliffe interestingly confirms what comes to light from the text analysis: "Burke’s identification contains a personal, a cultural, and a discursive dimension" (54). She then quotes Christine Oravec who expands on this point by stating that Burke’s identification "never strays very far from earlier versions of the three ruling analytically schema of the twentieth century: Freudianism, Marxism, and structural linguistics"; as such, it "tracks the interpenetration of subject, environment, and discourse" (quoted in Radcliffe 54). This “triangle of identification” is what makes the discourse a source of consubstantiality and an effective tool of persuasion.

          Burke’s work not only offered a decisive pioneering contribution to the new-born field of sociolinguistics but it might also have had an indirect influence on the first pragmatical approaches on code-switching through his theorizations of the key-concept of identification/dissociation. Burke does not explicitly refer to an identification with a code or a linguistic group, which is an crucial point in the understanding of the psycho-socio-rhetorical processes behind code-switching and without which code-switching cannot be seized in its relational dimension. This is certainly due to the fact that Burke never directly dealt with bilingualism and its rhetorical potentialities. Nevertheless, as textual analysis has demonstrated, his multifaceted conceptualization of identification is so yielding that it lends itself to be adapted and adopted into the framework of a wider rhetorical approach to code-switching.


          1. Burke uses both the term division (e.g., RM 22) and dissociation (e.g. RM 34). This latter seems to better fit this sociolinguistic context.

          2. The technical term diglossia which describes, since Marçais (1930) , the situation of the Arabic language counts a profusely abundant literature. About twenty years ago, Fernández (1993) published a monograph that examined a vast bibliographic review of works concerning the concept of diglossia from 1960 to 1990, including about 3000 titles. The very term ‘diglossia’ has been intended by the various scholars, from time to time, in various ways ranging from a very narrow definition, referring to the particular situation of certain regions (the German-speaking Switzerland, the Arab world), to a very wide definition that practically overlaps with that of bilingualism (see Berruto 191–204) Ferguson’s “standard” definition of diglossia is the following: "Diglossia is a relatively stable language situation in which, in addition to the primary dialects of the language (which may include a standard or regional standards), there is a very divergent, highly codified (often grammatically more complex) superposed variety, the vehicle of a large and respected body of written literature, either of an earlier period or in another speech community, which is learned largely by formal education and is used for most written and formal spoken purposes but is not used by any sector of the community for ordinary conversation" (Ferguson 336).

          3. In particular here the intersentential switching will be the level which will be dealt with. This includes those cases in which an entire sentence (complex or simple) or an entire clause within a sentence are switched. In the intersentential switch, the switching point is between a sentence and another, or in other cases between a clause and another. This kind of switching is normally bearer of rhetoric functionality unlike other kind of switches, generally called code-mixings, i.e. intrasentencial switching where the mixing of segments belonging to the two or more systems in contact happens at the level of a single clause.

          4. These may concern 1. participants (language preference and attitude, for instance: a speaker has an ideological or an affective attitude towards one code and prefers it or children of a stigmatized minority may decide not to use their native language with their parents so as not to be differentiated from the children of the majority group; 2. situation: degree of intimacy, for instance: one uses a code only with strangers whereas one switches to another code with friends; 3. social interaction: to create social distance, for instance: one can choose a code different from the one of the interlocutor breaking group solidarity (Grosjean 136 et seq)

          5. For instance, topic: "Some topics are better handled in one language than another either because the bilingual has learned to deal with a topic in a particular language, the other language lacks specialized terms for a topic, or because it would be considered strange or inappropriate to discuss a topic in that language" (Grosjean 140).

          6. Native Arabic is a more “neutral” term instead of ‘colloquial’ or ‘dialect’: it refers, in fact, to the first variety of Arabic people learn since they are children.


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          Urban Motives—Rhetorical Approaches to Spatial Orientation, Burke on Lynch’s “The Image of the City”

          Pierre Smolarski, University of Applied Sciences Bielefeld


          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 accesses, 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. Kevin lynch is one of the most important theorists of the legibility of the city and his ground-breaking work The Image of the City is first of all on questions concerning the influence of architectural clues and city form on the degree a city becomes legible. Therefore, he emphasizes the important role of three major terms: identity, structure and meaning. But, while his inquiry stresses identity and structure, he says almost nothing about meaning. Since Lynch has no background in theories of meaning, his work leaves a desideratum. It seems to be obvious that leaving out questions of meaning won’t lead to any kind of legibility of the city, as long as the metaphor of legibility is taken seriously. To fill this gap Lynch’s work has to be grounded on a theory of meaning which is able to explain how form influences attributions of meaning, creates scopes of understanding and, finally, affects questions of appropriate behavior. This theoretical background is given by Kenneth Burke. The thesis of this paper is that Burke describes the relation of form, situation and action by the help of what I will call the motive-circle and that this motive-circle is able to explain the above mentioned advisements. Thus, the aim of this paper is to show the rhetorical dimension of the creation of an image of the city. Since—for Lynch—our processes of orientation are based on our image of the city, the main thesis of this paper is that processes of spatial orientation have a rhetorical dimension.


          Finding your way has never been more important. Getting places on time, with minimum stress, is more valuable than ever. Easy accessibility to services whether on foot, by public transit or by automobile is not just a matter of courtesy or common sense. It is an economic necessity.(Hunt 152)

          Finding your way, Hunt says, is an economic necessity. I want to show, however, that finding your way has an essential rhetoric dimension. Therefore, I will examine 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, I will show that The Image of the City can be interpreted rhetorically, and in a more fundamental way the paper should demonstrate that problems of orientation in the metropolis have an essential rhetorical dimension. Finally, I interrogate the results of the rhetorical impact I will have shown, on urban environmental design. Thus, this paper is not concerned with drawing a historical link between the development of the ideas of Burke and Lynch, but is to be understood as a contribution to current questions concerning the link between rhetoric and design in general (among others: Kaufer and Butler; Joost and Scheuermann; Hill and Helmers; Krippendorff; Buchanan) and the rhetoric of urban design in particular (among others: Mikunda; Scheuermann; Clark). Therefore, the present paper creates a distinction which has some similarities to the distinction Gregory Clark draws between land and landscape: “Landscape is not the same as land. Land is material, a particular object, while landscape is conceptual. [ . . . ] Land becomes landscape when it is assigned the role of symbol, and as symbol it functions rhetorically.” (9) In an similar way, I aim to show that elements of the city-image—which are for Lynch paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks—are both physical objects and conceptual ideas, and as such, the link between the two becomes a rhetorical challenge for every city dweller, and of course, urban designers.

          The Image of the City

          To better understand the following argument some background is needed on Lynch’s inquiry The Image of the City. Published in 1960, this work is the result of a five-year study on how people perceive their surroundings and on how they orientate themselves in their cities. For this study Lynch interviewed the inhabitants of three American cities: Boston, Jersey City and Los Angeles. He asked them to draw maps of specific points, or even whole regions of the city. Lynch overlaid the maps in order to create several master maps, which highlight the city elements important to most people. The elements become the Lynch’s central categories. Thus, he interpreted the drawn maps not only as drawings but as mental maps, upon which subjects repeatedly act. In this respect, there is a strong correlation between Lynch’s work and the concepts and discourses on mental/cognitive maps. Lynch works in the same vein as psychologists Edward C. Tolman and Warner Brown, who elaborate the concept of cognitive maps (Tolman; Brown; see for this discussion: Seifert). Since Lynch’s book combines a study on human orientation with thoughts about urban design, he also stands in the tradition of theorists of urban design and influenced the whole field of urban design. (among others: Alexander, Notes on the Synthesis of Form and A Pattern Language; Rapoport)

          The book is accessible due to its clear categorisation and usable distinction of ‘only’ five basic elements of every city-image. Given this fact, and that Lynch coined the words ‘imageability’ and ‘wayfinding,’ it is easy to see why Lynch’s work has such an enormous impact on the study of urban orientation processes. For Lynch imageability means “that quality in a physical object which gives it a higher probability of evoking a strong image in any given observer.” (9)1 In The Image of the City, Lynch takes up the challenge of analysing the mental images that allow city-dwellers to orientate themselves.

          Lynch describes the city in the following way: “At every instant, there is more than the eye can see, more than the ear can hear, a setting or a view waiting to be explored. Nothing is experienced by itself, but always in relation to its surroundings.” (1) As such he describes the complexity of the city as an aesthetical overtaxing of the recipient, which has its classical locus in artwork. Immanuel Kant’s aesthetical idea2, which gives rise to more thoughts than could be named in a single term (§49), may stand implicitly behind Lynch’s description of the city. The complexity of the city and the continuous stimuli it offers will lead to overstimulation unless the recipient is able to overcome it through the strategy of fragmentation. “Most often, our perception of the city is not sustained, but rather partial, fragmentary, mixed with other concerns.” (Lynch 2)

          On the one hand, because of the complexity of the city and—in response—the fragmentation, our city-image is characterized by a principle ‘interminableness’ of the ideas of imagination. “There is no final result, only a continuous succession of phases.” (Lynch 2) From this point of view it is evidentially clear that the city confronts us vehemently with problems of orientation, since orientation has the function to create within this principle ‘interminableness’ of the ideas of imagination a specific idea which allows us to find partial endings. Thus, on the other hand, our city-image might be incorrect in detail, but has to be simplified, graspable and endingly. Or to put it more generally: Orientation has the function to create certain scopes of action under uncertain conditions. Lynch also calls this specific idea an image, but he means by this something which alternates between an idea and a map.3

          Lynch’s book The Image of the City is about the image, interpreted as a partial endable (cognitive) map, a kind of graphic snapshot of the urban structure, which does not have to be adequate or correct in detail. He is asking what the categories are that can give us partial endings and, as such, structure our image of the city. These categories are paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks. According to Lynch, every mental map helping us to orientate ourselves in urban environments is built upon an interaction of these five categories. That’s why he simply calls them in an Euclidian way, the “elements of the city-image” (46).

          Mental maps have, because of their fragmentary status, a relation to the manifest urban forms. My thesis is that this relation is similar to the relation Burke describes between terminology and reality: “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 extend it must function also as a deflection of reality.“ ( LSA 45) Therefore we must introduce the concept of orientation that Kenneth Burke develops in Permanence and Change—An Anatomy of Purpose. We will see how the reflective, selective and deflective character of the elements of the city-image involves the idea of a rhetorical dimension in urban orientation processes.

          The Circular Motive Structure

          Burke’s concept of orientation is based on four pivotal terms: situation, motive, symbolic action and form. These four terms are—for Burke—inseparable from, and circularly bound to each other so that it makes in principle no difference where to start. To unfold what is meant by these categories it is important to show how motives correlate and interact with situations and lead to and arise from symbolic action, and finally, what the function of form is in this context.

          The term “motive” is one of the pivotal terms in Burke’s whole work. Motive does not mean an isolated reason to explain in a criminological sense human action, but rather it means a linguistic pattern of explanation and justification to describe a situation so that an act becomes comprehensible. Motives are, like Burke says, “shorthand terms for situations” (PC 29). That is to say, motives were expressed through linguistic forms, which symbolize experience and create a connection to reality. “Reality, to outline Burke’s ontological background, is constituted through linguistic constructed relations and that’s why reality is always an interpretation of reality.”4 (Holocher 112, see: PC 35) It is reflected, selected and deflected by our terminologies. For Burke, motives are terms of interpretation, and on the basis of these terms reality can be interpreted as a specific, nameable reality. Since interpretative approaches to reality always structure the thus interpreted reality within a larger frame of orientation, motives are therefore regulatory and meaningful parts of orientation. Motives are like atoms of orientation; you build them to interpret your situation.5

          Two aspects of motives are also important to note. First, the naming of a motive is not irrelevant. Language itself is a motive and not only a medium for description of motives. “The names we give to motives shape our relations with our fellows. Since they provide interpretations, they prepare us for some function and against others, for or against the person representing these functions. Moreover, they suggest how we shall be for or against.” For example: “Call a man a villain, and you have the choice of either attacking or cringing. Call him a mistaken and you invite yourself to attempt setting him right.” (Blankenship and Murphy and Rosenwasser 77, see: PC 4)

          Second, it is remarkable that motives create a scope of action, widening it and at the same time restricting it. When Burke says motives are shorthand terms for situations, then it follows, motive is to situation like act is to scene, as so far as a motive always includes strategies to handle situations. It is in this respect important to note that situation is not to be seen as something which lies before any motivated access and is quasi-objectively given, so that it could be said motives were responses to situations, but are rather circularly bound to each other. To quote Burke: “One tends to think of a duality here, to assume some kind of breach between a situation and a response. Yet the two are identical. When we wish to influence a man’s response, for instance, we emphasize factors which he had understressed or neglected, and minimize factors which he had laid great weight upon. This amounts to nothing other than an attempt to redefine the situation itself. In this respect our whole vocabulary of motivation is tautological.” (PC 220) What Burke here calls tautological is describing the circular relation between motive and situation and is a result of the recursive nature of every orientation-process. Werner Stegmaier calls this the paradox of self-reference: “The self-reference is justified by the external reference; the external reference of orientation is the sense of its self-reference.“6 (13) So tautological here does not mean tautological in the argumentative sense—in short, that it is ineffective. Tautological means the possibility of transformation so that motives can function as shorthand terms for situations.

          The Elements of the City Image

          After this short introduction into Burke’s term motive, we have to come back to Lynch. The question we want to raise now is whether Lynch’s elements of the city-image could be understood as Burkean motives and if so, what this means for urban orientation processes and wayfinding design matters.

          The five elements of the city-image map can be classified as following: punctual elements (nodes and landmarks), linear elements (paths and edges) and a laminar element (districts). These elements are characterized by specific forms and functions. Let’s see what happens when these elements are not treated primarily as signifiers for an urban form, but as action leading motives which are created based on form-clues.

          The Linear Elements

          Lynch says: “For the most people interviewed, paths were the predominant city elements” (49) and he characterizes paths as with continuity and identity attributed vectors through urban space. Thus, paths are shorthand terms for a situation, which Lynch describes as courses of motion with “directional quality” (54). The crucial point is not that paths and situation are associated, but that they are identical. By describing a situation—in this case where courses of motion with directional quality take place—as ‘following a path,’ and by describing the manifest urban form on which someone could be situated while ‘following a path,’ as a ‘path,’ as an element of the city image, is by the same token to describe the situation as course of motion with directional quality. This is exactly the circular relation between motive and situation which is caused by the fact that “our whole vocabulary of motivation is tautological.” (Burke, PC 220) To put it otherwise, it seems to be evident that the existing path as a manifest urban element does not involve the path-situation as such. It can also be treated as, for instance, an edge-situation. Or to express it more radically, there is no path in urban landscape that pre-exists before naming, and thereby perceiving it as a path; This is because naming a situation invites you to overcome it, which by the same token is created through naming. And to name something as something, which it is not, is no more than a metaphorical extension, or as Burke calls it in Permanence and Change a perspective by incongruity. Like every sidewalk is often interpreted as a path by walkers and interpreted as an edge by drivers, the sidewalk itself is neither a path nor an edge. To take another example, a riverbank in a city is for Lynch a typical example for an edge. Lynch characterizes edges mainly ex negativo as those linear elements which are not paths. This means that they are “not used or considered as paths by the observer.” (41) While paths are coordinate axis’ in the city-image, edges are lateral references. Their imageability is increased if they are entirely visible and uninterrupted. Thus, as lateral references it seems that edges do not invite people to act upon them. But edges can involve motives too. Because edges enclose, divide areas and limit accessibility, different motives can occur to handle an edge-situation. While taking a walk on the (above mentioned) riverbank, it is simply treated as a path involving you as in a path-situation without awareness of its edge-quality. A surrounding city wall—also a good edge example—could be treated as a path too. Parcour-runners have raised this to an urban sport. They treat edges as paths and are—in contrast to the riverbank-flaneur—of course in every moment aware of its edge-quality. Beside this ‘along-motive’ of the flaneur and this ‘crossing-motive’ of the free-climber, the main edge-motive—regarding an edge as an element of the city-image whose main quality is to function as a lateral reference—could be named as ‘division-motive.’ Edges, like rivers, highways or railways often cut the city into pieces, dividing parts associated with one kind of character from parts associated with their opposites. The highway through the German city of Essen, for example, divides the wealthy south from the poorer north.

          If we do not understand manifest linear urban forms as paths or edges, but as indicators which create path-motives or edge-motives, we can emphasize the relation between urban structure and meaning. And because of the circular connection of motive and situation, it is possible to focus on matters of action more closely than Lynch does.

          Let’s see the effects in the following example: I like to ride via bicycle through the City I live and work in. Via bicycle I know exactly the shortest way to the place I work. Knowing exactly the shortest way means that I have trained an ability to interpret a direct line of given manifest urban forms as paths (sometimes even against the traffic rules). If I have to guide a friend using a car, my trained ability functions mostly as a trained incapacity in mean-selecting and my orientation will often fail. There are one-ways I can’t go through, there are sidewalks I can’t use with a car and of course I can’t use the same parking-place for the car, I use for my bicycle. In short: To interpret the direct line of given manifest urban forms still as paths shows that my orientation, my trained incapacity functions as blindness. So I need a re-orientation. If, like Robert Wess says, “Orientation is trained incapacity [and] re-orientation is perspective by incongruity” (69), I have to change the perspective to redefine the situation itself. Paths are no longer paths, some are edges and some are nodes. Landmarks are no longer landmarks, edges no longer edges–some are paths (like the local highway). This example is, of course, simplifying a complex problem. But the challenges we are confronted with are basically the same in more complex situations. For example, try orientating yourself at a foreign university-campus, in a large hospital, or in a foreign city.

          The Punctual Elements

          Lynch mentioned two kinds of punctual elements of the city-image: nodes and landmarks. While landmarks are point-references which the observer cannot enter, and whose function in orientation-processes is more or less passive, nodes are enterable active points. Lynch describes nodes in two ways: “Nodes are points, the strategic spots in a city into which an observer can enter, and which are the intensive foci to and from which he is traveling. They may be primarily junctions, places of a break in transportation, a crossing or convergence of paths, moments of shift from one structure to another.” (41) Nodes, like main junctions, are points of decision. Their recognisability and imageability correspond with their demands that the observer act. This demand–the demand to decide to change direction or to hold the lane–is what makes a junction become a node. While we cross many junctions on our daily commute, we do not usually interpret all of them as a demand to act; most of them are so unimportant for us that we cannot even remember having crossed them. Like the designer Markus Hanzer says: “We like to remain true to a path once we have chosen it until we stumble across new possibilities. We don’t examine every available symbol to make a decision; we just look for indications that seem to confirm the path already taken instead. Our view is selective.” (24)

          Lynch’s impressive thesis is that the difference between a junction we even can’t remember and a junction which functions as a node, is not only given by the fact that nodes are points where we can decide to follow main roads, or that we can move faster or more directly by changing our ways only at node-junctions (which is probably not true). He asserts rather, that the difference is primarily a difference in architectural and urban forms which demands us to act. Or to put it otherwise, form gives us clues to interpret a given situation as a node-situation and by interpreting it as a node-situation, form invites us to act upon it the appropriate way. “However, if symbols persuade us to change directions we tend rebuild our thoughts to make wrong paths, detours and zigzag courses look like straight lines. So the world of symbols doesn’t only help make decisions, it also changes, often subconsciously, our motives, intentions and goals.” (Hanzer 24) That is, form invites us to create node-motives.

          The second description of nodes is the following: “the nodes may be simply concentrations, which gain their importance from being the condensation of some use or physical character, as a street-corner hangout or an enclosed square. Some of these concentration nodes are the focus and epitome of a district, over which their influence radiates and of which they stand as a symbol. They may be called cores.” (Lynch 41) Cores are not primarily points of decision; they are remarkable punctual elements of the city-image whose characteristics influence our view of whole districts. Because of their direct relation to districts, the issue will be discussed in the next chapter.

          “Landmarks are another type of point-reference, but in this case [in contrast to nodes] the observer does not enter within them, they are external. They are usually a rather simply defined physical object: buildings, sign, store, or mountain. Their use involves the singling out of one element from a host of possibilities.” (Lynch 48) Thus, landmarks help to create radial coordinate axis around a punctual reference; they “symbolize a constant direction” (Lynch 48) and therefore need to be visible over long distance and identifiable as singular objects. Lynch notes that visitors who are unfamiliar with the city make an extended use of such ‘rough’ landmarks for orientation purposes, while familiar observers rely on more subtle landmark-tools: “Other landmarks are primarily local, being visible only in restricted localities an from certain approaches. These are the innumerable signs, store fronts, trees, doorknobs, and other urban detail, which fill in the image of most observers. They are frequently used clues of identity and even of structure, and seem to be increasingly relied upon as a journey becomes more and more familiar.” (Lynch 48) There is one common quality in the use of both rough and subtle landmarks: “Since the use of landmarks involves the singling out of one element from a host of possibilities, the key physical characteristic of this class is singularity, some aspect that is unique or memorable in the context. Landmarks become more easily identifiable, more likely to be chosen as significant, if they have a clear form; if they contrast with their background” (Lynch 78). There is, like Klaus Sachs-Hombach and Jörg Schirra mention in Bild und Wort (Schirra and Sachs-Hombach 2006), a figure-ground-difference to be created by the observer. Since the differentiation of what is figure (what is meant?) and what is context (as what is it meant?) is the basis of all semantic identification; this difference becomes the basis on which the observer may act in correspondence to landmarks. The process of ‘singling out’ is once more a process following the invitations of form-clues which are given not only by the architectural and urban form, but also by environmental graphic design, signage and orientation-tools like maps and way-descriptions.

          The Laminar Element

          The laminar element upon which the observer constructs his city-image are districts. “Districts are relatively large city areas which the observer can mentally go inside of, and which have some common character.” (Lynch 66) As an element of the city-image, and therefore, an element of a mental map, the district remains a mental concept only able to be entered mentally. But by identifying a manifest urban form as an indicator of a district we are able to enter it physically. Thus, districts are containers with a specific character which contain nearly everything: concepts, experiences, places, and events—each district gives rise to different expectations about the probability that any of these things could occur. Out of these differences in expectation, the district derives its specific character; this character, in turn, influences our feelings and behaviour in each district. A main part of what is meant when we say ‘I am in London-Soho, Berlin-Kreuzberg or New York-Brooklyn’ derives from a kind of container/things-contained relation. To clarify this point, we can refer to the first chapter of Burke’s A Grammar of Motives which is about “container and things contained” (GM 3). Here he distinguishes between scene and act and shows the meaningful relation between them in the scene-act-ratio. The “stage-act contains the action ambiguously—and in the course of the play’s development this ambiguity is converted into a corresponding articulacy. The proportion would be: scene is to act as implicit is to explicit.” (GM 7) Of course, this quotation could stand for the whole work we have done till now. What we have shown by discussing the linear und punctual elements as motives is based on the implicit-explicit relation of scene and act, of situation and motive. In the now given context of discussing districts as containers the idea behind this quotation becomes strongly relevant. Burke emphasizes relating to the scene-act-ratio one important limitation: “One could not deduce the details of the action from the details of the setting, but one could deduce the quality of the action from the quality of the setting.” (GM 7) The Lynchean elements (paths, edges, nodes, landmarks and of course districts) are scenes in this way, they contain ambiguously a quality of appropriate action. This means the scene consists of (ambiguous) clues on which the rhetorical category of the aptum (acceptability, adequacy, fittingness) is created, which is probably the only measurement to judge the quality of the action. In this context a variety of important questions arise: What is the quality of a specific district? That is, what is the specific character of the district-container upon which action leading motives are created, and from where does this character derive? Of course, this question is much too broad to be answered in this text since it involves the demand to formulate a whole theory of meaning of the built environment. The character of any given district derives from many sources: literature, poems, artwork, experiences of its inhabitants, political decisions, architectural form, myths and oral traditions and much, much more. That’s why we want to focus on just one building block, one part of this question which remains in our research question focusing on Lynch: how does the above mentioned second type of node—the core—influence the character of the container in which they were contained? Cores, as we saw, are points of thematic concentrations. As such they are meaningful architectural forms which have certain similarities to landmarks. But while landmarks have to be unique objects visible at a distance, cores “are the focus and epitome of a district, over which their influence radiates and of which they stand as a symbol.” (Lynch 41) From the various elements contained in the district (container), cores are prototypical elements. This means, following the prototype-theory developed by Eleanor Rosch, that cores are not only elements of districts–they are the best example of that category. If someone asks for an example of the category ‘bird,’ the answers robin, sparrow, penguin and ostrich are not equal. Although all these are not more or less birds than any other–they are all 100% bird–the first two are thought of as being ‘more bird’ than penguins or ostriches. They are prototypical for the category ‘bird.’ Like Rosch, and later George Lakoff pointed out, prototypes are those elements of a category which are highly memorable and easy to identify as a member of the given category. Moreover they structure the whole category; they influence the production of examples, create an asymmetry in similarity ratings7, an asymmetry in generalization8 and are follow the effects of family resemblance9. Thus, it is clear that cores as prototypes have a great impact on the perception of the district. A main part of the character of the district derives from the character of its core. For example, there are many places in Berlin, Mitte (the central district of Berlin), but ask any passer-by where the city center is, and he will point you to Alexanderplatz. This illustrates that Alexanderplatz is a core which could symbolically stand for the whole district—even the city. Or, to take an example from Lynch: “Louisburg Square [in Boston] is another thematic concentration, a well-known quiet residential open space, redolent of the upper-class themes of the Hill, with a highly recognizable fenced park. It is a purer example of a concentration than is the Jordan-Filene corner, since it is no transfer point at all, and was only remembered as being ‘somewhere inside’ Beacon Hill. Its importance as a node was out of all proportion to its function.” (76)

          More research must be carried out to evaluate the degree to which cores function as prototypes of districts, but it seems evidentially clear that if cores have such an enormous impact on the generalization of districts, much of what I have called the district-motive derives from the core-motive and from the scope of action manipulating associations related to the core. Part of the quality of districts seems to be deducible from the quality of their cores, and from this we can deduce the quality of the action which takes place in accordance to districts. And, since districts may have different cores for different people at different times, the quality of this deduction depends on the selection of a core as prototypical.

          To conclude, the ‘elements’ Lynch is describing are always terms which are interpreting any given situation as a such-and-such-situation, and thereby have a bearing on the scope of action. That’s why we can characterize these elements as motives. There are two main benefits given by this characterization; because of the circular connection of motive and situation, it is possible to focus the matter of action more closely than Lynch does. This matter of action is describable as ’symbolic action.’ On the other hand, the symbol based nature of urban orientation shows evidently that there is a rhetorical dimension in orientation. The problem of orientation becomes essentially a rhetorical problem.

          City Form

          The rationalistic chapter ‘City Form’ in The Image of the City, which sounds a bit like the introduction into Descartes meditations, aims to raise the legibility of the city by increasing the clarity and distinctness of the city-image. Lynch emphasizes the function of the architectural and urbanistic form as the following: “Above all, if the environment is visibly organized and sharply identified, then the citizen can inform it with his own meanings and connections. Then it will become a true place.”(Lynch 92) Thus, when Lynch describes form as the possibility that one part fits to another, then a certain similarity to Burke’s statement that “work has form insofar as one part of it leads the reader to anticipate another part” might be seen (CS 124). Indeed both authors emphasize the receiver-orientated function of form, but Burke understands form first of all as “the way of uniting motive and symbol, situation and act” (Blankenship and Murphy and Rosenwasser 84).

          This ‘way of uniting’ has its meaning, if transferred to the context of urbanistic form, not in a reduction of the orientation-problem to a problem of distinctness, but form becomes the smallest building block in a rhetorical process. No persuasive orientation happens, even when motive, symbol, situation and act have become a chosen and communicable united form, in the absence of identification. In successful cases, the recipient identifies himself with the form after the city planner has chosen this urban form in reference to his identification with the (probable) recipient. This process, on another level, is based on the semantic identifications that arise through metaphorical extensions. Lynch lacks the rhetorical dimension of urban orientation precisely because the process of identification in this doubled form is the key concept of rhetoric. It is not, as Lynch says, that a distinct structure and a clear legibility of the city-image gives the citizen the possibility to “inform it with his own meanings and connections”—or to identify himself with the city. It is, rather, a question of how motives, symbols, and situations and acts become a communicable unit, which allow/invite the recipient to identify with them or not. Distinctness is only one way of uniting and probably not the clearest.

          Some Remarks on Urban Environmental Design and Signage

          The main task of urban environmental graphic design, orientation-design and signage-design is to deliver indicators that may help to identify situations. In conclusion, the identifications of situations dependent on these indicators have to be understood as motives. The main task of every environmental graphic design is to create motives—to create action-leading interpretations of situations. This motive creation is rhetorically based on semantic identifications of physical urban forms as situational, which makes it possible for the city dweller to handle the involvement in that (conceptual) form. This is the creation of the situation-motive-action-circle. From here it would be possible–though not in this essay–to formulate a rhetorical inquiry concerning environmental graphic design that focuses not on way-showing, but on motive-creation. The main question should be whether there is a motive persuasively expressed. That is one reason why the way-finding-processes have to be based on form-finding-processes. Based on this we could discuss projects such as The Legible City projects (Bristol, London, Melbourne, Sydney, etc.) in terms of motive-creation. The idea behind this project is that because of the increasing number of visitors and inhabitants the city of London has to—in the truest sense of the word—motivate people to use their feet as transportation instead of using tubes or buses. This relies on the observations that many stations and other locations are quicker to reach as pedestrian than by any other transportation system. “From Covent Garden nine out of ten adjacent stations are quicker to walk.” (Bauer and Mayer 238) Though my analysis of the rhetorical dimension of the Lynchean elements of the city-image does not provide enough detail to carry out an discussion on the wide variety of solutions found in The Legible City project and others, we can still ask whether there are, for example, node, path or edge-motives expressed through the design of guidance systems and signage. More research has to take place to answer these questions. However, a rhetorical theory of design—concerning not only questions arising with Lynch, but also questions concerning the identification-potential of different typographies and pictograms, map-making and map-designing, the motives expressed through categorization given by legends, and many more—is called for.


          By forcing a confrontation between Lynch and Burke, I have proven that Lynch’s ‘elements’ of the city are terms of interpretation. The crux of my argument is that Lynch knows that his elements are terms of interpretation and therefore fall under a rhetorical theory, but he ignores the consequences arising from this.10 To quote Lynch, Charles Street “acts ambiguously either as linear node, edge, or path for various people at various times. Edges are often paths as well.”(65) Take an almost common highway as an example: it might be interpreted as a path, or as an edge, or maybe even as a main part of a district. Of course it is possible to interpret it in part as a landmark, and it probably is often interpreted as a node. It seems to be that everything can be interpreted as everything else. Thus, I might be forced to say that a distinction of elements which does not make any difference is ineffective and in this way meaningless. But I am not forced to this conclusion; Burke has shown that from the fact that these elements are terms of interpretation, we do not have to conclude that they are useless, since to interpret something as something different is always circularly connected with the creation of a situation, which leads to a specific scope of action. Thus, interpreting the Lynchean elements of the city-image as Burkean motives, is nothing other than giving these elements use and meaning by embedding them in rhetoric. What Lynch lacks is a theory of meaning in the background of his inquiry that would enable him to show what it means to see the elements of the city-image as terms of interpretation. This theory of meaning might be implemented by the new rhetoric.


          1. “It is that quality in a physical object which gives it a higher probability of evoking a strong image in any given observer” (Lynch 9)

          2. Immanuel Kant wrote in Kritik der Urteilskraft: „Unter einer ästhetischen Idee aber verstehe ich diejenige Vorstellung der Einbildungskraft, die viel zu denken veranlaßt, ohne daß ihr doch irgendein bestimmter Gedanke, d. i. Begriff, adäquat sein kann, die folglich keine Sprache völlig erreicht und verständlich machen kann.—Man sieht leicht, daß sie das Gegenstück (Pendant) von einer Vernunftidee sei, welche umgekehrt ein Begriff ist, dem keine Anschauung (Vorstellung der Einbildungskraft) adäquat sein kann.“ (Kant § 49.)

          3. See Wagner and Seifert. Both point out that Lynch’s term image alternates between a drawn, visual map, a cognitive map and a collective and shared idea. Moreover, Lynch wanted it to function as a design-device for urban architects and city-planners.

          4. Original: “Wirklichkeit, so kann man Burkes ontologisches Verständnis zusammenfassen, konstituiert sich aus sprachlich konstruierten Beziehungen und ist daher immer eine Interpretation von Wirklichkeit.”

          5. To quote Burke: “Motives are subdivisions in a larger frame of meaning; this larger frame of meaning is [ . . . ] an orientation.” (Burke, PC 19)

          6. Original: „Der Selbstbezug ist auf den Fremdbezug ausgerichtet, der Fremdbezug der Orientierung ist der Sinn ihres Selbstbezugs.“ (Stegmaier 13)

          7. “Less representative examples are often considered to be more similar to more representative examples than the converse. Not surprisingly, Americans consider the United States to be a highly representative example of a country. [ . . . ] Subjects considered Mexico to be more similar to the United States than the United States is to Mexico.“ (Lakoff 41)

          8. “New Information about a representative category member is more likely to be generalized to nonrepresentative members than the revers.“ (Lakoff 42)

          9. “Characterizing ‚family resemblances‘ as perceived similarities between representative and nonrepresentative members of a category, Rosch showed that there was a correlation between family resemblance and numerical ratings of best examples derived from the above experiments.“ (Lakoff 42)

          10. In The Image of the City Lynch gives three terms to structure his inquiry: identity, structure and meaning. “A workable image requires first the identification of an object, which implies its distinction from other things, its recognition as a separable entity. This is called identity, not in the sense of equality with something else, but with the meaning of individuality or oneness. Second, the image must include the spatial or pattern relation of the object to the observer and to other objects. Finally, this object must have some meaning for the observer, whether practical or emotional. Meaning is also a relation, but quite a different one from spatial or pattern relation.” (Lynch 8) It may not be quite right to say that Lynch ‘ignores’ the consequences since Lynch only focuses on identity and structure of the city-image and leaves out the difficult work on meaning. Thus, in this context ‘to ignore’ means not that Lynch merely ignores, but that his inquiry is constructed under the condition ‘to ignore.’

          Works Cited Alexander, Christopher. Notes on the Synthesis of Form. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1964.

          Alexander, Christopher, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

          Bauer, Erwin K., and Dieter Mayer: Orientation and Identity: Portraits of International Way Finding Systems. Vienna: Springer, 2009. Print.

          Blankenship, Jane, and Edward Murphy, and Marie Rosenwasser: “Pivotal Terms in the Early Works of Kenneth Burke.” Landmark Essays on Kenneth Burke. (1993): 71–90. Ed. Barry Brummett. New York: Routledge. Print.

          Brown, Warner: “Spatial Integrations in a Human Maze.” University of California Publications in Psychology. 5(5) (1932): 123–34. Print.

          Buchanan, Richard: “Declaration by Design: Rhetorik, Argument und Darstellung in der Designpraxis.” Design als Rhetorik. Grundlagen, Positionen, Fallstudien. (1985): 49–80. Eds. Joost, Gesche; Scheuermann, Arne. Birkhäuser: Basel. Print

          Burke, Kenneth. Attitudes Toward History. Los Altos, CA: Hermes, 1959. Print.

          —. Counter-Statement. Berkeley: U of California P, 1931. Print.

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

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

          —. Permanence and Chang:. An Anatomy of Purpose. Los Altos, CA: Hermes, 1954. Print.

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          Expanding the Terministic Screen: A Burkean Critique of Information Visualization in the Context of Design Education

          Anneli Bowie, University of Pretoria
          Duncan Reyburn, University of Pretoria


          In the face of what information design theorist Richard Wurman has dubbed "information anxiety," it is well documented that information visualization has become a widely accepted tool to assist with the navigation of the symbolic world. Information visualisations, 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 visualisations are rhetorical texts in that they have the ability to persuade. Thus, it is not a leap to assert that information visualization may be understood as one expression of Kenneth Burke’s notion of the ‘terministic screen.’

          Bearing the above in mind, this paper seeks 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. Ultimately, this paper presents Burke’s rhetorical theory as a critical tool for developing more ethical communication design education and praxis.


          IN THIS ARTICLE, WE SET OUT TO PROVIDE A BURKEAN CRITIQUE OF THE RHETORIC OF INFORMATION VISUALIZATION within the context of design education in South Africa. In recent years, information visualization has become an increasingly popular means to explore and present both scientific and cultural phenomena, through the use of graphs, diagrams, maps and other graphic formats. Owing to the amount of data people interact with increasing exponentially in the last few years, through the internet and specifically the rise of web 2.0 and social media, new ways to mine, process and visually represent data have been developed. Advances in technology, along with the increasing availability of data, have furthermore led to a democratization of visualization practice, and a proliferation of visualization projects displayed on the internet, in popular science magazines and in the news media.

          In the face of what information design theorist Richard Wurman has dubbed ‘information anxiety,’ it is well understood that although we are accustomed to thinking about an ‘information economy,’ information is not the commodity that is in short supply. Indeed, as Richard Lanham observes, “we’re drowning in it” (xi). Lanham, who echoes Wurman’s perspective by referring to an “attention economy,” points out that “what we lack is the human attention needed to make sense of it all” (xi). Under such circumstances it is understandable that information visualization has become a widely accepted tool to assist with the navigation of the symbolic, hyper-informational world. This is to say that information visualization acts as an example of Kenneth Burke’s notion of a “terministic screen” in that it “explicitly and implicitly turns our attention in one direction rather than in other directions” (LASA 57). Following Burke’s logic, it may even be deemed a form of “magic” in that it establishes a kind of visual-linguistic coercion—a prioritization of a particular set of scopic regimes—albeit in a subtle way. It is a medium that reflects the human capacity for negotiating both visual and verbal symbolic vocabularies in order to reflect and thus also control reality. Nevertheless, as with all such orienting vocabularies, every reflection of reality automatically “functions as a deflection of reality” and is also inherently a reduction or “selection” of reality (LASA 59). Visualization is certainly a genre that has developed its own symbolic hierarchies, each allowing for the privileging of specific terminologies and meanings, as well as the marginalization of others, but this is not our main concern. Our main concern is the way in which this ideological construct becomes institutionalized and solidified in a way that such symbolic hierarchies go unchallenged. While it is true that contemporary discourse on information visualisations has started to include a challenge to the supposed scientific biases of the medium, our contribution in this paper is to present the first critique of the medium from a Burkean perspective.

          When we speak of ideological constructs above, we are aware that Burke spent most of his career avoiding the term ideology when referring to systems of ideas. However, his uses of terms like “‘orientation,’ ‘rationalization,’ ‘perspective,’ ‘critical perspective,’ ‘way of life,’ ‘critical mind-frame,’ ‘Weltanschauung,’ and ‘gestalt’” point to the same basic idea as what is captured by the word ideology (Beach 1). Slavoj Žižek considers ideology to be a “generative matrix that regulates the relationship between visible and non-visible, between imaginable and non-imaginable, as well as changes in this relationship” (Žižek 1), but Burke’s definition of ideology is more succinct: it is simply “the study of ideas and of their relation to one another” (RM 53), but it can also refer to “a structure of interrelated ideas” (A rhetoric of motives 88). Thus, while ideology may be considered in terms of the performative relationship between the linguistic and the practical, Burke’s view of ideology tends to stress the linguistic even while the performative is called into question. This fits well with a critique of ideology in design, since design is fundamentally concerned with visual language. Accordingly, it makes sense to stress the paradoxical or analogical structure built into the very nature of language: it both accepts and rejects, leads and misleads; informs and misinforms; by drawing attention to itself, it points away from itself.

          A similar paradoxical structure is reflected in our roles as information design educators. One of our many tasks involves equipping our students with the necessary skills to be able to create their own information visualizations or information graphics (infographics). Infographics are a subset of information visualizations often used in popular media. They are usually static, manually crafted graphics created by designers, as opposed to being generated or updated automatically by software applications (Kosara). Infographics in their current popular format usually combine an array of data visualization elements into a single layout in order to communicate a statistical overview of a topic or issue.

          Thus, on the one hand, we must promote the extension of a particular kind of designerly orthodoxy, in alignment with the linguistic idealism of the Bauhaus (1919–1933), New Typographic movement of the 1920s and 1930s, and Ulm School (Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm) (1953–1968). However, on the other hand, as academics involved in critical discourse, we are also tasked with imparting the importance of self-reflective critique to our students. This approach, while taking the legacy of older design schools seriously, is closely aligned with the international design movement towards what is known as ‘Critical Design’ practice. Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby explain how most design activities fall into two broad categories, namely ‘affirmative design’ and ‘critical design.’ They explain how typical design practice is mostly affirmative, as it “reinforces how things are now, it conforms to cultural, social, technical and economic expectation.” However, critical design can be seen as an alternative form of design practice that challenges the status quo and critiques “the prevailing situation through designs that embody alternative social, cultural, technical or economic values” (Dunne and Raby 58).

          The above distinction is thus played out in the current scenario where we need to both promote information visualization as a useful tool for graphic communication and demote it for its sometimes less-than-obvious limitations. To put it more bluntly, we need to tell our students that even this orthodoxy is a kind of heresy, which means that even in their sincerest attempts to create truthful communication, it is almost certain that they will also mislead, albeit unintentionally. This reminds us that Burke’s notion of “trained incapacity” is not just something found in human beings with regard to occupational specialization, but is something inherent to the way that language itself works as a mediator of the world. By stating one thing, language automatically overstates it and therefore understates or neglects other things; by emphasizing one thing, it overemphasizes it and therefore underemphasizes other things. This is referred to by the French philosopher Alain Badiou as a problem of “nominal occlusions” whereby one term or name in a truth procedure occludes and thereby possibly even obliterates another: thus, “[t]he name ‘culture’ comes to obliterate ‘art.’ The word ‘technology’ obliterates the word ‘science.’ The word ‘management’ obliterates ‘politics.’ The word ‘sexuality’ obliterates love” (Badiou 12). This is noted not to claim that language is entirely bound to fail in its aims, but to simply point out that, like any medium, language has both a positive and a negative charge. Foregrounding one thing automatically causes another to recede, leading every statement to require a corrective counter-statement. To navigate the somewhat disconcerting or destabilising paradoxical/analogical nature of language, Burke’s ideas are applied in what follows as a means of interrogating the rhetoric of information visualization.

          Although Burke paved the way for the study of ‘visual rhetoric’ (Foss 141), remarkably little has been written about Burke from within or for design discourse. Although some authors, such as Foss and Brummet, consider Burke’s theories from a visual rhetorical perspective, this is usually from a broader visual culture perspective, and not specifically as it relates to communication design practice. In communication design discourse, Burke is sometimes mentioned in passing or as a footnote, but to date there is no in-depth application of Burke’s rhetoric in this domain. This paper attempts to address this gap, albeit on an introductory level.

          Burke’s dialectical approach to rhetoric, also explained as both “a dialectic of ideological demands and the critique of ideology” (Bygrave 9), makes his theories particularly useful in a design education context. Not only does his theory of rhetoric shed light on how to use rhetorical strategies in information visualization, but it also simultaneously presents a method for ideological critique. This approach resonates with our teaching approach, in that we need to equip our students to communicate as effectively as possible (through the strategic use of visual rhetoric), while also encouraging them to think more critically about the ethics and politics of their rhetorical practice.

          This paper thus aims to illustrate how Burke’s theories can be used to disseminate the rhetoric of information visualizations and how his theories can be applied within the domain of design education. While our focus is specifically on visualization practice in an educational context, the way that we are applying Burke’s thinking below could certainly have a bearing on a wider view of design and design discourse, although it is not our aim to explore such implications here. Examples of student visualization projects are employed to support the following argument.

          Visualizations and Infographics

          Information visualizations are typically seen as external cognitive aids that serve two main functions (Card, Mackinley and Schneiderman 1). Firstly, they assist in the discovery of concepts, by making data visual. Researchers and scientists, for instance, make use of visual processing and mapping in order to identify patterns and relationships hidden in data sets. Through such processes, factors previously unknown or only hypothesized are confirmed through visualization techniques. Secondly, after such discoveries have been made, the other main function of visualization is to communicate these findings to others. Infographics take this a step further in that they are particularly focused on communicating to a wider audience and for a very specific purpose. Max Gadney explains that information visualizations “require more work and sifting by a user, in order to find patterns and insight” whereas infographics are “a quick and popular way of communicating that insight.” This apparent strength of infographics may, however, turn out to also be its fundamental weakness since it paves the way for creating a kind of nominal occlusion regarding its very own character.

          Visualizations are considered particularly powerful communicative and persuasive tools. Peter Hall posits that some visualizations can “have a profound effect on society, changing the course of government policy, scientific research, funding and public opinion” (“Critical Visualization” 123). We grant that this is a fairly bold claim, but it does at least stress the seriousness with which visualizations are generally accepted. Throughout history, visualization has been used to present ‘evidence’ in a tangible form. As a consequence, visualization has become persuasive not only of the validity of the collected data and information that it presents, but has also become persuasive regarding its own status as a viable and even valuable form of visual communication.

          Today we can visualize much larger data sets with the use of computers (as well as animate them or have them unfold interactively over time), but the basic principles of visualization have remained largely the same since the nineteenth century (Manovich). The rise of social statistics in the mid-eighteenth century had a direct impact on the development of visualization practice (Manovich), with scholars such as William Playfair, John Snow, Florence Nightingale and Charles Joseph Minard collecting numbers, calculating averages and representing statistical data visually. During this time the development of visual conventions for maps, graphs and charts has enabled people to communicate complexity in more eloquent and believable ways.

          Today, the rise of social statistics through online and social media has once again fuelled the development and popularization of information visualization practice. This, in combination with the accessibility of visualization software tools such as Gapminder, and Processing, has led to the democratization of visualization practice. The visual communication design skills needed to convert crude data visualizations into eloquent infographics has also been democratized through the myriad infographic templates readily available online. Infographics obviously aim to draw attention by using powerful visual aesthetics, but the irony of course is that the more infographics we see, the less likely we are to pay attention to them. Along with this democratization of visualization practice one thus finds an increasing amount of criticism regarding the poorly-used (and perhaps even overused) medium. However, the fact that visualizations and infographics remain hugely popular in mass media indicates that they are still effective at creating favorable impressions about the nature of the information presented.

          As can be observed from the history of visualization, as well as the current use of infographics, the emphasis remains on statistics, facts and scientific plausibility. But to take this emphasis too seriously is to miss the importance of the aesthetic and rhetorical dimensions of these visual artifacts. It is also to overlook the fact that even empirical data requires the context of a particular theory, and that the scientific is never neutral, as has been argued by Thomas Kuhn. In order to investigate this general acceptance of infographics as objective, scientific representations of statistical realities, we now look towards the rhetorical theories of Burke and illustrate these theories by analyzing two student case studies.

          Visualizations as Terministic Screens

          It is often argued that information visualizations are rhetorical texts in that they have the ability to “direct attention, persuade, and shape attitudes” (Kostelnick). Furthermore, design theorists such as Gui Bonsiepe, Richard Buchanan, Robin Kinross, Ellen Lupton, Hanno Ehses and Katherine McCoy have all pointed to the potential value of studying information design from a visual rhetorical perspective. Thus, what we are doing here is, in some respects, nothing new. Nevertheless, bearing in mind the above-mentioned paradoxes, we would like to focus on the often-overlooked ideological biases that inform the way in which information visualizations are both created and interpreted. Notably, we want to call into question the fact that these visualizations tend to display a seeming scientific authority and are thus perceived as having a kind of informational integrity. Kinross calls this particular kind of rhetoric the “rhetoric of neutrality” (18). By indicating the rhetorical, Kinross is emphasizing the fact that motive and bias are never eradicated. The human author remains a subjective interpreter who adopts and adapts facts and also designs in accordance with personal choices and established conventions.

          Although their ideas are very closely aligned, Kinross never directly mentions Burke. Burke’s ideas are however particularly useful in understanding Kinross’ ‘rhetoric of neutrality.’ Burke was particularly skeptical of seemingly objective language and understood that all terminologies are value-laden and ideologically loaded. He specifically investigated the manner in which scientific language makes use of “a neutral vocabulary in the interests of more effective action” (Burke in Hildebrand 635) and in a similar manner one can investigate the visual vocabularies / terminologies (aesthetic design elements) of infographics in order to understand their rhetorical power. Therefore, any information visualization can be understood, in Burkean terms, as a subjective terministic screen even while it seeks to, or perhaps pretends to, ward off the shortcomings of human subjectivity.

          The first visual example, titled “There’s no place like home” by one of our third year students from 2011, shows a fairly typical infographic (figure 1). During this two week Information Design project, students were tasked with gathering information on a pressing issue in South African society and to create an infographic poster thereof, utilizing a variety of visualization elements such as graphs, charts, etc. This specific infographic poster deals with the effects of “brain drain”—that is, human capital flight involving the large scale emigration of highly trained and knowledgeable people—on South African society, and consists of pie charts, bar graphs, icons and other communicative elements typical of infographics. This brain drain is a very complex issue, especially since it exposes some of the ongoing and seemingly irresolvable racial problems of South African society that have resulted, in part, from its Black Economic Empowerment policies. The subject of the poster is highly topical in post-apartheid South Africa, and an infographic that seeks to counter the dominant ideology—the normalization of the brain drain—would thus seem appropriate.

          At a glance, the poster, with its bold lines, strong contrast, structured layout and clear labeling in a neutral sans-serif font is quite conventional. The poster, with its clear message, seems to be a fairly confident expression of the so-called ‘truth’ about emigration. This is somewhat illustrative of Kostelnick’s observation that visualization as we know it developed in a modernist style, “which fostered universal forms and aimed to objectify representations of cultural diversity by making them appear economical and perceptually transparent” (216). The visualization methods that have developed over time have become familiar genres leading to these forms being interpreted as “natural, direct representations of fact, [supposedly] unmediated by the lens of design” (Kostelnick 225). The ideological stance of this modernist style can be found in its stress on only one aspect of the analogical structure of language, namely is ability to convey a truth. It seems to neglect the other side of this binary, namely the inability of language to fully capture the truth that it is indicated towards.

          As a consequence, on closer inspection of this poster, some problematic assumptions can be noticed. The most obvious of these is that the apparent “facts” are never sourced. This is not an error of the student’s inexperience, but a result of the student’s ability to follow the representational norms of infographics, the vast majority of which do not make any reference to sources. Furthermore, while the poster aims to create an overview of the current situation regarding brain drain, many of the statistics are fairly outdated, and also from vastly different time periods—some from 1995, others from 2001, and so on. A ‘cherry-picking’ of statistics thus takes place in the construction of this graphic, which is only visible after closer scrutiny. The need for closer scrutiny may be understood as somewhat defeating of the purpose of infographics, which are typically geared towards aiding the navigation of the symbolic world rather than making such navigation more time-consuming. An infographic that seeks to clear up a complex issue but ends up only making it more opaque is surely, albeit unintentionally, highlighting the potential failings of the medium.

          Similarly, when one looks at the bar graph in the lower right corner (figure 2), one sees a comparison in prices on consumer goods in South Africa and Australia. These comparisons appear reliable until one realizes that no indication has been given of the vastly different economic contexts of the two countries. This is to say that a logical fallacy of false analogy is at work here: oranges are compared with apples, so to speak. In an attempt to strengthen the visual argument, the student has in fact weakened it. Nevertheless, the certainty with which this information is presented appears to make this false analogy quite plausible.

          In another section of the poster (figure 3), one reads that of all the South Africans who emigrated, only a relatively small number of those were in fact professionals (only 205 of the 10 057 in 2001). In comparison, 4835 skilled professionals entered the country. However, it is unclear whether these were returning South Africans or foreign nationals. The difficulty in reading this specific graph, which uses suitcase pictographs as a statistical indicator, will quite likely cause the viewer to abandon any attempt at interpretation. The most prominent feature here is obviously the enormous suitcase, reaching out of the ‘frame,’ indicating unskilled immigrants entering the country. The infographic legend shows that these unskilled immigrants include illegal immigrants and asylum seekers, indicating a severely reductionist approach in presenting the data leading one to wonder whether this entire category of immigrants should be seen as a threat, as the designer suggests.

          Without going through every detail of this poster, it is safe to say that the ideological orientations that have driven its creation and that also implicitly guide its interpretation have been left unchecked. To be clear, there is a hint of authorial self-awareness in the use of whimsical examples from the “land down under” (figure 4). Yes, dangerous wildlife and skin cancer are problems in Australia, but these are not problems unique to Australia. Furthermore, such problems are certainly not escaped by living in the outdoors culture of sunny South Africa. Furthermore, the negative aspects of living in South Africa are not given nearly as much real estate on the poster (only a small block naming some reasons why South African medical professionals choose to emigrate).

          The student in question, of course, only did what was asked of him, and the strategic selecting (and therefore deflecting) of information is part and parcel of any infographic design process. The student was briefed to create an infographic that addresses a particular issue in a South African context, and in his final layout this is exactly what he delivers. In general, there would seem to be nothing clearly misleading in the poster, because it follows the trend of infographics, which is concerned with simplifying the complex. But the rhetoric of infographic aesthetics serves as a shield against critical scrutiny and readers may accept such information without questioning it. The designer wants to justify his own point of view, and by rendering it in supposedly neutral terms ends up concealing his real motivation. Consequently, the rhetoric of neutrality is ultimately reinforced rather than challenged.

          The fundamental rhetorical device of the rhetoric of neutrality is uncovered in its “representative” symbolic nature. Synecdoche, “the figure of speech wherein the part is used for the whole, the whole for the part, the container for the thing contained, the cause for the effect, the effect for the cause, etc.,” is the foundation of this rhetoric of neutrality (Burke, The philosophy of literary form 25–26). On synecdoche, Burke notes: “The more I examine both the structure of poetry and the structure of human relations outside of poetry, the more I become convinced that this is the ‘basic’ figure of speech, and that it occurs in many modes besides that of the formal trope” (The philosophy of literary form 26). The positive aspects of synecdoche should not be overlooked, since it certainly enables the specifics of communication to become more universally applicable and more easily accessible. Nevertheless, this is also precisely the limitation of synecdoche: by presenting itself as self-evidently true, it conceals its own ideological location.

          This synecdoche may be an example of Tyler’s (26) suggestion that factual information appears to be communicated in an “omniscient voice”; thus, the part not only stands for the whole, but is actually confused with the whole. This “omniscient voice of science” seems to eliminate emotional qualities and present information as truth (Tyler 26). If an artifact appears too subjectively constructed, people will perceive it as biased and therefore unreliable. Nevertheless, our argument is that it is precisely this unreliability that needs to be communicated in order to foster a more honest rhetorical ethos. The rhetoric of neutrality needs to be exposed and demystified. Edward Tufte outlines a variety of ways in which data can be presented in more neutral and unbiased ways. He contends, for example, that visualizations “become more credible if constructed independently of a favored result” (Tufte, Beautiful evidence 29). However, the fact that Tufte, one of the leading authorities on visualization, suggests the possibility of unbiased communication should raise the alarm. All communication design is “infiltrated rhetorically” (Ehses 5). All data is collected, processed and presented for specific purposes, under specific circumstances and ordered in according to subjective preferences (Hall, “Critical visualization” 130). To neglect to notice this is to fall back into the modernist biases out of which visualization practice arose.

          Expanding the terministic screen

          Bearing all of this in mind, and in accordance with an observation of this problematic perpetuation of the rhetoric of neutrality in the infographic project of 2011, the brief to the students was changed in 2012. Prior to the commencement of the project students also participated in an additional four day workshop on visualization, in which they gained a more in-depth understanding of the medium and its persuasive character. Furthermore, instead of simply asking for a basic information visualization, the project leader encouraged the combination of a more playful, self-reflective process. This is to say that from the outset students were made more aware of their own subjective presence and rhetorical choices. As could be expected, some students fell back on the myth of neutrality, but others found a way to embed their new awareness of the limitations of this genre into their work.

          Take, for example, this poster entitled “I cried making this poster” (figure 5). The self-deprecating tone and the self-referential title are already enough to spark a slightly different reading of the communication, even while it seems at first to contain fairly commonplace infographic devices. On closer inspection, the content of the poster presents a kind of auto-critique that draws further attention to the subjective nature of the information on the poster. It is, in Burkean terms, an example of “perspective by incongruity” in that it tries to not simply present something “as it is,” but rather to throw the entire visual artifact into question (Beach 39). It presents the image as a drama that invites participation, rather than as a static picture to be believed or rejected.

          Hill explains how ‘perspective by incongruity’ can be seen as a “corrective symbolism derive[d] from an impious appropriation of the problematic symbolism.” The tongue-in-cheek statement about infographics as a medium is thus achieved through the appropriation of the typical visual infographic aesthetic. The power of the piece is found precisely in the fact that we do not immediately recognize the poster as a ‘rip-off’ and only after closer inspection do we notice that we have been tricked. Such is the power of ‘perspective by incongruity’ to jolt one into a more critical frame of mind. It is a poignant response to the objectivist fallacy.

          The poster, on the left-hand side, represents a blank canvas, and then tracks the “treachery” and “randomness” involved in arriving at a final concept for the poster design, which reveals the final poster within the very same poster. The design process outlined here is treated as somewhat typical of the experience of the average designer, but the meta-referential content and personal rhetorical choices evident in the visualization seem to undermine this universalization of the particular. The treatment of time here makes for a unique interpretive experience, especially since it implicitly argues that there is a lot about the design process that is invisible to the audience. Its use of chronology is more of a sketch than an exact record; thus, it is more representative of how time is perceived than of how it is measured.

          When we read that it takes 50 licks to finish an ice-cream or that the student yawned four times while researching yawning or even that the “power of white space” is precisely nothing (in one example of a subversion of the pie-chart metaphor), we are confronted by a certain ‘dysfunction’ of the infographic. The made-up-ness of the statistics is a glaring reaction against the traditional ‘factual’ data display. Through its symbolic action, this poster could potentially be seen as a manifestation of Burke’s claim that “the aesthetic must serve as anti-mechanization, the corrective of the practical” (Burke in Hill). The impracticality of the infographic, being less objective and ‘useful’ in teaching us something about the world, could thus perhaps be seen as a deliberate ‘corrective’ in a world where objectivity and functionality is valued above all else.

          The power of anti (or at least alternatively)-functional design can be linked to Burke’s concept of “anti-instrumental instrumentalism” (Hill). Instrumentalism, a prevailing ethos primarily focused on functionality and efficiency, can be subverted through a type of deliberate anti-functionality. In other words, the way in which this infographic does not function as an infographic should, allows it to become an aesthetic and critical statement about the prevailing and problematic rhetoric of information visualization in general. The above example could thus be framed within a critical design framework. Critical design, as mentioned previously, is an alternative design practice that “evaluates the status quo and relies on design experts to make things that provoke our understanding of the current values people hold. Critical design ‘makes us think’” (Sanders 15). Paula Antonelli’s articulation of critical design furthers an understanding of this intentionality:

          The Critical Design process does not immediately lead to useful objects, but rather to food for thought whose usefulness is revealed by its ability to help others prevent and direct future outcomes. The job of critical designers is to be thorns in the side of politicians and industrialists, as well as partners for scientists or consumer advocates, while stimulating discussion and debate about the social, cultural and ethical future implications of decisions about technology made today (Antonelli).

          The power of this infographic may arguably be discovered in how we are not compelled to believe the information as being unbiased or somehow flawless. Nevertheless, there is a kind of raw honesty in the image. It resonates with any designer who has battled through the design process, but it does not presume to encapsulate every designer’s experience. To put it differently, it manages to embody the power of synecdoche, but without supplanting the various complexities of context. It represents the universal in the particular without universalizing the particular. This poster, too, is not without its problems, but it represents, in our view, a positive step towards educating our students about the possibility of playing with and thus expanding the terministic screens that guide information design praxis.

          We are aware, however, that this example of a counter-statement may simply be another kind of overemphasis that utterly trivializes the medium of the infographic. It may be helpful to counter the modernist biases that govern infographic design praxis, or to at least call such biases into question, but it is certainly problematic to argue that this should be done in the same way as what our second student example demonstrates. Our intention, however, is not to set up another ideological extreme. Instead, it is, as aligned with critical design practice, to present the possibility of calling into question the way that the primary function of infographics and other visualizations are seen. To date, they have been fundamentally understood, as the name so obviously implies, as a means for conveying information. But conveying information is not the same thing as communicating. Relaying data is not synonymous with creating meaning. Thus, while the poster “I cried making this poster” may fail in a number of respects, it gets one thing absolutely right: it implicitly argues that facts are given meaning through a better understanding and appropriation of context.


          It is clear, as DiSalvo argues, that “the obscene proliferation of information in our daily lives” leads to a “crisis of meaning” (76). It is for this reasons that we regard information visualization as an area of design practice that could be highly influential in creating greater understanding of complex phenomena and thus something that can also contribute to a better grasp of meaning. However, many contemporary visualizations are too reductionistic to add real value. Indeed, the danger is that such visualizations add to the clutter and thus also to this crisis of meaning. According to Gadney, infographics are useful when simplicity and accessibility is required, but designers often produce “glib infographics when depth is desired.” He further raises his concerns about infographics, becoming a “fashionable stylistic motif in graphic design” instead of being a genuine “tool for communication.” This problem of popular and superficial visualization has led us as educators to reconsider our teaching strategy. Students should not simply go through the motions of placing graphs and charts on a page, but need think more critically about their actions and the medium itself. In Burkean terms, students need to overcome their ‘occupational psychosis’ and ‘trained incapacity,’ the blindness towards the effects of that which they are proficient in, in order to see not only the limited value of information visualization, but also the misleading and harmful potential of the medium.

          Our pedagogic approach has thus been shown as aligned with important developments in critical design practice. Although we acknowledge that designers primarily operate within commercial contexts, where they do not always have the freedom to express critical concerns, we believe it is important to include critical design approaches in our curriculum. Dunne and Raby argue that “Critical design, or design that asks carefully crafted questions and makes us think, is just as difficult and just as important as design that solves problems or finds answers” (58). They therefore challenge designers to “move beyond designing for the way things are now and begin to design for how things could be, imagining alternative possibilities and different ways of being, and giving tangible form to new values and priorities” (Dunne and Raby in Antonelli).

          A problem remains that we have highlighted only briefly here, namely the fact that visualizations are often assumed to reflect reality without properly acknowledging the fact that they have a selective and deflective function as well. Hall believes that the most valuable effect of considering a design object as a rhetorical argument is that it “allows us to look under the hood and consider it not as an inevitable or neutral invention but as something that embodies a point of view” (Hall, “A good argument”). However, it is our contention that ethical design itself could contain clues that draw attention to its own rhetorical nature. By representing the illusion of objectivity that is known as the rhetoric of neutrality, visualization often carries with it a highly problematic ethos in that it discourages other ways of interrogating this terministic screen. Thus, we have attempted to argue briefly for introducing a kind of auto-critique into the visual text, as an instance of Burke’s ‘perspective by incongruity.’ Such auto-critique may not necessary appear in the final visual text, but its presence should be somewhat implicit in the process that leads to the creation of that text. Auto-critique must, of course, be preceded by a particular kind of attitude. The attitude of the designer is an “incipient act” that informs the possibilities of what any designed communication can achieve (Burke in Beach 66). It allows for an opening up of meaning, rather than a closing down; and, most importantly for our purposes here, it offers a challenge to and the expansion of a particular kind of terministic screen. Critical design, as a current approach used in design pedagogy, deliberately attempts to create ‘perspective by incongruity’ and can ultimately be seen as aligned with Burke’s goal to “keep us reasoning as equitably and democratically as possible so that when we judge, we have done our utmost to avoid personal and cultural dogmatisms” (Hildebrand 643).

          * The authors wish to thank Nick Hlozek for leading the information visualization projects analyzed in this paper, as well as the University of Pretoria’s third year Information Design students of 2011 and 2012 for their hard work and creativity.

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          DiSalvo, Carl F. “World Wide Web Interfaces and Design for the Emergence of Knowledge.” Design Issues 18.1 (2002): 68–77. Print.

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          “You’re Not Going to Try and Change My Mind?” The Dynamics of Identification in Aronofsky’s Black Swan

          Yakut Oktay, Bogazici University (Istanbul, Turkey)

          “ . . . where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we should come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world” (Campbell 23).

          KENNETH BURKE HAS INTRODUCED THE NOTION OF “IDENTIFICATION” into what the Aristotelian approach to rhetoric entails, namely “persuasion,” which provided modern criticism with a wider scope while, ironically, taking a step “back into the world of particulars” from the generalised ultimate (Burke, “Rhetoric” 204). The flexibility identification has created within rhetoric enables it to expand into elements beyond language. As Burke states in “Rhetoric—Old and New,” “Aristotle treated rhetoric as purely verbal. But there are also areas of overlap” (Burke 205).

          The Burkeian treatment of rhetoric thus forms the terminus a quo for this article. It will delve into the movie Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky, to analyze 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. Through her struggle with identification, this article will try to pinpoint these instances by utilizing the theory of the monomyth, propounded by Joseph Campbell. As the monomyth—or in everyday terms, the Hero’s Journey—follows a rather chronological pattern, by means of which the manifold checkpoints each hero passes throughout a story are noted, I will shape the argument within its boundaries. For the sake of keeping visual integrity, the paper will mostly take the screened version into consideration. As for the ending of the movie, although there exist clashing interpretations of the character’s fate, this article assumes that, as a result of the final act, the main character dies.

          As a major area of overlap in rhetoric, and the centerpiece of the movie Black Swan, I would offer ballet as a second-, or rather, third-nature form of art. In Burke’s words, “Human beings have created a new set of expectations, shaped with the norms, to break away from sheer animality. This has become a ‘second nature’ to us; even more natural than the original from time to time” (Burke, Language as Symbolic Action 13). Within this context, the understanding of second nature includes the common social structures, such as language and basic aesthetic expectations that appear as a challenge to natural inclinations—yet stays within performative limitations. Therefore, in comparison to what Burke initially describes as the second nature human beings have adopted, an art form like ballet that has been established within these very structures, and has developed its own norms and aesthetic which takes expression a step further into particularity, may arguably become the third nature. Under the well-established and ever-improving symbolic structures, ballet facilitates such sub-symbolicity, a strict sub-structure with alternative standards for rhetoric.

          However, in order for a minority of human beings to be able to specialize in this area, a persuasion process of the body into the standards of ballet, which push the limits of what is remnant of the “first nature”—the unstructured, uninterrupted inclinations that are granted by evolution and not society or an institution—must take place. This persuasion is expected to keep the body away from the sheer natural, so much so that the further the dancer can bend her body the better the performance. In Basic Principles of Classical Ballet: The Russian Ballet Technique, for instance, Agrippina Vaganova emphasizes this aspect multiple times when she states that “it is necessary to begin a struggle with nature” in the case of bending the Achilles tendon, or describes the turn-out as “the faculty of turning out the knee to a much greater extent than is made possible by nature,” and provides guidance on how “to bring [the arm] into an obedient . . . state” (18, 24, 45).

          Darren Aronofsky takes up on this state of obedience in Black Swan, and merges it with the identification process going on at the backstage, which will be discussed subsequently. The film has a documentary-like quality in terms of exhibiting the technical aspects of the art, which is also emphasized by the editor, Andy Weisblum, during the “Making Of” interviews. This style especially dominates the beginning, such as the scene where the audience follows Nina’s morning flexion ritual. The short interval between the dream and the daily preparation sets the primal contrast between on- and off-stage; the graceful en pointe Nina dreams about turns into disturbing cracks of her neck and toes off-stage (Black Swan).

          These two sequences generate our first impression of Nina; she is presented as a childish girl who giggles at an inside joke with her mother on “how pink! [and] So pretty” a grapefruit is (Black Swan). The same sequences also provide the first hints of Nina’s perspective on her “occupation”: having dreams about the ultimate role she thinks she can get, and her structured and disciplined manner of stretching before starting her day pave the way to what Debra Hawhee mentions as “passionate blindness,” which “also names a sort of obsessive overfocusing” (99).

          On another note, in the same scene, the mother, Erica, is introduced as the first authority figure. Her attitude suggests that she is determined to keep Nina the way she was before puberty; she is overprotective, and from what is heard in most of her dialogues with Nina throughout the film, she makes her daughter nervous, both in terms of her performance and her identity. Within the boundaries of the house, Erica displays and fulfills the role of the caring and benign mother, until she transforms into “the hampering, forbidding, punishing mother” when confronted (Campbell 102).

          The confrontation against the mother figure is enabled through creating two main realms in the film to which Nina is shown to belong: that of her house and the ballet company. These two realms, although the boundaries blur as the film proceeds, acquire the context of off- and on-stage for Nina. The house presents the audience the background for the impression Nina gives, whereas the company is where she is required to assert her identity, and when necessary, change it (Goffman 17-76).

          The audience is not introduced to the identificatory aspect of the occupation until the Call for Adventure is revealed, namely, the announcement of a new Swan Lake production. Up to this point, the way the dancers are presented in the movie is exactly what Burke despises in American ballet, which he deems to have lost its magic; instead of allowing the body to feel the music, and adapt its movements to it, thus creating a “self,” American ballet “has been made, machinelike, through continual repetition of habituated practice” (qtd. in Hawhee 42). Although it is a part of the daily practice for modern day ballet companies, the extremely harmonized, well-monitored (the mistress retouching the smallest difference of each dancer) exercise is depraved of the Burkeian expectation of magic from dance.

          It is during this scene that a second authority figure appears: Thomas the ballet director, who comes up with the fresh and revolutionary idea for the new production, and who is ironically non-American. Throughout the film, both Erica and Thomas struggle to influence the direction Nina will take. In terms of the Hero’s Journey, both act as the mentor; however, after Nina is chosen for the embodiment of both Swans, the two mentors take their roles on “the true-or-false basis”; Erica trying to conserve Nina within the White Swan, and Thomas trying to turn the “beautiful, fearful, fragile” girl into the Black (Burke, On Symbols and Society 90; Black Swan).

          The appearance of multiple mentors, and multiple modes of rhetoric, twists the mono-myth from the beginning, shaking the very ground from which the hero has to set out. The disruption is deepened when the main conflict is hinted: the announcement of an audition for the title role—again, with a twist. The Call for Adventure brings not one, but two roads for Nina to take: two parallel journeys that need to be taken simultaneously, with only one body to spare.

          The Call for Adventure also brings forth the second aspect of the rhetoric of ballet, which includes the “appropriation of and commitment to a particular identity or a series of identities” (Foote 17). The multiplied processes of identification and transformation Nina goes through build the spine of the film, and the audience is subjected to numerous modes of identification within the multiplicity of personalities.

          The first instance would be the scene where Nina watches Beth throwing a tantrum over her “forced” retirement, and sneaks into her room after she smashes the door and leaves. This action puts the audience out of their comfort zone as it creates a contrast with the fragile character we met at the beginning. The uneasiness continues as Nina steals the lipstick that belongs to Beth. Moreover, with the sound that implies some “spirit” in the lipstick, the objective correlative, “[the object] which shall be the formula of [a] particular emotion” is identified (Black Swan; Eliot 3). Nina is a ballet dancer, and as she is not trained in the art of verbal rhetoric, therefore she uses materials—such as the lipstick—and her bodily features for identification and persuasion. As Burke expresses:

          . . . in mediating between the social realm and the realm of nonverbal nature, words communicate to things the spirit that the society imposes upon the words which have come to be the “names” for them. The things are in effect the visible tangible material embodiments of the spirit that infuses them through the medium of words. And in this sense, things become the signs of the genius that resides in words. The things of nature, as so conceived, become a vast pageantry of social-verbal masques and costumes and guild-like mysteries, not just a world of sheer natural objects, but a parade of spirits. (Burke, Language as Symbolic Action 362)

          With the help of the lipstick, Nina nonverbally utters her attempt to identify with Beth, the principal dancer in the company. She puts the attempt into action as she wears the very lipstick, “dolls up,” and visits Thomas’ office. It is hard for Thomas not to notice the difference, acquainted with Nina’s stiffness, so he works on this light of change in her. His words “You’re not going to try and change my mind? You must have thought it was possible” openly state a demand towards a strong rhetoric on Nina’s side; verbal or nonverbal. He provokes her for a “means of persuasion available for [the] given situation” (Black Swan; Schwartz 211). Thomas suddenly kissing Nina is his second attempt against the “Beth effect,” which triggers Nina’s identification in turn, and causes the biting reflex. We understand that the persuasion is successful as soon as Nina is chosen for the role.

          “Yet a persuasion that succeeds, dies: an indefinite courtship which feeds on estrangement and reconciliation is a felt necessity: there is, in other words, a continuing need of interference, a need to discover new modes of transcendence through cultivated division and innovative re-identifications” (Meadows 85). Consumed for the succession to the role, the “Beth effect” dies; Beth’s retirement is officially announced, followed by the traffic accident that ends her career forever. As a result, Nina sets out to look for the innovation, which comes in the form of Lily, the new dancer from San Francisco.

          While the identification with Beth has connotations of “deliberate design,” an action taken purposefully and with consequences in mind, the process of identification with Lily is only triggered by the comment Thomas makes during the scene where Nina watches her dance from a distance, and therefore “includes a partially ‘unconscious’ factor in appeal” (Black Swan; Burke, “Rhetoric” 203). “As a process, [identification] proceeds by naming; its products are ever-evolving self-conceptions—with the emphasis on the con-, that is, upon ratification by significant others” (Foote 17). While watching Lily, Thomas does not hide that she would make a better Black Swan, and provides Nina with the guidelines: “imprecise, but effortless,” the opposite of what Nina does, for she is often told by the mistress to “relax.”

          “Burke discusses a second process of identification, that of association, which roughly corresponds to Freud’s mechanism of displacement by which one element of dream comes to stand for another” (Wright 1-2). Although Nina seems annoyed by the newcomer and imperfect Lily, unconsciously she is drawn to the contrast. Lily becomes the displacement for, or association with, Black Swan in Nina’s perspective, and with this qualification in mind, she tries to identify with her. This contrast between the two characters, and the Swans that they come to represent, is also emphasized with the color code determined by the costumes department for the movie. While Nina constantly wears shades of white, light grey and light pink, Lily is characterized with dark grey and black. Nina’s identification, therefore, can be tracked via this code; as she comes closer to uniting with the Black Swan, her clothes take darker hues.

          The objective correlative that sets a turning point for Nina is the tank top Lily lends her during their night out. Not only is this the first instance Nina is seen in black, but also the tank top being a possession of Lily, the scene implies a foregone conclusion. With the help of a drugged drink, Nina finally “relaxes,” and blends in. Afterwards, as the two Swans enter Nina’s house, the image that is seen in the mirror is confusing; we wonder where Nina ends and Lily begins (Black Swan). And when Nina’s reply to her mother’s question is completed by Lily—yet in Nina’s voice—ambiguity takes over; the parallelism of the two journeys gets blurred. However, Burke argues that

          it is in the areas of ambiguity that transformations take place; in fact, without such areas, transformation would be impossible . . . A may become non-A. But not merely by a leap from one state to the other. Rather, we must take A back into the ground of its existence, the logical substance that is its causal ancestor, and on to a point where it is consubstantial with non-A; then we may return, this time emerging with non-A instead. (Burke, On Symbols and Society 142-143)

          It is the sequent sex scene that marks the transition of identities. By projecting her identity onto an imaginary Lily, Nina manages to be consubstantial with her, or the Black Swan, in one body through the intercourse, which is also emphasized with the tattoo on Lily’s back changing from a couple of flowers to a set of black wings before her face changing into Nina’s.

          The end of this scene clarifies the second step of Nina’s identification with Lily: the process of becoming her. In the Burkeian sense, the dynamic process of becoming is “the basis for growth as the self moves toward a unity of being” (Ambrester 206). However, within the context of this movie, the unity of being is in contradiction with the requirements of the role the heroine accepts. While the identities begin to merge in Nina’s body, one of the ends she has set out for is interrupted. Erica’s rhetoric is eliminated, and The White Swan, or the pure and virginal heroine, that is supposed to be kept intact in the process of acquiring the Black slowly breaks away, erasing one of the journeys. The story proceeds in a way that allows Nina only to transform into the Black Swan, or only to “lose control.” This process of losing the self is indicated through a physical metamorphosis, which is finalized with the full self-loss in Nina’s performance as the Black Swan.

          Nina’s struggle to lose control to become the Black Swan is initiated through the Thomas’ rhetoric, who offers an alternative mode of perfection, which is an end Nina strives to achieve, and which she expresses multiple times throughout the film. As the film proceeds, and the audience are better acquainted with the authority figures, or the mentors, it is possible to examine how the rhetoric of each shapes Nina’s outlook on perfection, and triggers the passionate blindness. While the idea of perfection Nina has grown up with is parallel with strictness and technique like her mother advocates, Thomas’ declaration is that perfection is about letting go, like Lily does when she dances. As a result, the words “becoming” or “identification” and “perfection” come to acquire similar meanings as the story approaches to the final performance, or in the context of the journey, the apotheosis.

          As Nina is back in the arts center for the premiere, and prepares for the first act as the White Swan, her identification with her virginal, pure self, is not successful, which is hinted at her sharp-tongued reply to Thomas: “After Beth, do you really need another controversy?” While she manages to perform until the end, as she sees Lily, and by default, projects her identity onto her, “the doubt of identity creeps in,” and her “action is paralyzed,” for “only full commitment to one’s identity permits a full picture of motivation” (Foote 18). Nina’s doubt eventually affects her passage into the third-nature, and as her technique fails, so does the rhetoric of the White Swan. Nina loses her balance, and falls from the arms of the male dancer, disrupting the persuasion of the audience.

          The scene where Nina returns to her room to get ready for the Black Swan performance is where the “projected” and the “internalized” identities clash. Nina sees Lily in the Black Swan dress, and after a brief struggle, kills the imaginary Lily—or the Double, as referred in the screenplay—spitting that “it is [her] turn,” signifying that the identification with Black Swan is no more through the association with Lily. As Burke states, the aim of perfection “shows in the tendency to search out people who, for one reason or another, can be viewed as perfect villains, perfect enemies, and thus, if possible, can become perfect victims of retaliation,” and in Nina’s perspective, the perfect enemy, Lily, is eliminated (Burke, Language as Symbolic Action 39).

          An imagery of slaying (slaying of either the self or another) [however] is to be considered merely as a special case of identification in general. Or otherwise put: the imagery of slaying is a special case of transformation, and transformation involves the ideas and imagery of identification.

          Thus Nina completes her transformation into the Black Swan. However, to use Coleridge’s words, the “Victorious Murder,” indeed, proves a “blind Suicide” (qtd in Burke, “The Imagery of Killing” 159).

          Burke equates the rhetoric that aims at perfection with the Aristotelian notion entelechy, and defines the imagery of death as the narrative equivalent of entelechy. As Nina finds out that the imaginary person she stabbed is, in fact, her own body, she proceeds to the apotheosis stage, which enables the hero to perceive the world in a completely different manner, and through his move towards a “mind that has transcended the pairs of opposites,” towards a divine bliss (Campbell 140). Nina, who was up to that point directed by the mentors, and lacked “experiential confirmation,” lives through both Swans, and by sharing the same fate as the White Swan, is able to identify with her once more, for the last time (Foote 19). The childish Nina in the beginning, and the vicious Nina she transforms into, are immolated by Nina herself, and as a successful persuader, she accepts a literal death, which is visualized during the last make-up scene, and is finalized as Thomas calls her “his little princess” like he called Beth upon the announcement of her retirement.

          Nina’s death interrupts the Hero’s Journey altogether, for the third stage, or the Return, is never attained. According to Campbell, death is an integral part of the hero’s journey; however,

          the individual, through prolonged psychological disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe (220).

          Throughout his argument, Campbell emphasizes a metaphorical death, a threshold passing, which can be symbolized with physical death in a myth, but cannot be realized in other realms. Therefore, the process, the last checkpoint on the full circle, is interrupted by Nina’s physical death, which does not entail a physical rebirth.

          In conclusion, Black Swan is a visual tragic poem, which presents Burkeian identification in multiple layers. It utilities this aspect to create the spine of the movie, by multiplying the terms of identification that the heroine is expected to adopt and adapt, and therefore seeding a question regarding the potential practicability of the theory: indeed, identification is required to persuade the observer by creating the right impression, but how can the performer maintain mental integrity throughout multiple terms of expression (Goffman)? On its endeavor to set the question, and offer an answer—a negative one, the film thus takes a different road in terms of the Hero’s Journey, and establishes a journey that divides into two paths, with two mentors that support these different paths, and a heroine that needs to take both paths at the same time, which in turn creates a multiplicity of identities, and eventually, the death of the body through the clash of those very identities. In terms of the tragic mechanism, on the other hand, the film achieves the tragic lyric attitude Poe expresses, which is quoted by Burke: “The death, then, of a beautiful woman is, the most poetical topic in the world” (Burke, Language as Symbolic Action 39). The rhetoric, in this story, proves to be the crucial equipment for this death.


          1. The term, and later in the paper, its counterpart “impression,” is used within the context of Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday, 1959. Print.

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          —. “The Imagery of Killing.” The Hudson Review 1.2 (1948): 151–67. Print

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          Foote, Nelson N. “Identification as the Basis for a Theory of Motivation.” American Sociological Review 16.1 (1951): 14–21. Print.

          Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1959. Print.

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

          Who Are You Working For? How 24 Served as Post-9/11 Equipment for Living

          Laura Herrman, Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen (Stuttgart, Germany)

          JACK BAUER IS BACK—in May 2014, the Fox Broadcasting Company returned its groundbreaking television series 24 to international TV screens. Once more, CTU-Agent Jack Bauer faced ticking time bomb scenarios in which he had to conquer assassination attempts and terrorist attacks. Also, once more, viewers were tied to their screens when the real and hyper-real of reality and film will collapse (Weber 3).

          For the past eight seasons, which aired between 2001 and 2010, 24 has been an interesting show to watch, analyze, and engage in. Jermyn, Allen and Mikos have pointed out 24’s stylistic inventions of split-screens; others (e.g., Furby and Mikos have analyzed the show’s real-time format; which altogether may represent reasons for why 24 may be such a groundbreaking television show). However, one may also consider it that way for its depiction of a post-9/11 society, its war on terrorism and the current political climate:

          While season 1 aired only days after the 9/11-attacks, 24’s following seven seasons purposefully anticipated a reflection of pressing public issues. Whether these regarded society’s fear of biochemical weapons, nuclear attacks, and uncontrollable terrorist activity, all plots circulated around the overarching question of how to deal with the aftermath of 9/11. In this regard, “ground-breaking” may also be the new, realistic turn 24 took on our typical narratives of unity, bravery, and hero-figures in the context of a “war on terror”: while it occasionally allowed its characters to heroically survive or rescue their friends and family, all too often worst-case scenarios could not be averted, main-characters, their friends, and family died, and our fears were realized (Cavelos 7).

          “Put simply,” Peacock concludes, “24 is a cultural phenomenon” (5). It certainly had its finger on the pulse of a post-9/11 era. Portraying a new and “global sense of uncertainty and suspicion with its provocative depiction of America’s role on the world stage and of terrorists activity and political double-dealing” (Peacock) to more than 100 Million viewers worldwide (Aitkenhead, “One hour with Kiefer Southerland”), the show communicated to its viewers “the very sense that American politicians . . . have been insisting upon and repeating ceaselessly . . . :  9/11 changed everything” (Caldwell and Chambers 97f.). Simultaneously though, it appears that 24 did not only reflect a post-9/11 discourse on how the world had changed, but also created a discourse anew, making it impossible to escape political reality for the matter of simple enjoyment, as Weber notes: “In the weeks after the terrorist attacks, US movie-goers who may . . . have been craving an escape from the realities of war and a return to normalcy all too often found themselves caught up in national debates about the status of the war on terror.” (3)

          It might not seem surprising, that the show provoked intense reactions and fierce, moral criticism. National and international media reception evolved from questions as to whether or not the show was pro-torture (Aitkenhead, “One Hour with”; Dana, “Reinventing 24”; Mendelson, “Zero Dark Thirty Doesn’t Endorse Torture, and Neither Did 24”), or contained anti-Muslim propaganda (O’Brien “24 writers urged to be careful of portrayal of Muslims“). Nelson and Fournier even argued that the show was arguing according to the logic of the Bush Administration. And scholars such as Woolf, Herbert, or McCabe have pointed out that 24 was deliberating American values and narratives in the context of its “war on terrorism.” It seemed that fiction and reality did not only collapse within the series’ plot, but suddenly also outside the show, as public controversies at some point demanded of the show’s producers to respond to public debates of what can, should and shouldn’t be done for the sake of the country and against terror (Aitkenhead, “One hour”). In this regard, Times-author James Poniewozik (“The Evolution of Jack Bauer”) may have put a 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?“

          However, some scholarship has taken a different turn on answering this question. In her psychological analysis, Jeanne Cavelos’ considered 24 a “coping-mechanism” (7) for post-9/11 trauma. This paper would like to elaborate her idea from the rhetorical perspective of Burke: Presenting to us our trauma on screen, how might have 24 helped us to cope, “gain some measure of confidence, some sense of control” (Cavelos 6)? Thus, I’d like to propose the idea to consider 24 piece of “literature as equipment for living.” As such, I’d like to think about how 24 might have actually worked for us, as we used and interpreted the show “so that we might equip ourselves to live better lives” (Blakesley 50) in an ever changed post-9/11 situation.

          Burke’s concept of “literature as equipment for living“ describes one of the major functions of literature to provide “strategies” (“Literature as Equipment for Living” 296)—which Burke also calls “attitudes” ("Literature" 297)—for naming and dealing with situations in our real life. By literature, Burke means any piece of “imaginative cast” (Burke, Literature 1), that “singles out a pattern of experience that is sufficiently representative of our social structure, that recurs sufficiently often mutandis mutatis, for people to ‘need a word for it’ and to adopt an attitude towards it” (Philosophy of Literary Form 300).

          As such, works of art are “answers to questions posed by the situation in which they arise. They are not merely answers, they are stylized answers” (Burke, The Philosophy 1) to a hitherto unknown situation: “Men seek for vocabularies that will be faithful reflections of reality. To this end, they must develop vocabularies that are selections of reality. And any selection of reality must, in certain circumstances, function as a deflection of reality” (Grammar of Motives 59).

          One may say, that 9/11 marked the beginning of such a new situation. After the attacks, Cavelos notes, society “gained a new and immediate fear” (3); one that can’t be successfully countered, as there where no clear enemies, no clear home fronts, and no clear boundaries between any two terms (Weber 152). As the world had changed, so had the way society had thought of itself and of its world:

          many people, prior to a trauma, hold four core beliefs: ‘The belief that the world is benign, that the world is meaningful, that the self is worthy, and that people are trustworthy’ [Epsetin qtd. in Foa]. In many of us, these core beliefs were shaken by the trauma of September 11. The world certainly no longer seems benign, . . . , the world no longer seems meaningful. While the self may still seem worthy, others may be viewed with suspicion or fear (Cavelos 14).

          The attacks had violated an old belief in safety and invulnerability (Cavelos 4); as such, the effects were not limited to American society. In the aftermath of the attacks, people all over the world needed to understand what just had happened, what just had changed, and how whatever had changed might have an effect on them, too. In the wake of a new era of international terrorism, they all had to not only reflect on a new concept of a possible ‘other,’ but also on concepts of self, that is, on concepts of identity.

          According to Burke, “identity would here be its uniqueness as an entity in itself and by itself, a demarcated unit having its own particular structure” (Rhetoric of Motives 21). However, society’s particular structure was deeply questioned in the aftermath of the attacks. 9/11 demanded of all of us to seek a new framing and new vocabularies that would be “faithful reflections” (Burke, Grammar 59) of an ever-changed reality in order to deal with the aftermath of the attacks, nationally and internationally. Post-9/11 society was confronted with multiple questions about “who we think we were/are . . . , who we’d never been; who we really are, and who we might become” (Weber 5): What can, should, and shouldn’t we do in order to impede future attacks? Do we endorse torture (Mendelson, “Zero Dark Thirty”)? Who do we consider friends, strangers and enemies (O’Brien, “24 writers“)? And what do the answers to these questions tell us about ourselves, our identity? What did it mean to be a citizen before 9/11, and what would it mean to be one after, be it individually, nationally and internationally? As Weber notes, this kind of deliberation “wasn’t just about what we ought to do in response to 9/11; it was about who we are—about how our responses to 9/11 morally configure us” (Weber 4).

          In the wake of this new situation, Burke considers rhetoric coming into being, as it “is par excellence the region of the Scramble“ (Burke, Rhetoric 19). As we know from Burke, rhetoric in his understanding aims for identification. Considering the state of a post-9/11 society an identificational crisis, Burke would prefer to name this kind of crisis “ambiguity.” That’s what he’d consider the state of mind where you put “identification and division ambiguously together so that you cannot know for certain just where one ends and the other begins, and you have the characteristic invitation to rhetoric” (Rhetoric 25). As identification is key to persuasion, and aims for consubstantiality, it best describes the creation of social relations: “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” (Burke, Rhetoric 20). The relationship between rhetoric and identification works according to a sine-qua-non-formula: “If men were not apart from one another, there would be no need for the rhetorician to proclaim their unity” (Rhetoric 22).

          However, by arguing that 24 served as equipment for living, this paper does not mean to eliminate ambiguity, “but to clearly reveal the strategic spots at which ambiguities necessarily arise” (Burke, Grammar xviii). In doing so, it will employ Burke’s dramatism in its analysis.

          In this context, dramatism is considered especially helpful as it is employed as the analytic lens, that allows studying literature a symbolical adaption to a specific situation (Burke, Literature 299) in which a type of equipment for adapting shared, lived experience occurs (Blakesley 50). More importantly, it is a helpful resource to link identification to the concept of equipment for living, since one concept could not work without the other.

          Furthermore, focusing on five key pentadic elements, dramatism does not only provides a clear procedure to points of departure “for human motivation in complex situations” (Blakesley 97), but may also serve as guiding orientation itself in an identificational crisis. Taking the pentadic ratios into account, we will consider clusters of “equipment for living”:

          We will begin by looking at the scene and act, which according to Burke are “at the very center of motivational assumptions” (Grammar 11). We’ll consider their ratio, as the scene can be considered a “fit ‘container’” (Grammar 3) for the act; and vice versa, “we learn of a scene, or situation, . . . central to its motivation (Burke, Grammar 4). As the scene—realistically or symbolically—reflects the course of action, it furthermore “contains implicitly all that the narrative is to draw out as a sequence explicitly (Grammar 7). As I will try to show by analyzing the scene-act ratio of 24, the stage-set contains the action ambiguously. It presents to us an ideal-projection of how we’d like to deal with exceptional situations, yet, might fail to do so. As I will show in the course of the scene, the initial ambiguity of “who we think we” are (and who we are not) will be “converted into a corresponding articulacy” (Grammar 7). Thus, this ratio analysis is summed up as “who we think we are.”

          Considering the scene a “motive-force” (Grammar 9) behind characters, the analysis will then proceed with considering the agent contained in the scene. In doing so, it builds up on the “correlation between the quality of a country and the quality of its inhabitants” (Burke, Grammar 8) in the containing scene and act 24 presents to us. In this regard, I’ll try to trace references to self and personal responsibility (Griffin 331f.) made by the agent, summing up this cluster under the heading of “who we really are“.

          Lastly, the analysis will consider agency and purpose. Both have a certain overlap with the first cluster; so does for example agency, if we consider the scene pragmatically “not as a way of life, or act of being, but as a means of doing” (Grammar 15). Thus, agency may bear traces of the agent’s mindset of pragmatism. Correspondingly, an analysis of purpose may uncover “common concerns” (Griffin 331f.) 24 presents to us. However, grounded in scene and act, agency and purpose will be presented to us ambiguously, which is why they are summed up as a cluster of “who we might become.”

          Altogether, the three clusters of “who we think we are,” “who we really are,” and “who we might become” aim to uncover the identificational ambiguities that arose in the aftermath of September 11. They reveal the attitudes and facets of identification 24 presented to us, which lastly offer “equipment for living” to a post-9/11 society.

          In order to reduce the large amount of data record of eight seasons, the analysis will focus on season 2 (aired 2003) to season 7 (aired 2009). As season 1 was written and directed well before the attacks in New York and Washington D.C., season 2 truly marks “the first post-9/11 representation of counter-terrorism on the show” (Caldwell and Chambers 97). Aligned closely along the actual political discourse, it deals with a nuclear threat to Los Angeles by terrorists from the Middle East. Season 7 marks an important turn within the show. Following the political development of reality, it is a critical assessment of what has been done in the “war on terror,” which can be thought of according to the lines of Burke’s question: “What is involved, when we say what people are doing and why they are doing it?“ (Burke, Grammar xv). The opening of the season presents to us an interesting meta-perspective, as Jack Bauer interprets his interpretation of his “war on terror” while on trial for the alleged crimes he committed working for the CTU.

          All We Are—Pentadic Analysis of 24

          Who we think we are—exceptional victims in exceptional times


          In each season of 24, the setting functions as the plot’s and character’s drive. It is a means to “size up” (Burke, Literature 298) and dramatize the situation of a post-9/11 society that faces the permanent threat of terrorism. It presents this threat to its viewers in all “detail and horror” (Cavelos 7), placing a ubiquitous sense of urgency and constant danger into every detail of the show. In doing so, the scene of 24 anticipates an actual existing logical pattern: The metaphoric ‘war on terrorism’ was not only a set of actual practices, but also a set of accompanying assumptions, beliefs, justifications, narratives, and thus, an entire language or discourse (Jackson 8).

          After 9/11, President Bush insisted on treating the attacks “not as criminal acts but as acts of war” (Caldwell and Chambers 101). Accordingly, he created a discourse of exceptionality to the attacks, as well the victims (Jackson 33), and inferred that exceptional acts “require for their response exceptional measures” (Caldwell and Chambers 101).

          Following the wake of a ‘changed world,’ circumstances in 24 realistically anticipates this pattern of a status of exception. Within the show this status is referred to as “a situation” (Day 2: 8:00 A.M.—9:00 A.M.), “national crisis” (Day 2: 6:00 A.M.—7:00 A.M) or “security issue” (Day 7: 8:00 A.M—9:00 A.M.) to which countdown and worst-case scenarios are inherent.

          Also, the scene is introduced to us as a current and global setting; switching from a bird’s eye perspective on Seoul, South Korea, to the US-west coast of -16 hrs. at Midnight, then turning to a very specific place at Lake Oswego in Oregon, and from thereon to the CTU headquarter in Los Angeles (Day 2: 8:00 A.M.—9:00 A.M.). At a first glance, this headquarter functions as central base for communication between institutions, and as technological, strategic, and informative back-up for protagonist Jack Bauer, who will be operating mostly outside the CTU. Moreover, the CTU symbolically morphs into the center of action, the center at which decisions are made, and from where the state of exception is called into action by CTU Chief George Mason:

          Alright, heads up ( . . . ). It appears there is a nuclear bomb under terrorist control somewhere here in Los Angeles and it’s set to go off sometime of the day. So from this moment on we do not communicate with anybody outside of our secured envelope. That means we do not call home, we don’t talk to friends, we do not call relatives. Our job is to find this device and stop it. We do not want to create panic. I know this is not very pleasant, but this is our job. This is what we do. So let’s do it. (Day 2: 8:00 A.M.—9:00 A.M.)

          At first, the state of exception is portrayed as a nightmare coming true, as “a rare and exceptional event that ( . . . ) interrupts standard order” (Caldwell and Chambers 98). However, through Mason’s call for protocol-procedure, it then transcends into standard order. The exception becomes “regularized” (Caldwell and Chambers 98), the response to it seems “rational and reasonable” (Jackson 2). As such, the CTU does not only set the stage for its narrative. Furthermore, it symbolically functions as interception of personal and political attitudes in the wake of a terrorist threat. It sizes up the situation of a terrorist threat changing everything, and calls our attention to strategies of what can, should, and shouldn’t be done in the wake of these threats. Hereto, the audience is closely engaged in through the camera’s perspective. As the department heads group around Mason, shots vary between medium and extreme close-ups, capturing a view over team members shoulders, from behind their heads, or from the side. It is a scene of what Mikos (192) calls “primary identification” (\primäre Identifikation), were the camera’s view becomes consubstantial with the audience’s view. Inviting us to become a team member, 24’s scene provides a notion that there are things more important than our fear and our lives; that is, the safety of our country, and / or “maintaining our integrity” (Cavelos 13). Identification with such strong attitudes in this scene offers to us an idea how we might do better in coping with our fear and trauma, offering to us some “confidence and hope” (Cavelos 13). As such, the plot anticipates a facet of identity of “who we’d like to be”: While 24 exposes us to our greatest fears, it represents the dream of this fear being “manageable” (Cavelos 7). Thus, it provides equipment for living with increased feeling of fear and helplessness in the context of terrorist threats.


          However, the notion of a state of exception is also taken to another extreme: In the context of 24, consideringthe act directs our intention towards act-ual incorporation of exceptions and extremes within the state of exception: “Willful acts of terrorism are thought to evoke the most severe reactions” (Cavelos 3). Hence, the show spins the logic of a state of exception to its very end. 24’s President David Palmer for example argues that his choice of kidnapping a journalist and torturing a staff member “may have been extreme, but I was only responding to the extremity of today’s events” (Day 2: 4:00 A.M.—5:00 A.M.).

          This extremity furthermore accumulates in a constant atmosphere of suspicion, which anticipates the sense of society’s vulnerability: Jack Bauer can’t trust his closest colleagues (Day 2: 8:00 A.M.—9:00 A.M.), and friends (Day 7: 08:00 A.M.—09:00 A.M.); President Palmer faces conspiracy (Day 2: 8:00 A.M.—9:00 A.M.; Day 7: 08:00 A.M.—09:00 A.M.), there are moles in governmental institutions (Day 7: 09:00 A.M.—10:00 A.M.). Furthermore, twists and plot points highly involve the audience. Along with the characters, we constantly need to question identities and challenge loyalties. The extremer the situation becomes, the more we need to contest the course of action, as all too often, these actions are staged as “collateral damage” (Day 2: 11:00 A.M.—12:00 P.M.). The early facet of “who we think we are” is challenged, which shall be illustrated in another example.

          In season 2, President Palmer is informed that Bauer threatens to kill the two sons of terrorist Sayed Ali. In an extreme-close-up, we capture the stunned and grave look on his face, as he asks: “Can we let this happen? . . . How could it have come to this?” (Day 2: 07:00 P.M.—08:00 P.M.) The state of exception has outruled the former notion of a manageable standard protocol, and worse; it has become a permanent situation. While every character tries to follow a notion of what should be done in ‘the war on terror,’ they fail to do so, and begin drifting along the lines of what shouldn’t be done: We witness how they harm themselves (Day 2: 9:00 A.M.—10:00 A.M.), loose important witnesses (Day 2: 10:00 A.M.—11:00 A.M.; Day 7: 08:00 A.M.—09:00 A.M.), sacrifice other’s (Day 2: 11:00 A.M.—12:00 P.M.; Day 2: 5:00 P.M.—6:00 P.M.) and their own lives (Day 2: 5:00 P.M.—6:00 P.M.; Day 2: 10:00 P.M.—11:00 P.M.; Day 7: 07:00 A.M.—08:00 A.M.). Yet, they hate to be in such dilemmas and may even beg to not make extreme decisions. So does for example Jack Bauer facing a potential terrorist, Sayed Ali: “I despise you for making me do this. [ . . . ]. Please don’t make me do this.“ (Day 2: 07:00 P.M.—08:00 P.M.)

          As the former manageable status of exception is ‘sized up’ (Burke, Literature, 298) as a farce, the act challenges our identificational facet of “who we think we are”; a strict setting of a state of exception in return calls for a “corresponding restriction” (Burke, Grammar 9) of the acts. Thus, the scene provides an insight on the relationship of circumstances and its impact on free will. Or, as Neslon argues, lends credence to the Bush Doctrine (78). Also, it demonstrates a commitment to realism, reminding us in a Burkean manner that “a way of seeing is also a way of not seeing” (Permanence and Change 49): “The constant crisis of identity . . . takes its toll on the characters who not only subject themselves to grave physical harm and push themselves into psychological disorders. . . , but must also harm and even kill their friends and colleagues” (Monahan 109).

          Overall, scene and act provide a deliberative reflection of “who think we are,” always pending (and here, also overlapping with the other clusters) between facets of “who we’d like to be,” “who we think we are,” and even a prophetic reflection of “who we might become.” This I’d like to elaborate further by focusing on the agent.

          Who we really we are—Jack Bauer between Idealism and Realism


          Following a notion of Burke, it is by the logic of the scene agent-ratio, that if the scene is exceptional in quality, the agent contained by the scene will partake of the same exceptional quality (Grammar 8). In 24, Jack Bauer, functions as personified exception, thus incorporating a two-folded identity between idealism and realism, constructivism and determinism.

          At first, many of Bauer’s characteristics offer a projection surface for identification through a scent of idealism: Bauer is a loving and caring father, a grieving widower, a loyal friend. As special-agent, he is a hero, a patriot, willing to do the exceptional for his country. It’s an ideal depiction, though, picking up on our “idealist's concern with the Einklang zwischen Innen- und Außenwelt” (Burke, Grammar 9).

          However, following the logical pattern set by scene and act, exceptional threats do not only demand for exceptional heroes, but for exceptional acts of a hero. It is this strain of thought that provides a realistic reflection of a disordered “Einklang.” It’s scenes where the hero—literally rolling up his sleeves, killing or torturing suspects, getting blood on his hands—undermines his audience’s morals, challenging existing loyalty and identification. The exceptional hero speaks on behalf of his exceptional status, as he exclaims to Mason: “You want to find this bomb? This is what it’s going to take. . . . That’s the problem with people like you, George. You want results but you never want to get your hands dirty. I’d start rolling up your sleeves” (Day 2: 8:00 A.M.—9:00 A.M.).

          It is this rhetorical evidentia that reflects society’s struggle with ambiguity. On the one hand, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, one may be wishing for a hero, who is willing to roll up his sleeves in order to restore our trust in safety and invulnerability. Hence, we perceive things than can be done. Killing for results is simply what Bauer needs to do in order to protect the country. On the other hand, we simultaneously perceive the limits of what can be done. Hence, we need to question this distorted ideal of an exceptional hero in an exceptional situation; or, as Burke would suggest: the character of Jack Bauer is portrayed as exceptional and brutal as his scene and thus, “is not worth saving” (Burke, Grammar 9).

          The antagonism of empathy and enclosure reveal realistic cracks in an idealistic surface of a hero-figure; it is “both the genuine need for the exception and the space opened up for distorting and abusing the exception” (Caldwell and Chambers 103) that are inherent to the agent. Hence, the extreme and exceptional conception of the scene, restricted to a state of exception, as motive-force behind the character “in turn calls for a corresponding extreme restriction” (Burke, Grammar 9) upon Bauer’s personality.

          Consequently, the principle of an exceptional hero is transformed into the principle of a scapegoat. As Burke notes,

          the guilt from failures of perfection symbolically necessitates a sacrifice or purging of this guilt on some level, theorizing that this rhetorically functions through either victimage or mortification. Victimage requires a sacrificial “scapegoat,” [ . . . ], who is blamed for the social imperfection and symbolically punished or purged (Treat).

          We witness how Bauer is left alone with the consequences of his choices, how his identity is torn between the normal and the exceptional. This can be further illustrated in season 7, when Bauer is on trial for his extreme interrogation techniques during his time at the CTU. Here, Bauer has to answer the questions of judge Blaine Mayer:

          Jack Bauer: Senator, why don’t I save you some time. It’s obvious that your agenda here is to discredit CTU and generate a series of indictments ( . . . ) Ibrahim Hadad had targeted a bus carrying 45 people, 10 of which were children. The truth, Senator, is that I stopped that attack from happening.

          Blaine Mayer: By torturing Mr. Hadad!

          Jack Bauer: By doing what I deemed necessary to save innocent lives.

          Blaine Mayer: So basically, what you are saying, Mr. Bauer, is that the ends justify the means and you are above the law.

          Jack Bauer: When I am activated, when I am brought into a situation, there is a reason. And that reason is to complete the objectives of my mission at all costs.

          Blaine Mayer: . . . Even if it means breaking the law.

          Jack Bauer: For a combat soldier, the difference between success and failure is your ability to adapt to your enemy. The people that I deal with, they don’t care about your rules. All they care about is a result. My job is to stop them from completing their objective, at all costs. I simply adapted. In answer to your question: Am I above the law? No sir. I am more than willing to be judged by the people you claim to represent. I will let them decide what price I should pay. But please sir, do not sit there with that smug look on your face and expect me to regret the decisions I have made. Because, sir, the truth is I don’t. (Day 7: 08:00 A.M.—09:00 A.M.)

          Scenes as these call for a moral assessment. Firstly, because the debate between Bauer and Mayer proves that in a state of exception, distinctions of legitimate and illegitimate measures and their premises “cannot ultimately hold” (Caldwell and Chambers 107). Secondly, Bauer’s justification reveals another facet of identificational ambiguity. It proves that there are multiple identities rather than simple black and white distinctions. While we would like to consider the protagonist Jack Bauer the hero, we cannot forget that he killed and tortured people (Caldwell and Chambers 107). The evidently distorted idealistic facets of identity thus offer another conclusion: no one can claim “that the exception is warranted by the law. Indeed, the exception is always an exception to the law. If it were truly warranted, if it were simply, legally legitimate, then there would be no need for the exception” (Caldwell 109). Consequently, Bauer cannot be saved. We, on the other hand, are equipped with “a new and expanded understanding of . . . fearful situation[s] and undergo emotional catharsis” (Cavelos 11).

          Who we might become—No time for excuses

          Agency and Purpose

          Agency and Purpose both have a certain overlap with the scene-act-ratio. We can focus on agency as a way to consider the scene pragmatically not as “a way of life, or act of being, but as a means of doing” (Burke, Grammar 15). In the state of exception, agency might thus reflect a “‘get-the-job-done’ approach that springs from the agent’s mindset of pragmatism” (Griffin 332). In this regard, we can look at purpose as the stated goal of the action. Its analysis may reveal a strong desire for “common concerns” (Griffin 332).

          In 24, all pragmatism aims at a common concern, which, put simply, is getting through the day. However, within a state of exception agency and purpose lack a sense of justice. While characters follow the logic of the state of exception, they ambiguously hold the interception of idealism and realism, of official and personal attitudes. They run out of time, rush into hopeless one-way scenarios, where urgency does not allow reasonable either-or-considerations or any kind human emotional response for that matter as for example President Allison Taylor concludes: “Grief is a luxury I can’t afford” (Day 7: 08:00 A.M.—09:00 A.M.).

          In Day 2: 4:00 P.M.—5:00 P.M., Nina Meyers takes Jack Bauer hostage and demands of President Palmer to grant her immunity for the murder of Jack Bauer she is about to commit. While on the phone with the President, the intertwined personal challenge of all three characters is captivated in split-screens and extreme close-ups. Jermyn suggests that in this moment, the “spectator’s experience comes to parallel that of the characters; forced to scan multiple frames for information” (52). Split-screens frame the emotional “tension” (Jermyn 53) of a situation that once again deviates from standard protocol, and in which even friends have to distance themselves from one another in order to maintain the course of action they’ve agreed upon. As Bauer, Meyer and Palmer agree on Meyer’s immunity and Bauer’s sacrifice, split-screens transform into a single one again. From thereon, camera shots take turns between the plot’s settings of the CTU, the President’s office, and the location of Meyer and Bauer, suggesting that Bauer and Palmer couldn’t be further apart. Yet, they’ve agreed upon objectives and procedure, and as such, they are consubstantial. Yet, at the same time, they remain “unique” (Burke, Rhetoric 21) as conflict and crisis escalate. Bauer accepts to die, and Palmer accepts to hold responsibility for his friend’s murder: “There was only one right choice to make and you made it” (Day 2: 4:00 P.M.—5:00 P.M.). When Palmer asks Bauer for his last wishes, the screens split up again in extreme close-ups depicting Palmer’s pain and tears, and Bauer’s resignation.

          Purely by being the kind of agent that is at one with the scene and accepts an exceptional agency, both Bauer and Palmer become “divine” (Burke, Grammar 8), whereas we as viewers are made aware of our human weakness; that some pain is just unbearable. And there just is no way to cope. In this regard, agent and purpose emphasize a division of attitudes, providing us with a notion of self, that pends between “who we might become” and “who we really are.”


          One might think that we would have become habituated to the fear of a terrorist attacks more than a decade after September 11. But even now researchers, e.g. Glazer, are finding that “Americans are suffering lingering symptoms of anxiety and trauma,” (qtd. in Cavelos 3) trying to find their way to cope. And since we are constantly reminded of a possible attacks—be it by the government and / or the media—it surely “is difficult for a threat to fade into the background of our lives” (Cavelos 4).

          Yet, this paper concludes that post-9/11 society is also provided equipment to cope with the aftermath of 9/11. “With their stories, artists name a situation, they give us words to name a situation, and behind that lies strategy” (Burke, Literature 596). 24 surely provided us a name for an ever-changed situation; even more so, by symbolically offering to us a state of exception, it revealed the whole range of exceptionality and crisis that affected our sense of identity before and after. While it presented to us our fear and trauma, it simultaneously helped us to deal with it; and to symbolically overcome our trauma (Burke, Literature 299). 24 provides some sense of “developmental repair. While the worst often happens on 24, each day ends with the specific terrorist threat conquered” (Cavelos 12).

          Moreover, as one of the first post-9/11 shows 24 provided a reflection on society’s identificational ambiguity: “What does it mean to be a moral American, and how might we act morally in the post-9/11 era?” (Weber 151) Thus, the show rather equipped viewers with a critical reflection on multiple selves.

          As it followed the lead of a hegemonic discourse of the “war on terror” it depicted revenge, war, and means that are justified not by law, but by their ends. We consider these facets fragments of our identity, as we interact with characters and ask the same questions: How do we deal with fear, loss, and tragedy? How do we deal with the fact that there are constantly threats in this world that are out of our control? Here, 24 provided us with an “empowering sense of knowledge, preparation, and control” (Cavelos 12).

          Furthermore, 24 may have been supporting a moral and deliberative discourse that was imagining a world at war with terror; a world of how we as society think it is and might become. Ultimately, it points out that in exceptional situations there are many strategies and attitudes that may equip us for a better live, and by that, a way of coping. 24 constantly pushes the limits of such attitudes by the means of its dramatistic elements, illustrating modes of action and their consequences. Thus, the show does not only reveal the inconsistencies of the existing discourse of a “war on terror.” It also opens space for individual considerations: Projecting heroic idealism onto a post-9/11 society may look good on the outside; yet, heroic visions are not reliable, the relationship between crime and consciousness (Weber 135) is an uneasy one, not matter the given purpose. Lastly, they are extreme, and as such, they may end in isolation instead of unity.

          Concluding, 24 serves as “equipment for living.” It emphasized the search for a nation’s identity, depicting multiple forms of ‘we.’ It accomplished the difficulty to include fragments of society, and constantly anticipated and reflected contemporary US-discourse, mirroring and creating reality anew. As such, it enhances self-reconstruction to a “country of the traumatized” (Cavelos 6). We were equipped with a lesson for life: Unlike the characters, we have options. We have a choice in who we want to be beyond our weaknesses, our grief, disbelief, and trauma. And so, 24 may have made left us “both joined and separate” (Burke, Rhetoric 21), as it provided its answers as identificational options, as a choice no matter the common concerns. Or, to say it in the words of Jack Bauer:

          I can’t tell you what to do. I’ve been wrestling with this one my whole life. I see fifteen people held hostage on a bus, and everything else goes out the window. I will do whatever it takes to save them—and I mean whatever it takes (Day 7: 07:00 A.M.—08:00 A.M.).

          In a way then, Jack Bauer worked for us: He engaged us in a dialectical journey of identification and division on the search for a new consubstantiality. 24 might have helped us reflect on the basis of our unity and our differences, of what is holding us together as society, no matter what.


          The author would like to thank Prof. Dr. Dietmar Till and Pia Engel for their inspiration, support, and encouragement.

          Works Cited

          Allen, Michael. “Divided Interest: Split-Screens Aesthetics in 24.” Peacock. 35–47. Print.

          Aitkenhead, Decca. “One Hour with Kiefer Southerland.” The Guardian. 2 Feb. 2009. Web. 1 March, 2013.

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

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

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

          —. “The Philosophy of Literary Form.” The Philosophy of Literary Form. Studies in Symbolic Action. 1941. 3rd ed., Berkeley: U of California P, 1973. 1–137. Print.

          —. “Literature as Equipment for Living.” The Philosophy of Literary Form. Studies in Symbolic Action. 1941. 3rd ed., Berkeley: U of California P, 1973. 293–304. Print.

          —. Permanence and Change. An Anatomy of Purpose. 1935. 2nd rev. ed., Berkeley: U of California P, 1954. Print.

          Caldwell, Anne and Chambers, Samuel A. “24 after 9/11. The American State of Exception.“ Peacock. 97–108. Print.

          Cavelos, Jeanne. “Living with Terror. Jack Bauer as Coping Mechanism in Post-Traumatic Stress Disordered America.” Jack Bauer for President: Terrorism and Politics in 24. Ed. Richard Miniter. Dallas: BenBella Books, 2008. 1–16. Print.

          Dana, Rebecca. “Reinventing ’24.’” The Wall Street Journal. 2 Feb. 2008. Web. 1 March 2013.

          “Day 2: 8:00 A.M.—9:00 A.M.” 24: Season 2. Writ. Joel Surnow and Michael Loceff. Dir. Jon Cassar. Twentieth Century Fox. 2003. DVD.

          “Day 2: 9:00 A.M.—10:00 A.M.” 24: Season 2. Writ. Joel Surnow and Michael Loceff. Dir. Jon Cassar. Twentieth Century Fox. 2003. DVD.

          “Day 2: 10:00 A.M.—11:00 A.M.” 24: Season 2. Writ. Howard Gordon. Dir. James Whitmore, Jr. Twentieth Century Fox. 2003. DVD.

          “Day 2: 11:00 A.M.—12:00 P.M.” 24: Season 2. Writ. Remi Aubuchon. Dir. James Whitmore, Jr. Twentieth Century Fox. 2003. DVD.

          “Day 2: 4:00 P.M.—5:00 P.M.” 24: Season 2. Writ. Howard Gordon. Dir. David Ehrman. Twentieth Century Fox. 2003. DVD.

          “Day 2: 5:00 P.M.—6:00 P.M.” 24: Season 2. Writ. David Ehrman. Dir. Rodney Charters. Twentieth Century Fox. 2003. DVD.

          “Day 2: 07:00 P.M.—08:00 P.M.” 24: Season 2. Writ. Evan Katz. Dir. Frederick King Keller. Twentieth Century Fox. 2003. DVD.

          “Day 2: 10:00 P.M.—11:00 P.M.” 24: Season 2. Writ. Robert Cochran. Dir. Ian Toynton. Twentieth Century Fox. 2003. DVD.

          “Day 2: 4:00 A.M.—5:00 A.M.“ 24: Season 2. Writ. Robert Cochran and Howard Gordon. Dir. Ian Toynton. Twentieth Century Fox. 2003. DVD.

          “Day 2: 6:00 A.M.—7:00 A.M.” 24: Season 2. Writ. Evan Katz and Gil Grant. Dir. Jon Cassar. Twentieth Century Fox. 2003. DVD

          “Day 7: 08:00 A.M.—09:00 A.M.“ 24: Season 7. Writ. Howard Gordon and Joel Surnow and Michael Loceff. Dir. Jon Cassar. Twentieth Century Fox. 2009. DVD.

          “Day 7: 09:00 A.M.—10:00 A.M.“ 24: Season 7. Writ. Howard Gordon and Evan Katz, Joel Surnow and Michael Loceff. Dir. Jon Cassar. Twentieth Century Fox. 2009. DVD.

          “Day 7: 07:00 A.M.—08:00 A.M.“ 24: Season 7. Writ. Manny Coto and Brannon Braga, Howard Gordon. Dir. Jon Cassar. Twentieth Century Fox. 2009. DVD.

          Fournier, Knut. “Torture Justification in 24: Aesthetics of the Bush Administration.“ Les Cahiers de l’Unite, 3 (2012). Web. 30 March 2013.

          Furby, Jaqueline. “Interesting Times: The Demands 24’s Real-Time Format Makes on Its Audience.“ Peacock. 59–70. Print.

          Griffin, Em. “Dramatism of Kenneth Burke.“ A First Look at Communication Theory, 6th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2006. 329–37. Print.

          Herbert, Daniel. “Days and Hours of the Apocalypse: 24 and the Nuclear Narrative.” Peacock. 85–95. Print.

          Jackson, Richard. Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counter-Terrorism. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2005. Print.

          Jermyn, Deborah. “Reasons to Split Up: Interactivity, Realism, and the Multiple-Image Screen in 24 Reading 24.” Peacock. 49–57. Print.

          McCabe, Janet. “Damsels in Distress: Female Narrative Authority and Knowledge in 24.” Peacock. 149–61. Print.

          Mendelson, Scott. “Zero Dark Thirty Doesn’t Endorse Torture, and Neither Did 24.” The Huffington Post. 16 Jan. 2013. Web. 1 March 2013.

          Mikos, Lothar. Film- und Fernsehanalyse. Konstanz: UTB Verlag, 2008. Print.

          Monahan, Torin. “Just-in-Time Secuity. Permanent Exceptions and Neoliberal Orders.“ Peacock. 109–17. Print.

          Nelson, Aaron Thomas. “Simulating Terror. Why Bush’s Critics Love 24 Even Though it Supports the Bush Doctrine.” Jack Bauer for President. Terrorism and Politics in 24. Ed. Richard Miniter. Dallas: BenBella Books, 2008. 77–86. Print.

          O’Brien, Meredith. “24 writers urged to be careful of portrayal of Muslims.“ The Huffington Post. 18 Jan. 2007. Web. 1 March 2013.

          Peacock, Steven. Reading 24. TV against the Clock. London, New York: I.B. Tauris, 2007.

          —. “It’s about Time.” Peacock. 1–9. Print.

          Poniewozik, James. “The Evolution of Jack Bauer.“ Time Magazine, 14 Jan. 2007. Web. 1 Jan. 2013.

          Treat, Shaun. “Scapegoating the Big (Un)Easy: Melodramatic Individualism as Trained Incapacity in K-VILLE.“ KB Journal 5.1 (2008). Web. 28 March 2014.

          Weber, Cynthia. Imagining America at War: Morality, Politics and Film. London, New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

          Woolf, Paul. “‘So what are you saying? An oil consortium’s behind the nuke?’ 24, Programme Sponsorship, SUVs, and the ‘War on Terror.’” Peacock. 73–84. Print.

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

          Volume 9, Issue 1, Fall 2013

          Contents of Issue 9.1 (Fall 2013)

          A Note from the Editors

          Welcome to issue 9.1 of KB Journal. We are very pleased to present the issue, which features many new elements as we nudge the journal in new directions. As a result, 9.1 broadly reflects a series of moves we have made as editors.

          We have worked to exploit the strengths (and limitations) of the online format

          Because KBJ is an exclusively online publication, we strived to make the best use of what the internet affords and what it constrains. For example, we aimed for shorter pieces with fewer endnotes to allow for scrolling reads. An online journal may be theoretically more spacious, but online reading habits make lengthy articles less attractive.

          We likewise wished to treat videos as articles (or as featured content) that advance claims either implicitly or explicitly. First, there is the wonderful video discussion between Debra Hawhee and Bryan Crable: “Video Parlor: Action and Motion.” Crable and Hawhee (whose respective books are both reviewed in this issue) discuss how Burke’s action/motion pair has figured in their own work—how they have deployed, supplemented, and even discounted it. They likewise engage issues of the body and of bodies—including Burke’s own body—as they are made manifest in and through rhetoric. In this vein, Crable and Hawhee describe where Burke himself gets with the pair and how further we can go with it after Burke. Their compelling conversation concludes with a discussion of how they have both used archival research and how such research is changing the work of Burke scholarship. Perhaps most importantly, and in light of KB Journal’s revised mission statement, we see two scholars fully deploy the work of Burke, who remains not a static figure but a thinker whom we think with (and sometimes against). In short, Crable and Hawhee perform what it is to be Burkean.

          Second, we have the striking video creations of Jimmy Butts, who has done more than simply translate three of Burke’s short stories; he has brought them to new life. His films not only attend to Burke’s fiction, which is explored far less than his scholarly output, but they also make these stories do important work. Through these films, we are compelled to think about Burke in fruitful, inventive ways. As Butts argues in his concise introduction of the films, “Adaptation as close reading, then, becomes a way of seeing, as Burke would say—but then also a way of not seeing.” Butts’s films are both delightful and suggestive of the many ways in which we can do scholarship.

          We have worked to shift the way the journal engages Burke

          Applications of Burke abound in rhetoric scholarship generally. As such, we have endeavored to downplay such work in KB Journal (more on this below). We do this not because we believe that such work is not valuable, but because we wager that the health and relevance of the journal lies in its ability to push Burke in new directions rather than in using Burke as a stable platform from which to read the world. Instead, we looked for work that might challenge readers to reconsider Burke (rather than to reaffirm that he was so often right). Christopher Oldenburg’s more traditional scholarly piece on the protest of the Milwaukee 14—who burned draft cards and other documents in protest of Vietnam—claims that this action represented “hybrid victimage,” in which the protestors played the part of both mortifiers and scapegoats. Oldenburg’s rich reading of Burke offers the kind of work we have sought: work that might change the way readers think about Burke.

          Third, issue 9.1 features a healthy crop of book reviews cultivated by reviews editor Ryan Weber. We have reviews of Bryan Crable’s Ralph Ellison and Kenneth Burke: At the Root of the Racial Divide; Debra Hawhee’s Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language; John McGowan’s Pragmatist Politics: Making a Case of Liberal Democracy; Krista Ratcliffe’s Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness; and Clarke Rountree’s The Chameleon President: The Curious Case of George W. Bush.

          * * *

          Readers will likely note not only the delay between issue 8.1 and 9.1 but also that issue 9.1 features one scholarly article. Why, longtime readers might reasonably ask, have we waited so long for such a brief issue? We took over the journal in Fall 2011, before Andrew King’s final issue went into production. In our 18 months of editing the journal, we’ve received 21 submissions, or a little more than one per month. Of those 18, we have forwarded eight to reviewers. Only one of the eight received a decisive reject; the other seven were encouraged to revise and resubmit. Of those seven, four are still in process and two have been withdrawn by their authors. The remaining piece is this issue’s feature article. We did consider waiting until we had three or four articles, but the long gap since 8.1 suggested to us that it was time to publish 9.1.

          As for the ten submissions that we did not forward to reviewers, these pieces fall into one of two groups, which we might call the “straightforward application” and the “tangential relation.” The first moniker is self-explanatory: many authors simply apply Burke—usually the pentad—to some text, artifact, or situation. Though the authors often perform this operation successfully, the straightforward application articles all tend to come to the same conclusion: Burke was right. As persuasive as readers of KB Journal may find that thesis, it does not serve to challenge or even complicate any conventional scholarly assumptions. This is not to say that we did not welcome applications. Oldenburg’s “Redemptive Resistance” is an application, but it is complex and deeply engaged with a wide range of Burke’s writing.

          That brings us to the second type of problematic submission, the “tangential relation” article. In these, the author pursues a rhetorical inquiry (sometimes a compelling one) that does not really rely on or even need Burke for its analysis. For these submissions, the telltale sign is usually a bibliography that features a single work from Burke’s corpus. Once inside the article, the reader finds what we would call (following John Schilb’s discussion of Foucault in rhetoric scholarship; see “Turning Composition toward Sovereignty” in Present Tense 1.1) the “drive-by Burke moment”: a passing reference that could be deleted without damage to the overall structure. Here, the question is obvious: why KBJ? As the journal’s mission statement makes clear, “Kenneth Burke need not be the sole focus of a submission, but Burke should be integral to the structure of the argument.”

          In spite of these problems, we have never summarily rejected an article. We have sent every author feedback, including those whose work did not make it to the review stage. We outlined our concerns, related those concerns to the journal’s mission statement, and encouraged every author to revise with those guidelines in mind. Happily, a couple of authors who received an initial rejection have since submitted new work that reached the review stage. Moreover, our rate of external review has increased: of our most recent eight submissions, four have gone out. We interpret this as a sign that authors are becoming more attuned to the journal’s mission statement. Meanwhile, the journal is planning to produce a special issue of European Burke scholars who participated in the Ghent conference in May. That issue, guest edited by Kris Rutten and Ronald Soetaert, should appear in late 2013 or early 2014. After this long delay, the gears of the journal are starting to turn more quickly.

          In spite of these welcome developments, however, we have decided to step down as editors. After two years and one issue, it has become apparent to us that we are taking the journal in a direction that the Burke community may not want to follow. Given the special issue that is coming this fall, and that the natural end to our tenure comes next summer, now seemed a good time to step away. We have enjoyed our time as editors, but we think the journal might be better served by other leadership. David Blakesley has taken over the journal’s editorship as of August 1. Authors whose submissions are in process should refer their questions to him. In the meantime, we are looking forward to seeing everyone at next year’s Burke conference in St. Louis, and we remain the point-persons for that event. Finally, we wish to thank the following reviewers for their service to the journal: Matthew Althouse, Denise Bostdorff, A Cheree Carlson, Gregory Clark, Miriam Clark. Nathan Crick. Sonja Foss, Robert Ivie, Robert Heath, David Hildebrand, James Klumpp, Stan Lindsay, Star Muir, Lawrence Prelli, Peter Smudde, Mari Boor Tonn, and David Cratis Williams.

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          Video Parlor: Action and Motion Featuring Debra Hawhee and Bryan Crable

          Debra Hawhee and Bryan Crable discuss the Action-Motion distinction in this "Video Parlor":

          From the Editors' Introduction

          In this video discussion between Debra Hawhee and Bryan Crable, “Video Parlor: Action and Motion,” Crable and Hawhee (whose respective books are both reviewed in this issue) discuss how Burke’s action/motion pair has figured in their own work—how they have deployed, supplemented, and even discounted it. They likewise engage issues of the body and of bodies—including Burke’s own body—as they are made manifest in and through rhetoric. In this vein, Crable and Hawhee describe where Burke himself gets with the pair and how further we can go with it after Burke. Their compelling conversation concludes with a discussion of how they have both used archival research and how such research is changing the work of Burke scholarship. Perhaps most importantly, and in light of KB Journal’s revised mission statement, we see two scholars fully deploy the work of Burke, who remains not a static figure but a thinker whom we think with (and sometimes against). In short, Crable and Hawhee perform what it is to be Burkean.

          Paul Lynch and Nathaniel Rivers

          Three Short Film Adaptations

          "Parabolic Tale, with Invocation," The Excursion," and "Scherzando"

          Jimmy Butts, Wake Forest University


          I have become increasingly interested in the process of adapting literature to the screen. Short stories represent a particular kind of medium that I find attractive in the age of new media, because they’re quickly taken in, but also manageable in the space of an hour long class discussion. Even so, Kenneth Burke’s short stories still remain largely unread—even by Burke scholars—and so I wanted to give them a broader audience by shifting them into another medium.

          Adapting short stories in particular, has become quite a lucrative business, after all, with the recreation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” or Christopher Nolan’s reworking of his brother Jonathan’s short story “Memento Mori,” A.I. as Kubrick and Spielberg’s retelling of Brian Aldiss’s wonderful “Super Toys Last All Summer Long,” or the long list of Philp K. Dick stories adapted for the big screen. Total Recall, based on Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” is now being adapted for the second time. These are just a handful of short stories that I’ve liked and that come to mind without even thinking about it much.

          But this is not an overview of the growing field of adaptation studies. For that, you should talk to a Shakespearean rather than a Burkean. Still, making multimedia as a way of responding to Burke in particular offers us some interesting insights into his literary work. Collections like Dave Blakesley’s The Terministic Screen testifies to this relationship to Burke studies.

          A couple of years ago, I started having some of my English classes adapt short literary works into little videos with some success. What I began to understand is that adaptation is interpretation. And cinematic adaptations, for my students and myself and for Hollywood as well, have become a very interesting and entertaining way of conducting close readings upon some of our favorite texts.

          Adaptation as close reading, then, becomes a way of seeing, as Burke would say—but then also a way of not seeing. When I was sharing with Julie Whitaker, the wife of Kenneth Burke’s son, Michael, that I had made the films, her first response was a kind of wonder. How could Burke’s highly stylized writings be transferred onto the screen? The language itself was almost visual, but sometimes more cerebral. Furthermore, Burke’s writing isn’t primarily plot driven. In some ways, making Burke’s writing visual takes us away from the language that he so adeptly employs, but there is also something that calls us to visualize the symbolic imagery he invokes. After she’d seen the films, however, Julie seemed to really appreciate the watching of Burke’s work. She came up and gave me a hug.

          The result was that these films offered another way of breaking down Burke’s fiction, and I have kept his exact wording from the stories as voiceovers. This tactic is one that I as a lover of writerly language haven’t been able to shake in my work with literary adaptation. Keeping Burke’s beautiful language was important to me.

          The three stories, “Parabolic Tale, with Invocation,” “The Excursion,” and “Scherzando” are now in the public domain and have been collected elsewhere in The Complete White Oxen and Here and Elsewhere, with a wonderful introduction by Denis Donahue. Each movie has its own soundtrack that I created using computer software and looping. Each short piece considers God in some way by happenstance. I merely chose the three shortest fictions that I could find to adapt for the screen. I first showed them at the Triennial Kenneth Burke Society Conference in 2011, and now they are available here.

          I made each of the movies in this little trilogy in chronological order. “Parabolic Tale, with Invocation” was written in 1917, and functions like a strange parable. The first movie, the blue one as I began to think of it, seemed to work best with shadow puppets. As a parable, the narrative needed some kind of distancing that would allow us to read the text symbolically. Parables do this by using representative characters—animals oftentimes. Here I place the camera vertical, and placed a pane of glass above it. This allowed me to move paper shadow puppets using wires for the different shots. The blue hue of the video makes for a calming and serene experience in the vein of wisdom literature. The prayer at the end is meditative as well and shifts visually to show its addition in the same way that Burke adds the invocation on at the end of his short parable.

          Read “Parabolic Tale, with Invocation" by Kenneth Burke here.

          The Excursion,” written in 1920, is an angry piece. It is the most seemingly plot-driven piece, but in the end moves toward philosophical and poetic thought. The red movie works from an ironic perspective. Because the main character of “The Excursion” is not an admirable fellow, I thought of the way that Burke notes irony as a humble trope in The Grammar of Motives. He suggests, “True irony, humble irony, is based upon a sense of fundamental kinship with the enemy, as one needs him, is indebted to him, is not merely outside him as an observer but contains him within, being consubstantial with him” (514). So, I played the role of the unlovable speaker in “The Excursion.” It was not easy to watch myself like that. I also learned a lot about killing ants. Although, as a disclaimer, I should note that no ants were harmed in the making of the film.

          Read "The Excursion" by Kenneth Burke here.

          The final video, “Scherzando,” whose accompanying written piece was first published in 1922, was the most difficult to make and is the most difficult to pronounce. Scherzando is a musical term—and Burke knew his musical terms—meaning “in a light, playful manner;” it literally means “joking” in Italian. The music for the final movie is the most playful, and the cuts are certainly the most playful in this collection. Because the written work was a pastiche, a joke of sorts, I decided to make the entire film a pastiche of other films. The yellow figured in for the anxiety that the piece elicited. One might think that pastiche is a simpler form of mere borrowing, but I went back and borrowed from many old films now in the public domain. Trying to find the right shots was difficult, and making them layer well was also difficult. I shot some of my own footage and added it to the mix. The final work is a blend of alienating visions that end apocalyptically.

          Read "Scherzando" by Kenneth Burke here.

          I hope that these three little projects offer a new way of spying on Burke. Maybe I’ll continue this project and show another adaptation at a future Burke Conference, but I also want other Burkeans to explore these kinds of thoughtful responses to Burke’s writing. However, my main goal has simply been a broader audience for Burke that cinematics can facilitate. It in some ways prompts all of us as Burke scholars to make our own responses to Burke in various media. I want to see projects like the Burke videos help us address, apply, extend, and repurpose Burke as the new mission statement of the KB Journal asks of us.

          I had the happy opportunity to study with director Volker Schlöndorff in Switzerland this past summer. His work has focused largely on adapting literary classics like Death of a Salesman, The Handmaid’s Tale, Coup de Grâce,and the Palme d’Or winner at Cannes Die Blechtrommel. Schlöndorff values the power of story as a way for us to interpret our lives. I believe Burke valued fiction for similar reasons.

          I’d like to close with my deepest thanks to the Burke family and the Burke Literary Trust for their encouragement and endorsement of this project. It’s been quite an experience.

          * Jimmy Butts likes to explore strange rhetorical tactics, in places like sentences and in digital media.   He has worked with students in Charleston, at Winthrop, Clemson, and most recently at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to get them composing in brave, new ways.  He received his PhD from the transdisciplinary program called Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design at Clemson.  His research interests include structural and poststructural composition strategies, new media, rhetorical criticism, defamiliarization, and writing pedagogy.  He has published multimodal work elsewhere with Pre-Text, in the CyberText Yearbook, for Pearson Education, and as a proud instructor in The Journal for Undergraduate Multimedia Projects.  You can find him online at

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          Parabolic Tale, with Invocation

          Kenneth Burke

          And the old man, being an old man, and therefore a senex, and entitled to give counsel, asked the young man:

          "Young man, what do you know?"

          And the young man, who had felled trees, had girded mountains and swum rivers, done many things, and who never took counsel, immediately answered:

          "I know everything, father."

          And the old man rather smiled and said:

          "I know nothing."

          And the old man, being old, then gave the young man counsel, which the young man tossed aside with anger. And the young man continued to do many things, while the venerable senex meditated in silence and was mildly discomforted by the young man's stubbornness. And the old man's mind became quiet, and magnificent, and awesome, like a deserted Cathedral full of vanished echoes. And his soul became tall, and calm, and Gothic, like the Cathedral.  But he was still vexed at the sacred stubbornness of the young man, and still gave counsel.

          Until finally the young man hearkened a little, and found that what the ancient senex said was wise. And the more he obeyed, the less often he swam a stream too swift.

          And  the old man wrote his counsel, that other young men might read of it, and died.  And  the young man became old, and counseled the young.  And these young men hearkened to him, at first not at all, then more, and more, until they, too, were senexes, fit to give counsel.  And having spoken, they died.

          And as time went on the young men were led more and more by the accumulated wisdom of the old men, and their mistakes became fewer and fewer.

          They are trying to guide me; 0 God, be merciful, and spare me, who should beyoung yet, from the wisdom of death.

          * "Parabolic Tale, with Invocation" originally appeared in The Sansculotte 1 (January 1917): 8. [Also in The White Oxen and Other Stories and Here & Elsewhere: The Collected Fiction of Kenneth Burke by Kenneth Burke (Black Sparrow Books, 2005)]

          This story has been adapted to video by Jimmy Butts in KB Journal 9.1 (Fall 2013).


          Kenneth Burke

          As I entered the room, he was reading one of his poems to a very moth-eaten person. “Catalogus Mulierum,” he grunted at me, and went on with the poem. From which I assumed that the title of the thing he was reading was “Catalogus Mulierum,” or “A Catalogue of Women.”

          “Yes, I know the old ones who have had their day.
          I have observed them.
          Those old wrecked houses;
          Those dead craters.”

          The next I do not remember. Or rather, I do not want to remember it. It was detestable. And the stanza following. . . . The moth-eaten person clucked after each, and murmured something. When he had read another stanza, I left, while the moth-eaten person clucked—whether at the poem, or at me, I do not know.

          “Then there are the little girls,
          Recently able to become mothers;
          Packages wrapped securely
          In the admonitions of their parents.”

          Why must men be hog-minded like that, I say. Great heavens! Have we exhausted the play of fresh morning on a lake? Have all the possible documents been written of a star near the horizon? I have seen him sitting monstrously in his chair and leering at me as though I were a whole world to leer at. I remember him in the distillation of my memory as a carcass, so many pounds of throbbing flesh with the requisite organs stuffed in, growling over the raw meat of his ideas.

          Is there some gigantic cancer for us to sap with wells, and where we can descend on ladders? Could we spend our holidays here, on the edge of the decaying flesh, with our wives and children? I used to grind my teeth at the mere thought of him, until I had diseased my liver, and I ached from escaping juices. Ossia: There has been Christ, and the saints, and whole libraries of sanctity, and yet there was no law to exterminate this man! What darkness of darknesses have we been plunged into, when pestilence is invited among us, suffered to sit at our table and fester our tongues? But the critics are coming, and the satirists. Soon a wide plague of caterpillars will cover all the green leaves. There will be nothing behind them but naked trees and the scum of intestines. Prepare for a lean season, made meager with excessive insects.

          I have sat opposed to him, and remembered the sunlight with a bursting gratitude. I remembered a little town sleeping in the foothills, with a bright clay road working across the countryside, and a green pool with the shadows of trout. I remembered the long, drooping fingers of the chestnuts—for the chestnuts blossom late, and there was a scattered frost of them even though the beards on the corn were already scorched. I remembered all this, while there spread about me the cool, dank mold from the cellar of his brain.


          Let us construct a vast hippopotamus to the glorification of our century. Other ages could have constructed hippopotami of equal vastness, but ours will be superior in this: That it is exact within as well as without. A steam heart will beat against the brazen ribs of the brute, and the ooze of the kidneys will have been studied accurately. On the bolsters of his folded hide we shall have blotches and sores proper to the hippopotamus. And when we have finished, we shall have constructed a vast hippopotamus, which will cast its shadows
          across the plain, and disfigure the sky to the glorification of our century.

          * "Scherzando " originally appeared in Manuscripts 1 (February 1922): 74. [Also in The White Oxen and Other Stories and Here & Elsewhere: The Collected Fiction of Kenneth Burke by Kenneth Burke (Black Sparrow Books, 2005)]

          This story has been adapted to video by Jimmy Butts in KB Journal 9.1 (Fall 2013).

          The Excursion

          Kenneth Burke

          Having nothing to do, and having searched in vain among the notes of a piano for something to think on, I started off on a walk, trusting that I might scent a scandal on the breeze, or see God’s toe peep through the sky. I passed a barbershop, a grocery store, a little Italian girl, a chicken coop, a roadhouse, an abandoned quarry, a field of nervous wheat. All this distance I had walked under God’s blue sky, and still without a thought. But at last, after trudging on for hours, I came upon a thought. Miles upon miles I had walked for a thought, and at last I came upon an anthill.

          Idly curious, I stopped to look at the ants. They would go from one place to another and return to that first place again, and for no reason that I could see. Little ants with big burdens, big ants with bigger burdens, and ants with no burdens, the most frightened and panicky of them all. As I watched them they seemed so human to me that
          my heart went out to them. “Poor little devils,” I said.

          But I grew tired of watching the swarming mass of them. “I shall watch just one of them,” I said to myself after much deliberation. And I picked out one frightened little ant to watch. He went running about unaware of my presence, not knowing that a great god was looking down on him, just as I did not know but that a great god might be
          looking down on me. And with the toe of my shoe I marked out a rut in his path, so that he had to climb over it. And then I began dropping little bits of sand on him, and turning him over with a blade of grass. “I am his destiny,” I whispered; the conception thrilled me.

          As the poor little fellow rushed about in terror, I realized how massive his belief in life must be at this moment, how all-consuming his tragedy; my pity went out to him. But my blade of grass was too limber; I picked up a little stone to push him with. I drew a circle. “May God strike me dead, little ant, if you get out of that circle.” I took that oath, and the battle was on. It was long and uncertain, with victory now on his side, and now on mine.

          The little ant, in a last despairing burst, made for the edge of the circle, and crossed it. I was aroused. “I’ll kill the ant,” I shouted, and brought the stone down on his body, his passions, his dreams. Destiny had spoken. For an instant I was ashamed, for I had been unfair. He had beaten me under the terms I had made for myself. I should have let him go free.

          I began watching other ants. They irritated me—they were so earnest, so faithful. Two ants came up and touched. I wondered what that could mean. Do ants talk? Then I watched one of the ants which had touched the other to see if it touched still other ants. For it might be a herald of some sort; perhaps ants do talk.

          One little ant was tugging and pulling at a dead bug. Slowly, carefully, I took my stone and drew it over two of his legs, so that he was wounded grievously, and began writhing in agony. My face was distorted with compassion; how my heart bled for him!

          I ran the stone across his other legs, and the motion was like a thrust into my own flesh. I was almost sick with pity for the poor little ant, and to end his suffering I killed him. Wide regret came on me, “Perhaps,” I thought, “perhaps, he was a poet. Perhaps I have killed a genius.”

          And I began stepping on the other ants, digging up the anthill, scattering destruction broadcast about me. When my work was finished, and only a few mangled ants remained alive, my sorrow for the poor little ants had grown until it weighed on me, and crushed the vitality out of me. “The poor little ants,” I kept murmuring, “the poor, miserable little ants.” And I was bitter with the thought of how cruel the universe is, and how needlessly things must suffer. I stood gazing at the death and slaughter about me, stupefied with calm horror at what I had done. I prayed to God.

          “O Great God,” I prayed, throwing back my head towards Heaven and stretching out my hands like Christ on the Cross, “O Great God”—but I didn’t really throw back my head, for I still kept looking at the ants, and I did not address God, for at times I even wonder if there be no God. I didn’t do these things, I say, since I was too intently watching the ants. “O Almighty God,” I thundered out in mighty prayer, throwing back my head towards Heaven and stretching out my hands like Christ on the Crucifix, “Thou who art Ruler of us all. Now I know why we suffer, and ache, and I pity Thee, God.”

          * "The Excursion" originally appeared in The Dial 69 (July 1920): 27-28. [Also in The White Oxen and Other Stories and Here & Elsewhere: The Collected Fiction of Kenneth Burke by Kenneth Burke (Black Sparrow Books, 2005)]

          This story has been adapted to video by Jimmy Butts in KB Journal 9.1 (Fall 2013).

          Redemptive Resistance through Hybrid Victimage

          Catholic Guilt, Mortification, and Transvaluation in the Case of the Milwaukee Fourteen

          Christopher Oldenburg, Illinois College


          In 1968 the Milwaukee Fourteen, members of the Catholic Anti-Vietnam War Movement, removed approximately ten-thousand draft files from a Selective Service Office and burned them with home-made napalm in a nearby park before awaiting arrest. Employing the Burkean concepts of categorical guilt, mortification and transvaluation as a framework from which to analyze the Milwaukee Fourteen’s “statement” and the resistive act itself, this essay troubles the general understanding of mortification as simply extirpating one’s guilt by self-victimage. Rather the Milwaukee Fourteen mortify themselves for the disordered transgressions of a culture. Their sacrificial purification results in a form of hybrid victimage with the ultimate goal of transvaluing the moral order of the Vietnam War era.

          THE FIRE BURNED AT THE BASE OF A FLAGPOLE in a small downtown Milwaukee park. With arms locked in solidarity, fourteen men stood in a single line; they awaited arrest and peacefully entered police patrol wagons. As reported by the Milwaukee Sentinel on September 24, 1968, fourteen me—comprised of five priests, a protestant minister, and Catholic laity—raided a Milwaukee Selective Service Office. They seized approximately ten thousand 1-A draft files and burned them with homemade napalm in an adjacent park dedicated to America’s war heroes. Before anyone could to make sense of what occurred, all fourteen peaceful demonstrators were demonized by the Milwaukee Sentinel as “war foes,” and charged with “burglary, arson to property (other than a building) and criminal damage to property” (Patrinos 7).

          In a statement to the Milwaukee Journal, Senator Robert W. Warren, Republican candidate for attorney general described the event as “brazen anarchy” (Kirkhorn 2). Framing the event this way, the Senator converted civil, Christian-inspired dissent into “anarchy.” The false dichotomy of “with us or against us” was not far behind. Lamenting that the reconstruction of Wisconsin draft files would be long and costly, Lt. General Lewis Hershey, national selective service director, said “people have the right to oppose the Vietnam war, but I don’t think it’s doing service to give aid to the enemy by showing such disunity here” (Kirkhorn 2). The Milwaukee Fourteen’s bail was set at $415,000. They were tried and sentenced to two years in prison.

          While much scholarship has been produced on anti-war protests and social movements of the Vietnam era, the purpose of this essay is to understand the Milwaukee 14’s resistance from a Burkean perspective. Through an analysis of both “The Milwaukee Fourteen Statement” and the public act of resistance itself, I argue the case of the M-14 is of particular interest for Burkean scholarship because it demonstrates how categorical guilt is managed with both blame and complicity through what I call hybrid victimage. The M-14 mortified themselves by the “cleansing fire” of burning draft files for which they were arrested, but their victimage ritual simultaneously included serving as scapegoat for the larger American public guilt. Such hybrid instances are absent from the Burkean literature on vicitmage and its variants. My study aims to fill this gap. More examples and analyses of hybrid victimage will better help Burkeans understand the complexity, contingency, and interdependence of sacrificial variants in ethico-melodramas. I intend to illustrate how the M-14’s hybrid victimage can function as a socially purposive political trope, another means of coping with the misguided instruments of our own making whereby symbol users need not have to choose between the all-or-nothing extremes of dogma and skepticism that imperil war and democracy. I would suggest that hybrid victimage is a concept that Burke himself would endorse due to its affinity with his “both/and” view of the symbolic “Scramble,” his pursuit to purify war, and his mindful dedication to the pedagogy of language.

          A full understanding of the M-14’s blending of purgation devices requires a brief review of those Burkean scholars who have theorized alterative peace building and guilt relieving strategies. Robert Ivie, for example, underscores Burke’s point that self-mortification is not a default response to guilt. Ivie notes that calling “for a redeeming act of self-mortification by a nation accustomed to condemning scapegoats, asking in effect that it purge itself of savagery without the benefit of the principle of substitution” fails to engender peace (“Metaphor” 178). As a corrective to the ritual of redemptive violence via trigger-happy scapegoating, Ivie calls for rites of reconciliation with the main rite being making enemies less evil and more human (“Fighting” 236). Margret Calvin, in an examination of William Sloane Coffin’s language of peace, suggests the scapegoat function can be replaced by “mutual mortification leading towards a mutual confession” between adversaries (288). Calvin acknowledges that sacrifice is still part of this process “with mortification requiring a death of self, the collective self” (290). But Calvin does not specify who represents the collective self. It is plausible that a mortifying representative from the guilty collective could in fact also serve as a scapegoat.  

          Offering the idea of hybrid victimage troubles the dichotomy of scapegoating and mortification and thus extends the Burkean applications of these previous studies. The M-14’s brand of hybrid victimage is another rehumanizing rite that purifies the guilt created by war culture in two significant ways. First, the case of the M-14 accounts for Ivie’s assertion that the political language of demonization and national blame alone are insufficient in changing the order of war. Consequently, the M-14 conflates the two variants of victimage. By standing in as sacrificial scapegoats, the M-14 simultaneously exorcise their own guilt and the guilt of their culture. Their burning of draft files and arrest were non-violent and saved lives. Secondly, beyond attenuating guilt through a mutual, confessional “language” of peace as Calvin suggests, the M-14’s hybrid victimage centered on a radical, positive act of bearing witness. Their resistance was a sacrificial drama with deep symbolic meanings that focused on transvaluing the disordered practices of a war culture. My examination of the Milwaukee Fourteen’s resistive drama therefore focuses on the Burkean concepts of categorical guilt, mortification and transvaluation. 

          Categorical Guilt

          Order is a decisive notion in Burke’s dramatistic theory of human relations. Given that symbol users are “inventors of the negative” (LSA 9) language generates orders, hierarchies, and bureaucracies that goad individuals towards perfection. To the extent that verbal acts construct orders and establish proprieties, they engender guilt. Categorical guilt is an initial and necessary precondition of Burke’s cycle of terms implicit in the concept of order. Burke writes of the steps in history that join order and sacrifice, “Order Leads to Guilt…Guilt needs Redemption…Redemption needs a Redeemer (which is to say, a Victim!)” (RR 4-5). Since falling short in the glorious pursuit of entelechy is endemic to the symbol-using animal, guilt is a condition that abides. Burke writes in The Rhetoric of Religion “as there is guilt intrinsic to the social order, it would not in itself be ‘actual,’ but would be analogous to ‘original sin’ an offense somehow done ‘in principle’” (224; PC 290). Here Burke draws an apt parallel between the logological and theological conceptions of guilt. Burke insists that it is important to note the tautological nature of Order. “[W]e may say either that the idea of Disorder is implicit in the idea of Order, or that the idea of Order is implicit in the idea of Disorder” (RR 182). Based on this observation, how might the sacrificial variants engendered by the guilt of such Order and Disorder be purified? It is no accident that Burke defines mortification as “a systematic way of saying no to Disorder, or obediently saying yes to Order” (190). What we witness with the M-14 is a party mortifying themselves for failing to say “no” to disorder and serving as scapegoat for others who and fail to say “yes” to a moral order.
          Following Burke’s cycle, “‘guilt’ intrinsic to hierarchal order…calls correspondingly for ‘redemption” through victimage” (PC 284). The purgative sacrifice may be completed by two main salvation devices: scapegoating, “a sacrificial receptacle for the ritual unburdening of one’s sins” (PC 16); and mortification, whereby castigation for one’s sins is self-enforced or self-inflicted which Burke places on the “suicidal” ambit of human motives (RR 208). William Rueckert’s Kenneth Burke and the Drama of Human Relations, provides a narrow distinction between the two salvation devices:

          The essential difference between victimage and mortification is that the first always directly involves some other person, place, or thing; always calls for ritualistic transference of pollution to the chosen vessel…In mortification, however, even in its most extreme form of suicide…nothing outside the person involved needs to be polluted or destroyed in order for purification to take place….Generally, then, to make others suffer for our sins is victimage; to make ourselves suffer for our sins is mortification. (146-147)

          Barry Brummett notes that mortification “involves open confession of one’s ‘sins’ and actual or symbolic punishment of them” (256). Here an opportunity arises to problematize Rueckert and Brummett’s emphasis on the narrow, autotelic understanding of mortification as “making ourselves suffer for our sins.” But Brummett and Rueckert do not consider the possibility that the ritual of mortification could be enacted for the sake of redeeming the sins of an external group or culture in the form of a self-scapegoat.
          In“A Dramatistic View of Language,” Burke does stress the significance of “self” as both the source and telos for mortification; it functions as Rueckert’s paraphrase of Burke suggests as the “self-inflicted punishment for one’s self-imposed, self-enforced denials and restrictions” (Drama 146). For Burke, mortification “does not occur when one is merely ‘frustrated’ by some external interference. It must come from within. The mortified must, with one aspect of himself, be saying no to another aspect of himself” (RR 190). However, mortification is not limited simply to self-punishment. Later in The Rhetoric of Religion, Burke acknowledges mortification’s wider social utility as “basic to the pattern of governance” (RR 200), the Biblical equivalent to Mosaic Law (“THOU SHALL NOTS”). Burke also notes mortification’s martyrdom function. “Martyrdom is the idea of total voluntary self-sacrifice enacted in a grave cause before a perfect (absolute) witness. It is the fulfillment of the principle of mortification, suicidally directed, with the self as scapegoat” (248). This martyrdom function of self-scapegoating can be socially purposive and uncover politically corrective possibilities for guilt. Burke writes, “mortification…can be developed by conscientious priesthoods who would transform the negatives of guilty trespass into a corresponding regimen of ‘positive’ athleticism” (“Dramatistic” 264). Mortification is not merely an efficient self-atoning device but can be a political trope for changing the status quo. To use mortification in this politically active manner, agents must enact an imaginative strategy where “taking one for the team,” a positive athletic form of martyrdom, attempts to achieve a moral victory by altering the game itself.

          C. Allen Carter comes close to this strain of mortification when he writes in Kenneth Burke and the Scapegoat Process that mortification involves the secret yearning in people “to be the one whose sacrifice saves the group. Who would not secretly revere the one who behaves heroically in the face of punishment or death at the hands of the authorities?” (19). In accordance with Burke’s cycle, sacrificial motives are driven by a range of partisan and hierarchic estrangements, order/disorder, right/wrong, etc. Every act of victimage, mortification, or some hybrid version is an effort to transvalue the flouted piety incurred by these divisions.


          The lesser known, but highly relevant, Burkean concept of transvaluation plays a critical role in redemptive dramas and social orders. In Attitudes Towards History,Burke defines transvaluations as “new attitudes” and remarks that attitudes are synonymous with values (381-382). In Permanence and Change,Burke characterizes the process of transvaluation “whereby the signs of poverty were reinterpreted as the signs of wealth, the signs of hunger as the signs of fullness, and present weeping was characterized unmistakably as the first symptom of subsequent delight” (155). One rhetorical goal of transvaluation is the conversion of attitudes and orders. Sacrifices, self-inflicted or otherwise, are performative rituals enacted for transformative purposes. Virgins are sacrificed to end droughts; baptisms (the symbolic death to self) are conducted to remove original sin. Burke’s conception of transvaluation is another corrective means of “pious yet sportive fearfulness” (“Poetic” 63) that the symbol user can take up to cope with the “ultimate disease of cooperation” (RM 22).

          The Milwaukee Fourteen: Catholic Guilt and the Improprieties of Property 

          In her book Divine Disobedience, Francine Gray provides some historical context and insight into the motives of the M-14. The Catholic Church’s apathy towards the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement prompted the Milwaukee Fourteen to employ an act of radical civil disobedience, one in a series of actions by the little known Catholic Anti-War Movement in the United States. These Catholic activists worked with related organizations such as Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam (CLCV) and Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker. The incursion on the Milwaukee Selective Service Office was the third destructive act of resistance following similar episodes earlier that year. In Baltimore, four activists poured blood on draft files. In Catonsville, led by the infamous Berrigan brothers, nine opponents to the war in Vietnam ransacked the draft headquarters there and burned 1-A draft files with home-made napalm. Unlike the members of SNCC and SDS, who were not going to be drafted anyway, the Catholic anti-war movement carried out their resistance away from the insulated college campus and into the public sphere. The Milwaukee Fourteen, all draft-exempt themselves, confronted the administrative instruments of war directly. Disillusioned with the unraveling of America’s social, economic, political, and moral fabric, these Catholic activists resolved that concrete action was the only option left. Resistive communities like the M-14 held “since politics weren’t working anyway, one had to find an act beyond politics: a religious act, a liturgical act, an act of witness” (Gray 57).

          The M-14’s direct confrontation and destruction of property was viewed by the general public as a secular transgression. Yet, for the M-14 it was only a small part in a broader “catholic guilt” that motivated them to self-victimage in the first place. Both meanings of “catholic,” both “Roman Catholic” and “universal,” apply to this situation. Many of the members of the M-14 were Catholic priests, brothers, and laity who were motivated to burn draft files out of their own sense of guilt. And for Burke, guilt is an essential motive in human communication and is therefore catholic. James Forest, one the Fourteen, concisely characterized the general sense of cultural indifference, soft, hands-off dissent, and catholic guilt by drawing analogy to a Peanuts comic strip:

          It [soft-dissent] is not unlike the Peanuts cartoon in which Linus, a grim SDS sort of expression on his face, marches forward with a placard in his hands proclaiming: HELP STAMP OUT THINGS THAT NEED STAMPING OUT! But following along a few paces to the rear was Snoopy, a drowsy, clerical expression on his face. He, too, is carrying a sign: (THIS ANNOUNCEMENT IS VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW). Many of us considered the war in Vietnam, the draft, racism, and poverty intolerable. We didn’t hesitate to say Amen to Linus’s sign. But we marched behind Snoopy. (2)

          A close analysis of “The Milwaukee Fourteen Statement” can be read as a confession of “categorical guilt.” Such guilt prescribed purification though social and moral change and redirected readers’ attention to the discourse surrounding the M-14’s own motives for action as they are described in the introduction of the Statement:
          Generation after generation religious values have summoned men to undertake the works of mercy and peace. In times of crisis these values have further required men to cry out in protest against institutions and systems destructive of man and his immense potential. We declare today that we are one with that history of mercy and protest. In destroying with napalm part of our nation’s bureaucratic machinery of conscription we declare that service of life no longer provides any options other than positive concrete action against what can only be called the American way of death: a way of death which gives property a greater value than life, a way of death sustained not by invitation and hope but by coercion and fear. (3)

          As the statement suggests, the categorical guilt of the M-14 stems from an unconscious acceptance of the actions of political authorities, in which “positive concrete action” is the only remaining corrective. Refusing to act renders one complicit in “giving property greater value” and sustaining the “American way of death.” “The American way of death” was employed as an ironic, subversive phrase with the intention to awaken the American people and inspire more resistive communities. That particular way of death can be understood as another articulation of Burke’s “socialization of losses.” Burke explains, “the most normal mode of expiation is that of socialization (the “socialization of losses”). […] And the patriot may slay for his country, his act being exonerated by the justice of serving his group.” (PLF 50-51). “The socialization of losses” in the context of the Vietnam War could very well be synonymous with “the American way of death” precisely because it illustrates other symbolic related pathologies, i.e. “trained incapacity” and “occupational psychosis” (PC 7, 37) from which collective America suffers.

          This kind of desensitizing doxa allows for the violence of war to persist because its dehumanizing effects are remote, not seen or discussed in public. Stephen Brown observes the challenges of confronting and transforming violence rhetorically are difficult to surmount because violence is a potent force that silences, dulls the moral imagination, and eliminates the capacity for resistance (159). Quiescence to the violence of war is socialized under the mytho-poetic banners of “duty,” “service,” and “protecting our freedoms.” More sophisticated strategic ambiguity and double-speak employed by the military to describe events in Vietnam have been captured in such familiar phrases as “pacification,” “neutralization,” and General Westmoreland infamous, “destroying the village to save the village.” It is resistance communities like the M-14 who seek to transfigure such criminal complacency and call attention to systematic distortions of communication. Such an example is the M-14’s own rhetorical revolution evident in the ironic inversion of “the American way of life.”

          Moreover, the “genesis” of their moral culpability also centers on acquiescing for far too long to the indifference of ecclesiastical authority. At the risk of being lumped in with those apathetic religious leaders who Martin Luther King indicted for “remain[ing] silent behind the anesthetizing security of stain glass windows” (“Letter” 52), the M-14’s repudiation of Church authorities was necessary for redemption. According to the M-14, their shame also derives from being part of a fractured order. They believed that certain practices such as “killing is disorder, [and] life and gentleness, and community and unselfishness is the only order we recognize” (2). For the sake of bringing about that benevolent order, the group was willing to mortify themselves if it meant purifying the disorder of war and saving even a small amount of human lives.  

          The M-14’s categorical guilt and motivation for resistance is clearly articulated. “We confess we were not easily awakened to the need for such action as we carry out today. In order for communities of resistance to come into being, millions of America’s sons were torn from family, friends, health, sanity and often life itself” (3). The aforementioned passage illustrates the magnitude of the M-14’s own transgressions. First, they admit the lag in their own enlightenment. Secondly, more significantly, they confess that their own existence as a community of resistance was called forth by immense suffering and loss of life. Thus, as they state later in the pamphlet: “For a growing number of us, the problem is no longer that of grasping what is happening. […] Ours is rather a problem of courage. We wish to offer our lives and futures to blockade, absorb and transform the violence and madness which our society has come to personify” (3). In articulating this disruptive desire to shift a nation’s moral conscience and exorcise their own categorical guilt, it becomes clear to the M-14 that abstract hopes and inert political talk has failed. What are needed are sacrificial acts of witness; however, the acts must to be public, profoundly symbolic, transvaluative and purify by a new brand of sacrifice. Federal property would become the target of this concrete action.

          While the M-14’s guilt stemmed from indifference and inaction, they were also deeply troubled by America’s obsession with property. A simple cluster analysis of the Milwaukee Fourteen Statement associates property with: evil, slavery, the instruments of torture and human holocaust. Several examples of this “what goes with what” exercise include: “Today we destroy Selective Service System files because men need to be reminded that property is not sacred”; “So property is repeatedly made enemy of life: gas ovens in Germany, concentration camps in Russia, occupational tanks in Czechoslovakia, pieces of paper in draft offices, slum holdings, factories of death, machines, germs, and nerve gas”; and finally, “Some property has no right to exist” (3-4). However even deeper analysis reveals the role that destroying Federal property played in both the M-14’s micro rhetorical strategies and their grander sacrificial resistance. Property was described using mechanistic imagery, most notably in reference to the draft system as the “bureaucratic machinery of conscription.”

          Beyond the materialistic bourgeois sense of property, the M-14 were more interested in eradicating a particular kind of property, that which is given “a greater value than life.” The “bureaucratic machinery of conscription” is one such a type of property. The purposeful use of this mechanistic imagery in describing what the M-14 destroyed functions rhetorically in two important ways. Mechanistic imagery further articulates the pathology of institutions and bureaucracies like the Department of Defense and Selective Service Offices who hold a view of the world as a set of objects preserved by systematic, unconscious, and naturalized practices and behaviors, what British cultural studies theoretician Raymond Williams calls “mechanical materialism” (96). From this perspective, what must stop this apparatus of enslavement is destructive friction. In short, framing the administrative injustices of the military industrial complex in mechanical terms allows for the possibility of breakdown or more pointedly, sabotage—the proverbial “monkey-wrenching.”

          Closely related to the idea of property is the thought that categorical guilt is a byproduct of constructed hierarchies of values. As Burke informs us in Permanence and Change that the etymological propinquity of property and propriety is no accident (212). Here the principles of hierarchy allow for the symbol-using animal to place and be placed in positions of moralizing status. “[T]o the extent that a social structure becomes differentiated, with privileges to some that are denied to others, there are the conditions for a kind of ‘built in’ pride. King and peasant are ‘mysteries’ to each other. Those ‘Up’ are guilty of not being ‘Down,’ those ‘Down’ are certainly guilty of not being ‘Up’” (LSA 15). The bounded reciprocity between property and propriety therefore sets up variations of social regulation on who’s in and who’s out, who is guilty and who is innocent. This is precisely the problem the Catholic Anti-War Movement has with property. That is to say, America values property over people; it rejects secular and spiritual norms and therefore establishes why purification is needed.

          Fr. David Kirk, a proponent of the Catholic Anti-War Movement declared, “We must depropertize, renounce the material of power. She [the Church] must divest Herself of property to return to the spiritual roots of the Gospel” (qtd. in Gray 25). Brother David Darst, a Christian Brother from Memphis, Tennessee, and the youngest member of the Catonsville Nine, condemned the deleterious effects of privileging property over people at his own trial. Darst, using Jesus’ actions as an analogue, vindicates the radical destruction of property:

          The non-violent tradition of our religion has always drawn the line between people and things. It said that material things are for the use of people, but that people are sacred, they are absolute ends in themselves, they can never be used as means. Jesus Christ beat the moneychangers and threw over their tables because these were properties which were desecrating a more sacred property—the Church. Our point is that we’re destroying property which is desecrating the most sacred property—life. Was Jesus Christ guilty of assault and battery? (qtd. in Gray 179)

          In short, through America’s quest to accumulate material property, rapacious capitalism has reified human beings. Phil Berrigan, a member of the Catonsville Nine, quipped, “One thing that Americans do understand is the destruction of property! Think of how much more upset the average parent is when his kid smashes the family car into a tree than when he receives an induction notice” (qtd. in Gray 151).

          Thus burning draft files served two interrelated functions in the larger goal of reconfiguring the moral order. First, those individuals whose draft files were destroyed were ensured of not being drafted in what was perceived by many as an unjust war. Such an act of destruction was ironically lifesaving. Secondly, perhaps even more important, burning draft files was the impetus for ensuring the M-14’s mortification. As stated the M-14’s scapegoating of the Selective Service was an incomplete sacrifice. For if scapegoating the supreme example of property—the Selective Service—would have exculpated the sins of the Milwaukee Fourteen, then why stand around and wait to be arrested? A defining feature of the sacrificial deed, which marks the M-14’s act as mortification, is the protest notion of “stand around.” Contrary to other alternative tactics such as “hit and run,” after burning the draft files the M-14 simply awaited arrest. Their sabotage was grounded in “the nonviolent mystique that the presence of the man awaiting arrest, sacrificing his freedom to witness to his moral indignation, is an ingredient that transforms sabotage into a religious act” (Gray 2). Along with this shift from sabotage to act of witness, the M-14’s hybrid-victimage becomes clear. They state: “We have no illusions regarding the consequences of our action. To make visible another community of resistance and to better explain our action, we have chosen to act publicly and to accept the consequences. But we pay the price, if not gladly, at least with profound hope” (3). Here, the mortified are transvalued into more than an instance of self-atonement, but, rather, are offered up as a scapegoat for the collective guilt of a culture with the “profound hope” of transcending the disorder of war. In sum, Burke’s guilt-purification-redemption cycle is not always tidy; internal machinations occur. The M-14 was willing to stand in as scapegoat and be mortified by incarceration, however, in order for them to ensure mortification, it was necessary to locate an antecedent material scapegoat (the Selective Service, a penultimate synecdoche for property).

          Transvaluation and Mortification: Salvation, Condemnation, and Atonement

          Having established the M-14’s guilt and the role property played in the redemptive drama, let us now continue with an analysis of the ways in which the M-14 reappropriated the instruments of war for peaceful purposes, culminating in an act of martyrdom that transvalued mortification into a self-scapegoat. Just as the justification and public support for war necessitates a strategic choreography of attitudes, so, too, does resistance to the tribal war waltz require the “dancing” of new attitudes (PLF 9). But new attitudes are often side stepped or dubbed disgraceful by older orders with recalcitrant values. How can one rhetorically refresh the moral imaginative of older, static orders? One answer is through transvaluation. It follows that the attainment of a new moral order insistent on a conversion of hearts only has hope of taking hold to the extent that the old order undergoes significant rhetorical transformations.1 The M-14’s acts of destroying property did more than simply render the group consubstantial, scapegoat the Selective Service, or set in motion the cyclical elements of redemption; they also saved lives through nonviolent transvaluations.

          The M-14’s symbolic conversions rely on changing the perceived meaning of terms and contexts used by the old order. Such refining by redefining is similar to Burke’s concept of “exorcism by misnomer” (PC 133). Burke explains “[o]ne casts out demons by a vocabulary of conversion, by an incongruous naming, by calling them the very thing in all the world they are not” (133). The M-14’s name is itself an exorcism of the more familiar meaning of the M-14, an automatic rifle with a 20-round magazine, more efficient than the 8-round weapon used in World War II and Korea. One protest poster offered this ironic slogan “The M-14, a soldier’s best friend.” Thus, the proverbial sword is turned into the plowshare. But the M-14 had other significations, as well: the number fourteen indicated an increasing momentum and potency of the movement, containing more members than those of antecedent groups—the Baltimore four, and the Catonsville nine.

          In addition to transvaluing the meaning of the M-14 machine gun, the scene where the draft files were burned and the M-14 awaited arrest also undergoes a symbolic reformation.2 The draft files were strategically burned with homemade napalm in a nearby park that memorialized America’s war heroes. It goes without saying that a nation’s commemoration of its war dead is an archetypal and rhetorical aesthetic form. But as Burke would remind us, such a form is not only “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” (LSA 45). Under a different scheme of hierarchical and cultural values, at different times in history, involving different wars, it is possible to interpret commemoration as condemnation.

          However, this translation from commemoration to condemnation is more easily understood when juxtaposed by competing symbolic forms. The choice of the war memorial is intended to produce a radical rethinking of the exploits involved in what those monuments represent. Honor becomes horror, and we are reminded that both “victim and executioner have been trapped in the same dragnet of death” (MFS 3).It is also important to note that it is at this park where the M-14 themselves are arrested. From the perspective of a religious drama, the Milwaukee memorial park may be transvalued into the Garden of Gethsemane through Burke’s idea of secular conversions. “It [conversion] effects its cures by providing a new perspective that dissolves the system of pieties lying at the roots of the patient’s sorrows…offering a fresh terminology of motives” (PC 125). Scholars of rhetoric have observed discourse’s ability to reinforce the conversion process.3 The M-14’s own religious piety is consubstantiated by the symbolic conversion of the situation. The act of their willing arrest converts a secular green space into the locus of their Lord’s sacred Passion. Just as Jesus refrained from resistance upon his arrest by Roman centurions, giving himself up freely; so, too, did the Milwaukee Fourteen accept the consequences of their actions. In doing so, they invited the American public to view their mortification as a resistive act having larger sacrificial purpose.

          Finally, there is the repeated allusion to Napalm, which the M-14 used both rhetorically and extra-rhetorically in their act of resistance.4 Symbolic destruction of institutional property and the burning of documents rest on mythic, biblical and historical precedent. Harvey Cox, a Harvard theologian, compared the acts of the radical Catholic anti-draft movement to several other such religious acts, including:        

          Jeremiah destroying the clay pots on the steps of the Temple; to William Lloyd    Garrison’s public burnings of the Constitution in protest against slavery; to Martin Luther’s burning of Cannon Law in front of the University of Wittenberg.... Catholic priests have a special task of carrying out sacrificial acts which lead to redemption. (qtd. in Gray 163)    

          Before elucidating how the extra-rhetorical use of napalm functions as incipient redemption and corroborates the hybrid victimage thesis, let me explain the rhetorical ways in which the M-14 reconstitute napalm. First, they plainly state, “we use napalm and strike at the draft as a point of continuity in the nonviolent struggle recently carried forward in Maryland” (2). This genuflection to the Catonsville nine, who also burned draft files with napalm, sears the bands together, thereby sustaining and propelling the Catholic anti-draft movement. Secondly, apart from the simple thought that “if it worked once, it will work again,” they use napalm metaphorically. “Indeed Napalm is the inevitable fruit our national un-conscious, the signs of our numbness to life” (2). This metaphor operates on two levels. First, as an all-consuming weapon of mass destruction, napalm is compared to the collective complacency that has subsumed the Catholic Church and the larger American public. While the comparison to “the inevitable fruit,” may appear anachronistic, it becomes analogous to the forbidden fruit of the Garden Eden in the book of Genesis when conjoined with the possessive pronoun our preceding “national un-conscience” and “numbness.” When they eat this fruit under the temptation that it will make them godlike, they directly disobey God’s commandment and thereby instantiate humanity with our “original sin.” Likewise, in the U.S. military’s ubiquitous and arbitrary use of napalm it attempts to be god-like, raining fire down on our enemies, the godless Communists of Vietnam.

          Another example present in the opening section of the pamphlet informs readers of precisely why the M-14 chooses to use napalm. In burning government property the M-14 turns the very instrument of war on itself. This transposing of napalm gets close to a more elaborate symbolism. Recall that in order for the M-14’s or any group’s redemption there must first be a purgatory ritual. It has become clear that what the M-14 desires to purify is not the simple machinery of war, but the ideology promulgated by it. It is an ideology that sees “devotion to property take ever greater precedence over devotion to life” (MFS 4). The expiation of guilt, the rejection of the hierarchical position that America has placed on death over life and the guilt by association that complacency produces requires a purification ritual. Joseph Gusfield, in the introduction of Kenneth Burke On Symbols and Society observes, “Rituals, dramatic enactments, provide us with visible symbols in which hierarchy is built up and in which rejection is atoned for (33). Thus, a more expanded understanding of the M-14’s transvaluation of napalm requires the knowledge of liturgical ritual. As the M-14 prepared the altar for sacrifice, as it were, these “suffering servants” burned draft files in order to enact the final rite of mortification.

          Most importantly, through mortification by incarceration, the M-14 publicly forge a moral reordering. Although the symbol of fire in most religions has liturgical resonance signifying refinement, purity, or vengeance, for the M-14 it is the light of new life brought about by a holocaust, the “purgatorial fire,” the “ritual cleanser” (SM 97). The draft files functions as a synecdoche representing the larger institution of war and all the guilt and disorder associated with it while destroying the draft files functions as a scapegoat device and not as an act of mortification alone. Since new covenants require the central agents of fire and sacrifice, napalm is transvalued into the fire that creates a new non-violent moral vision with the sacrifice occurring in the arrest and imprisonment of the M-14. While potential draftees’ lives were saved by the protest pyre, the sacrificial act is not complete without self-victimage. Here Burke’s more nuanced definition of mortification as “scrupulous and deliberate clamping of limitation upon the self” (qtd. in Burke, PC 289) aligns most appropriately with the redemptive drama of the M-14. The M-14’s meticulously planned and public act of burning Federal property and subsequent incarceration, the “clamping” of handcuffs, the “limitation” of space, and restrictions of freedoms were all expected and accepted consequences. These self-impositions, the symbolic death of one’s liberties, thereby constitute a form of mortification. The M-14’s hybrid victimage becomes the ultimate act of transvaluation whereby one becomes the object of sacrifice themselves.


          The purpose of this paper has been to challenge the narrowly defined concept of mortification by analyzing an act of resistance that illustrates how categorical guilt can be purified through a blend of mortification and scapegoating. The M-14’s actions were not those of mere anarchists or saboteurs, but those of “secular sinners.” The M-14 mortified themselves for the disordered transgressions (most notable the Vietnam War, racism, sexism, poverty, and exploitative capitalism) of a culture. Crucial to this sacrificial drama is that the Selective Service be marked as scapegoat. However, because the M-14 saw themselves complicit with the larger socio-political sins of the Vietnam era, stealing and destroying draft files from the Selective Service did not to purify their guilt outright. It only became a subsequent sin, a necessary catalyst for their mortification by incarceration. Ultimately, the M-14’s brand of hybrid victimage managed both individual and collective guilt and, most importantly, saved human lives through peaceful, nonviolent resistance.

          * Dr. Christopher J. Oldenburg is Assistant Professor of Communication and Rhetorical Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois. He can be reached at


          1. For an excellent analysis of how a new order (albeit an odious one) is achieved by distorting the symbols of another see Kenneth Burke, “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle” in The Philosophy of Literary Form.
          2. In focusing on the scene or site of the resistive act of destroying draft files, I do so for the purposes of demonstrating the concept of transvaluation and mortification. While I acknowledge the scene is arguably the most prominent element of Burke’s dramatistic pentad, it is not my intention to analyze the scene from that framework.
          3. See E.E. White. Puritan Rhetoric: The Issue of Emotion in Religion. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. 1972.
          4. For Burke’s own poetic reflections on the Vietnam War and napalm, see, Collected Poems 1915-1967, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968, 290-291.

          Works Cited

          Brown, Stephen. Angelina Grimke: Rhetoric, Identity, and the Radical Imagination. East Lasing: Michigan State UP, 1999. Print.

          Brummett, Barry. “Burkean Scapegoating, Mortification, and Transcendence in Presidential Campaign Rhetoric.” Central States Speech Journal 32 (1981): 254-264. Print.

          Burke, Kenneth. Attitudes Towards History. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984. Print.

          —. Collected Poems 1915-1967. Berkeley: U of California P, 1968. Print.

          —.“A Dramatistic View of the Origins of Language.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 38 (1952): 251-264. Print.

          —. Essays Toward a A Symbolic of Motives, 1955-1955. Ed. William H. Rueckert. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2007. Print.

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

          —. On Symbols and Society. Ed. Joseph R. Gusfield. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1989. Print.

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

          —. Philosophy of Literary Form Studies in Symbolic Action. 3rd ed.Berkeley: U of California P, 1973. Print.

          —. “The Poetic Motive.” Hudson Review 40 (1958): 54-63. Print.

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

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

          Calvin, Margret. “Replacing the Scapegoat An Examination of the Rebirth Strategies Found in William Sloane Coffin’s Language of Peace.” Peace & Change 19 (1994): 276-295. Print.

          Carter, Allen C. Kenneth Burke and the Scapegoat Process. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1996. Print.

          Forest, Jim. “In a Time of War.” Delivered into Resistance. (N. editor) New Haven: The Advocate Press, 1969. Print.

          Gray, du Plessix Francine. Divine Disobedience: Profiles in Catholic Radicalism. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970. Print.

          Ivie, Robert L. “Metaphor and the Rhetorical Invention of Cold War ‘Idealists.’” Communication Monographs 54 (1987): 165-182. Print.

          —. “Fighting Terror by Rite of Redemption and Reconciliation.” Rhetoric and Public Affairs 10 (2007): 221-248. Print.

          King, Martin Luther Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Audiences and Intentions: A Book of Arguments. 2nd ed. Ed. Nancy Mason Bradbury and Arthur Quinn. New York: Macmillan, 1994. 43-55. Print.

          Kirkhorn, Michael. “Draft Office Here Raided, Protestors Burn Records.” The Milwaukee Journal 25 September 1968: 2. Print. 

          Milwaukee Fourteen, The. The Milwaukee Fourteen Statement. Milwaukee: The Milwaukee Fourteen, 1968. Print.

          Patrinos, Dan. “War Protestors Give Statement.” The Milwaukee Sentinel 25 September 1968: 7. Print.

          Rueckert, William H. Kenneth Burke and the Drama of Human Relations. 2nd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1981. Print.

          Vkbellis. “Milwaukee Fourteen Action.” YouTube, 22 Feb. 2009. Web. 5 Sept. 2012.

          White, E.E. Puritan Rhetoric: The Issue of Emotion in Religion. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1972. Print.

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

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          Review: Moving Bodies by Debra Hawhee

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

          Patricia Fancher, Clemson University

          Debra Hawhee’s book Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language develops the only comprehensive examination of the role of bodies in Burke’s rhetorical theory. For Burke scholars, this fact alone makes this book a significant contribution to the continuing conversation that Burke initiated. In addition, Hawhee argues that the broader field of rhetorical theory must re-focus on the body in order to account for the complex interaction of language and material in each rhetorical situation. This book constructs an argument for and a performance of body-focused rhetorical analysis.  Through her body-focused analysis of Burke, Hawhee illustrates how refocusing on the body in rhetoric can add new depth and complexity to our understanding of rhetoric and rhetorical theory.  For an audience of Burke scholars and rhetoricians in general, this book reminds us that the body is the foundation of rhetoric, and that we create new perspectives to understand any rhetorical situation by paying close attention to bodies. 

          Hawhee argues that, in Burke’s rhetorical theories, bodies are inseparable from language. Bodies and language are in a co-constituting relationship. Bodies represent non-symbolic motion. Words represent symbolic action. Although Burke distinguishes between non-symbolic motion and symbolic action, language (symbolic action) cannot exist without bodies (motion). Therefore, bodies form the ground of all symbolic action. If we are to understand symbolic action, we must understand the bodily foundation. However, bodies are not just the foundation of symbolic action; Hawhee focuses on numerous ways that the bodies in Burke’s world and his writing move toward language and symbolic action. Hawhee’s argument focuses on how bodies move, dance, and sneak away from non-symbolic motion and toward symbolic action. Hawhee supports this argument by looking at how bodies, in Burke’s writings, in Burke’s life, and in Burke’s own body, move toward language.

          Burke’s employer, Colonel Author Woods of the Bureau of Social Hygiene, was a significant ‘body’ outside Burke’s text that influenced Burke as he formulated his method of counter-efficient scholarship and perspective of incongruity. Hawhee explains that the Colonel represented the counter-Burke, about whom Burke once claimed “it would take a life time to explain the damages and rewards” from working with Colonel Woods (61).  Woods was efficient, serious, and bureaucratic (62). He promoted the training of efficient disciplined bodies in order to create efficient social organizations. Colonel Woods held an unwavering conviction that drugs, of any sort, are evil, in part, because they drugged body was an inefficient, uncontrolled body (69).

          Hawhee explains Burke’s reaction to this professional relationship: “the counter-efficient style of scholarship no doubt made more explicit to Burke through his oppositional relation to Colonel Woods” (74). Burke develops his counter-efficient style of scholarship, in part, as a reaction to the ‘efficient’ bodily mannerisms and convictions of Colonel Wood. Burke saw this type of efficiency as a form of mental gridlock. Burke advocates for a ‘counter-gridlock’ that would allow the mind to “go every which way” (64). This counter-gridlock thinking appears as the key term ‘perspectives by incongruity’ in Permanence and Change and Attitudes Toward History, the books that Burke wrote during and immediately after his employment at the Bureau. 

          Hawhee’s chapter “Body Language: Paget and Gesture-Speech Theory” focuses on the bodies within Burke’s texts in order to explain how Burke configured the body/language dualism.  Hawhee traces out numerous locations where Burke invokes gesture-speech theory. Hawhee argues, “attention to Burke’s Pagetian side will show… that attitude both stems from and manifests in generative, connective, bodily movement…. Burke’s addition of attitude brings with it the crucial mind-body correspondences that his theories honored all along” (108). Gesture-speech theory draws on physical science and evolutionary theory to argue that language evolved out of a foundation in the body and gesture (107).  Burke developed an interest in Richard Paget’s gesture-speech theory early in his career and continued to incorporate the concepts into his theories of dramatism and symbolic action.

          Burke uses gesture speech theory to demonstrate that bodies have a formative role in the ‘linguistic dance’ of meaning and attitude (117). Bodies do not simply produce the sounds necessary to speak and convey meaning. The body also performs the attitude motivating the speech act. The physical cues made by the larynx and mouth, which he calls ‘tonal gestures’, convey meaning and attitude that may or may not correspond to the logic of the words alone. In Philosophy of Literary Form, Burke writes, “The Paget theory of ‘gesture speech’ obviously makes a perfect fit with this [theory of drama] perspective by correlating the origins of linguistic action with bodily action and posture” (121, in Hawhee). Hawhee stresses that Burke’s interest in gesture speech theory should remind rhetoricians that “communication is difficult to separate from language’s materiality, which is never far from communing, communicative bodies” (124).

          The final chapter, “Welcome to the Beauty Clinic”, is likely the most useful for rhetoricians interested in the connection between bodies and rhetoric because Hawhee performs the most body-focus method of rhetorical analysis, which she calls a body biography. In this chapter, Hawhee creates direct connections between an analysis of Burke’s physical condition and his intellectual progress on the Symbolic of Motives. Until this point, Hawhee has performed a rhetorical method that connects Burke’s writings to the bodies in Burke’s life. She has also performed a method that connects Burke’s writings on bodies and his writings on language. In this chapter, she moves language and bodies even closer by making the most direct connection between bodies and language. Hawhee explains the method is to “examine how two bodies – the body in theory and Burke’s own ailing body – both sculpted and stultified his writing during this period [1950’s]” (129).

          She opens the analysis by discussing Burke’s various ailments and then connects those ailments to Burke’s developing thinking on bodies and symbolic action. His abuse of alcohol and ongoing respiratory ailment hindered the flow of his ideas. These physical conditions affected his process of writing, creating starts, stops and interruptions. His writing stops and stumbles like the Gaspo-Gaggo-Gulpo of his lungs struggling to breath. Both of these physical ailments led Burke to return to thinking on the body in further depth. Hawhee explains, “Burke’s relationship to his ailing body, as evidenced in his painstaking account of his symptoms’ correlation – indeed, response – to the flow of ideas, approximates....a belief in the transformative power of illness” (134). She then connects these physical ailments to how Burke develops four different bodies of catharsis – bodies that purge, bodies that laugh and cry, bodies of the crowd, and bodies as part of ecology - in “On Catharsis or Resolution” a piece of writing that was intended to contribute to A Symbolic of Motives, his final major book project. Hawhee explains that these bodies and Burke’s own body remind him of the ‘deathiness’ that “paradoxically binds and divides bodies and language” (146). Without bodies, language may be pure and essential, but it would also be dead and empty. Bodies give language life, vivacity and through the birth and death of new bodies, language builds and grows.

          Hawhee does not simply urge rhetoricians to focus on the connection between language and body; her entire book performs body-focused rhetorical analysis. This focus on the body is most clear in “Welcome to the Beauty Clinic”. In Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language, Hawhee effectively argues for a rhetorical analysis at the intersection of language and bodies. The book functions as a performance of a rhetorical analysis that connects bodies and language. By connecting Burke’s ideas to the bodies surrounding the texts, this book breathes fresh life into Burke’s words. Before publishing Moving Bodies, Hawhee states, “It would be incumbent upon Burke scholars to take seriously Burke’s terms and turns and look into their conditions of emergence” (Burke on Drugs, 1). Moving Bodies represents the most extensive example connecting Burke’s terms and turns and their “conditions of emergence”. In this case, the conditions of emergence are the bodies in the text, the bodies influencing Burke’s ideas, and Burke’s own body as he develops his theories throughout his life. Hawhee’s argument and performance in this text remind scholars of rhetoric to pay attention to the bodies that give language life, movement and energy.

          * Patricia Fancher is a PhD student in the Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design program at Clemson University.

          Works Cited

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

          Hawhee, Debra. “Burke on Drugs”. Rhetoric Society Quarterly. 34:4 (2004), 5-28. Print.

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          Review: Ralph Ellison and Kenneth Burke by Bryan Crable

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

          Tyler Branson, Sharon A. Harris, Tom Jesse, and Joel Overall, Texas Christian University

          Ralph Ellison once said in an interview that he chooses not to recognize a distinct “white” culture: “I recognize no American culture,” he said, “which is not the partial creation of black people” (McPherson 174). Ellison thus rejected the separation of “black culture” from a more general “American” culture. And this “fundamental hybridity” (Stephens 119) embodied in Ellison’s work is what, according to Bryan Crable, links him with Kenneth Burke. Ralph Ellison and Kenneth Burke: At the Roots of the Racial Divide highlights how the personal relationship between the two men embodies a “distinctly American” conversation, one in which discomfort, silence, distance, and awkwardness represent building blocks of a new kind of “transformative discourse” which more accurately counters the prevailing and stifling dialogue on race in America.

          In Chapter 1, Crable investigates why, given their biographical and intellectual alignment (45), Ellison’s fan-letter to Burke—in which he said he was “indebted” to Burke’s theories—was met with “awkward distance” and reticence (3). Crable writes that Burke’s “discomfort” with Ellison’s praise and identification indicates the larger “awkward conversation” developing around race in America, the “antagonistic cooperation . . . that has long characterized the relationship between blacks and whites” (5).

          In the book’s second chapter, Crable frames his discussion of the brief correspondence between Burke and Ellison around a central paradox. The chapter’s title—“Antagonistic Cooperation”—borrows from Ellison’s comments on the challenges of maintaining friendships between writers (46), but Crable shifts here from personal history to textual analysis in an effort to demonstrate how the long silences and unresolved tensions present in their “ongoing dialogue had helped [Burke and Ellison] create some of their most celebrated works” (78).

          Over a series of five documents—Ellison’s 1945 essay “Richard Wright’s Blues