Issues of KB Journal

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

Volume 12, Issue 2 Spring 2017

Contents of KB Journal Volume 12, Issue 2 Spring 2017

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

Jodie Nicotra, University of Idaho

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

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

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

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

Haunted by Technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amplifying Obsession - Responses to Technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Technological Devolution, Social Innovation: Attitudes Toward Industry

M. Elizabeth Weiser, The Ohio State University

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


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

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

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

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

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

Before examining specific museum exhibits, let me acknowledge the ongoing conversations in museum studies over the degree to which any museum exhibit is memory rather than history, story rather than truth; as well as questions of whose memory/history/story/truth is recounted and to what effect. These are important questions, but leaving them aside in this article, I will instead focus on the effects of the narratives told by the exhibits, adopting Burke's pragmatic social constructivism that acknowledges both the viability of multiple perspectives and the recalcitrant nature of "reality": It exists, and it sets bounds on the ways the past can be portrayed and the future envisioned. As Edward Schiappa writes in a piece comparing Burke's master tropes and Thomas Kuhn's scientific paradigm shifts, "Despite the potential cries of relativism against both, neither Kuhn nor Burke meant that people can 'see' anything they want" in our metaphor-infused world "because, as Burke noted, 'the universe displays various orders of recalcitrance' to our interpretations, and we are forced to amend our interpretations accordingly. Thus, our perceptions have an 'objective validity' (PC 256-57, qtd. in Schiappa). It is not that museum exhibits and the communities they serve cannot shape the story, it is that the material objects, the communal memories, the larger sociopolitical context, and even the generic characteristics of narrative itself all set bounds on just how the shaping will occur—and it is the shaping and its consequences I examine in this article.

As Hill notes, Burke's concern with technology was due in part to its role in heightening people's natural reluctance to change in response to changing circumstances because "although capable of communicating, machines lack the poetic sensibility to react to changing conditions with altered symbolism." Human motivation is understandable but not rational, as Burke insisted repeatedly as a counter to his positivistic age—it is shot through with attitudes while "the technological machine [is] the external expression of the rational ideal" (Burke, "Literature and Science" 160). Technology, like the science that develops it, pushes the human toward that "rational ideal," but the human condition recalcitrantly refuses. Thus, wrote Burke in this 1937 address to the Third American Writers Congress, "I think that the restricted concept of scientific style is not adequate to name human motivations. I doubt whether references to 'causality' will ever 'explain' choice; they can only chart limitations of choice" (163). For Burke, it is the artist who sees beyond the strictures imposed by current expected connections to make new connections. These new juxtapositions, new ways of looking at a situation, are what allow people to move beyond an entrenched mindset—in this case, to see themselves as more than the cogs in a machine (particularly if that machine is now failing). Whether a given museum allows the needed juxtapositions into its narrative can mean the difference between a community asserting itself as a change Agent in the conversation with technology and a community struggling to do so, as we shall see.

The Towns

Newark, Ohio, pop. 48,000, and Norrköping, Sweden, pop. 87,000, are surprisingly similar. Both were home to prehistoric native communities which left important archaeological remains that both towns, until recently, have largely ignored. Both towns took advantage of their strategic transportation opportunities—rivers and railroads—to become proud engines of the Industrial Age during the 18th to 20th centuries. As a Norrköping pamphlet explains, "Several hundred years ago a number of factories were built along the river Strömmen. Imposing factory buildings took shape, providing many of the inhabitants with work producing textiles, weapons, paper and electronics. Norrköping was a flourishing industrial city for many generations" (Upplev Norrköping). Newark, meanwhile, was a stop on the Ohio & Erie Canal, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and the National Road. Even today, Interstate 70, with its stream of semis delivering products back and forth across the country, runs just a few minutes south of town. By the 20th century Newark was the world's leading manufacturer of stoves and interurban cars, and its glass manufacturing, from Coke bottles to fiberglass, made it an important supplier in the global network. Large factory complexes dot its landscape. In the mid-20th century, Norrköping was called "Little Manchester"; Newark was "Little Chicago."

Clearly, the two towns' similarities are due in part to their integral roles in the industrial machine. As Burke noted in Attitudes Toward History, "We use the term 'world empire' with relation to technology because technology's vast and ever-changing variety of requirements means in effect that areas hitherto widely separated in place and culture are integrally brought together" (20). Both Norrköping and Newark utilized similar resources and locations to build powerful identities linking themselves to the global marketplace during the height of the Industrial Age, and with similar results. Beginning in mid-century, however, both towns suffered the effects of deindustrialization from automation and globalized competition. Little by little for the next forty years, the factories and mills shut down, thousands of people were thrown out of work, and the sense of identity in both towns suffered tremendous dislocation that continued through the turn of the new century. This was the destructive industrial force—or at least one of the destructive forces—that Burke saw as inherently threatening. The analogy Burke used in a 1974 article explaining his aversion to industrial technology was that "the driver drives the car, but the traffic drives the driver" ("Why Satire" 311)—that is, individuals are buffeted by the social force of the tools they supposedly control. Certainly this is what happened to the people of both Newark and Norrköping.

Out of this common industrial devolution, both towns opened museums devoted to their industrial legacy.

The Works Museum

The Works Museum, in Newark (hereafter the Newark Museum), was founded in the former Scheidler Machine Works, a 100-year old factory beside the mass of railroad lines and canal just south of the downtown courthouse square. Most of the museum, which attracts an audience mainly of local schoolchildren and their parents/grandparents, is oriented toward its ground floor science center, and the museum focuses the majority of its programming on science education and the returning small visitors who "play" in the center. But the reason the science center exists is because Newark identifies itself as a longstanding hub of technology, and that history is depicted on its much-less visited upper floor. One-third of this second-story space is devoted to the settlement and growth of the town into a "manufacturing city" during the19th century. Another third features volunteer-staffed "living history" displays from the era. A final third, "Manufacturing in Licking County," attempts to encapsulate the 20th century. Here are vitrines of self-contained displays from some dozen or so of Newark's key 20th century industries: Pure Oil, Rugg Lawn Mowers, Burke Golf Clubs, Wehrle Stoves, Heisey Glassware, Jewett Interurban Cars, Park National Bank, Holophane Lighting, Owens Corning Fiberglass.

Image of the Works Museum

Figure 1. Image of the Works Museum, Newark, Ohio, showing some of its historical exhibits of Newark industries. Photograph by the author.

More than half of the companies exhibited are now closed, and most of the others have seen significant local workforce reductions. The human impact on the workers of this dramatic change is only hinted at: "The Heisey Company closed its doors for Christmas vacation in 1957 and never re-opened." "In 1971 the Burke line moved to Morton Grove, Illinois." "By 1966 the plant was sold to the Roper Company." "The Jewett company declared bankruptcy in 1918 and never recovered." "What changes will take place in the 21st century?" asks the sign that closes the history section. Many of those changes have already occurred from the post-war industrial peak— the percentage of people in poverty in the County has nearly doubled in the first 15 years of the new century (Ohio Development Services Agency Research Office)—but that story is largely absent. Absent as well, then, is a dialogue on contemporary or future Newark.

What is this if not a Burkean terministic screen, the symbolic reflection of reality that by its very nature must be a selection of reality that must function also as a deflection of reality? Hill writes of technologists choosing terms that "select beneficial technological artifacts as argumentative proof of progress" thereby deflecting their "destructive reality." At the Newark Museum, the "proof of progress" that is selected is the glory that was, the technological achievements of an earlier era. The destructive reality that is deflected, therefore, is the human cost of the business cycles rendering many of these accomplishments obsolete. The company went bankrupt, the factory moved to Mexico, the business was sold to others . . . but what does this mean for the town? Because the Newark story focuses terministically on technology, it must spend its epideictic capital on praise alone—praise for the growing manufacturing might of the town, praise for the transportation channels, praise for the innovators who made technological advances and the entrepreneurs who opened factories; praise, then, for the factories themselves. If it were to epideictically blame anything, it would have to call into question the very advances—and advancers—that it is designed to praise.2

It is this gap in the selected conversation that the Arbetets Museum in Norrköping attempts to address.

The Museum of Work

The Arbetets—which means "Work" in Swedish, thus the Museum of Work—is housed in a former textile mill, and like Newark's The Works, it attracts a largely local audience of families, students, and retirees, with a smattering of tourists. Like Newark, the Norrköping Museum emphasizes upfront the educational fun of its children's science center. The historical aspects of Norrköping industry, meanwhile, are found next door in the Stadsmuseum (Norrköping City Museum), which includes a large section of textile mill and a "street" of 19th century tradesmen (cooper, cartwright, blacksmith, cobbler, tailor). So far this is not dissimilar to the Newark Museum, and from 2012-15 an exhibit of 20th-21st century history, displayed jointly in the two museums, echoed the post-war "Manufacturing in Licking County" exhibit as well. The synopsis for this exhibit, "Crisis and Vision: Dare to Love Norrköping," however, immediately makes it clear that the exhibit is more than epideictic praise for the glorious past. As it explains, "[h]istorically, the city of Norrköping has experienced both great successes as well as immense failures both of which have left their mark on the city and its inhabitants. What can we learn from these crises and visions and how will the city look in the future?" ("Facts about the Exhibition").

Image of the Arbetets Museum

Figure 2. Image of the Arbetets Museum, Norrköping, Sweden, showing the entrance to its multi-year exhibition "Crisis and Vision." Photograph by the author.

With its mix of epideictic praise and blame for the communal values on display throughout Norrköping's 20th-21st century iterations, the exhibit wades directly into a conversation that would be familiar across the industrial rust belt: "What happened, and what will we do now?" Like Newark, Norrköping in the first half of the 20th century billed itself as "The City with Self-Esteem." Like Newark, its signage reports that it had transportation, "amazing gear-driven technology," and "skilled, low-paid workers." It is here that the "work life" orientation of the Norrköping Museum comes forth, however, as the exhibit goes on to add that "factory work at this time was low paid, dirty, noisy, and dangerous." While the Newark Museum mentions that post-war life was faster paced, the Crisis and Vision exhibit notes that that fast-paced life also meant that "The work tempo was increased and breaks were shortened." Industry was good for Norrköping—but not only good. Yet it was also not only bad. There are many examples of civic pride in the successful town. When textile mills began closing in the 1950s-60s, then, as the exhibit goes on to narrate, Norrköping struggled to respond. In its self-identified "City of Tomorrow" of the 1960s, it first attempted diversified industry and tourism. In the 1980s, "A Friendly Town" welcomed government agencies and demolished block after block of the old 19th century worker apartments. The exhibit shows a photo of the bright modern worker apartments that replaced the slums, but it also discusses the epithet resulting from this demolition—"The Bombed City." "The bleak 1990s" threw thousands more out of work, yet the exhibit also displays promotional videos from the period touting the pleasures of Norrköping for both tourists and businesses.

Looking to the Present

In the 2000s, the area around the Norrköping Museum has seen its sprawling, shuttered factories revitalized and turned into a college campus branch, a science park for new knowledge-based industries, shops, concert hall, and tourist office, all linked by pedestrian/bike pathways along the rejuvenated river in "The City of Knowledge and Culture."

The area around the Newark Museum is also revitalizing, with its 19th century courthouse and jail now deemed "historic" and marked for renovation, its closed movie and ballroom "palaces" turned into live concert venues, its square made pedestrian-friendly, its paved-over canal transformed into a covered Farmer's Market, and, slowly, ugly streetscapes turning into inviting areas. Industrial technology is also making new inroads into the county at large, with new companies moving in, taking advantage once again of the central location. Unemployment is down to 3.8% as of this writing, one of the lowest in the state (Williams).

At the same time, both towns face a continuing problem of poor health, low education, and un- (or under-) employment among their poorest residents. The workers that new industries need are dozens of highly skilled engineers and technicians, not the thousands of low-skilled line workers of decades past. This ambiguous recent development is documented in the Norrköping Museum exhibit, but not at the Newark Museum, where the epideictic praise-display upholding the value of Newark's past industrial greatness closes off the narrative from critique, and therefore from the possibility of discussing an ambiguous present. In contrast, the final sign in the Norrköping exhibit not only lays out the data on current successes and failures, it also encourages audiences to actively consider their impact and identify with the town: "Today, a lot of hard work is being done to create an attractive image of Norrköping. But the reality is more complicated. What is your view of Norrköping?" In a more dialectical world, people are the Agents in the conversation.

Assigning the Agents

What is it about the Norrköping Museum that allows it to engage visitors in the ongoing technology-driven changes outside its doors in a way that the Newark Museum cannot?

First, the mission statement of the Norrköping Museum focuses on people in dialogue, not industrial success. The Norrköping Museum's mission is "to document working life and bring its history to life through: providing a forum for debate and interpretation of the working lives and conditions of women and men" ("About the Museum"). Though this is similar to the mission statement of the Newark Museum, which aims to be "an interactive learning center where people of all ages can have fun and be inspired by the history, technology and artistic accomplishments of the communities we serve" ("About the Works"), there are two fundamental differences. One is the terministic screen through which the museums examine the role of industry in their communities. The Newark Museum adds to its mission statement an origin narrative noting that its founder "assembled a group of local citizens interested in preserving Licking County's industrial past" ("About the Works"). That is, preservation of industry was the impetus for the museum. Both museums recognize that workers and technology are the two components of industry, but the terministic screen for Norrköping—the linguistic lens with which it names its world—focuses on the workers ("working life") while that for Newark focuses on the technology ("industrial past"). Not surprisingly, then, the Norrköping Museum includes a number of social commentary exhibits among its rotating collections, such as the "Industrial Country—Sweden in the Modern Age" exhibit when I was there in 2012; "Job Circus," whose goal was both to help young people explore careers of the future and explain causes of the skills mismatch in 2014; or their recent "Land of Tomorrow," an exhibit that is "meant to be a tool box and source of inspiration for discussions and thoughts about a future that is sustainable – ecologically, economically and socially" ("Current Exhibitions"). That is, the Norrköping Museum uses its exhibits to re-orient its audiences from a late-century perception of themselves as (failing) industrial giants by posing critical questions designed to encourage thinking not so much about the technology itself but about the city's reaction to it, and their continuing reaction. The Newark Museum, in contrast, is more trapped in the past. It might, with its terministic screen of technology, add extant industries to its display cases, but by focusing on technologies rather than people its narrative can only relate the next industrial success rather than the ongoing town actions/reactions. Thus, its two industrial exhibits in the past few years have (1) added a display case on communication that "encourages all to examine how the cell phone has changed their own life and the world" ("History Exhibits"); and (2) housed a temporary exhibit on the history of glass-making, focusing on praising the post-war innovations of mid-century giants Owens Corning and Holophane, two companies that have downsized and closed in the county, respectively, in the past 10 years.

The difference in their terministic screen (industrial past or working life), in turn, affects to whom they assign the pentadic role of Agent in the dramatic conversation between human and technology. Newarkians should love Newark because it has been great. This terministic choice, however, in combination with its necessary focus on decades-old history, has consequences not only for the narrative but also for the current communal identity of the narrative's audience. To Newarkians today—to the 21 percent below the poverty line, for instance (Ohio Development Services)—"it has been great" is neither a current reality nor a future promise with which they can personally identify. The possible responses to this narrative of past industrial greatness are only passive: People can despair that the greatness is gone or they can wait for it to return (and hope it touches them). In this light, even the vote for a demagogue who promises to "Make America Great Again" is in the end a passive gesture—a shot in the dark that someone with the authority of industry can make bring back the past for them. In all cases, it is industro-technology which is the acting Agent, the one in the driver's seat, not humanity.

In contrast, the Norrköping Museum narrative is not one of industrial greatness but of industrial greatness and corresponding humanitarian difficulties. Its focus on working life means that its epideictic narrative can both praise workplaces for their industrious innovation and blame them for working conditions, pay, etc. Focusing on the social means focusing on the town, in other words, and the town can advance and retreat and (ambiguously) advance again. This is a narrative not of greatness but of resilience, and innovative Agents are not only technological but also social—perhaps most importantly social. Burke thought this focus on sociability to be key to understanding human motivation. Humans, he thought, were best explained not by their role as individuals who happened to join into groups, but as primarily political beings, "a context of definition whereby his individual role is defined by his membership in a group" ("Literature and Science" 165). It is through their identification as social/political beings that humans find themselves, Burke thought, not vice-versa, and therefore a focus on social resilience is in essence an appeal to human nature. Norrköpingers are encouraged by the museum narrative's praise and blame of the ongoing social history to identify with this ongoing social resilience of the town itself, and this calls for a more active response than that of Newark. It is a response that promotes ongoing cooperative innovation. To put it another way, residents of Norrköping are encouraged by the narration of their past century to become participating Agents in the succession of challenges and successes brought by technology to their town, while residents of Newark are prompted by the narrative to see their historic role as passive Agencies who may (or may not) be used by the industrial Agents that are changing the town today.

The Comic Corrective, the Industrial Past, and the Critical Present

Burke's America in the late 1930s was a time not wholly unlike our own. The disruptions and hardships of the Depression dragged on, war grew more and more imminent, and the bright promise of technology to make lives better that was so keen in early decades of the century grew increasingly muddied by its human consequences. Despite widespread struggle and the specter of worse, however, people did not rise up and embrace structural change—and Burke struggled in articles and books to understand why not. As he put it his 1937 piece for the Third American Writers' Congress, "[I]f we do learn by analogy, if we do form our response to new situations on the basis of what we have learned from past situations, it would seem to follow that we must, to an extent, be hypnotized by a past situation while confronting a new one" ("Literature and Science" 169). Technology was the rational outcome of the rational mind—and if the rationality that produced the very technology creating such new situations could only lead to continuing down the same path, regardless of human desire for other choices (the traffic driving the driver) then some way of perceiving the situation that was less purely rational was a needed corrective. As I've written about elsewhere (see Weiser, Burke, War, Words), it was the New Critical way of looking at old situations, exploring juxtapositions and paradoxes, embracing ambiguity, all so much a part of the modernist poetry of the early 20th century, that was Burke's model of the "sharp sound that awakens us [from our hypnosis], at times when the rise of new materials requires us to shake off an old perspective and to frame a wider circle of correctives" ("Literature and Science" 171). That is, the solution to "technosis," the kind of rational technological perspective that would lead to misery and war, was not more of the same but something different, a new, wider frame of reference enabled by a conscious reframing from inevitable tragedy to Agent-driven comedy.

To return to Burke's technological conundrum, does the fast-paced world in which so much of society finds itself, with technological advances that drive the driver, benefit society or threaten it? Although in Burke's 20th century those in power largely answered "benefit" and Burke therefore focused on "threaten," a Burkean comic frame would instead answer "yes." Yes, it does both, but—as was evident at the recent global climate summit—it is humans, not machines, who have the potential agility to adapt their conversation with technology to reflect changing Scenes and the shrewdness to continue the dialogue. Burke's stated view on technology seems so decidedly negative—as he sums up in "Why Satire," a relentless drive toward industrial technology produces waste, war, and pollution—that it seems too hopeless, of little use in forming an adequate conversation of "words about words about technology." For in fact Burke's view was rarely hopeless, and he both acknowledges the extremes of his perspective and offers a possible way out via what he termed from the beginning of his career the comic corrective (see Attitudes Toward History). While in a dramatic tragedy it is only through human suffering that catharsis is achieved, he noted, within the comic frame difficulties are not viewed as evils but as mistakes—and mistakes can be fixed. Thus Burke's explanation for the differences between the reactions to past greatness and ongoing resilience would be that the people of Newark are asked by their own industrial narrative to place themselves in the frame of a technological tragedy, invoking heroes and villains (then deflecting from the perceived villainy), while the people of Norrköping can place themselves within the frame of a social comedy, with its cast of fools, and then act to fix mistakes made earlier.

The outcome of the former is inevitable, that of the latter is a work in progress; thus, the tragic frame, Burke acknowledged, does not really offer a true perspective on the technological world.

Though the present developments of technological enterprise . . . have led to the affliction of much suffering, and raise many threats, the technologically experimental attitude behind all such activities is not in spirit tragic. So far as I can see, the technological impulse to keep on perpetually tinkering with things could not be tragic unless or until men became resigned to the likelihood that they may be fatally and inexorably driven to keep on perpetually tinkering with things. . . . Also, I keep uneasily coming back to the thought that, with the cult of tragedy, maybe you're asking for it. ("Why Satire" 312)

The technological impulse does not, in fact, lie in the hero-or-villain arena of tragedy unless we resign ourselves to its inevitability—whether that inevitability is the wasteful destruction of the planet or the technotopia of a brave new world. Thus pure indictment as surely as pure praise of our technological identity merely reduces our role as Agents in our own conversation.

The comic frame is the escape from the passive resignation or disengagement of such either-or thinking. "The comic frame of acceptance," he wrote in Attitudes toward History, "considers a human life as a project in 'composition,' where the poet works with the materials of social relationships" (173). As Burke had discussed in Permanence and Change, much social interaction tends toward stagnation rather than action—it was either wholly "euphemistic," upholding the status quo, or wholly "debunking," tearing down the existing structure (166). The comic attitude toward social interaction, in contrast, is neither overly sentimental—a nostalgic remembrance of better times—nor overly shocked when faced with the betrayal of those good times. It is instead a "shrewd but charitable" view toward one's opponents, one that acknowledges the possibility of betrayal even while continuing to engage, "picturing people not as vicious, but as mistaken. When you add that people are necessarily mistaken, that all people are exposed to situations in which they must act as fools, that every insight contains its own special kind of blindness, you complete the comic circle" (ATH 41). This shrewdness is what allows for social interaction rather than withdrawal— in interpersonal relationships as much as in political parlays and social dynamics. We might build an industrial empire only to lose it all and throw thousands out of work, we might pin our hopes on an industrial savior only to see it move to a cheaper labor market, we might try to clear out the slums and make better housing for all only to look like we've bombed our own city, we might better our lives through technology only to realize it is destroying the planet . . . and then, if properly primed by narratives of past engagements in similar dire moments, we might keep on trying. Notice again the Norrköping Museum's "Land of Tomorrow" exhibit: In a "future that takes the threat of climate change seriously," "what can you or I do?" it asks. Improving the conversation with technology—which is both part of the problem and part of the solution—is key to that future.

The comic frame, therefore, is not only a corrective to an overly rational historic hypnosis, not only a pragmatic solution. In its ambiguous perspective, its acknowledgment that there are multiple cuts of cheese even as one's own looks best, it is also the best way to converse with technology because technology itself is an ambiguous conversant, neither villain nor hero. At times technology is the Agency or tool, the thing made by our industrial genius; at times the Action, the interactive exploration of our innovative selves; oftentimes it is the problematic Scene, the context within which industrial cities like Newark and Norrköping forge their communal identity; other times it is the Purpose, its perfection the entelechial end goal of our actions regardless of the human consequences. As hero or villain or fool, it can appear also as the co-Agent with us humans, acting on us even as we act on it. The comic frame, though, reminds us that we humans are also always Agents in this drama, needing to act and react to the ongoing conversation with technology.

The National Museum of American History

To demonstrate a bit of this comic frame enacted in a cultural scene, let us look at one other museum, the National Museum of American History (hereafter National Museum) in Washington, DC. Unlike Sweden's national museum—indeed, unlike any of the 25 other nations' museums that I examine in my forthcoming monograph Museum Rhetoric—the U.S. National Museum has two permanent exhibits (opened in July 2015) expressly devoted to industrial entrepreneurship and business innovation. To what extent does the comic frame exist in the narratives of these two exhibits? How is ambiguity acknowledged, and who are the Agents in this industrial scene—people or technology?

The more technologically focused exhibit, "Places of Invention," uses a tripartite narrative frame of people, place, invention to tell the stories of six American regions where technological innovation occurred. "What kind of place stimulates creative minds and sparks invention and innovation?" asks its introductory sign. "See what can happen when the right mix of inventive people, untapped resources, and inspiring surroundings come together." In dramatistic terms, particular groups of Agents paired with particular Scenes and Agencies enabled an innovate Act moving the nation into the modern world. So for instance, Stanford, sunny weather, and a "casual but fiercely entrepreneurial business climate" lured tech workers who eventually banded together as "academic, corporate, and hobbyist communities [to] invent the personal computer" in Silicon Valley. These simple, monologic praise narratives are openly family-friendly, not meant for in-depth critical thought. Its exhibits, however, do walk a line between our two local "Works" museums by assigning agency to people and places in conversation to produce technology. That is, if the bust, gender equality, or privacy issues are not discussed in the Silicon Valley section, neither are the silicon chip nor Ed Wozniak given sole credit for personal computing. Collaboration, the narrative tells us, was the key to the invention—and what better way to materialize Burke's dramatistic contention that in any symbolic action the Act, Agent, Agency, Scene, Purpose overlap, none of them complete without the others, because "we are capable of but partial acts, acts that but partially represent us and that produce but partial transformations" (GM 19). The comic ambiguity of these partial acts-interacting is the essence of how invention occurs in the "Places of Invention" story.

This partial biographical agency given to communities of people interacting in places is continued in the narrative of the other new permanent exhibit, "American Enterprise," just across the hall. The intended audience for this exhibit is clearly older, more educated, and more willing to take the time to contemplate than the audience for Places of Invention. Thus artifacts are musealized in vitrines with a variety of signage offering both casual and in-depth reading, but the attitude of knowledge-production is not necessarily equated with one solo Truth. Instead, American enterprise in this exhibit moves by fits and starts, sometimes taking a wrong path only to course-correct later, generally moving toward increased industrialization but always within a scene of ongoing debate over whether this movement is necessarily "progress." The exhibit moves chronologically and divides US industrial history into four epochs: the Merchant Era, Corporate Era, Consumer Era, and Global Era. Each section tells its story from a variety of perspectives, making overt for the visitor those multiple cuts of cheese that, as Burke insisted, would make it easier to view one's own cut as just one possibility. For instance, in the Merchant Era visitors learn about business in the early years of the nation from the stories of Metis fur traders, Eli Whitney, shopkeeper William Ramsey, weaver Peter Stauffer, and stories of electricity, slavery, debt, gold, and land grabs.

As we can see already, the frame of the exhibit allows for the inclusion of a number of "mistakes" in the entrepreneurial path, from slavery to (later) the annexation of Hawai'i, the Dust Bowl, and consumer debt. Rather than a tragic frame that insists on either epideictic praise or blame, the comic frame of the exhibit allows for both/and in the interaction between human and technology. For example, it notes that with digital technology, "immediate access to everything helped spawn a social media revolution, gave consumers greater choices, and sped up business. Some loved being connected, but others worried that they could never escape work or surveillance." The artifacts accompanying this ambiguous signage also sometimes support the narrative of praise and sometimes that of blame. Thus, accompanying the digital technology sign is a radial display of all the types of devices (phone, watch, camera, map, computer) that are now contained in one smartphone—a praise display. But accompanying the signage on globalization, which tells us that "in a globalized economy, innovative ideas and products flowed easily across national borders," a more ambiguous display includes a Japanese McDonald's sign, a Walmart truck, and a Disney shirt, raising questions about the kinds of "innovations" flowing across the world. And a vitrine discussing green business practices, which notes that at first "companies responded with empty public relations campaigns" and only later saw the potential for profit, accompanies this statement with photos almost exclusively of people, rather than technology, acting to promote change for a more sustainable future. Within a comic frame these human Agents interacting with technology need not be pure in their motivations nor produce wholly praiseworthy results in order to proceed. Indeed, the history of wrong turns included in the entrepreneurial story lessens the need to imagine that such future-forward acts as digital media, globalization, and sustainable energy must be already resolved as good (or bad). In the comic frame, where tragic absolutism turns to comic potentiality, they may well be good and bad.

Image of the National Museum of American History

Figure 3. An image of the National Museum of American History, Washington, DC, showing the diversity of perspectives in its display of industrial eras. Photograph by the author.

At the end of each of the four industrial eras, signage "Debating Enterprise" sums up the intended comic frame of the exhibit…. and Alexander Hamilton debate whether government should promote industry at all or should encourage farming to grow the new nation. (Admittedly, these "differing voices" are nearly exclusively male, a weakness of their selection.) The visitor may infer that the question of how to balance government and business for the benefit of the nation has been the predominant debate of American enterprise—and it is a debate at best unresolved and perhaps unresolvable. That as readers of this article we may feel strongly that there is, in fact, a proper balance that, almost certainly, the nation has not achieved demonstrates our propensity to embrace the tragic frame of right and wrong, good and evil. The comic frame opts instead for the ambiguous answer between Agents whose varying positions are not considered evil but at most mistaken, and partially foolish, capable of persuading/being persuaded.

Conclusion: Symbolic Engagement

In his presentation at the 9th triennial Burke conference, Jimmy Butts argued that for Burke it would be the end of the conversation that would be the real tragedy. Butts began with Burke's interest in the word "apocalypse," which (like substance, another favorite Burkean word) has a paradoxical meaning. From its Latin root, kalypto, we get "eclipse," a covering of the sun; adding apo- or "away from" gives us the "apocalypse"—so the cataclysmic end-time is literally an unconcealing or unveiling, "a revelation of the truth," says Butts. For Burke the end of the world as we know it, the entelechial stasis would be the revelation of some ultimate truth that ended the interminable conversation that is "always decentering" (Butts). Such a revelation of truth is often a desired goal—including a goal of visitors to a museum, who want to hear the one true story—but Butts points out that for Burke it is the ever-ongoing conversation that keeps us from apocalypse. The end of the debate is stasis, and in any living organism stasis equals death.

As is evident in today's spiral of rancorous, ad hominem attacks, most of us do wish for an end to the always decentering dialectic whenever we debate opponents with strongly held beliefs. Surely the giant industrial complex of the 20th century either was, in truth, heroic or was, in truth, demonic. It is well to remember that in Burke's definition of the human, homo dialecticus, the creature who ­­­"by nature respond[s] to symbols" (Burke, RM 43), is also homo technologicus, "separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making" (On Symbols and Society 70). What industrial museums and exhibits offer to the polarized world of homo technologicus, then, is a way to poetically interact with alienated (and alienating) technology. Recall Hill's insight that Burke's concern with technology was that it impeded change because unlike humans "machines lack the poetic sensibility to react to changing conditions with altered symbolism." The comic frame of a narrated exhibit can bring the human visitor into conversation with her own inventions—be they a full-scale turn-of-the-century machine workshop (Newark) or automated looms producing real woolen items (Norrköping) or the knick-knack-filled workshop of the inventor of Pong (National). They remind us materially of the relationship between humanity and technology. Though this can potentially be a mere nostalgia trap, the museal equivalent of "make America great again," it can also engage us in the narrative. And narrated as a heuristic for a community seeking agency, this engagement with the comic past of trial and error and trial again is an argument to move from the disempowering search for heroes and villains. As the National Museum asks visitors repeatedly, "What would you do?" This is the question not of victims of a tragic past but of citizens of an ever-struggling (ever-striving) future.


1. A version of this article was presented as a conference paper at the 9th Kenneth Burke Society Triennial Conference, July 2014. I am indebted to James Zappen's 2014 presentation at the Triennial Conference for the idea of this human-technology interaction as a "conversation" and a relationship, as well as his gracious reading of an earlier draft of this article. I am also grateful for the insightful comments of the KB Journal reviewer whose advice better focused the final draft.

2. Newark's newest permanent exhibit does highlight a person—local resident Jerrie Mock, who in 1964 became the first woman to fly solo around the world—but visitors are asked to imagine being her ("test your skills at a flight simulator"), rather than being asked, for instance, to consider how we in Newark today teach or learn the skills to become first in the world in a field.

Works Cited

Arbetets Museum. "About the Museum." n.d. Web. 2 Aug 2014.

—. "Current Exhibitions." 2015. Web. 13 December 2015.

—. "Facts about the Exhibition." Norrköping, Sweden, n.d. Print.

Burke, Kenneth. "The Anaesthetic Revelation of Herone Liddell." The Complete White Oxen: Collected Short Fiction. Berkeley: U of California P, 1968. 255-300. Print.

—. Attitudes Toward History. 3rd rev. ed. 1937. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984. Print.

—. Counter-Statement.1931. Berkeley, CA: U of California P, 1968. Print.

—. On Symbols and Society. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1989. Print.

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

—. "The Relation between Literature and Science." Henry Hart, ed. The Writer in a Changing World. New York: Equinox Cooperative Press, 1937. 158-71. Print.

—. A Rhetoric of Motives. 1950. Berkeley: U of California P, 1968. Print.

—. "Why Satire, With a Plan for Writing One." Michigan Quarterly Review 13.4 (1974): 307-37. PDF.

Butts, Jimmy. "How Burke Wanted to Save Us from Our Techno-Apocalypse." 9th Triennial Conference of the Kenneth Burke Society. St. Louis, MO, 19 July 2014. Presentation.

Hill, Ian. "'The Human Barnyard' and Kenneth Burke's Philosophy of Technology." KB Journal 5.2 (2009). Web. 1 Aug 2014.

Ohio Development Services Agency Research Office. The Ohio Poverty Report. Columbus, OH, 2014. PDF.

Schiappa, Edward. "Burkean Tropes and Kuhnian Science: A Social Constructionist Perspective on Language and Reality." JAC 2.13 (1993). Web.

The Works: Ohio Center for History, Art, and Technology. "About the Works." 2014. Web. 2 Aug 2014.

—. "History Exhibits." 2015. 13 December 2015.

Upplev Norrköping. The Industrial Landscape. Norrköping, Sweden: Upplev Norrköping AB, n.d. Print.

Williams, Mark. "Central Ohio Jobless Rate at 14-Year-Low." Columbus Dispatch 22 Sept. 2015. Web.

Zappen, James. "Kenneth Burke's Conversation with Technology." 9th Triennial Conference of the Kenneth Burke Society. St. Louis, MO, 19 July 2014. Presentation.

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Consummation: Kenneth Burke’s Third Creative Motive

David Erland Isaksen, University College of Southeast Norway


Kenneth Burke scholars differ on what the meaning of Burke's concept of consummation is and how it relates to perfection and entelechy. This article argues that consummation is a third creative motive (transcending self-expression and communication) that requires a rigorous vocabulary in order to be an active motivational force.

IN “A RHETORIC OF FORM: THE EARLY BURKE AND READER-RESPONSE CRITICISM,” Greig Henderson writes that we can divide Kenneth Burke’s scholarly project based on three creative motives which were at the center of his attention: self-expression, communication, and consummation (Henderson 127). Kenneth Burke himself discusses these three stages in his 1967 afterword to Counter-Statement, titled “Curriculum Criticum”: “The step from the opening chapter . . . to the next essay . . . clearly indicates a turn from the stress upon self-expression to a stress upon communication. And all that follows can be properly treated as the tracking down of the implications inherent in this turn. In later works I have added an explicit concern with the kind of consummation that is inherent in this very process of ‘tracking down the implications of a nomenclature’” (223-4). In other words, the transition from the first to the second chapter of Counter-Statement shows us Kenneth Burke shifting his focus from self-expression to communication, and the rest of the book tries to come to terms with (or track down) what it means to consider a text and its aesthetic qualities in terms of communication rather than self-expression. According to Burke, these findings were already implicit in the turn to communication, and he spends most of the book making them explicit. Later, he looked at the process he went through to track down the implications of this turn and “the kind of consummation” inherent in that process. By “the kind of consummation” I believe he is referring to the kind of drive, motivation, or urge he had, to find and flesh out the implications of this turn. Although Kenneth Burke never abandons self-expression or communication, we could make a rough outline of this scholarly progression based on these three creative motives, with the pre Counter-Statement era (1915-1931) concerned with self-expression, the 1930s and war years (1931-1945) concerned with communication, and the vast bulk of Burke’s later work (1945-1993) concerned with, or at least including a concern with, consummation. Of course, neither of the three motives are absent in his later work, so the best description of this progression may be as a shifts in emphasis rather than complete turns. 1

Even though consummation occupies a very central place in Kenneth Burke’s critical terminology, Burke himself mentions it by name very rarely. We find it mentioned twice in A Grammar of Motives, once in the essays that were meant to be a part of A Symbolic of Motives, twice in Rhetoric of Religion, four times in Language as Symbolic Action, and once in the essays collected in On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Everything Flows, 1967-1984. Yet the principle is discussed and illustrated at length in the manuscript Poetics, Dramatistically Considered (parts of which have been published in Unending Conversations) and it is referred to many times without him using that specific name. For example, William H. Rueckert writes in the preface to On Human Nature that the drive to take a vocabulary to the end of the line, which I argue is consummation, was Kenneth Burke’s major concern in his final years. Kenneth Burke himself refers to this drive as “consummation” on page 244 of the collection, but throughout the other essays he gives a description of the drive without using the word consummation. The drive is discussed in detail on pages 73-78 and is a recurring theme throughout the entire collection. 2

A survey of secondary scholarship and recent dissertations on related terms highlights the disagreement concerning this concept among some scholars and the complete absence of the term among others. Considering the density of Burke’s scholarship, it may not be surprising that this term has not been more developed and used in secondary scholarship than it has. Many scholars use terms like entelechy and perfection to discuss what Burke describes as consummation in the sources mentioned above. Others claim that Burke’s use of the term was similar to or the same as that of George Herbert Meade and John Dewey, or connect it with his concept of catharsis.

However, based on Burke’s writing, I claim that consummation is substantially different from entelechy and perfection. Whereas entelechy and perfection describe general tendencies and motivations, consummation is explicitly a linguistic phenomenon since it is the explicit drive to “track down the implications of a terminology.” Burke explains it with the example of an artist who starts with a desire for self-expression, develops this expression through a public medium for communication, and as a part of that process "encounters possibilities purely internal to the medium” that the artist then feels driven to complete or develop into reality “regardless of either self-expression or communication” (“Watchful” 48). As such, consummation describes a specific stage in the development of a terminology where the dialectic of self-expression and communication has developed a vocabulary with a momentum and life of its own. 3

Consummation in Secondary Scholarship

As mentioned above, few Burke scholars treat consummation individually as a significant term, often grouping or conflating it with entelechy or perfection. For example, in Kenneth Burke: Rhetoric, Subjectivity, Postmodernism, Robert Wess claims that “consummation” is basically a synonym for culmination, entelechy, and perfection, and that “sometimes even the same examples are used to illustrate entelechy in one context and another term in a different context” (246). However, Wess does not claim that consummation means exactly the same as the other terms, but rather that they are a part of the same “cluster of terms and examples” (246) 4. Of these terms, Wess chooses to discuss primarily entelechy and perfection and does not clarify any further how consummation is related to these. It may be indicative of similar thinking that in Kenneth Burke in the 21st Century, an edited collection of papers from the Kenneth Burke Society, there is not a single mention of consummation; however, there are frequent mentions of entelechy as a central principle. The way entelechy is described in this collection often sounds similar to how Burke describes consummation. For example, Star Muir writes that entelechy means “the tracking down of implications within a particular vocabulary” and that “Entelechy is illustrated, for Burke, in the scientific ‘perfection’ of the vocabularies of genetic manipulation” (36). Here, it seems that Muir conflates the principles of entelechy and consummation.5

There is a similar tendency to conflate perfection and entelechy or use them together without distinguishing clearly between them. In “Perfection and the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Teleology, and Motives,” Barry Brummett uses Burke’s concept of perfection to analyze why the atomic bomb is “such a powerfully motivating symbol” (88). He writes that the concept of perfection “is based on Aristotle’s idea of entelechy” (85) and describes a motive to extend and complete a vocabulary as “perfectionist,” implying that it is related to the drive for perfection. Brummett does not explain the specific relationship between the perfectionist motive, entelechy, and perfection, but the general impression is again that these terms are related, but do not mean exactly the same thing. In “Reassessing Truman, the Bomb, and Revisionism: The Burlesque Frame and Entelechy in the Decision to Use Atomic Weapons Against Japan,” Bryan Hubbard writes that entelechy is “the drive towards perfection,” so entelechy is the drive and perfection is the aim or end of the drive. This drive, he writes, “results from our ability to use symbols to envision the extreme ends of behavior” (360). Consummation is not mentioned by Brummett or Hubbard, which may indicate that they accept consummation as simply a synonym for entelechy.

Other scholars have briefly discussed the concept of consummation, but usually in a way that is peripheral to their main argument. In the introduction to Unending Conversations, for instance, Greig Henderson and David Cratis Williams write that Burke “shows how the motives of self-expression, communication, and consummation interanimate each other” (xi), but then do not write about exactly how Burke shows this. Henderson recognizes it briefly as a central motive in Kenneth Burke’s scholarship, but concerns himself more with the communicative aspects of Burke’s aesthetic theory (127). Similarly, Donald L. Jennerman briefly discusses consummation in “Burke’s Poetics of Catharsis.” He claims Burke developed consummation from his concept of “internal catharsis,” where a work is purified by being completed just as the fear and pity of the audience are purified by experiencing a tragic play. He states that this internal catharsis contains an “entelechial motive” and is “primarily an intellectual or aesthetic catharsis rather than emotional, it pertains less to pity and fear than to consternation and pleasure” (Jennerman 45). Yet, because his focus is on comparing the social and the individual aspects of Burke’s concept of catharsis, he does not discuss how this motive is developed and sustained. Cary Nelson discusses Burke’s more radical claims about language’s power to determine human action in “Writing as the Accomplice of Language: Kenneth Burke and Poststructuralism,” and includes a brief mention of consummation as the natural result of language and an “unconscious” that is desirous to complete terminologies (162). All these authors give some interesting insights, but do not give us any in-depth treatment of the concept.

Finally, there is a group of Burke scholars who connect consummation to the aesthetic theory of John Dewey and see it as the conclusion or result of a completed aesthetic process. In “Communication in Society,” Hugh Dalziel Duncan claims that the concept “consummation” has essentially the same meaning in the writings of Burke, Meade, and Dewey, and that it refers to a moment of finality at the end of an aesthetic process (417). Duncan sees consummation as a result rather than as a creative motive, which seems to go against Burke’s own description of where consummation fits in his critical vocabulary. In “A Dramatistic Theory of the Rhetoric of Movements,” Leland Griffin describes consummation as a stage in the life of a social movement and, therefore, talks about “consummation rhetoric” as containing specific traits. His description of rhetoric in the consummation stage is quite detailed and pulls together many of Burke’s thoughts on consummation, although he also sees consummation as a result rather than a motive.

These two main approaches to consummation, viewing it as a synonym for entelechy and perfection or relating it to Dewey’s aesthetic theory, seem to both be in use in modern publications on Burke. In his dissertation, “The Burkean Entelechy and the Apocalypse of John,” and in Implicit Rhetoric: Kenneth Burke’s Extension of Aristotle’s Concept of Entelechy, published in 1998, Stan A. Lindsay posits entelechy as Kenneth Burke’s most transcendent and most important term, and he analyzes the Revelation of John and the Branch Davidians at Waco to illustrate the mechanism of entelechy. In these two treatises, Lindsay mentions consummation only a few times, primarily as a synonym for the completion or fulfillment of an aesthetic process. In Kenneth Burke and the Conversation after Philosophy, published in 1999, Timothy V. Crusius sees consummation as being the fourth function of language. The first three are language as rhetoric, language as a “chart function” of realistic ambition, and language as self-expression (the dream function). Crusius writes, “After his initial treatment of symbolic action . . . Burke became interested in a fourth function of language, which he called ‘consummation’ that is, thoroughness, or the desire for ‘perfection,’ the drive to unfold to the last implication the meanings inherent in a given vocabulary” (73). However, he never distinguishes clearly between consummation, perfection, and entelechy. He talks about perfection as “a symbol-driven motive” and speaks of entelechy as a principle that leads to a “terministic compulsion” (170), which seems to conflate the concepts.

Most recently, Gregory Clark deals with consummation in Civic Jazz: American Music and Kenneth Burke on the Art of Getting Along. Of the two previously mentioned approaches, his treatment of consummation most closely mirrors the Dewey tradition. Clark sees consummation as a part of an aesthetic, communicative process where “separate identities dissolve into one, losing the differences that divide them in a felt experience of profound unity” (46). Thus, consummation is an aesthetic result, an “arrival at a destination where in our interactions no adjustment is needed for us to understand each other” (46). Clark believes that this is a state humans do not reach often, but that, as an experience, it maintains an aspiration and works as an ideal we are drawn towards (46, 134)6. I would argue that he is correct in his description of some of the social consequences of consummation, although his emphasis on the Dewey tradition does not give a very complete picture of how consummation is generated and sustained in terminologies.

Consummation in Kenneth Burke’s Theory

As is the case with many Burkean terms, consummation is perhaps best understood as a specific, defined link in a cluster of terms or a limb on a tree with significant contact points and areas of overlap with other terms and concepts. This does not mean that each individual concept lacks a meaning of its own, but it rather shows how Burke liked to think of things and how he tried to explain them. Burke describes his approach in A Rhetoric of Motives as follows: “Let us try again. (A direct hit is not likely here. The best one can do is to try different approaches towards the same center, whenever the opportunity offers)” (137). The result is often a myriad of explanations and terms to describe similar phenomena, and yet each different pathway touches on different aspects and different mechanisms. Though terms may be related, they are usually not interchangeable. In order to explain the relationship between consummation, entelechy, and perfection, I will first focus on consummation as an individual concept and then show how it operates with other terms in Burke’s critical vocabulary. The two main approaches Burke tried to get at consummation were the two texts “The Criticism of Criticism” and “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics.” In addition to these, there are brief references to consummation scattered throughout Burke’s last two essay collections, Language as Symbolic Action and On Human Nature, which seem to share a common concern for the relationship between consummation and agency. I believe these constitute a third approach to consummation. My treatment of consummation will follow these three approaches.

First Approach: “The Criticism of Criticism”

In “The Criticism of Criticism,” published in the autumn of 1955, Burke compares consummation with two philosophical and theological systems to explain the term.7 First, he compares his triad of self-expression, communication, and consummation with Saint Anselm’s triad of faith, understanding, and vision, calling his own three terms the “secular, aesthetic analogues” of Saint Anselm’s three theological stages: Faith equals self-expression, understanding equals communication, and vision equals consummation (245).8 In a secular, aesthetic sense then, consummation becomes analogous to the religious “vision” described by Saint Anselm. Although the terms are not exactly equivalent, we may reason that what Burke says about faith, understanding, and vision in this article will also hold true for or have a correlation with self-expression, communication, and consummation.

We learn from Burke that vision “transcends the ergotizing 9 ways of the understanding” (238) and is a kind of synthesis of both faith and understanding (239). The first (faith), is characterized by “energy” and “momentum” (242), and it is an “initiating intuitive power” (242). Intellectus (understanding) is a kind of intellectual frame that then strikes the imagination and can feed a “contemplation (or ‘vision’)” (243). For Saint Anselm, faith meant an active love of God that needed to then gain a deeper knowledge (understanding) of God. He writes in "Cur Deus Homo," “to my mind it appears a neglect if, after we are established in the faith, we do not seek to understand what we believe” (II). Faith is emotional, intuitive, almost instinctive,10 whereas understanding gives this emotional energy direction and structure. In “The Criticism of Criticism,” Burke criticizes R. P. Blackmur for seeing these two concepts as a dyad, with faith being able to question the intellect (understanding) and the intellect being able to curb faith. Burke claims that the goal for Saint Anselm was not that these should balance one another, but rather that the two together would transcend each other and lead to a vision or contemplation of God (238). A vision in this sense is a fusion of perfect faith and perfect understanding. More than merely seeing something, it is being able to grasp the essence of God, both intellectually and emotionally. It is in the vision or contemplation of God that intelligent nature finds its happiness or fulfillment (Anselm XVI).

To explain the analogous aesthetic triad, Burke writes that self-expression is the origin of art, with spontaneous utterances such as “outcries, oaths, interjection,” which are matured by translation into communication. Comparable to faith and understanding, self-expression is the initiating intuitive desire with energy and momentum, and communication is the matured realization of that desire. Just as with Saint Anselm’s triad, the two terms work towards a third: “the work of art moves towards the transcending of both self-expression and communication” (245). The way he describes the development towards this third stage is that an artist is motivated by self-expression, and then uses a public medium to transform it into a kind of communication, “but in the course of perfecting his work, he encounters possibilities purely internal to the medium; and he may exploit these possibilities ‘to the end of the line,’ regardless of either self-expression or communication” (245). Burke’s example is James Joyce’s later work, which he developed from a standpoint “of its ultimate possibilities” (245) even at the expense of clear communication. In so doing, Joyce answers a call (expresses himself), but the product is consummatory “in a way that could not be adequately confined to either of the first two stages, but would have something of both in being beyond both” (245). The artist is expressing and communicating, but he or she is also a discoverer on a journey or someone trying to complete a puzzle with the pieces available. The medium itself, meaning the language the artist uses or has developed for self-expression and communication, contains an inherent vision that the artist may pursue for its own sake.

In Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, Michael Polanyi gives us some examples of how people in scientific disciplines move from communication to consummation. Drawing on Saint Anselm’s theological triad, Polanyi tries to explain what motivates scientists to pursue their research in terms of a scientific vision. He claims that a scientist is “an intelligence which dwells wholly within an articulate structure of its own creation” (195). The structure may be “a theory,” “mathematical discovery,” or “a symphony,” but the principle is the same (195). It is only when the scientists surrender to the framework that they can gain a scientific vision. An astronomer reflects on the “theoretic vision” and experiences the “intellectual powers” of an astronomic theory, and a mathematician “loses himself in the contemplation” of the greatness of mathematics (195) in order neither to “observe or handle them, but to live in them” (196). The vision gained by scientific discovery is comparable to what he has termed the religious “ecstatic vision”:

Scientific discovery . . . bursts the bonds of disciplined thought in an intense if transient moment of heuristic vision. And while it is thus breaking out, the mind is for the moment directly experiencing its content rather than controlling it by the use of any pre-established modes of interpretation: it is overwhelmed by its own passionate activity. (196)

Polanyi sees intellectual passions, such as a desire for order, as the first step toward this vision. These passions then lead humans to articulate and construct frameworks that “handle experience on our behalf” (196), which are then again demolished as they are replaced by “more rigorous and comprehensive” frameworks until this process “culminates in the scientist.” The scientist has now acquired an articulate structure that can give her access to such a scientific vision, and this vision gives the scientist further direction and motivation. In this respect, Polanyi claims that science is just like art. Art “exerts to the utmost the artist’s powers of invention and discrimination merely for the purpose of satisfying the standards of appreciation which the artist has set for himself” (195), making artistic vision a self-sustaining motive. Here is a paradox that Polanyi claims is ‘inherent in all intellectual passions’: The human exerts itself to follow the dictates of a framework it has set up by itself. In Polanyi’s version of the triad, faith is intellectual passion, understanding can be a scientific theory, and the vision refers not to God but to intellectual power and beauty, which Polanyi claims are indicative of truth (135). The scientist gains this vision by what Polanyi describes as surrendering, yielding to, or contemplating the articulate structure he or she dwells within. This seems to describe a kind of aesthetic appreciation of the order or logical symmetry of an articulate structure, such as the way Bertrand Russell describes the study of mathematics: “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty. . . . The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as poetry” (Russell 31). Polanyi’s example shows us that Saint Anselm’s triad is recognized as a driver of human motives in secular as well as religious contexts.

After writing about Saint Anselm, Burke gives a second analogy to explain his triad of creative motives: the three-term system of cognition in Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics.11 The three terms are “(1) opinio, or imaginatio; (2) ratio;” and “(3) scientia intuitiva” (244). Spinoza writes of opinio or imaginatio that, “from the fact of having read or heard certain words we remember things and form certain ideas concerning them, similar to those through which we imagine things” (Spinoza). The connection with Burke’s self-expression is not completely clear, although one may say that to imagine or have an opinion displays a kind of faith in individual perception. Self-expression is the expression of individual imagination or opinion.

Of ratio he writes that it is “the fact that we have notions common to all men, and adequate ideas of the properties of things” (Spinoza). The common notions make it possible to check our initial perceptions and discuss them with others. To communicate is to make use of common notions to make others understand what we are trying to express. This may be how this step is related to Saint Anselm’s “understanding”: ratio is the level of thinking where we move beyond individual perception or faith and try to make it comprehensible and understandable to others also. The common notions and adequate ideas of, for example, the existence and proportions of things make this kind of communication possible.

Spinoza explains the third level, scientia intuitiva, as follows: “there is, as I will hereafter show, a third kind of knowledge, which we will call intuition. This kind of knowledge proceeds from an adequate idea of the absolute essence of certain attributes of God to the adequate knowledge of the essence of things” (Spinoza). There is some debate as to what Spinoza meant by this third term. The main idea seems to be that we can gain some kind of absolute understanding of or crucial insight into the Creator of all things, and as a result, we see things differently and are able to gain new knowledge. By seeing or understanding the One who is the essence of all things, we gain a derivative understanding about how the rest of the world must be.

Burke’s aesthetic analogue to God is the God-term, and his description of the perspective we gain through the God-term sounds similar to Spinoza’s scientia intuitiva: “Whereas before we were among varied worldly uses looking towards a single purpose, we are now in the realm of supernatural purpose looking down upon worldly multiplicity and seeing in it more strongly the new starting point at which we have arrived” (“Notes on ‘Nature’”). Anselm’s vision, Spinoza’s scientia intuitiva, and Burke’s consummation all name a totality, a grasp of life’s essence and diversity. By knowing God we also come to know all the things that God has created, and by grasping the God-term of a vocabulary we understand how the other words function in relation to it and each other. From these connections, consummation seems to be the grasping or creation of an essence, which then transforms all of our motivational vocabularies in its image.

Second Approach: “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics”

The second approach gives more details as to the origin of consummation as a creative motive and its relationship to Burke’s theory of form. During this approach, Burke also connects consummation to the great practical and political problems that occur as a result of scientific developments, such as the development of thermonuclear bombs. “Watchful of Hermetics to be Strong in Hermeneutics” is a selection of the unpublished manuscript Burke wrote called Poetics, Dramatistically Considered. The manuscript is an extended treatment of Aristotle’s Poetics and how Aristotle’s theory relates to Burke’s theory of form. In the manuscript, Burke gives his longest continuous treatment of consummation.12

It becomes clear in “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics” that consummation requires a rigorous, well-developed vocabulary in order to be a significant force. To explain how this force is generated and sustained, I will briefly discuss Kenneth Burke’s theory of form, which he laid out in Counter-Statement, and show how consummation relates to it. For Kenneth Burke, form is the arousing and fulfilling of desires or expectations in the audience or reader (124). A story arouses and fulfills desires through a narrative, but any other text or vocabulary does the same: a textbook introduction creates expectations for what the book will discuss and how it will discuss it, a legal opinion cites laws and precedent cases that set up the usually expected conclusion, and the vocabularies of the natural sciences train us to expect mechanisms in the natural world rather than agents, and as such set up expectations for the discovery of more mechanisms.

Burke claims there are four aspects of form: progressive form (subdivided into syllogistic and qualitative progression), repetitive form, conventional form, and minor or incidental forms” (Counter-Statement 124). The kind of literary form that best explains consummation is “syllogistic progression.” 13 Burke writes that, “We call it syllogistic because, given certain things, certain things must follow, the premises forcing the conclusion” (Counter-Statement 124). This aspect of form is created and maintained by structures of language that direct desires and expectations towards certain developments. The first act of the play sets up the conflict and the conflict sets up the resolution. For Burke, the same applies to any text or group vocabulary. Any definition of the world at the same time sets the stage for the drama of benevolent and malevolent forces, or the thou shalt and thou shalt not (Religion 279). 14 (I shall hereafter group all genres that use language under the general term vocabularies, since Burke claims every text makes its own vocabulary in the sense that it will give terms different nuances of meaning than those you will find in a normal dictionary (Philosophy 35)). Form thus creates a structure of requirements and directives that make both the endings in stories and the developments in group vocabularies somewhat predictable. Burke writes, “If the beginning of a work is viewed as setting up potentialities which are fulfilled at later stages in the work, in this sense the beginning can be thought of as matter that is subsequently actualized. The beginning, we might say, has ‘the makings’ of the ending” (“Watchful” 45). In the same way, one may say that the seeds for a vision or consummation are evident already in the first intellectual understanding or framing of the faith or self-expression.

I will now proceed to discuss Burke’s explanation of consummation in “Watchful of Hermetics to be Strong in Hermeneutics”. Syllogistic progression makes it possible for a vocabulary to take on a life of its own, in the way Burke indicates. The aesthetic principle that supports this autonomy is the requirement for consistency: “The principle of unity implies the fulfilling of expectations, for if a work violated expectations it would not be considered consistent” (47). The requirement of consistency may seem like a feeble motivation until one considers the great moral, scientific, and mathematical systems in the world that rely primarily upon consistency for legitimacy. 15 Burke writes that “consummation, obtained by exploiting the possibilities of a symbol-system as such, without primary regard for either self-expression or communication, may be better explained in terms of self-consistency than expectation, though the two imply each other” (49).

Burke’s general description of form is “the arousing and fulfilling of desires” or expectations (Counter-Statement 124), but when a writer or an audience is following a structure of expectations that has already been set up, one merely has to be consistent to achieve or experience literary form. As Burke writes, the two imply each other, and yet one can be primary while the other is secondary. It may be helpful to think of a continuum where expectation and self-consistency are at each end. At the beginning, a vocabulary starts arousing and fulfilling expectations, with self-consistency playing a relatively minor role simply because there is very little material for the new developments to be consistent with. As this text or vocabulary develops, the readers or participants have soon learned “the rules” well enough that they can anticipate the next developments even without having been given specific clues. At this level, self-consistency becomes the more dominant principle. On the far end of this continuum one may find systems such as mathematics or formal logic, where self-consistency becomes the primary and almost exclusive expectation for learned practitioners. Consummation, it seems, can only be an active principle in a vocabulary or system that has developed enough rules to require it to be self-consistent in order to maintain the aesthetic principle of unity.

Once a vocabulary or symbol-system has reached this level, it tends to “become a guiding principle in itself” (Counter-Statement 157) and can “appeal independently of its functional uses” (Counter-Statement 145). In “Watchful,” Burke warns that, “This formal principle of consummatory self-consistency is important when we consider technological developments as the possible manifestation of ‘aesthetic’ motives rather than as instruments of sheer pragmatic utility” (49). This is where consummation goes beyond being simply aesthetic theory. Kenneth Burke argues that this aesthetic principle of consummation, this desire for consistency, can lead a person or group of people to desire results that are devastating to humanity in general in order to satisfy an aesthetic craving. Thus, he claims, “In this regard, the various scientific specialists are to be viewed as carrying out the implications of their terminologies, and thereby seeking technological consummation for its own sake, however deceptively their efforts might be justified” (49).

One historical example of this motive could be the reaction of the young scientists at Los Alamos when the 1949 GAC report 16 advised against development of the hydrogen bomb. In The Legacy of Hiroshima, Edward Teller and Allen Brown write:

It [the GAC report] seemed to restrict the Los Alamos scientists to minor improvements in the old field of fission. But many of the scientists, especially the younger men, found it difficult to control an adventurous spirit urging them to get into the newer field of thermonuclear reactions. The GAC report seemed to state the conflict rather bluntly: As long as you people work very hard and diligently to make a better atomic bomb, you are doing a fine job; but if you succeed in making real progress toward another kind of nuclear explosion, you are doing something immoral. To this, the scientists reacted psychologically. They got mad. And their attention was turned toward the thermonuclear bomb, not away from it. (45; emphasis added)

Teller and Brown later credit this “scientific anger” with helping to propel the USA towards development of the hydrogen bomb (45). Remarkably absent from Teller’s description of their reaction is any kind of discussion of politics or morals related to the hydrogen bomb. The motivating factor among the young scientists seems to have been success and “real progress” in the “newer field of thermonuclear reactions” or, as Burke would say, seeking technological consummation for its own sake.

The specific example Burke gives of such motives is very likely a direct response to a text written by Edward Teller. In 1957, when Teller, along with Ernest O. Lawrence, tried to convince President Eisenhower not to sign a nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union, their main argument was that they would be able very soon to develop “clean thermonuclear weapons” that would be of almost unlimited benefit to humankind (Magraw 32). The following year, Teller and Albert Latter wrote an article in LIFE Magazine titled “The Compelling Need for Nuclear Tests” in which the possibility of clean thermonuclear weapons again featured as a main argument. 17 It seems plausible that this is what Kenneth Burke is responding to in “Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics.” Burke writes, “For instance, whether or not it is possible to develop ‘clean’ thermonuclear bombs, some men might well want to go on experimenting with these dismal weapons. For they have brought their calculations to the point where further experimental steps are in order, steps suggested by the present state of their terminologies” (49). 18 Studying the example of consummation Burke was referring to may help to illustrate some of the principles of consummation that he is describing.

Concerning Teller’s arguments, Magraw writes that “[a] consistent theme in the arguments for the development of the clean bomb and against a test ban was that it was positively un-American to believe that there are limits to what technology can achieve, or that one might want to impose such limits” (35). In addition to this, Teller argues that it is in a way anti-science to do so. Following Teller’s logic, there seems to be no other logical solution than continuing testing for the next 100 years. The essence of the argument is in the conclusion of the article, where Teller and Latter imply that if one opposes nuclear tests, then, by definition, one opposes science and humanity’s great endeavor to control nature:

The spectacular developments of the last centuries, in science, in technology and in our own everyday life, have been produced by a spirit of adventure, by a fearless exploration of the unknown. When we talk about nuclear tests, we have in mind not only military preparedness but also the execution of experiments which will give us more insight into the forces of nature. Such insight has led and will lead to new possibilities of controlling nature. There are many specific political and military reasons why such experiments should not be abandoned. There also exists this very general reason—the tradition of exploring the unknown. It is possible to follow this tradition without running any serious risk that radioactivity, carelessly dispersed, will interfere with human life. (Teller and Latter 72)

Teller states that all kinds of progress have been achieved by “a spirit of adventure” and “fearless exploration of the unknown,” describing primarily attitudes that he later terms “a tradition for exploring the unknown.” He then identifies this source of all progress with nuclear tests, which give us insight into and power over nature, and claims that it would be inconsistent to abandon an approach that has given us so much progress. Progress here is equated with controlling nature.

In The Legacy of Hiroshima Teller gives us a vision of how thermonuclear weapons could be used to control nature: using H-bombs to blast channels, tunnels, harbors, and coal mines (84-5); to “frack” for oil (87); to blast the Canadian tar sands and distill oil (88); to make diamonds (89); to mutate plants for our benefit (115); to cultivate the oceans by killing off species that have no value as human food (93-4); and to finally make it possible for humans to leave Earth and colonize space (125, 133, 140).

According to Burke’s reading, some of these reasons would be rationalizations to justify work on weapons of war, but Burke also believes that they, at least at times, genuinely reflect a terminology that almost compels these scientists to continue onwards in the same direction. Teller openly admits that the final goal here is not victory over the Soviet Union or even peace, but rather “increasing man’s control over nature.” 19 Teller had pursued and perfected the hydrogen bomb for over 20 years by the time he published his book. Reading his version of the history, one almost gets the impression of an addict. Teller writes that, for him, talent in science or mathematics is an addiction, a love (160) and that “the force of inner necessity” (not motivated by utility or any external circumstance) is “the greatest power on the earth” (163). It seems to be this power that drives him to pursue the hydrogen bomb in times of both war and peace, and to label people as allies or opponents based on the help or hindrance they provide towards that goal.20

In “Watchful,” Burke treats this kind of addiction or compulsion as the result of an aesthetic principle: “the ‘principle of consummatory self-consistency’ would provide an incentive, or almost a compulsion, to continue in this same direction, quite as an author who had carried a novel to near completion might not be able to rest until he had finished it” (49). Although this may be a particularly powerful drive in the case of Teller or in the field of thermonuclear reactions in general, Burke claims that this drive is common for all fields of science: “The principle is the same. Each scientific specialization has its own particular idiom, making for its particular idiocy, in line with its particular possibilities of communication” (49). Note that it is the medium of communication, in most cases a professional vocabulary, which sets the terms for the potentialities available within a scientific specialization. The rigorous vocabularies of the scientific disciplines make them conducive to the aesthetic appeal of self-consistency and hence to the creative motive of consummation. Burke calls consummation “an autonomous formal principle” (“Watchful” 49), and both Polanyi and Kuhn agree that similar aesthetic principles play a large role in the developments within the natural sciences. 21 These sciences, Burke claims, are all developing towards aims determined by their professional vocabulary rather than any shared notion of the “common good” for mankind. Burke concludes his discussion of consummation with a broader view of the effects of these autonomous formal principles in operation all around us:

A clutter of such autonomous formal principles, each aiming at its own kind of perfection, can add up to a condition of considerable disarray—and especially insofar as many of the new powers thus being developed lend themselves readily to destructive purposes while even their ‘peaceful’ uses are menacing, as with the pollution that goes with the disposal of atomic wastes. Yes, the ‘aesthetics’ of recent technological consummations can become quite ugly. (49-50)

Here Burke ironically observes how the aesthetic desires of a range of scientific specialists create a markedly aesthetically unappealing world. Their desire for beauty leads to a hideous reality. He uses the word “perfection” to describe what these consummations or “autonomous formal principles” are aiming at, but makes it clear that the autonomous formal principle is not the same as perfection. I will discuss the relationship between perfection, entelechy, and consummation in the concluding section of this paper.

So what have we learned from the second approach to consummation? Consummation is an autonomous formal principle sustained by the aesthetic requirement for self-consistency. In order for self-consistency to become the dominant motivation, one needs an extensive vocabulary that is also rigorous, meaning that it has set up a wide range of rules for self-consistency that it follows consistently. The terminologies of different scientific specializations are examples of such extensive and rigorous vocabularies, and Burke mentioned the field of thermonuclear physics as one field where the principle of consummation was a significant factor.

Third Approach: Various Texts Written 1960-1993

Kenneth Burke often found it useful to separate between action and motion, where action infers an active consciousness that makes choices, and motion does not require consciousness or choices, exemplified in such mechanisms as the body’s ability to breathe (Religion 41). So far, based on the texts written in the 1950s, Burke’s explanations of consummation seem to reduce human agency to mere motion; indeed, he writes about this period that “[e]xperimentally, I often turn the usual perspective around, and think not of us as using language but of language as using us to get itself said” (22 April 1958; Jay, Correspondence 332).22 He writes, “To a large extent, I am sure, we are simply like a telephone exchange run by an automatic dialing system. Things go in and out of us much as though we were the coordinating center that didn’t even know what was being said” (Correspondence 332). As he works further on the concept of consummation, however, he seems to moderate this view and shows consummation as a complex interaction between action and motion, and between conscious and unconscious symbol-using. This approach comes at the end of Burke’s published work in The Rhetoric of Religion (1961), Language as Symbolic Action (1966), and essays gathered in the collected edition On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows 1967-1984. This is also where he theorizes ways in which this creative motive can be diffused or at least made less harmful. I will first show the potential cures or correctives Burke suggested for consummation, and then apply this in a discussion about the extent and the possibility consummation leaves for choice or action.

In The Rhetoric of Religion, Kenneth Burke uses the Bible as an example of a vocabulary that is capable of sustaining the creative motive of consummation. The cyclical chart of terms for Order that he finds through his analysis of the Bible “sums up the ‘directionless’ way in which such a cluster of terms imply one another” (4).23 The goal of the book is to develop a critical metalinguistic vocabulary (logology) that can make us aware of such persuasive structures in other non-religious vocabularies, such as the metaphysics of empire, technologism24, and scientism (170, 302). This implies that people can learn to question the consummatory drive if they become aware of it and have a critical vocabulary they can use to analyze it (301).

In Language as Symbolic Action, Burke seems to suggest a sort of competitive check on consummation:

Whereas there seems to be no principle of control intrinsic to the ideal of carrying out any such set of possibilities to its “perfect” conclusion, and whereas all sorts of people are variously goaded to track down their particular sets of terministically directed insights, there is at least the fact that the schemes get in one another’s way, thus being to some extent checked by rivalry one with another. (19-20)

The principle seems to be that a plurality of voices or at least the lack of univocality can constrain the negative impacts of consummation. Moves towards debate, inclusion, and interdisciplinarity may help to check consummation in specialized vocabularies.25

Finally, in On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows, Kenneth Burke describes the consummatory drive as a kind of autosuggestion, and he suggests a potential cure: “Might the best protection against the dangers of autosuggestion be in the development of methods designed to maintain maximum liquidity in all symbolic exercising?” (50). Aristotle’s Rhetoric is one example he gives of tools that can help us maintain such liquidity. If consummation requires a rigorous and disciplined vocabulary, symbolic liquidity could help to loosen the chains of formal syllogistic progression that make consummation possible.26 He recounts how he himself as an author became the victim of autosuggestion and was only able to free himself from it by criticism (49), and he seems to think that the same cure could help other people in the same way. Later, he suggests satire as a method of popularizing criticism of rigorous vocabularies by taking the demand for self-consistency to an excess and thereby showing its absurdity (73).

These opportunities for correction suggest that consummation is not ineluctable, despite Crusius’s claim to the contrary (Crusius 73). Even though Burke played with turning around the concept of people using language to language using people, he never claimed that it is false that people can and do use language. Because consummation is a motive that requires a rigorous vocabulary, it is as subject to criticism and capable of correction as the vocabulary it relies on. By debate it can be dissipated, by maintaining symbolic liquidity it can be destabilized, and by logology and satire it can be analyzed, criticized, and defused. Consummation seems to only be a danger when people are not aware of it, when the vocabulary is shielded from debate, or when the proponents of the vocabulary actively choose to disregard the danger.

How, then, should we conceptualize the extent or possibility for active choice for people driven by consummation? Self-consistency is an aesthetic desire; a sense for what is appropriate or beautiful, and yet it can become a “trained incapacity” to the extent that it becomes hard for someone habituated to that kind of thinking to think differently. It may be useful to use Burke’s phrase that “The driver drives the car, but the traffic drives the driver” (Human 71). People driven by consummatory self-consistency act, think, and make conscious decisions, but they do so within a framework defined by their vocabulary. For example, rather than considering whether or not it is good or even useful to “increase man’s control over nature” in the form of thermonuclear weapons, someone who buys into Teller’s scientific vision would simply ask “how can I best increase man’s control over nature.” The scientist thinks and makes choices, but the terminology determines the range of thoughts and choices available or acceptable to him or her.

To give a specific example, in “Physics in the Contemporary World,” Robert Oppenheimer dismisses the claim that scientists are responsible to society for the results of their discoveries. Instead, he argues, “The true responsibility of a scientist, as we all know, is to the integrity and vigor of his science” (67). Oppenheimer goes on to discuss what a scientist should and should not consider: “Science is disciplined in its rejection of questions that cannot be answered” (86), by which he means any question that cannot be answered by empirical measurements or mathematical proof. A person that has adapted such a way of thinking by commitment and habituation may feel more compelled by, and less able or willing to resist, the consummatory drive for self-consistency within that vocabulary. Although Kenneth Burke describes the drive at times as a compulsion, he uses words of action to describe people following it. For example, in Language as Symbolic Action, he writes:

A given terminology contains various implications, and there is a corresponding perfectionist tendency for men to attempt to carry out those implications. Thus, each of our scientific nomenclatures suggests its own special range of possible developments, with specialists vowed to carry out these terministic possibilities to the extent of their personal ability and technical resources. (19, emphasis added)
The terminology suggests potential developments, but it is people that fulfill them because of their commitments and their desires. It is possible to reject the urge for completion, just as an author can refuse to finish a book or a listener can turn off a song before it has ended.

Burke compares this terministic compulsion to an astronomer who, through calculations and observations, predicts that an asteroid will soon hit Earth and destroy all life on it. “He would . . . feel compelled to argue for the correctness of his computations, despite the ominousness of the outcome” (19), not because awareness could in any way avoid the disaster, but because it is the answer that fits. The difference is that, in bioengineering or nuclear physics, following caluclations to the end of the line is what creates the ominous outcome. The potentiality may be latent in nature, but cloning and nuclear weapons do not just materialize from potentialities in nature; people choose to uncover and develop these potentialities. When James Joyce or Beethoven follow the implications of their symbol-systems, they can choose not to complete that journey, although it may feel gratifying and right to do so (305). Burke writes that artists or speculative minds can feel like “there is no rest” once they have glimpsed certain ultimate possibilities until they have “transformed its potentialities into total actualization” (Human 73). The person who glimpses the possibilities is “called” and is under “a kind of compulsion” to pursue those possibilities (Human 74), but it is possible to avoid heeding that call.

In terms of the action/motion duality, it seems that people who have been “under the spell” of such a consummatory drive feel they are less free to act.27 The level of agency and ability to act in opposition to the consummatory drive may be highest before one commits to a specialized vocabulary of a science, academic field, ideology, or religion, although it is questionable whether humans can operate without any such terminologies. Still, there is a great difference between the rigorous vocabulary of positivistic science and the playful vocabulary of an omnivorous reader of world literature,28 and they are not equally capable of generating expectations of self-consistency.

Conclusion: Entelechy, Perfection, and Consummation

As mentioned earlier, some Burke scholars tend to see consummation, perfection, and entelechy as identical, and there are some passages in Burke’s writings that could justify such an interpretation, and I will discuss them. However, I will make the argument that consummation should be seen as a separate term with a separate meaning.

In On Human Nature, Kenneth Burke discusses his thoughts on the third creative motive (consummation), which arose from speculations in the late 1930s, and then writes: “Later I began to ask myself whether I could round out this notion of a purely formal motive (or goad, implicit in our nomenclatures) by adapting for my purposes the Aristotelian concept of entelechy” (74). He goes on to explain that whereas Aristotle applied the term to explain biology, physics, and almost every development in nature and society, Burke only applies it to symbolic action. Different verbal structures are “illustrative, in their different ways, of the entelechial principle, tracking down the implications of a position, going to the end of the line” (74). One reading of this passage could be that Burke replaces consummation with entelechy since he realizes what he is talking about is basically a symbolic version of what Aristotle discussed in his writings on biology and physics.

The essay the quote is taken from, “Why Satire, With a Plan for Writing One,” was written in 1974, which definitely sets its date after his previous discussions of consummation. Although he discusses a third creative motive in the same article, he does not use the term “consummation,” which could justify the interpretation that entelechy simply became the new consummation. In fact, I have not been able to find an article where he uses the word “consummation” after 1967, when he uses it in both “A Theory of Terminology” (Human 244) and “Curriculum Criticum,” the afterword to the 1968 edition of Counter-Statement (225).29 However, it is not as if entelechy is a new invention in the Burkean vocabulary in 1974. He used the term actively in his criticism since at least 1952 (in “A ‘Dramatistic’ View of ‘Imitation’”) at the same time as he was writing about consummation as a separate term with a separate meaning. 30

I would argue that the concepts of consummation and entelechy, though related, are not the same. Entelechy is the “rounding out” of consummation in the sense that Burke takes a specific category of creative motive and shows that it is just one example of a general tendency within all symbol-using. I would argue that consummation is a specific manifestation of the entelechial principle, but that not every manifestation of entelechy is consummation. In this sense, they operate together in a cluster where entelechy is the greater summarizing term and consummation is the more limited and restricted term.

So what exactly is entelechy? In his introduction to “Archetype and Entelechy,” Rueckert writes that Burke borrowed the term entelechy from Aristotle, applied it to literary texts, and later “he expanded its application so that it applied to all symbolic action and became one of the prime functions of language and central concepts of logology” (Human 121). Rueckert’s explanation of entelechy is that “[l]anguage, or, perhaps, just the human mind, seeks perfection, is compelled to go to the ‘end of the line’ in its many endeavours” (Human 121). If we accept Rueckert’s definition, then it seems clear that entelechy is more expansive than consummation. The passages on consummation previously referred to all seem to require an established and preferably specialized vocabulary in order for consummation to be a factor, whereas entelechy applies to all symbolic actions and is one of the prime functions of language itself. To give an analogy: If entelechy is the general tendency humans have to get sick, then consummation is a particular class of diseases that can afflict them. This does conflict with Star Muir’s definition of entelechy as “the tracking down of implications within a particular vocabulary” (21st Century 36), although I would agree that what Muir is describing is one manifestation of the entelechial motive.

So how does entelechy relate to perfection? Are they the same for Burke? In “Archetype and Entelechy,” Burke defines entelechy as “such use of symbolic resources that potentialities can be said to attain their perfect fulfillment” (Human 125), with perfect victimage being one example. Other examples are the perfect villain, the perfect fool, the Nazi version of the Jew as the perfect enemy, and the perfect Communist (Human 126). These examples of entelechy seem to show that entelechy is a general tendency to take a concept, image, or principle to its extreme. For example, labeling someone as vicious or evil and taking that to its extreme might lead anyone defined as “good” to kill or conquer that person, whereas labeling someone as mistaken would direct good people to try to correct or persuade him or her (Attitudes 41). In the same way, Burke labels Freud’s myth of “the fatherkill” as entelechial in the sense that, although it may never have really happened, it is a “perfect representative expression of the tensions he viewed as intrinsic to the family structure” (Human 127). The fatherkill is the entelechy of the Oedipus complex. It is the fruition or culmination of a struggle or tension taken to its furthest extent. Unlike the descriptions of consummation, there is no qualification that this motive requires a highly developed vocabulary or that this form operates primarily through self-consistency rather than by the arousing and fulfilling of new expectations.

In order to understand entelechy, this drive towards the perfection of a concept, image, or principle, we have to understand what Kenneth Burke means by perfection. In “Theology and Logology,” he writes that perfection is the secular or logological analogue of the “idea of God as the ens perfectissimum” (Human 177) (most perfect being or conjunction of all perfections), but that Burke’s concept of perfection does not require that the perfection be positive, only that it be the ultimate of its kind. One example is how we may impute terrible motives to our opponents until they are little less than the pure embodiment of evil (such as one sees in war propaganda). By so doing, we “perfect” the idea of our opponents until they are the most loathsome enemy we could possibly imagine. This perfection of the enemy is what Burke would call an entelechy, a manifestation of the entelechial motive taken to its ultimate form. This seems to fit well with Bryan Hubbard’s definition of entelechy as the drive towards perfection. Entelechy is the drive and perfection is the goal that inspires the drive, comparable to how, in theology, piety is a yearning for God and a perfect God is the center or locus that makes such a drive possible. Burke describes the secular grounds for this drive as a formal obligation: “Discourse can be truly discourse only by having the power to be fully itself. Such a formal obligation applies always” (Religion 289).

To summarize the relationship between the three concepts, entelechy is a general drive towards perfection. Perfection is a goal or ideal fueled by a “formal obligation” for a discourse, concept, or principle to “be fully itself” which means to actualize inherent potentialities to its fullest degree (such as “perfecting” the enemy). Consummation is one manifestation of the entelechial drive, where a vocabulary sustains a drive towards a particular kind of perfection. The perfection the consummatory terminology is driving towards is most likely symbolized by a God-term. Unlike some other manifestations of the entelechial drive (such as creating “the perfect enemy” or “the perfect bread”), consummation requires an extensive terminology to be a significant motive. Self-expression and communication must first create utterance and structure before consummation can arise as an active motive, just as faith and understanding precede vision in Saint Anselm’s theology. The terminology must also be rigorous enough to allow self-consistency to become the dominant form and give rise to this autonomous formal principle.

So what does the concept of consummation add to Burke’s corpus of critical terms? First of all, it adds precision. Instead of just describing the existence of a general principle, consummation describes a motive which only arises at a specific stage in a dialectic between self-expression and communication. It gives a clearer description of how the general entelechial principle is developed and sustained in specialized vocabularies. Second, it adds understanding of a specific mode of persuasion that may be the source of some of the greatest problems we have in the world today, and just as vision transcends the ergotizing ways of understanding, so consummation may elude many of our normal filters for detecting and analyzing arguments. This rhetoric operates through self-consistency rather than expectation, and as such it may seem inevitable or unproblematic and therefore it is not subjected to criticism. Kenneth Burke warns us of the specific dangers of consummation in specialized vocabularies and directs us to study these vocabularies carefully for implications of future developments. Finally, this is a specific manifestation of the entelechial principle which requires a terminology in order to function as a motive, and it is therefore capable of criticism and correction through the remedies suggested by Kenneth Burke.

Based on these and the previous arguments, I maintain that consummation deserves to be considered independently of entelechy and perfection as an important term in Burke’s critical vocabulary. It is my belief that Kenneth Burke intended for it to be considered in that way. But, as Burke often said, “we may settle for less.” In either case, I argue that this concept of consummation is useful for Burke scholars and rhetoricians to distinguish an important manifestation of the entelechial drive.


1. Burke refers to such a shift in a letter to Cowley written 9th of August 1945: “I may end up where I began: with Flaubert” (Jay 268). He also mentions in “Curriculum Criticum” (in 1967) that he has added an explicit concern with consummation in his later works.

2. Rueckert writes that the essays in Part One “(and others in the collection)” are warnings about taking the development of terminologies (science and technology) “to the end of the line” (4). Although this also relates to entelechy and perfection, Burke specifically describes a motive of “tracking down implications of a terminology,” which I argue is the definition of consummation, over thirty times throughout the collection.

3. Burke’s concept of self-expression is universal and not limited to artists. People can, for example, express themselves by living or acting out the occupation or social class they belong to.

4. When asked to clarify this quote, Wess wrote in an email dated 19 November 2015: “The key word in the paragraph you quote from is ‘cluster.’ Terms in a cluster are synonyms in a Burkean sense, which is a bit different from the conventional meaning of ‘synonym.’ Broadening the context, I would say that Burke was always especially interested in action undertaken for its own sake rather than as a means to something else. Over the years, he theorized such action is a number of ways that are different but that also may be ‘clustered’ together.”

5. At least, his definition and description of entelechy match that of consummation in «Curriculum Criticum» and other texts.

6. There is no necessary contradiction between Clark’s concept of the social consequences consummation can have and my explanation of the term, although his book focuses more on the positive effects and my article focuses more on the dangers consummation entails.

7. The text is a review of The Lion and the Honeycomb by R.P. Blackmur. Kenneth Burke starts by critiquing Blackmur’s criticism of rhetoric and then goes on to digress on Saint Anselm and explains consummation in terms of Saint Anselm’s triad.

8. Burke connected the terms with the symbol =, which I transcribe as “equals.”

9. To ergotize is to argue logically or sophistically. Burke seems to imply that “vision” operates on a different plane than understanding and convinces us in a different way.

10. Faith is primary for Saint Anselm and does not require understanding. As he writes, “Were I unable in any way to understand what I believe, still nothing could shake my constancy” (II).

11. He gives it as an example of a triad structure and does not explicitly link it to consummation, but considering the proximity in the passage there is good reason to think that Burke at least viewed Spinoza’s triad as indicative of his aesthetic triad.

12. According to David Cratis Williams, the section on consummation was most likely written “in part” during 1951-2 “with the remaining . . . most likely written during Burke’s stay at the Center for Advanced Study at Stanford in 1957-58” (Williams 23), so temporally it was probably written both before and after “The Criticism of Criticism.”

13. Syllogistic progression has most to do with structures of language that direct our desires in a certain way and make a certain outcome almost inevitable. Qualitative progression has more to do with moods and states of mind that feel appropriate in sequence (the calm before the storm, etc.). Repetitive form is created by consistently repeating one principle while changing the guises it appears in, making the reader to expect further revelations of the same principle. Conventional form has to do with what we could call genre conventions, where we come to a play with certain expectations of that genre. The expectation is aroused before one experiences the content. Minor forms are such as metaphor, paradox, and other smaller forms that operate in any given text, without a necessary connection to the overarching form of the text. All these aspects will at times overlap and at times conflict in a text (Counter-Statement 124-8).

14. In Rhetoric of Religion Burke writes, “And implicit in their supposedly objective versions of what is and is not, they will have concealed a set of shall’s and shall not’s which they will proceed methodically to discover” (279).

15. In positivism, math and logic only have legitimacy because they are self-consistent tautologies, and any inconsistency would immediately doom both as nonsense (Ayer 10); similarly, Perelman claims that consistency helps to give a law legitimacy among the public (Perelman 62).

16. General Advisory Committee for the United States Atomic Energy Commission.

17. Over 50 years later, the military is still no closer to this elusive goal that Teller once described as merely a couple of years away (Magraw 34).

18. As mentioned before, this text was most likely written “in part” during 1951-2 and the rest written during Burke’s stay at the Center for Advanced Study at Stanford from 1957 to 1958 (Williams 23). Considering that Burke is describing “clean thermonuclear weapons,” it has to at least be after the advent of thermonuclear weapons in 1952. In addition, Katherine Magraw writes in “Teller and the ‘Clean Bomb’ Episode” that it was first in 1957 that “clean bombs” were discussed with the president (32) and that it was not discussed much publicly until February 1958, when Edward Teller and Albert Latter advocated for them in the LIFE magazine article. Probably, Burke wrote this text in 1958, making it likely that he is responding to Edward Teller and his justification for continued nuclear tests.

19. Teller sees this as an almost automatic mechanism: «Science brings progress; progress creates power» (93).

20. Teller sees the rejection of work on the H-bomb as almost a betrayal, and details the betrayal of Oppenheimer (41), Fermi, Rabi, and others (43-4). On the other hand, Ernest Lawrence (who was in favor of the H-bomb) is given a moving eulogy as “the best defender of our cause” and one who “sacrificed his life for science and for his country” (73).

21. Kuhn and Polanyi agree that scientists are motivated by a sense for order, consistency, and beauty in both their work and in their support of paradigms or theories. See Kuhn (154-5); Polanyi (13-4). Robert Oppenheimer claims that one of the main virtues of science and scientific life is its beauty (Oppenheimer 86).

22. This was in a letter to Malcolm Cowley written from the Center for Advanced Study at Stanford. As mentioned before, this was when he was writing “Watchful,” so it is likely that these are thoughts related to consummation.

23. Burke lists a chart of religious terms that can be viewed as logically dependent on and logical consequences of the idea of order. If there is order, then there is also potential for disorder, hence there is a law and a potential to either disobey or obey it. The whole cluster of terms ranges from Heaven to Hell with all of the terms seemingly logically dependent on each other. Thus, you are never “outside” of the larger order built on the terms implicit in the idea of order. Whatever choice you make, there is a description for it and a remedy assigned to that behavior.

24. A set of beliefs built upon the assumption that “the remedy for the problems arising from technology is to be sought in the development of ever more and more technology” (Human 133).

25. Although positivism, which was envisioned as the greatest hope for interdisciplinarity and unification among the sciences, became perhaps one of the greatest promoters of univocality and stifled dissent. So interdisciplinarity does not necessarily mean a plurality of voices.

26. Because Burke does not here explain what he means by symbolic liquidity, one can only make a guess based on the context of what he says and the content of Aristotle’s Rhetoric. My guess is that he believed that cultivating “an ability, in each case, to see the available means of persuasion” (1.2.1), would help people size up a situation in a lot of different ways, thereby avoiding too narrow views of a situation or an argument.

27. Robert Wilson describes that it was as though they had been programmed to finish the bomb and Frank Oppenheimer mentions being trapped by the machinery and momentum. Both are descriptions of limited agency (Trinity)

28. Kuhn writes that broad exposure to competing and incommensurable solutions is what distinguishes a student in the humanities or social sciences from a student in the natural sciences. This makes a natural scientist less prepared to handle paradigm crises and discover a fresh approach to answering the questions of his or her field (164-5).

29. In “'Always Keep Watching for Terms': Visits with Kenneth Burke, 1989-1990," edited by William Cahill, Kenneth Burke is still referring to three creative motives. In this interview he refers to the third motive as follows: "When you get to the third stage, it’s just fulfilling, you see, you finally get—what I decided to call it is the technical equivalent of inspiration, technological inspiration. You see, you’re really inspired when your vocabulary takes over. You start using words and words finally get you going and then the thing comes to life."

30. Burke writes that, "Since circa 1955, I have felt impelled to round out theories of 'self-expression' and 'communication' with a third term, 'consummation'" and states that consummation "essentially involves matters to do with 'tracking down the possibilities implicit in a given terminology" (Language 486).

Works Cited

Anselm. “Cur Deus Homo.” Medieval Sourcebook: Anselm (1033-1109). Internet History Sourcebook Project. Ed. Paul Halsall. Fordham University. 11 Dec 2015. Web. 31 Dec 2015.

Brock, Bernard L., ed. Kenneth Burke in the 21st Century. New York: State U of New York P, 1998. Print.

Brummett, Barry. “Perfection and the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Teleology, and Motives.” Journal of Communication. 39.4. (1989): 85-95. Print.

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

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

—. Attitudes Toward History. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984. Print.

—. “Archetype and Entelechy.” On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows. Eds. William H. Rueckert and Angelo Bonadonna. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003. Print.

—. Counter-Statement. 2nd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1968. Print.

—. “Dramatic Form—And: ‘Tracking Down Implications.’” The Tulane Drama Review. 10.4. (1966): 54-63. Print.

—. Essays Toward A Symbolic of Motives, 1950-1955. Ed. William H. Rueckert. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor P, 2007. Print.

—. Equipment for Living: The Literary Reviews of Kenneth Burke. Eds Nathaniel A. Rivers and Ryan P. Weber. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor, 2010. Print.

—. “I, Eye, Ay: Emerson’s Early Essay on ‘Nature’: Thought on the Machinery of Transcendence.” The Sewanee Review 74.4 (1966): 875-95. Print.

—. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley: U of California P, 1968. Print.

—. “Notes on Emerson’s ‘Nature.’” N.d. TS. Kenneth Burke Papers. Paterno Library, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.

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

—. “The Criticism of Criticism.” In Rivers and Weber. 228-45.

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

—. “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s ‘Battle’” The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1973. 191-220. Print.

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

—. “‘Watchful of Hermetics to Be Strong in Hermeneutics’ Selections from ‘Poetics, Dramatistically Considered.’” Henderson and Williams 35-80.

Cahill, William. “'Always Keep Watching for Terms': Visits with Kenneth Burke, 1989-1990.” K.B. Journal: The Journal of the Kenneth Burke Society. 7.2. (2011). Web.

Crusius. Timothy V. Kenneth Burke and the Conversation after Philosophy. Southern Illinois UP, 1999. Print.

Duncan, Hugh Dalziel. “Communication in Society.” Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke, 1924-1966. Ed. William H. Rueckert. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1969. 407-20. Print.

Griffin, Leland. “A Dramatistic Theory of the Rhetoric of Movements.” Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke, 1924-1966. Ed. William H. Rueckert. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1969. 456-78. Print.

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

Henderson, Greig. “A Rhetoric of Form: The Early Burke and Reader-Response Criticism.” In Henderson and Williams 127-42.

Hubbard, Bryan. “Reassessing Truman, the Bomb, and Revisionism: The Burlesque Frame and Entelechy in the Decision to Use Atomic Weapons Against Japan.” Western Journal of Communication. 62.3. (1998): 348-385. Print.

Jay, Paul. Ed. The Selected Correspondence of Kenneth Burke and Malcolm Cowley: 1915-1981. Berkeley, Los Angeles: U of California P, 1990. Print.

Jennerman, Donald L. “Burke’s Poetics of Catharsis.“ Representing Kenneth Burke. Eds. Hayden White and Margaret Brose. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1982. 31-51. Print.

Kenneth Burke Papers. Paterno Library. Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 4th ed. U of Chicago P, 2012. Print.

Lindsay, Stan A. Implicit Rhetoric: Kenneth Burke’s Extension of Aristotle’s Concept of Entelechy. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1998. Print.

—. “The Burkean Entelechy and the Apocalypse of John.” Ph. D. Diss. Purdue University, 1995.

Magraw, Katherine. “Edward Teller and the ‘Clean Bomb’ Episode.” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. 44.4. (1988): 32-7. Print.

Muir, Star A. “Toward an Ecology of Language.” In Brock 35-70

Nelson, Cary. “Writing as the Accomplice of Language: Kenneth Burke and Poststructuralism.” The Legacy of Kenneth Burke. Eds. Herbert Simmons and Trevor Melia. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1989. 156-73. Print.

Oppenheimer, Robert J. “Physics in the Contemporary World.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 4.3. (1948): 65-68, 85-86. Print.

PBS American Experience: The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Dir. David Grubin. PBS, 2009. DVD.

Perelman, Chaim. The Realm of Rhetoric. Trans. William Kluback. South Bend: U of Notre Dame P, 1982. Print.

Polanyi, Michael. Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. Chicago, U of Chicago P, 1974. Print.

Russell, Bertrand. “The Study of Mathematics.” The New Quarterly. 1.4. (1907): 29-44. Print.

Spinoza, Baruch. The Ethics. Trans. R. H. M. Elwes. Project Gutenberg. 29 Jul 2007. Web. 31 Dec 2015.

Teller, Edward and Brown, Allen. The Legacy of Hiroshima. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1962. Print.

Teller, Edward and Latter, Albert. “The Compelling Need for Nuclear Tests.” LIFE. 44.8. (1958): 64-72. Print.

The Day after Trinity. Dir. Jon H. Else. Image Entertainment, 2002. DVD.

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. Richard Feynman. Films Media Group, 1981. Online.

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

—. “Re: Latour and Nuclear Science in France.” 19 Nov 2015. TS.

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Kenneth Burke Digital Archive

Ethan Sproat, Lead Archivist, Utah Valley University


This brief document introduces the Kenneth Burke Digital Archive (KBDA) that was established during a three-day seminar at the 2014 KBS conference in St. Louis, "Attitudes Toward Technology/Technology's Attitudes." A brief critical introduction to the KBDA, an explanation of goals, and an associated CFP are also included. Finally, this document also contains a list of all known audiovisual recordings of Kenneth Burke that are archived at various locations and universities across the country.

"The Discussion Is Interminable": Continued Conversation through the KBDA

KENNETH BURKE DEVELOPED HIS ENTIRE SYMBOL-USE PROJECT throughout the 20th century when our theories of communication were out-paced only by our means of communication. However, even though KB was one of the most influential theorists of human communication in a time of so many advances in communication technology, there is an apparent dearth of audio or video footage of KB. Yet such a dearth is only "apparent" because there actually are many existing audio and visual recordings of KB lecturing, performing readings, or participating in discussions or interviews. Most KB scholars have not seen or heard much of this footage for two basic reasons: first, the existing footage is not centrally accessible or cataloged in any one place; second, such footage is often in a medium that prohibits broad distribution (as with various analog recording technologies).

Accordingly, a small group of KB scholars led by Dr. Ethan Sproat convened during a three-day seminar at the 2014 KBS conference in St. Louis, "Attitudes Toward Technology/Technology's Attitudes." During that conference, these seminar participants effectively established the beginnings of the Kenneth Burke Digital Archive (KBDA).

The KBDA has the following goals: 

  • Coordinate efforts among KB scholars to identify the current repositories of all existing audio and video recordings of KB. 
  • Assemble historical notes and contexts of theory surrounding each recording. 
  • Catalog all these in one resource through KBJ: The Journal of the Kenneth Burke Society
  • Work with individual repositories to digitally transfer and transcribe all existing KB footage that is not already digitized. 
  • In cooperation with the Kenneth Burke Literary Trust, arrange to secure permissions to digitally archive as many of these digital materials and transcriptions as possible. 
  • In coordination with KBJ, arrange to have as many of these digital materials, transcripts, historical notes, and associated contextual/theoretical commentaries peer reviewed for inclusion in future issues of KBJ.

Apropos to the location of the 2014 KBS conference, the first recordings to be thus transcribed and submitted for peer review in KBJ are recordings that took place in St. Louis (see below for the entries for the reading and discussion with Howard Nemerov that KB delivered during the 1970-1971 school year at Washington University at St. Louis).

Additionally, the KBDA is a practical response to larger theoretical concerns about the role of digitization in current archiving practices. Specifically, the KBDA is a response to recommendations made by Mark Greene and Dennis Meissner in their article “More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archiving Processing,” published in the Fall/Winter 2005 issue of the American Archivist. While many responses to Greene and Meissner’s recommendations have addressed the institutional concerns of individual libraries and other associations with sizable physical/analog holdings, the KBDA project represents the formation of a digital archive outside of any given institutionalized collection. The KBDA is a meta-archive in the sense that it catalogs digitizations, transcripts, and commentaries of analog audiovisual materials that are physically archived at institutions around the USA (and perhaps, eventually, in other parts of the world). The KBDA emphasizes making digital copies of audiovisual recordings of Kenneth Burke available to KB scholars by crowd-sourcing the traditional archive staff responsibilities of arranging, preserving, and describing individual items in the KBDA (see “Call for Participation” below). The KBDA seeks to achieve what Greene and Meissner describe as the “golden minimum” for any archived collection: “the least we can do [as archivists] to get the job done in a way that is adequate to user needs, now and in the future” (237). As a peer-reviewed portion of KBJ, the KBDA also represents one way of responding to a pointed question facing any digital archive as posed by Greene and Meissner (who, in turn, are quoting the Council on Library and Information Resources): “Does the intellectual quality of the source material warrant the level of access made possible by digitizing?” (Greene and Meissner 248). In effect, the KBDA introduces contemporary KB scholars to material by Kenneth Burke that has neither been widely available nor submitted anywhere for peer review. Thereby, the KBDA allows Kenneth Burke (who passed away in 1993) to continue to contribute to ongoing conversations about his own theories.

This claim deserves more attention. In what is one of the most widely quoted passages written by him, Burke asks and then answers the question, “Where does the drama [of human life and symbol-use] get its materials? From the ‘unending conversation’ that is going on at the point in history when we are born” (110). Burke then immediately dives into his well-known parlor metaphor. In addition to a multitude of other uses, Burke’s parlor metaphor serves as part of the express theoretical basis of the bestselling composition textbook They Say / I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein (Graff and Birkenstein 13). Graff and Birkenstein’s textbook is a very notable instance of Burke’s parlor metaphor being used as an invention strategy for composition students to engage with contemorary academic conversations in which they find themselves. However, in our current age of digital reproducibility, the temporally locked aspect of Burke’s parlor metaphor (i.e. whatever “is going on at the point in history when we are born”) becomes less pronounced than the “unending” aspect of the metaphor. Most pointedly, as Burke concludes his parlor metaphor, he suggests that “the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late [i.e. you grow old], you must depart [i.e. you will eventually die]. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress” (111). A digital archive of audiovisual recordings disallows Burke (or any other similarly recorded individual) to fully depart the still-in-progress discussions surrounding their work (even after death). It’s true that a similar argument could be made about the availability of reprints of Burke’s written books, essays, fiction, and poetry. However, the “interminable” and inherently reproducible nature of audiovisual recordings made possible by 20th and 21st-century technologies situate all such recordings on more dynamic and fluid trajectories in time and space than is possible with the temporally static physicality of print materials. Furthermore, transforming any piece of analog media (audiovisual, print, or otherwise) into digital media only further unmoors the temporally grounded nature of all such media.

The basis of this sort of observation is not new. Indeed, Walter Benjamin articulates a sort of prolegomena to any future study of reproducible media in his 1936 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility.” While Benjamin’s essay specifically addresses the technological reproducibility of film as an art form, his observations apply presciently to digitally archived media as well. Benjamin acknowledges that works of art had been reproduced before his technological age. However, Benjamin contends, “In even the most perfect reproduction, one thing is lacking: the here and now of the work of art—its unique existence in a particular place. It is this unique existence—and nothing else—that bear the mark of the history to which the work has been subject” (103, emphasis in original). Conversely, Benjamin observes that new technological art forms like film lack similarly unique physical existence and instead rely on their reproducible nature for their existence in many identical iterations throughout time and space. Benjamin explains that, “In film, the technical reproducibility of the product is not an externally imposed condition of its mass dissemination, as it is, say, in literature or painting. The technological reproducibility of films is based directly on the technology of their production. This not only makes possible the mass dissemination of films in the most direct way, but actually enforces it (123, emphasis in original). If Benjamin’s observations find resonance as they relate to film (a technology originally dependent on physical copies of film reels), then his observations ought to apply more completely to digital media (a technology dependent only on computer code regardless of physical manifestation). Certainly, a piece of digital media exists by virtue of its ability to be digitally transferred more than by virtue of whatever physical platform may serve as the display for such media at any given time or place in history.

In the end, the KBDA is much more than merely a collection of recordings of Kenneth Burke at various “here-and-now” moments in his life. Ultimately, the KBDA invites KB scholars to reflect on the transferability of Kenneth Burke’s commentary in digital form (and in his own voice) into contemporary conversations of KB’s work long after he has personally departed his specific historical parlor. Certainly, KBJ: The Journal of the Kenneth Burke Society—as a digital peer-reviewed publication independent of any specific library or other archival institution—emerges as the ideal vehicle for such conversations.

Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter. "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility: Second Version." In Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 3: 1935-1938. Trans. Edmund Jephcott et al. Ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings. Cambridge, MA: Belkanp P of Harvard UP, 2002. 101-133. Print.

Burke, Kenneth. The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. 3rd Ed. Berkeley, CA: U of California P, 1973.

Graff, Gerald and Cathy Birkenstein. ”They Say / I Say”: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. 3rd Ed. New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2014.

Greene, Mark A. and Dennis Meissner. "More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing." The American Archivist 68.2 (2005): 208-63. Print.

Call for Participation in the KBDA

As you can see from the extensive list of not-yet-digitized recording below, there is much work to do. Ethan Sproat (the KBDA lead archivist) is working with the Kenneth Burke Society and the KBJ editorial staff (who, in turn, are working with the Kenneth Burke Literary Trust) to take care of the necessary permissions and digitizations of every possible recording listed below.

KB scholars from any background (university faculty, independent scholars, graduate students, undergraduate students, etc.) are invited to participate in any of the following activities:

  • Identifying recordings of Kenneth Burke (or involving Kenneth Burke) that are not yet listed in the "List of Known KB Recordings" below.  
  • Being a person on-the-ground at any of the physical archival locations listed below to work as an in-person intermediary between the KBDA lead archivist and the institutions that possess not-yet-digitized KB audiovisual material. 
  • Transcribing a recording in coordination with the lead archivist once a recording is digitized. 
  • Writing historical/critical/theoretical commentary about a recording (what KB was up to at the time, the larger conversations KB was participating in at the time, the implications the recording may have for current strands of KB studies, etc.).

Digitized recordings (in accordance with appropriate permissions), their transcriptions, and any associated historical/critical/theoretical commentary will be submitted for peer review in future issues of KBJ.

If you would like to participate in the KBDA in any of the ways mentioned above, or if you would like more information about the KBDA, please contact Dr. Ethan Sproat, the KBDA Lead Archivist at or on his office phone at 801-863-5192.

Personal copies of not-yet digitized recordings of (or involving) Kenneth Burke can be shipped to the following address for quick industry-grade digitization and return shipping of the original recording:

Dr. Ethan Sproat
English and Literature, MS-153
800 West University Parkway
Utah Valley University
Orem, UT 84058

List of Known KB Recordings

The 2014 seminar in St. Louis was successful in identifying all the audio and video recordings listed below. Some recordings have already been digitally archived and transcribed at other universities and institutions (such as the 1949 Western Round Table on Modern Art at the San Francisco Art Institute; a 1966 lecture on the Theory of Terms on the American Rhetoric website; and a number of 1979 lectures and readings at the University of Cincinnati).

Each entry below is listed in chronological order by year, month, and day of its recording. A title is given for each recording (if known). Each recording's current format(s) and location(s) are given (if known). And the status of transcription, commentary, and publication in KBJ are listed.

Date of Recording: 1947
Title: "Lecture Series, 1947 / Title N/A"
Current Format(s): PDF (maybe audio)
Current Location(s) of Recording: Bennington College
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1949
Title: Western Round Table on Modern Art
Current Format(s): Audio Wire, MP3, PDF Transcripts
Current Location(s) of Recording: San Francisco Art Institute
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: San Francisco Art Institute
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1950, January 8
Title: "'The Rape of Culture,'" Broadcast on the University of Chicago Roundtable"
Current Format(s): Reel-to-Reel Audio
Current Location(s) of Recording: Michigan State University Libraries
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1950, February 19
Title: "'Human Nature and the Bomb,' by Helen B. McLean; William F. Ogbum; Harrison Brown; Herbert Blumer; Kenneth Burke. Broadcast of Chicago Roundtape"
Current Format(s): Reel-to-Reel Audio
Current Location(s) of Recording: Michigan State University Vincent Voice Library
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary:

Date of Recording: 1950, August 14-18
Title: "Harvard Summer School Conference on In Defense of Poetry" [readings by Kenneth Burke and others]
Current Format(s): Reel-to-Reel Audio, possible MP3 with Harvard ID access
Current Location(s) of Recording: Harvard University, Houghton Library, Woodberry Poetry Room digital collection of poetry readings
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: Harvard University Library, cataloged as "BLUE STAR PN1271 .H33 1950x"
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1951
Title of Recording: "Reading and Commentary [of William Carlos Williams] recorded by Kenneth Burke at his home in Andover, NJ. June 21, 1951"
Current Format(s): MP3
Current Location(s) of Recording: The Pennsylvania State University
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1952
Title of Recording: "Kenneth Burke; Janet Flanner; Marianne Moore; Elmer Rice; Glenway Wescott; Monroe Wheeler; Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.). Junior Council."
Current Format(s): Reel-to-Reel MP3 recording (partial)
Current Location(s) of Recording: Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York, NY
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1964, October 22
Title of Recording: "Regents Lecture: 'Language in General: Poetics in Particular'"
Current Format(s): Audio Tape
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of California Santa Barbara, Tape No. A5509/R7
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1964, November 5
Title of Recording: "Regents Lecture: 'Terministic Screens'"
Current Format(s): Audio Tape
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of California Santa Barbara, Tape No. A5508/R7
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1964, November 19
Title of Recording: "Regents Lecture: 'Mind, Body, and the Unconscious'"
Current Format(s): Audio Tape
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of California Santa Barbara, Tape No. A5510/R7
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript:
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1964, December 3
Title of Recording: "Regents Lecture: 'Coriolanus and the Delights of Faction'"
Current Format(s): Audio Tape
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of California Santa Barbara, Tape No. A5511/R7
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1966
Title of Recording: "A Theory of Terms"
Current Format(s): MP3
Current Location(s) of Recording: American Rhetoric Website
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: American Rhetoric Website
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1970
Title of Recording: Washington University in St. Louis Reading
Current Format(s): Audio Tape, MP3
Current Location(s) of Recording: Washington University in St. Louis Special Collections, Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: Volume 12, Number 2 (Spring 2017)

Date of Recording: 1971
Title of Recording: Washington University in St. Louis Discussion with Howard Nemerov
Current Format(s): Audio Tape, MP3
Current Location(s) of Recording: Washington University in St. Louis Special Collections, Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: Volume 12, Number 2 (Spring 2017)

Date of Recording: 1974-1986
Title of Recording: "An Introduction to Poetry: Edited from the Poetry Series Archives of the County College of Morris from 1974-1986"
Current Format(s): VHS, Laser Disc
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of Pittsburgh; University of Virginia; Oglethorpe University, Atlanta, GA
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1977
Title of Recording: "Evening with Kenneth Burke"
Current Format(s): Audio tape
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of Maryland Libraries (OCLC: 4019880)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1979
Title of Recording: "An Evening with Gregory Bateson and Kenneth Burke: Asilomar, 1979"
Current Format(s): DVD
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of California, Santa Cruz (OCLC: 61104619)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1979, May 8
Title of Recording: "Poetry Reading: 'Life is a Day by Day' First Draft"
Current Format(s): MP3
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of Cincinnati
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1979, May 8
Title of Recording: "Words in a World That Is Wordless: A Talk on the Relation Between the Realms of Motion and Action"
Current Format(s): MP3
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of Cincinnati
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1979, May 9
Title of Recording: "Picking Up the Pieces: as we round things out with questions, comments, and suggestions that have turned up along the way"
Current Format(s): MP3
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of Cincinnati
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1984
Title of Recording: "'Literary Criticism 1984: Interpretation, the Critical Difference': with Stanley Eugene Fish, Michael Riffaterre, Nancy K. Miller, Gerald Graff, Kenneth Burke, Gayatri Spivak, Charles Alteieri"
Current Format(s): Audio cassettes
Current Location(s) of Recording: Georgetown University (but unknown for sure)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1985
Title of Recording: "Rhetoric and meta-rhetoric: The Contribution of Secular Communications Theory to Effective Preaching" (1985 Rossiter lecture given October 8-9, 1985 at Colgate Rochester Divinity School/Bexley Hall/Crozer Theological Seminary)
Current Format(s): 2 sound cassettes (ca. 150 min.) : 1 7/8 ips, mono
Current Location(s) of Recording: Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, Ambrose Swasey Library, Rochester, NY
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1984-1986
Title of Recording: "The Year of the Pennsylvania Writer Collection, 1984-1986"
Current Format(s): Audio Cassette
Current Location(s) of Recording: The Pennsylvania State University
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript:
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1986
Title of Recording: "Conversations with Kenneth Burke: Interview 1, Literary Period"
Current Format(s): U-Matic, VHS, Digital Video
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of Iowa, Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1986
Title of Recording: "Conversations with Kenneth Burke: Interview 2, Social Criticism"
Current Format(s): U-Matic, VHS, Digital Video
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of Iowa, Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1986
Title of Recording: "Conversations with Kenneth Burke: Interview 3, Dramatism"
Current Format(s): U-Matic, VHS, Digital Video
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of Iowa, Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript:
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1986
Title of Recording:  "Conversations with Kenneth Burke: Interview 4, Logology"
Current Format(s): U-Matic, VHS, Digital Video
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of Iowa, Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1986
Title of Recording: "'Excerpts: The Kenneth Burke,' by KB and Malcolm Cowley"
Current Format(s): VHS
Current Location(s) of Recording: The Pennsylvania State University
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1987
Title of Recording: "Poetry in the Round Presents: Kenneth Burke & Dennis Donahue on Marian Moore"
Current Format(s): VHS
Current Location(s) of Recording: Seton Hall University, Walsh Library, South Orange, New Jersey
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1987
Title of Recording: "The First American Poetry Disc" (volume 2)
Current Format(s): VHS, CD
Current Location(s) of Recording: McGill University Library, Montreal, QC; County College of Morris, Randolph, New Jersey
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1988
Title of Recording: "Marianne Moore, in her Own Image" (KB is one of several thinkers who talk of Marianne Moore and her works)
Current Format(s): VHS
Current Location(s) of Recording: New York Center for Visual History, New York, NY; and 500+ libraries
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1989
Title of Recording: Untitled
Current Format(s): Audio Cassette, MP3
Current Location(s) of Recording: Rick Coe
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: Unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1989
Title of Recording: "'Language, Nonsense, and Poetry,' by Howard Nemerov, Gertrude Clarke Whittall, with comment by Kenneth Burke" (Poetry and Literature Fund, Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature)
Current Format(s): Audio Cassette and Reel-to-Reel
Current Location(s) of Recording: Library of Congress
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1970s/1992
Title of Recording: "KB: A Conversation with Kenneth Burke"
Current Format(s): VHS, Digital Video
Current Location(s) of Recording: Chapin Foundation, Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: Kenneth Burke Society (Ethan Sproat)
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

Date of Recording: 1992
Title of Recording: "William Carlos Williams: The Collected Recordings"
Current Format(s): unknown
Current Location(s) of Recording: Keele University
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

AV Material about Kenneth Burke
Date of Recording: 2004, February 2
Title of Recording: Mere Rhetoric: Kenneth Burke
Current Format(s): MPS Podcast
Current Location(s) of Recording: University of Texas Student Chapter of RSA
Current Location(s) of Recording Transcript: Unknown
KBJ Issue(s) with Recording, Transcript, and/or Commentary: TBA

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

Kenneth Burke WUSTL Reading, 4 Dec. 1970, Washington University at St. Louis

Click here for the original recording in MP3 format.

Transcribed and Edited by Adam Humes and Ethan Sproat

Editors' Note

This transcription is part of the ongoing Kenneth Burke Digital Archive (KBDA), which was initially established by a small group of KB scholars at the 2014 KBS conference in St. Louis, "Attitudes Toward Technology/Technology's Attitudes." Apropos to the location of the 2014 KBS conference, this recording and transcription also took place in St. Louis at Washington University at St. Louis (WUSTL). The transcription below is of a reading KB gave as part of the Assembly Series of invited lectures at WUSTL. At the time of the recording, KB was a visiting professor at WUSTL and a close friend of Howard Nemerov, who was a professor of poetry at WUSTL and had previously been a colleague of KB at Bennington College. During this recording, Howard Nemerov introduces KB to the audience before KB reads various poems amid his own commentary.
This transcription and the MP3 recording above appear here by permission of the Kenneth Burke Literary Trust and in coordination with the Washington University Libraries Department of Special Collections Manuscript Division. In the transcript below, timestamps in parentheses periodically precede shifts from reading to commentary or from speaker to speaker. Speakers' names appear in all caps in bold in brackets. Any portions that were unintelligible to the transcribers and editors are here represented with the word “unintelligible” in bold in brackets. If any readers have any suggested corrections to the text below based on the MP3 recording linked above, please contact Ethan Sproat, the KBDA Lead Archivist, at]


[HOWARD NEMEROV:] That's the one for René Wellek I guess I better not give the introduction for René Wellek. Okay. Hey, Burke. Kenneth Burke, from the faculty of English at this university, this year as the very first visiting professor. For the most part of Mr. Burke's work, as you're aware, is in literary criticism and the study of the ways of language in general. And I could, as an introducer, properly recite the list of the titles of his works along these lines, but Mr. Burke and I got together earlier and agreed that this introduction is under no circumstances to last more than forty minutes. With, of course, a question period. And anyhow, as a demonstration of his philosophical and critical works, and a long with, he has written fictions in both prose and verse. And it is his poetry we are to hear on the present occasion. He called one volume of it a Book of Moments. That's a kind of description and key to the art. The problem in some of the poems is how much in the road from nothing to everything or the other way, too, can be eternized in a single moment if you were still to emerge with something? There's a wonderful image on the back dust jacket of his collected poems, which I've already said it was wonderful. I suspect he designed it himself. It starts like a spiral nebula from nowhere and it fades over the edge of the page into the sides. It's entirely composed of words. Alternatively, the objects of his poetry are the six biblical characteristics he set forth when he tried, poor fellow, to write a novel. Decided he couldn't write it. A real novel, the kind with plot, so he invented something like better. It had these six biblical characteristics: lamentation, rejoicing, beseechment, admonitions, sayings, and invective. I'm permitted to give you one example before his voice is not as good as mine. It's called

"Creation Myth."
In the beginning, there was universal Nothing.

Then Nothing said No to itself and thereby begat Something.
Which called itself, Yes.

Then No and Yes, cohabiting, begat Maybe.

Next, all three in a ménage à trois, begat Guilt.

And Guilt was of many names:

Mine, Thine, Yours, Ours, His, Hers, Its, Theirs—and Order.

In time, things so came to pass That two of its names, Guilt and Order, Honoring their great progenitors, Yes, No, and Maybe, begat History.

Finally, History fell a-dreaming
And dreamed about language—

And that brings us to critics who write critiques of critical criticism. Which, in turn, brings us to Kenneth Burke.


[KENNETH BURKE:] I should first tell you my—do we need this thing? I hate those things. I like to speak to you. I don't these damn machines. Can we put that off? Can I talk to you out here? Can't we? No? Can't be done? Can't be done, okay. This is progress. This is progress, I don't know. First thing, I would like to say: now is it back? Do I have to talk low or something? I don't know. You see, I've been living for years. I don't know how to do these damn things, you know? They mess me up,

[MALE VOICE 1:] I'll take it away for you.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Yeah, take it away.

[MALE VOICE 1:] if I can figure out how to do it. There.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Thank you. Now, can you hear me? I am most grateful to Howard Nemerov. And I am absolutely so against him in one way. And that is that a poet is a critic every goddamned year. Howard's half and half. A critic has to go every year either everything he does, he has to be a new deal. Or at least he has to make it look like a new deal. But I realized the racket that poets have. That is, one day I had put over a deal. They had offered me a job at a certain place where they gave me so much, and I said, "Add two hundred bucks and I will give a poetry reading." So I put this deal over, and you know, the poetry reading, because as a matter of fact, that particular poem I'm going to read to you tonight is worth two thousand two hundred dollars. By that method. But the truth is, you have this. What these fellas can do? What these poets can do, you know? Here you are: you're in your seventies, you're falling apart. If you said something last year, they say, "But he said that last year." I found out that the first time I put this deal over, then in the evening session, which was my theoretical talk, you see, that was my critical talk. I was to give a poetry session in the afternoon, and so in the evening talk, I ask for questions. And somebody got up and says, "Will you please read again that poem you read this afternoon?" I really put the poets hat on this poor critic? I'm just working like hell to write poetry. Anyhow, I would like to first read the poem that has that sort of angle. The poem that was in here, "Heavy heavy, what hangs over." Remember that little thing, "Heavy, heavy what hangs over?"

At eighty, reading lines he wrote at twenty,
the storm now passed,
a gust in the big tree,
Splatters rain drops on the roof.

That makes sense to you? You got a storm going on its way. After that's over, so it's all through, and then a little wind summons creatures. Well, you know these fellas, they can sell their poems at the age of seventeen and I'm going to sell mine at the age of seventy. Tonight? Yes, I will write you some poems that I have written at the age of seventeen. But first I want to present my major number, I think. The rhetoricians tell me that your attention span is best at the beginning of a talk, so I'm going to read my long poem at the beginning of this talk. And it has to do with a situation I think you might be interested in. Over in [unintelligible], I'm trying to work this both ways. I'm trying to read a poem and talk about the kinds of things you might be interested in just as if I was just giving a lecture. We have a problem like this in this poem. I was immobilized in Brooklyn at this time because my wife happened to be physically immobilized and I was psychically immobilized. So we sat over this place in Brooklyn, looking over from Brooklyn Heights over to the southern end of Manhattan Island. Half of it was the bay and half of it was Manhattan Island. And there's no question about it, that—I thought that I was an insomniac, I would be up at around three or four 'o clock in the morning—that place was just blazing. Incredible. And that was exactly the same place in Brooklyn Heights, where Whitman came across. And there was the bridge, still there. [Hart's Range Bridge.] That's all cleared up. Of course, the Brooklyn ferry is not any longer there, that very street that he was living on, that very street I was living on, that's all Jehovah's Witnesses now. They work another angle. I build from that. I get the notion that I get the structure of this before we start: there are there stages. Here is where Whitman crossed on a ferry. Well, same area, same place from there. He went back, but that's all gone. And here's the bridge that Hart went across, here was I—let's say here was the writer—who was immobilized because his companion was immobilized. His companion was immobilized physically, so he was immobilized psychologically. So all he could do was see, was look across, you see. So the thing is called "Eye-Crossing—From Brooklyn to Manhattan." as built that way. Now in this picture, in this story that I tell, after the poem came out I was asked who was the Olympian leper that I referred to? And why was he a leper I said, "He was an Olympian because he was a man who transcended his physical problems. He was really a transcendentalist. I mean, he was a leper, because he was a leper. A poet, a critic, a thinker, a wall. If any of you have never met, remind me to go on. He was a beauty of his ways of dealing with all these problems. So when I refer to the Olympian leper in this poem, I am referring to [unintelligible]. This poem is dedicated to Marianne Moore, Marianne Moore was one of the most astonishing experiences of my life. She even taught me, for a while, to blush. I've lost the ability since then. She really had such delicacy, such perception. She would say all kinds of things, all of the sudden, I don't know. I don't know. But she had by the time this poem was written, Marianne Moore had left Brooklyn and gone back to New York. So that's the twist there. So therefore, our relationship with the Dodgers is a little bit ambiguous from then on. I don't know, a few little spots as we go along, you see, I'm only going to do one long poem because the rhetoricians that you can only hope to hold them for so long. your attention span will run down. So this is the only long poem I'm gong to do this evening. Pleas have that attention span spare. But I have to make a few little spots along the way. You could work this out for yourselves if you had a little more time. There's a couple of spots—for instance, you have Scylla and Charybdis. So in the first two lines, I don't know why I messed that up. Why worry about it? I’ll just do it the way I do it.

Scheming to pick my way past Charybdylla
(or do I mean Scyllybdis?)
caught in the midst of being nearly over,
not “midway on the roadway of our life,”

You know, that's what I'm doing there, "mezzo del cammin nostra vita." That's the big line in Dante that I'm referring to there.

a septuagenarian valetudinarian

A ninety guy who is ailing.

thrown into an airy osprey-eyrie

I should tell you about this place where we are. We were over this whole thing. This'll build up if you might know it in the first place. We were up, looking out over that bay. It's really one of the most marvelous spots in the world. You'll find my terror of the whole situation. It will come through. But that is the most incredible place. It is actually the eighth miracle of the [unintelligible] miracle, but to see that place at four o'clock in the morning. You wake up and there it is, just big, big. It's raging. So that's what I mean by that marvelous place we were then.

with a view most spacious
(and every bit of it our country's primal gateway even),
although, dear friends, I'd love to see you later,
after the whole thing's done,
comparing notes, us comically telling one another
just what we knew or thought we knew
that others of us didn't,
all told what fools we were, every last one of us—
I'd love the thought, a humane after-life,
more fun than a bbl. of monkeys,
but what with being sick of wooing Slumber,
I'll settle gladly for Oblivion.

Second [II]
Weep, Hypochondriasis (hell, I mean smile):
The bell rang, I laid my text aside,
The day begins in earnest, they have brought the mail.
And now to age and ailments add
a thirteen-page single-spaced typed missile-missive,
to start the New Year right.
On the first of two-faced January,
"… the injuries you inflict upon me … persecution …
such legal felonies … unremitting efforts … malice, raids,
slander, conspiracy … your spitefulness …"
—just when I talked of getting through the narrows,
now I'm not so sure.
Smile, Hypochondriasis, (her, I mean wanly weep).

Let's being again.
Crossing by eye, from Brooklyn to Manhattan,
(23:30) Maybe I forgot to tell you, it's called "Eye-Crossing—from Brooklyn to Manhattan." I'm saying we only cross by eye because we're caught on this side. What we're gong to do here; we have to do two things. We have to cross, and come back and look at things on this side, Brooklyn. Then we go back and forth. We only just look across. Let's begin again:

Crossing by eye, from Brooklyn to Manhattan
(Walt's was a ferry crossing,
Hart's by bridge)—

Now get that thing I'm trying to build up three stages here. Three stages, basically. I'm trying to build up the difference between Whitman's "Sail Stock", and Hart's "Nostalgia," and where we are now. I'm just trying to build a sequence that way. That's what I'm working on here, so watch it and you want to do a [unintelligible] that's the structure I'm working on. Let's begin again:

Crossing by eye, from Brooklyn to Manhattan
(Walt's was a ferry-crossing,
Hart's by bridge)—
to those historic primi donni,

I made up a word there, if you noticed. Here I am an ideal in an eye. What would be the masculine [unintelligible]. I just figured I'd do the best I could do.

to those historic primi donni,

Here I am, an ideal in an eye.

now add me, and call me what you will.
From Brooklyn, now deserted
by both Marianne Moore and the Dodgers—

I forgot to tell you, this poem is dedicated to Marianne Moore.

an eye-crossing
with me knocked cross-eyed or cockeyed
by a maddening, by a saddening vexing letter
from a dear friend gone sour.
I think of a Pandora's box uncorked
while I was trying to untie
Laocoön's hydra-headed Gordian knot,
entangled in a maze of Daedalus,
plus modern traffic jam cum blackout.
Let's begin again.

The architectural piles,

Looking over from Brooklyn, would know what goddamned stuff they've got over there.

The architectural piles, erections, impositions,
monsters of high-powered real estate promotion—
from a room high on Brooklyn Heights
the gaze is across and UP, to those things' peaks,
their arrogance!
When measured by this scale of views from Brooklyn
they are as though deserted.
And the boats worrying

He can't see anything of them.

And the boats worrying the harbor
they too are visibly deserted
smoothly and silent
moving in disparate directions
each as but yielding to a trend that bears it
like sticks without volition
carried on a congeries
of crossing currents.
And void of human habitation,
the cars on Madhatter's Eastern drive-away
formless as stars
speeding slowly
close by the feet of the godam mystic giants—
a restlessness unending, back and forth
(glimpses of a drive, or drivenness,
from somewhere underneath the roots of reason)

I'd like to give those lines. By popular request I'm reading those lines over again.

(glimpses of a drive, or drivenness,
from somewhere underneath the roots of reason)
me looking West, towards Manhattan, Newark, West
Eye-crossing I have seen the sunrise
gleaming in the splotch and splatter
of Western windows facing East.

Now give me a chance for the next section. I'd like to give you a couple of things to prepare for. I used the fact that B-E-H-E-M-O-T-H uses two accents. you can say either beheMOTH or beHEmoth. And I used the word "boustrophedon." Now I know many of you know boustrophedon and many of you don't. I must admit that for a few years, I didn't know boustrophedon. Boustrophedon comes from a word which comes form "bous" is the ox, and "strophe" the turn. And what it refers to is when the ox went to the end of the line and turned. When you were plowing, you went back and forth and the word was used for kinds of languages. Some go from right to left and some go from left to right. Between Hebrew and English you get all these twists back and forth. So the next stanza works with that.


You see we ended up there, I was looking west and seeing the east in the reflected.

East? West?
Between USSR and USA,
their Béhemoth and our Behémoth,
a dialogue of sorts?
Two damned ungainly beasts,
threats to the entire human race's race
but for their measured dread of each the other.
How give or get an honest answer?
Forgive me for this boustrophedon mood
going from left to right, then right to left,
pulling the plow thus back and forth alternately
a digging of furrows not in a field to plant,
but on my own disgruntled dumb-ox forehead.
My Gawd! Begin again!

See, I do these studies on two sides. Some I'm doing on the side of Brooklyn. some I'm looking over to New York, in Manhattan.

Turn back. Now just on this side:.
By keeping your wits about you,.
you can avoid the voidings,.
the dog-signs scattered on the streets and sidewalks.
(you meet them face to faeces).
and everywhere the signs of people.
(you meet them face to face).
The Waltman, with time and tide before him,.
he saw things face to face, he said so.
then there came a big blow.
the pavements got scoured drastically.
—exalted, I howled back.
into the teeth of the biting wind.
me in Klondike zeal.
inhaling powdered dog-dung.
(here's a new perversion).
now but an essence on the fitful gale.
Still turning back.
Surmarket—mock-heroic confrontation at—.
(An Interlude).

You ask why I have used a surmarket as agianst supermarket. After all, they say surrealism is against superrealism, so why can't I say surmarket as against supermarket? We've got now a confrontation of bull acts and an interlude. This is a mock heroic confrontation.

Near closing time, we're zeroing in.
Ignatius Panallergicus

Panallergicus, huh? That's me, and allergic to everything? Pan allergicus No? No?

Ignatius Panallergicus (that's me)
his cart but moderately filled
(less than five dollars buys the lot)
he picks the likeliest queue and goes line up
then waits, while for one shopper far ahead
the lady at the counter tick-ticks off and tallies
items enough to gorge a regiment.
Then, lo! a possibility not yet disclosed sets in.
While Panallergicus stands waiting
next into line a further cart wheels up,
whereat Ignatius Panallergicus (myself, unknowingly
the very soul of Troublous Helpfullness) suggests:
"It seems to me, my friend, you'd come out best
on that line rather than on one of these."
And so (let's call him "Primus")
Primus shifts.
Development atop development:
Up comes another, obviously "Secundus,"
to take his stand behind Ignatius, sunk in thought.
No sooner had Secundus joined the line
than he addressed Ignatius Panallerge approximately thus:
"Good neighbor,

I'm trying to make this very realistic.

"Good neighbor, of this temporary junction,
pray, guard my rights in this arrangement
while I race off to get one further item,"
then promptly left, and so things stood.
But no. Precisely now in mankind's pilgrimage
who suddenly decides to change his mind
but Primus who, abandoning his other post,
returns to enroll himself again in line behind Ignatius.
Since, to that end, he acts to shove aside
Secundus' cart and cargo, Crisis looms.
Uneasy, Panallergicus explains:
"A certain …Iamsorry … but you see …
I was entrusted … towards the preservation of …"
but no need protest further—
for here is Secundus back,
and wrathful of his rights
as ever epic hero of an epoch-making war
Both aging champions fall into a flurry
of fishwife fury,

Honest to God, I'm just throwing this stuff out there.

of fishwife fury, even to such emphatical extent
that each begins to jettison the other's cargo.
While the contestants rage, pale Panallerge
grins helplessly at others looking on.
But Primus spots him in this very act and shouts
for all to hear, "It's all his fault … he was the one …
he brought this all about …"
and Panallergicus now saw himself
as others see him, with a traitor's wiles.
I spare the rest. (There was much more to come)
How An Authority came swinging in,
twisted Secundus' arm behind his back
and rushed him bumbling from the store.

I tried to do a suggestion that around about there that the bums rush up.

How further consequences flowed in turn,
I leave all that unsaid.
And always now, when edging towards the counter,
his cargo in his cart,
Our Ignatz Panallerge Bruxisticus

He's got a new name now, he's been through. Bruxisticus comes from bruxism is the psychological twist of gritting your teeth.

our Ignatz Panallerge Bruxisticus
(gnashing his costly, poorly fitting dentures)
feels all about his head
a glowering anti-glowing counter-halo …

Haven't I done a job with counter halos? Haven't I got it countered in two ways? The counter you're around but the counter...

Is that a millstone hung about his neck?
No, it is but the pressing-down
of sixty plus eleven annual milestones.

That was when I was seventy-one. I was just a kid then.

(It was before the damning letter came.
Had those good burghers also known of that!)

But no! Turn back from turning back. Begin again:
of a late fall evening
I walked on the Esplanade

Anybody know that place there? It's just a marvelous thing. I can't build that up for you enough.

looking across at the blaze of Walt's Madhatter
and north to Hart's graceful bridge, all lighted
in a cold, fitful gale I walked
on the Esplanade in Brooklyn now deserted
by both Marianne and the Dodgers.
Things seemed spooky—
eight or ten lone wandering shapes,
and all as afraid of me as I of them?
We kept a wholesome distance from one another.
Had you shrieked for help in that bluster
who'd have heard you?
Me and my alky in that cold fitful bluster
on the Esplanade that night
above the tiers of the mumbling unseen traffic
It was scary
it was ecstactic


Some decades earlier, before my Pap

Here's a twist in this thing here. Pap is worry, a personal concerning thing. Here I was, near the emblem. I'm looking this way, but a way back like God, first came to New York looking the other way, towards the east.

Some decades earlier, before my Pap
fell on evil days (we then were perched
atop the Palisades, looking East, and down
upon the traffic-heavings of the Hudson)
I still remember Gramma (there from Pittsburgh for a spell)
watching the tiny tugs tug monsters.
Out of her inborn sweetness and memories
of striving, puffing all that together,
"Those poor little tugs!" she'd say.
God only knows what all
she might be being sorry for.

Why did she say that thing? She'd sit up there, watching those pulling those folks around the highway. Those poor little tugs, pulling all those big freighters. Poor little tugs. I think her whole life was behind that is what I'm getting at. Now, repeatedly, we watch the tugs. Poor little tugs from here. they're over there in Brooklyn and we're on the other side.

their signals back and forth as though complaining.
The two tugs help each other tugging, pushing
(against the current into place)
a sluggish ship to be aligned along a dock,
a bungling, bumbling, bulging, over-laden freighter.
Their task completed,
the two tugs toot good-bye,
go tripping on their way,
leaning as lightly forward
as with a hiker
suddenly divested
of his knapsack.
"Good-bye," rejoicingly, "good-bye"—
whereat I wonder:
Might there also be a viable albeit risky way
to toot
"If you should drive up and ask me,
I think you damn near botched that job"?
"I think you stink."
What might comprise the total range and nature
of tugboat-tooting nomenclature?

Profusion of confusion. No, wait, don't. Am I still here? No. Am I still here? We changed the rhythm. We changed the pace.

a plunk-plunk juke-box joint
him hunched on a stool
peering beyond his drink
at bottles lined up, variously pregnant
(there’s a gleaming for you)
Among the gents
a scattering of trick floozies.
May be they know or not
just where they'll end,
come closing time.
He'll be in a room alone
himself and his many-mirrored other.
It was a plunk-plunk juke-box joint
its lights in shadow

Profusion of confusion. What of a tunnel-crossing?
What if by mail, phone, telegraph, or aircraft,
or for that matter, hearse?
You're in a subway car, tired, hanging from a hook,
and you would get relief?
Here's all I have to offer:
Sing out our national anthem, loud and clear,
and when in deference to the tune
the seated passengers arise,
you quickly slip into whatever seat
seems safest. (I figured out this scheme,
but never tried it.)
Problems pile up, like the buildings,
Even as I write, the highest to the left
soars higher day by day.
Now but the skeleton of itself
(these things begin as people end!)

Do you know what I mean there? They build a skeleton first. First they put that basic structure on, and then they put all that stuff around it. So that's what I mean by saying, "Now, with the skeleton of itself," That the basic structure, these things begin as people end.

all night its network of naked bulbs keeps flickering
towards us here in Brooklyn …
then dying into dawn …
or are our … are our what?

I'll confess to you, that last line I put in doesn't make any sense. Except, I didn't say I could positively say it without growling. Rawr rat what? I put it in for that reason.
Now the next one is an epic simile that falls apart. It's time for that, isn't it?

As with an aging literary man who, knowing
that words see but within
yet finding himself impelled to build a poem
that takes for generating core a startling View,
a novel visual Spaciousness
(he asks himself: "Those who have not witnessed it,
how tell them?—and why tell those who have?
Can you do more than say ‘remember’?")

Imagine trying to say if you haven't seen that damn thing from there, I can't tell you really what a fantastic vision it is. From there, from Brooklyn, Looking at a tree at four o'clock in the morning. And I just don't know how to handle that.

and as he learns the ceaseless march of one-time modulatings
unique to this, out of eternity,
this one-time combination
of primal nature (Earth's) and urban, technic second nature
there gleaming, towering, spreading out and up
there by the many-colored, changing-colored water
(why all that burning, all throughout the night?
some say a good percentage is because
the cleaning women leave the lights lit.
But no—it's the computers
all night long now
they go on getting fed.)

I might bring in a spot there. Years ago, about the first job I had really, well paying job, I was working down there, at 61 Broadway. you could go out that place at night, but you wanted to stay and work in your office. which is like going out into a remote village. It was, my God, that place was just simply blazing. All night now. What's the difference? Just what I said. It's the computers being fed. They've got to keep those animals fed.

as such a man may ask himself and try,
as such a one, knowing that words see but inside,
noting repeated through the day or night
the flash of ambulance or parked patrol car,
wondering, "Is it a ticket this time, or a wreck?"
or may be setting up conditions there
that helicopters land with greater safety,
so puzzling I, eye-crossing …
and find myself repeating (and hear the words
of a now dead once Olympian leper),
"Intelligence is an accident
Genius is a catastrophe."

That's the one. That's the one. Thank God it's not mine.

A jumble of towering tombstones
hollowed, not hallowed,
and in the night incandescent
striving ever to outstretch one another
like stalks of weeds dried brittle in the fall.
Or is it a mighty pack of mausoleums?
Or powerhouses of decay and death—
towards the poisoning of our soil, our streams, the air,
roots of unhappy wars abroad,
miraculous medicine, amassing beyond imagination
the means of pestilence,
madly wasteful journeys to the moon (why go at all,
except to show you can get back?)
I recalled the wanly winged words of a now dead gracious leper.
(My own words tangle like our entangled ways,
of hoping to stave off destruction
by piling up magic mountains of destructiveness.)

Do I foresee the day?
Calling his counsellors and medicos,
do I foresee a day, when Unus Plurium
World Ruler Absolute, and yet the august hulk
is wearing out—do I foresee such time?
Calling his counsellors and medicos together,
"That lad who won the race so valiantly,"
he tells them, and His Word is Law,
"I'd like that bright lad's kidneys—
and either honor him by changing his with mine
or find some others for him, as opportunity offers."
No sooner said than done.
Thus once again The State is rescued—
and Unus over all, drags on till next time.
Do I foresee that day, while gazing across, as though that realm was alien
Forfend forfending of my prayer
that if and when and as such things should be
those (from here) silent monsters
those (from here) silent monsters (over there)
will have by then gone crumbled into rubble,
and nothing all abroad
but ancient Egypt's pyramidal piles of empire-building hierarchal stylized
dung remains.
Oh, I have haggled nearly sixty years
in all the seventies I've moved along.
My country, as my aimless ending nears,
oh, dear my country, may I be proved wrong!

Now I have two stanzas here. One on Whitman, and one on a Hart and then the final. The quotations in the Whitman are from his "Crossing Brooklyn's Ferry."

"Eye-crossing" I had said? The harbor space so sets it up.
In Walt's ferry-crossing, besides the jumble of things seen
(they leave him "disintegrated")
even the sheer words "see," "sight," "look," and "watch" add up
to 33

I think that's a dirty trick. I'm not so sure. I'm afraid to try it again or anyhow.

the number of a major mythic cross-ifying.

I don't know. I think it now and again, it does that, after that, I haven't checked that again, but you get the idea anyhow.

33, the number of a major mythic cross-ifying.
In the last section of the Waltman's testimony
there is but "gaze," and through a "necessary film" yet …
"Gaze" as though glazed? It's not unlikely.
"Suspend," he says, "here and everywhere, eternal float of solution."
And the talk is of "Appearances" that "envelop the soul."
Between this culminating ritual translation
and the sheer recordings of the senses
there had been intermediate thoughts
of "looking" forward to later generations "looking" back.
Walt the visionary, prophetically seeing crowds of cronies
crossing and recrossing
on the ferry that itself no longer crosses.


That's a vision for you.

Six is the problematic section.
There he takes it easy, cataloguing all his vices
as though basking on a comfortable beach.

That's a wonderful trick, that is.

His tricks of ideal democratic promiscuity
include his tricks of ideal man-love.
In section six he does a sliding, it makes him feel good.
Blandly blind to the promotion racket stirring already all about him,
Blandly blind to the promotion racket stirring already all about him,
he "bathed in the waters" without reference to their imminent defiling
(Now even a single one
of the many monsters since accumulated
could contaminate the stream for miles.)
He sang as though it were all his—
a continent to give away for kicks.
And such criss-crossing made him feel pretty godam good.
Flow on, filthy river,
ebbing with flood-tide and with ebb-tide flooding.
Stand up, you feelingless Erections,
Fly on, O Flight, be it to fly or flee.
Thrive, cancerous cities.
Load the once lovely streams with the clogged filter of your filth.
even to the moon and beyond yet.
"There is perfection in you" in the sense
that even empire-plunder can't corrupt entirely.

That's the end of the Whitman. Now I go to the Hart-Crane one. I treat here the twist between idealistic and realistic.

And what of Hart's crossing by the bridge?
"Inviolate curve," he says. Who brought that up?
The tribute gets its maturing in the penultimate stanza,
"Under thy shadow by the piers I waited."
Hart too was looking.
But things have moved on since the days of Walt,
and Hart is tunnel-conscious.
And fittingly the subway stop at Wall Street,
first station on the other side,
gets named in the middle quatrain of the "Proem"
(Wall as fate-laden as Jericho, or now as mad Madison
of magic Madhatter Island.) Ah! I ache!
Hart lets you take your pick:
"Prayer of pariah and the lover's cry."

Here's the alternative:

(If crossing now on Brooklyn Bridge by car,
be sure your tires are sound—
for if one blows out you must keep right on riding
on the rim. That's how it sets up now
with what Hart calls a "curveship"
lent as a "myth to God."
I speak in the light of subsequent developments.)
Elsewhere, "The last bear, shot drinking in the Dakotas,"
Hart's thoughts having gone beneath the river by tunnel, and
"from tunnel into field," whereat "iron strides the dew."
Hart saw the glory, turning to decay,
albeit euphemized in terms of "time's rendings."
And by his rules, sliding from Hudson to the Mississippi,
he could end on a tongued meeting of river there and gulf,
a "Passion" with "hosannas silently below."
All told, though Walt was promissory,
Hart was nostalgic, Hart was future-loving only insofar
as driven by his need to hunt (to hunt the hart).
And as for me, an apprehensive whosis
I'm still talking of a crossing on a river

And I might say here that the reference of the thing here has to with the first time they went around the moon before they ever set foot on the moon.

I'm still talking of a crossing on a river
when three men have jumped over the moon,
a project we are told computer-wise
involving the social labor of 300,000 specialists
and 20,000 businesses.
Such are the signs one necessarily sees,
gleaming across the water,
the lights cutting clean
all through the crisp winter night.
"O! Ego, the pity of it, Ego!"

That's my most ambitious pun. "Iago, the pity of it, Iago!'

"O! Ego, the pity of it, Ego!"
"Malice, slander, conspiracy," the letter had said;
"your spitefulness …"

Just as the roads get jammed that lead
each week-day morning from Long Island to Manhattan,
so the roads get jammed that lead that evening
from Manhattan to Long Island.
And many's the driver that crosses cursing.
Meanwhile, lo! the Vista-viewing from our windows at burning nightfall:
To the left, the scattered lights on the water,
hazing into the shore in Jersey, on the horizon.
To the right, the cardboard stage-set of the blazing buildings.
Which is to say:
To the left,
me looking West as though looking Up,
it is with the lights in the harbor
as with stars in the sky,
just lights, pure of human filth—
or is it?
To the right,
the towerings of Lower Manhattan
ablaze at our windows
as though the town were a catastrophe
as doubtless it is …


Kenneth Burke Discussion with Howard Nemerov, 4 Mar. 1971, Washington University at St. Louis

Click here for the original recording in MP3 format.

Transcribed and Edited by Adam Humes and Ethan Sproat

Editors' Note

This transcription is part of the ongoing Kenneth Burke Digital Archive (KBDA), which was initially established by a small group of KB scholars at the 2014 KBS conference in St. Louis, "Attitudes Toward Technology/Technology's Attitudes." Apropos to the location of the 2014 KBS conference, this recording and transcription also took place in St. Louis at Washington University at St. Louis (WUSTL). The transcription below is of a discussion between KB and Howard Nemerov, a professor of poetry at WUSTL. Nemerov and KB were good friends and colleagues who had worked together previously at Bennington College. At the time of this recording, KB was a visiting professor at WUSTL. During this recording, Howard Nemerov and KB discuss various aspects of KB's poetry.
This transcription and the MP3 recording above appear here by permission of the Kenneth Burke Literary Trust and in coordination with the Washington University Libraries Department of Special Collections Manuscript Division. In the transcript below, timestamps in parentheses periodically precede shifts from reading to commentary or from speaker to speaker. Speakers' names appear in all caps in bold in brackets. Any portions that were unintelligible to the transcribers and editors are here represented with the word “unintelligible” in bold in brackets. If any readers have any suggested corrections to the text below based on the MP3 recording linked above, please contact Ethan Sproat, the KBDA Lead Archivist, at]


[MALE VOICE 1:] [unintelligible] Club. Our speakers tonight are Kenneth Burke and Howard Nemerov. They tell me they have a game plan, but don't tell me what it is, so I'll leave it to them to show us what it is.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] Well we've come to improvise, and we trust our powers of it insomuch that we brought our collected works along and are prepared just to sit there and to read to you out of them, maybe antiphonally. This is really Mr. Burke's show, I got kind of added to it the last day or two. So the idea was to see how long I could read something before Kenneth interrupted, because as we have allowed to each other the essence of this good word-man is that he wouldn't let a good explanation go unexplained. If I explain something, we've got to cap it. First, I got a little document that says I'm not gonna get more than three sentences through, but I took the precaution of bringing some other little documents that I didn't show him, as well as an essay about him which he was allowed to read finally on his request when it got to stage of proof. In which he said dourly, "That's very kind of you. Preserved your own independence at the same time, didn't you?" How do you do, Doctor? You'll get your chance. Do you want to go now?

[KENNETH BURKE:] Do you want to sit down?

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] I'll stand up. I'll stand on the table because otherwise I won't have the stature.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Because I have a lot of that.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] This is on the question, "What is Man?" It's the minutes of the faculty meeting on the subject. I've been noticing that every discipline has a way of undercutting the others to say, "I am the essential where as you guys are kind of peripheral." And this never really got anywhere, but it might set somebody else off. What is man? Who professed through chemistry said that is easily answered, "A handful of chemicals and a lot of water. The whole business maybe a dollar ninety-eight, and that was only on the account of inflation. I remember in Popular Mechanics it was ninety-six cents years ago. "But the organization of all this stuff," said the professor of biology, "gives an impression of being directed and purposive that is quite foreign to the organization of the same chemicals in other relation." "But if you want to know what we are," said the professor of physics, "the fundamental thing to get straight is that we are arrangement of atoms dancing around in mostly void". And here the professor of economics got in: "If people were not paid to talk this stuff," he said, "people would not talk this stuff. Man was essentially an arrangement to ensure the steady circulation of goods and services." The professor of history sighed and said that the really interesting thing about what you were calling "man" was not his opinions about himself, but how he came over the course of millennia to hold the opinions he did. Now the professor of neurophysiology said that he would like to agree with the professor of history, but he said, from a radically different point of view. Now that we understood he said the interior of the brain to contain neither thought more words but only neurons it was truly fascinating to hear a body of learned men continue to talk as though—the professor of philosophy here interrupted to say that in that event his learned colleague in neurophysiology wasn't saying anything he was only clicking his neurons. any resemblance to thought would be recognized as purely coincidental. The professor of linguistic analysis he remarked after [unintelligible] nothing at all, that the really strange thing about man was his propensity to think of the universe and himself as generated according to the rules that generated grammar. In this instance the Indo-European ones. you want to get in there?

[KENNETH BURKE:] I want you to finish your page first

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] Whereupon the professor of English misquoted Samuel Johnson to effect that when the disputes of monarchs were discussed by grammarians they became disputes about grammar. The professor of moral theology pointed out that their question in somewhat fuller form asked by the Psalmist “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” permitted the answer to be inferred rather plainly, not much. The professor of anthropology observed that man was strikingly defined as the animal having gods, no other animal he said did that or anything like it. “One might with equal force contend,” said the university librarian, “that man is the animal who writes books. many of them about what is man. No other animal was known to do that either.” The professor of business administration suggested here that an interdisciplinary committee would be set off—
where upon the professor of political science broke in to say that man was the animal who formed committees. That just because the end of the page

[KENNETH BURKE:] well the reason i was happy to have this beginning was that i had thought i had an answer. My difficult friend here had showed me. And the idea's this: he offered a lot of definitions you see, which my definition would be among those present. Yet I have to find some way of claiming that this is the definition against all the other definitions. And the way I tried to work that out is this: all those definitions, every one of the has one thing in common, therefore we have to move to a higher level of generalization there, and note that all of them are definitions. What does it mean to be this defining animal? No other animal that we know of writes definition of itself. So therefore despite not only the differences among them, these definitions, they're all the use of symbol systems, every one uses some organized symbol system to get its statement made. So therefore, I would say that by that very situation the very internally the embarrassment of the diversity into something on my side by saying therefore we will define man as this symbol using animal. And that will cover the whole blame ground of them. Now given the symbol using animal, he can run committees; he can do all this and that but this would be the overall characterization for the lot. I ran across particularly in my definition of man, which of course I began defining man as the symbol using animal. I remember, by the way, we might keep in mind the overall logic of this discussion which doubtless get lost which we're supposed to be working on, and that is that its the matter of language in general and poetics in particular. In other words, we're going to do, what is it did you say about this whole field, our field, when you just talk about the fact that we are this symbol using animal and what do you say when you're discussing one particular problem in the analysis of the text and so on. We have to keep shifting back and forth. I've found that this has been my problem over about fifty years of teaching and that you just never quite resolved. If you talk to some people are interested say in philosophy and sociology and so on are interested in the notion of approaching this subject for the more general point of view, that would be the government of language in general. And yet when we have our special field where you're dealing with works in particular and I've tried to work out, more or less, a—I wouldn't say heroic—but a viable scheme working back and forth between those two. What would you say about a text purely from a stand point of it as a poem and what would you say about it as a standpoint of a statement of a citizen/taxpayer who has not necessarily fooled at all? in other words, he's using symbol systems. And in my definition of man, which by popular request I will now read to you, I got into this problem in discussing the third clause, where the problem really comes up in the most acute way. If I say, starting out step by step, now man is the symbol using animal and then we'll get our first definition. Then I will say inventor of the negative. We can go onto that if you want to discuss it. I've discussed it in an earlier talk here. That is the notion that the negative is a purely linguistic notion and doesn't exist in nature. The third, separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making. That had to do with all these definitions that man is the tool-making animal. It is our ability to make tools that separated us so greatly from what would be in the state of nature. So it was dealing with that particular clause that i ran across the notion some people would say well why not the tool-making animal rather than the symbol using animal. And it was there that I ran into this maybe formalistic answer. That is even defining him as the tool-making animal you still have a higher level of generalization there. In other words, you're already using symbol systems, so let's go from your highest level of generalization for your definition that's about what they [unintelligible] there, no point in going to the next two stages of the definition, I want them to see what the issue is there. In other words, I just invite you to ask about it. I'm not trying to get away with something here. The point is does this sound like a reasonable way to approach a problem like that. Can you, should you, in making a definition, try to arrive at the highest level of generalization at that stage for your definition? Therefore, should this fact, that we are the specialists in symbol using, be the characteristic element? On a basis of that, you can derive our aptitude, a lot of it rather unfortunate, with tool-making. The very fact that you can use symbol systems produces the kind of attention whereby you can actually invent things and particularly, hand on the intention. You can tell somebody else what you've done and so on. Therefore a statement that might be an act of genius under conditions otherwise becomes something where you can make the whole tribe the equivalent of genius in that sense. You can tell them how to sew or how to this or that which with mere imitation they couldn't have done. The quality of attention wouldn't be there without this prior kind of sharpening up you get from being this kind of animal. As we go on, you'll find out that that isn't by any means just an honorific thing, it is also a problematic element. Mainly because the very fact that we do have a way of bringing the non-symbolic or the external reality into ourselves, making a bridge between these two realms, also implies that we have a gulf at the bracing point. In all likelihood it is the basis alienation right there before you get to the kinds of alienation you get in problems of property structures and so on. At that stage, we have a homelessness in relation to nature that an organism presumes he would not have if it did not have this particular genius of ours. When I made this mild neologism, the ability for symbolicity. We will now give our friend a chance here for a while to read.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] Let me illustrate a point. Louis Mumford has this clever comparison when he's talking about the preeminence of language in making us what we are. He says archeologists and anthropologists tend to go for material artifacts and when they can find some flint axe heads they're pleased. But he said suppose that all the words people used left little dry husks like wing covers around, you wouldn't be able to see a flint axe head because there would be all the husks of those used words around. The moment people discovered they could talk what they must've done for millennia is talk. Great discovery, probably at first the whole damn business didn't mean anything, you just recited enormous long chants which other people had to recite back at you exactly the same way. At least if you define your temperament by saying whether you think people did it that way or whether they first said you are an axe or you are a hammer, you're a river, and stuff like that. I had a definition I wrote for Mr. Mumford after reading his book. I said, "The way people invented language was they got together and talked it over among themselves.”

[KENNETH BURKE:] There's another variation on that. Malinowski has what he calls phatic communion which he spells "p-h-a-t-i-c." Which is just communion by disusing language by speaking back and forth under random conditions. I discovered that he could also work from Latin. So people get together by just sitting around and chewing the fat.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] My wife has a find definition of a committee meeting: RE: chewing the fat.

[KENNETH BURKE:] You were going to offer a few of your statements of the other business. Do you want to do that way now or no?

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] Alright. We'll see how well planned this is.

[KENNETH BURKE:] I want to say in advance that this is an article that I think is a piece of what this fellow always does. It's a marvelous piece of work. And he keeps you on your toes all the way through. And it's a piece of luck tonight that he's going to—

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] You give me a slice of embarrassment that I keep flattering the hell out of the master who conned me to write a piece about him.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I'll move ahead. Here is the way he flatters me. (by Birch Riley)Everything is in movement and development. Everything is always being used for all its worth, and sometimes maybe more. The world's just come to an end just before he got those last four words out there.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] We thought originally that this might be a way to begin things. If you can take the shameless flattery with which I butter him up. The point being to see how many sentences I got through before he couldn't stand it and started. In one, perhaps accidental, symbolic act Burke expressed his essence. He has some of his early books reissued by Hermes Publications and indeed, it turned out afterwards he said he indeed named the publisher that. Hermes was originally a boundary stone. Just a little rock to show you where your land left off and your neighbor's began. The he grew a face and a beard, as seen in illustrations in classical dictionaries. You haven't got the beard yet, but—

[KENNETH BURKE:] This'll do.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] Alright. And he went on to become the Roman god of boundaries who was called Terminus. Rising still further, he became Hermes Trismegistus, thrice greatest Hermes who was called that way because he was a king, a priest, and a prophet or legislator all at the same time, all three. “The fabled author,” says Marcoux, “the large number of works called Hermetic books, most of which embody Neo-Platonic, Judaic, and Kabaalistic ideas as well as magical, astrological, and alchemical doctrines.” In other words, everything, preferably all at once. And the dictionary from which I got this description of Burke in his aspect as Hermes identifies him as Socrates does, too in the Pheadras with the Egyptians scribe Thoth. Who had the head of an ape, I believe. Who, above all, says created by means of words. And appears, sometimes, as exercising this function on his own initiative. At other times acting as instrument of his creator. You wanna jump now or you wanna wait a little?

[KENNETH BURKE:] Nah. I can wait.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] That is a doubt one may properly have about any scribe whose work is imposing enough to make you wonder whether he is representing the world or proposing to replace it. Something I always worried about with respect to John Milton. Put some of my colleagues through some of my experiences with John Milton last term. They were all telling me as soon as i got on to it, I would love it. I finally got back at them by explaining that they had never told me I was reading the English translation. But Milton, for instance, said when he invokes his heavenly muse, claims to merit the instruction by reason of his upright heart and pure. And yet, though it's obvious what is intended is humility, i always heard a certain obstinacy when he said "upright heart and pure," and thought of it as comparable with another of his epithets erected. Well, the doubt may be peculiarly appropriate to a philosopher who creates by means of words and the special sense that he creates words or takes over words, termed, terminologies, the business of Hermes: to set limits. The business of the philosopher, as Socrates defined it most tersely in the Phaedrus where he says, "I guess your way of translation is merger and division." Separating things out or putting things together. When the further inference to be drawn is that there is a way of doing this that is right. The anecdote is very wide-spread. Aristotle has it, too, and it's in some Chinese document I read about the Emperor's Butcher who was so good he didn't need a knife. He just divided things with his hand because he divided them where nature divided them. Then you don't need a sharp edge, it will just fall apart on you because that is right. Well, when you ask whether Mr. Burke does what he does on his own initiative or the instrument of his creator you get somewhat cryptic, though certainly comprehensive reply from his address to the logos where he ends, “For us,/A Great Synecdoche, /Thy works a great tautology.” I think I'll let you explain about synecdoche and tautology all you want from therein.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Yeah, that was a point that I used that in a poem of mine where the whole idea was to work up to those two unwieldy words at the end. Having used the poem several times in readings, I learnt by trial and error that the best way to approach that is first explain how using these two words indicated tautology. explain it along these lines: you have to begin by softening a blow; by synecdoche I here meant a part for the whole and by tautology I had in mind the dialectic fact that the if all creation is the work of the original creative word. What I'm doing here is following the step in theology and God said that there was. That is the creative fiat, which is the creative word. My whole method of working is to try to work from theology without any reference to the truth or falsity of it. But the standpoint of morphology. In other words that I can find statements about God that can be interpreted as statements about words can be used analogically in that way. And that's where the whole problem turns up here about this whole notion of the creative word. You do have a way in which this principle which is used one way in theology as God said let there be and there was and the way that same thing develops in language when you set up a particular set of terms. In terms of which you see something as far as people do see it in those terms you have created that weltanschauung, that view of the world for them. That would be the analogy. So what I did there, the actual poem, maybe I might read the poem because it would give you some general idea of the approach that I work with and this whole idea of the word. this poem is written in a quasi-pious way, but I'm just technically dealing with this problem of the logos, the creative word, and basically this whole idea of the symbol using animal. I might bring out one possible misunderstanding I find people often have about my work, and that is when I speak of the—although I think that for my particular field, the word is the primary area of symbolism that I must deal with. I don't by any means reduce the field to that. I think that dance, painting, music, they're all symbol systems; every one involves the same element. People sometimes have a feeling that there's a fundamental difference between words and these other kinds of symbols. I think we are the kind of animal that approaches the world through all kinds of symbol systems and not all of them just verbal at all. But your logos principle is a good summary for that whole idea. Particularly since in Greek, logos itself has a much wider than just word. It is the whole idea of reason and seeing things in terms of principle. I might suggest as to do with this whole pattern of moving to higher levels and lower levels of generalization which underlies our whole discussion of language in general and poetics in particular. I might read the whole thing. When I get to these last two word, you'll have that which is the only unwieldy words in the whole scheme. Just a little Plutonic dialectic here and you work up to the grand synecdoche as the notion of the part for the whole. And is that name, the great synecdoche, it is just one fragment standing for the whole of the world. and the work's a grand tautology. The idea there is that if the same principle is embodied throughout a work, then it's tautological. It's repetitious in the sense that it will be everywhere. So it carried that out in the standpoint of theology. If the whole universe is a creation of God, then of course God would be manifest in some way or other in every one of its parts. And you get the analogy of that, moving into what I call a step from theology to logology, where you say if you infuse a certain structure with a certain terminology, then of course the whole structure will partake of that one genius and therefore, in that sense, will be tautological. You'll be saying the same thing everywhere you turn.

[Dialectician's Hymn]
Hail to Thee, Logos,
Thou Vast Almighty Title,
In Whose name we conjure—
Our acts the partial representatives
Of Thy whole act.
May we be Thy delegates
In parliament assembled.
Parts of Thy wholeness.
And in our conflicts
Correcting one another.
By study of our errors
Gaining Revelation.
May we give true voice
To the statements of Thy creatures.
May our spoken words speak for them,
With accuracy,
That we know precisely their rejoinders
To our utterances,
And so my correct our utterances
In the light of those rejoinders.
Thus may we help Thine objects
To say their say—
No suppressing by dictatorial lie,
Not giving false reports
That misrepresent their saying.
If the soil is carried off by flood,
May we help the soil to say so.
If our ways of living
Violate the needs of nerve and muscle,
May we find the speech for nerve and muscle,
To frame objections
Whereat we, listening,
Can remake our habits.
May we not bear false witness to ourselves
About our neighbors,
Prophesying falsely
Why they did as they did.
May we compete with one another,
To speak for Thy Creation with more justice—
Cooperating in this competition
Until our naming
Gives voice correctly.
And how things are
And how we say things are
Are one.
Let the Word be dialectic with the Way—
Whichever the print
The other the imprint.
Above the single speeches
Of things,
Of animals,
Of people,
Erecting a speech-of-speeches—
And above this
A Speech-of-speech-of-speeches,
And so on,
Until all is headed
In Thy Vast Almighty Title,
Containing implicitly
What in Thy work is drawn our explicitly—
In its plenitude.
And may we have neither the mania of the One
Nor the delirium of the Many—
But both the Union and the Diversity—
The Title and the manifold details that arise
As that Title is restated
In the narrative of History.
Not forgetting that the Title represents the story's Sequence,
And that the Sequence represents the Power entitled.
For us
Thy name a Great Synecdoche,
Thy works a Grand Tautology.

Summing it up that way. There's one thing I might bring in there at that point because I think it's another thing that's going to underlie, I found this misunderstanding that underlies my whole relation to the word and the theory of the word. In a new edition of an earlier book of mine, Philosophy of literary form, I added this notion. It should be brought out to make this clear. I take it that the symbolically tinged realms of power, act, and order—those are the three great schemes or terms that I think have a great set of terminology that develops from a concept of the act, a great terminology that develops from the concept of order, and you have a terminology that develops from the concept of power. They overlap somewhat, but they're all grounded in the realm of motion so far as umbilical existence is concerned. And this realm is non-symbolic, as motion is not in itself an example of symbolic action. It's a symbolic act for a physicist to write about motion or to work out various schemes for analyzing motion and for making things move and so on. But motion itself is completely outside the realm of symbolism. if you don't get that, I'd wish you'd bring it up in discussion period. If you want, we can bring it up because it is a very important point about the whole thing I'm after. And this realm is non-symbolic, except in the sense that man, as the symbol-using animal, necessarily endows everything with a spirit of his symbol systems. I found it necessary to emphasize this point, because, over the years, my constant concern with symbolicity has often been interpreted in the spirit exactly contrary with my notions of reality. The greater my stress upon the roll of symbolism in human behavior and misbehavior, the greater has been my realization of the inexorable fact that in regards to the realm of empirical, one cannot live by the word-bread alone. And though the thing-bread is tinged by the symbolic action, in the sense that we have a name for it, its empirical nature is grounded in the realm of non-symbolic or extra-symbolic motion. In other words, bread makes possible certain weird digestive processes here in the body and motion in that sense?. There is a basic difference between metaphysical idealism and my concern with the word. You see, you can't talk about anything except by exemplifying the rules of talk is not identical with saying our world is nothing but the things we say about it. On the contrary, alas, there's been many a time when what we call a food should have been called a poison. And if our ancestors had but hit upon too many of such misnomers, we'd not be here now. My whole feeling is that the more you study this realm of symbolic action, of the terrific range of things that we do through being a symbol-using animal, the more you realize the last analysis, that the answers are in the realm of the non-symbolic. I think that's really the way this ties in with all these people who are worrying about ecology and so on. You can go on and sell yourself this idea or that idea, but if it's poison, it's poison no matter what you call it. And that's the way it will work out. I think that this the whole environmentalist emphasis that's coming up now just fits completely into the attitude that I have here, where you watch the comedy of human word-using. And you see it on the edges of the terrific tragedy when you do get this misnaming. Ultimately, it leads you to a little vision of crossing the jumping off place where you just realize that words be damned. The last analysis we live or die just as bodies. And that's exactly what we're facing in this whole issue now. We can go on and blow horn about doing this or that, but there is the final test. Are our names accurate or are they not? Insofar as they're accurate, they give us a chance to pull out of this thing. Insofar as they're not, we're down the drain. But the question is ultimately in realm when I mean the realm of sheer motion. Is the body being poisoned or is it not? no matter what they call it; they can call it food, they can call it the future. Is it being poisoned or not? Are we destroying our rivers or are we not? That is the element. That is what I mean by this whole feeling of the marvels of symbolism. Every single symbolic structure, every act of genius, every great drama, every great novel, and so on. there you see all this tremendous scope and mystery and genius of these works. And yet in the last analysis are these bodies being taken care of or not. And that is what I mean. That is purely in the realm of motion, not action. Now, the motion category looks like action, but that be so much in the use of the symbol-using animal, we endow nearly everything in the world with a symbolic content. But that's not intrinsic to the material itself. that's just the way we approach it, but that's the particular kind of animal that we are. You're allowed to go on, friend, if you get a chance.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] Is there some place to go? I understand that you must've bet on a bad physicist or something if you're protesting so much about believing in motion. In that same book of philosophy of literary form, you divided language up in uses as dream, prayer, and chart. I suppose what you mean is you mustn't contradict the chart so hard it kills you by dreaming or praying things that just aren't in the situation. That relation's a fascinating one. Christopher Caudwell says about the tribes that do the rain dance, says, “They do it just before the rainy season and they don't do it in the dry season.” And as I think this guy's somewhere said, “With our technology, we tend to think of other civilizations' primitive people as inferior. And yet, the odd thing is that turning it around. How much nature allows for. It won't kill you off, there's many mistakes that don't kill you.” Your chart can be wildly astray and full of psychotic influences. These people just go on living in the same manner. Whereas our beautiful notions have brought us quite close to the apocalypse. While we are saying that people thought as the year 1000 approached, they thought that the destruction of the world was immanent. and weren't they superstitious to think that? Now, as the year 2000 approaches, we think, "Well, it's quite reasonable. We're allowing the extra thirty odd years for the round numbers sake. The whole thing might blow up in our faces, then or before then." Of course there's a nice relation there because you can't expect the millennium until you have a calendar. And there you get your symbolism coming in.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Well I guess that little analogy fits in there with that part this way, too. You take the absolute absurdity of the world we're in. You give somebody a couple of dollars and they can go into a supermarket and buy some food. He feels himself so confounded superior to a primitive tribe that can make a living in the wilderness. And this ass couldn't do anything.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] That includes us, too.

[KENNETH BURKE:] I use that example is like a guy getting delusions of grandeur when every time he walks into the supermarket, the doors open of themselves. It's like, "I did that!"

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] I made up one couplet that I beg leave to intrude on this situation and thus to destroy everything. I came on with lots of couplets, just in case. This is called "Creation Myth." I've got one that's shorter than his, you see. It's on the idea of moebius band, where you can go from inside to outside without crossing an edge and back again. It says:

This world's just mad enough to have been made
by the Being His being into Being prayed.

You can have a copy and play and wrap around. Not the sort of thing you want to tell anybody. Time's for questions from the floor, I dare say.

[KENNETH BURKE:] It might be a good chance to let someone come in at this stage. Start from the other end. We can go on if we have to. Glad to get someone from the other end. That's what we're all here for. We're made to pop up. You want to say anything? Yes?

[AUDIENCE MEMBER 1:] I wish you'd to go back to the beginning and explain the relation between symbols and alienation?

[KENNETH BURKE:] Between symbols and what please?

[AUDIENCE MEMBER 1:] Alienation.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Alienation? Oh. What I was getting at there, I was saying that after you get a highly developed property structure, you can get alienation simply because of the fact that they property structure is out of align with the needs of the situation. The rational structure no longer seem rational to them. Whenever you've lost a sense of rationality to that extent you're confronting a feeling of alienation. What I was getting at is that I think that the beginning of alienation are further back. The very fact that we can develop all this elaborate departure from mere conditions of living are involved in this thing that I'm talking about. That by the very fact that we spontaneously approach everything from a standpoint of a symbolic film that is between us and those things. You might put it in this way and the simplest way in my own field: maybe you don't have a name for everything, but you think of everything as nameable. You could if you knew enough, you'd have a name for it. We just approach everything from the stand point of nameability. Go ahead.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] Here's a nice illustration that Burke had of the difference that I thought is definitive. Notice, one corner of the world is a hurricane and the newspapers report it. Buildings are blown down, lives are lost, crops are destroyed, land is inundated. And the newspapers said, "It is estimated that there'd been five million dollars worth of damage." Five million dollars lost. He says, "Next day, the stock market goes down and it is estimated that the losses total five million dollars." Now you can see that one set of losses is what you'd call natural or real. The other has something to do with a symbol system. People hadn't lost things in exactly the way that they did in the hurricane.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Yeah, to carry that out a little further, I actually saw once after a big hurricane that went through New England and I saw an article on the financial page of the New York Times where this man writing there talked about the losses due to that hurricane up there through New England. It was some terrific number, billions of dollars, and this fellow says, "After all, that's just about what we lost in the market slump of 1929." When the market slumped in 1929, every single piece of property was there, there was no loss at all, you see, from this standpoint of this real realm. The losses were purely symbolic. Just all these twists in ownership and so on. And yet every single thing was there. And people so spontaneously think in symbolic terms in our system that they can't discount things like that. This is the great lie. This is the great deception between us and the state of nature. Yes?

[AUDIENCE MEMBER 2:] Then what is the link, then, between those consequences which were very real and not symbolic of the stock market crash? How do you get from the symbolic loss to the very real consequences?

[KENNETH BURKE:] the fact is that so far as the place was not destroyed, you had the actual reality of the conditions. In other words, you still had all the resources there and that's where people could go on living. They had to do new tricks of symbolism versus the government bailing out the people who were in debt, bail them out if they had big enough debt. If they had little debts, they weren't bailed out. they could take sell apples, but if anybody, really a big railroad or something, was in trouble, got bailed out. And just the way the fence set, really. The conditions are the same, but you have all these resources, all the symbolic manipulations. Because the whole monetary structure is, of course, an example of symbolism.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER 2:] This is a good instance of alienation, right?

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] Here's an illustration for a change that's not from you, but it's funny. Sherman Arnold has a book called The Folklore of Capitalism, which used to be very popular and still worth looking at. It was written on the basis of that depression. He said, "You’d think that anybody'd know the difference between a horse and a duck. But," he says, "suppose a situation where ducks are taxable and horses aren't. Then you will find people bringing their ducks out of the barnyard and putting bridles on them and saddles. Walking them around and proclaiming that it is obvious to anyone that this animal has been a horse from all eternity."

[KENNETH BURKE:] That, of course, is the marvelous way in which that comes to a focus and leads to alienation is when the corporation is made a person. When we set up the constitution, there were no such things as corporations. The word doesn't appear. It was much later that all these rights were guaranteed to the person, in the individual human sense, were transferred to a legal person. And when you transfer them to a legal person you get a whole new bag of tricks which don't even have anything to do with the reality of the situation. I know personally a man who divided himself into two corporations. And he had the most marvelous method. He was a publisher. He would make a deal with a writer and would give them a very tempting contract. Little clauses in the contract said he could—under uncertain, not too clearly specified conditions—sell the rights to another corporation. If he did so, there were changes in the schedule of royalties and so on. He was both corporations! He signed up this handsome contract with a chap as one corporation and sold it to himself as the other corporation. And there went the royalties down the drain, just by using this symbolic action device. This is one of the resources of symbolic usage. You can see how naturally it makes for alienation. Your turn, Howard. Unless somebody wants to say something. Here's somebody.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER 3:] I wonder if you'd care to comment on your conception of man's symbolizing ability as a source of his alienation in relation of say, Ernst Cassirer on that same idea. Do you find Cassirer to be someone important to you way of thinking?

[KENNETH BURKE:] The only basic place where I would deviate from Cassirer and his idea of the symbolicum is that the whole post-Kantian line—see, I make a distinction of this. I start this theory of symbolic action, I thinks of primariliy starting from an idea of language, not primarily as a field of knowledge, but primarily as a field of action. I view this as a kind of instrumentality that was developed by a tribes' modes of cooperation and competition. In other words, it was essentially ways of persuasion and dissuasion. Getting people to help you on this enterprise, and away from that enterprise. Don't do this, do that. But basically, of that sort. The Kantian line is what I would call dramatistic because the essence of it is an action. That's the same of my whole theory of poetics, also. Because in that whole scholastic line, act and form were equated. Act equals form, and of course if you start to work with pieces of literature and poetry and so on, the first thing you're doing is asking about form. How does it go from here to here? Rather than asking if it's true or false. I don't think truth or falsity is the main test. I think that verisimilitude is a much more relevant test than truth in that particular realm. Sometimes the very fact that something is true will help it to have verisimilitude, but it doesn't necessarily have to work that way. But your Kantian line, which Cassirer is in, is a grand line and I think that Kant's "Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics" is one of the basic books. But it starts from a problem of knowledge, rather than this question of action. And to that extent, I would call it scientistic rather than dramatistic. The way that turns up in the history of the subject starts in epistemology, which is actually the question of knowledge. And I think that this whole line has this epistemological emphasis. Which is to me from the standpoint of the kind of problems that I have to deal with primarily matters of form and dramas and so on. It's a round about way of getting at the subject. I first have to ask myself, "What's going on here? How are you leading, pointing the arrows? How are you getting people to expect this and be gratified by that? And want this character to get bumped off and want this character to be saved?" and things like that. You got a whole group of dynamic questions developed that way, you see where we're going. If you start from the knowledge end, I think you do a better job. You’re much more direct there than if you're just dealing with the scientific nomenclatures primarily. This scheme starts with poetic problems, not scientific problems. Now, it becomes scientific in the sense that anything you say insofar as what you say is accurate, it's a contribution to knowledge. It's the question of where do you go into it. How do you get into that whole subject.

[HOWARD NEMEROV:] I think we ought to cut down to what we agreed was your [unintelligible]. I could introduce it with something that occurred to me: that poetry is like an eccentric filing system.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Since the time is up, I have what i was telling my friend, Howard Nemerov, this is a particularly a good poem to end on, after you've been in a conference for three days. I've found then that it almost goes over extremely well. But maybe an hour will be good enough to do that. It's called "I'm Putting Things in Order"

File this, throw out that.
Alert the secretariat
Idre each claim and caveat
To better serve the cause of alphabet
Throw out this, file that
File this, throw that out.
We know beyond all doubt
How perfect order reconciles
And now, throw out the files.
Now, let's go home.


Pentadic Leaves

Steven B. Katz, Clemson University


Text of Pentadic Leaves written for and delivered at the Kenneth Burke Society Conference, Saint Louis University, 19 July 2014.


Terministic Tree:
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

It's green and moody.
Leaves rattle the air.
Trees rattle the clouds.
A breeze is moving
through the tree. 
A wind is moving
through the clouds.

But nothing happens.

There is a tension in
the leaves; there is
attention between
this tree and
the next. The leaves
pale and thicken
like cloud.

But nothing

Now a breeze
rushes through
vowels that quickly
gather at the roots
like forsaken words.
A wind
crashes through consonants
of rock and wood
(not teeth and bone).

There is motion
in the tree. There is
causality in the cloud.

But transcendence?

A branch of sentence
flickers in the cloud,
breaks off, falls
down, is absorbed
by the deaf
ground, freezes
without an attitude,
without a gesture, without
a further sound.


Consubstantial Division

(in the "Tragic Frame")

This is me in winter

a white wind which
twitches like witches, which
groans and moans, which
complains and whines

a noisy tabula rasa,
mistaken "negative capability," 
embarrassed presence and absence,
"trained incapacities"–

a green screen gone dark
and cold: a void of snow
that is me and mine,
wholly together



In time's yoked yule
when lives are jangled,
snow bells dragged
as dry as broken crystal;

when green red days
are rung in dust,
and human thought
now turns to rot;

hands thick with cold
like slabs of clay,
prepare our lives
for another day;
then comes the new year
like a god,
to cheer us on
to faith and sod.


"Counter-Statement" (also in the "Tragic Frame")

'A Mind of Winter'*

A night full of flurry and thought:
black houses, black pine trees, become depressions
in the dark, branches etched
by ghostly winds made half-
visible, stenciled in air,
the world abstracted in the snow.       

I see my reflection in the sky
with a small dull lamp behind me,
my hand moving across the void, 
inscribing what I behold and cast
in fields of glass, transparent masks
covering the land below.

The sun will clarify, show things right,
melt these altered images 
that haunt instrumental sight, these flakes
engraved on a disappearing
pane, this breath that now makes me blind,
these words imprinted in terministic ice


Hierarchy and Identification

The Spark of Being/Lost

First, one foot, then the other, begins;
then the leg, each leg, swivels
around and under, collapsing, quivers,
gives into hidden pits of oblivions.                                                                         
And in the wilds of your backyard
you are lost, stumbling through
your neighbor's grass, crawling toward a spark of dew,
rain on every blade piercing your

piety, your congruous perspectives, your rhetorical conscience
as you fall, your physiognomy interpreted, your biological base
becoming your ambiguous orientation, your dancing face
the symbolic act of an animal that grasps at language awk-

wardly, a tragi-comedy of hierarchies, a drama of attitudes providing motives
as unsubstantial as angels, talking to ourselves, a swaggering torso
movements turned into symbolic action, and so much dust, is 

Counter-Nature: Analogic Extension of Technology in "the Comic Frame"

By sheer repetition, imitation, mimesis, you will remember
your subjective routine, your technological psychosis, rising from your bed,
extending your counter-nature into the giving air
sideways transcendence to whose knows where…

one morning you'll awake without a body; —and unlike your ancestors
crawling, stumbling through the forest— reach out into space; and conscious,
trying to maintain your regimen, your linguistic nature, you'll
think yourself toward the bathroom, where . . .

you'll reach (without a hand, or a nipple)
for a toothbrush that is now a lion
and the clothes you laid out to be ironed, Orion,
that ironically have become unnecessarily supple    

where physics and language meet to form a panoply
of screens from which to view the motives of your anatomy
and analyze the material of your autonomy
as you float in the ethics of planes of incompatibility


Substance: "A Retrospective Prospect"

Where We Came From, Where We Go from Here

the forest floor is churning
quietly as the leaves
of deciduous trees are turning

into light brown ground,
soft conifers shedding
their pine needles, one by one

cover earth with stubble,  
quickly convert old leaf meal
into decay, wood crumble

whereby twigs and branches, trunks
slowly blur and melt and
whole trees become little stumps that bump

against the tiny tips and stalks
of buds that gather, grow, rot
inward, reaching down, then sprout

balsam wings like little motive arrows,
and (since "all living things are critics")
point, protect the way for sparrows

into futures whose "attitudes towards history," altitudes of hierarchies, spread, conceal
a sky so full of transformations that the slow green
lives and logologies of word-trees will rise, congeal

into a substance of ideas and sounds whose ratios are
the apparatus we create and we don't yet understand,
new symbolics of rhetoric and grammar

where language and physiognomy explode in a biology of stars,
sprouting multiple parallels, the nerve centers of universes
in bodies no longer like ours, but are

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

*Title adapted from the first line of Wallace Stevens, "The Snow Man"

When Actions Collide: Motive Constructions Spanning Different Acts

Clarke Rountree, University of Alabama in Huntsville


While Burke examined the relationships among the terms of the pentad within a single pentadic set (i.e., a single "act"), a few rhetorical critics using pentadic criticism have noted grammatical relationships that cross between pentadic sets (multiple acts). Yet no one has theorized about those multipentadic relationships. This paper provides a basic explanation of how such multipentadic relationships work in strategic constructions, using many illustrations from public discourse.

EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED TO EVERYTHING ELSE, AS THE TRUISM GOES. This idea is reflected in concepts such as "the butterfly effect" which describes how the most minor changes in a situation (e.g., a butterfly dying) can have unforeseen consequences in the future (given the connection of everything to everything else, in one way or another). The same concept of web-like relations appears in games like "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," which plays on the philosophical concept of "six degrees of separation," suggesting that people have connections through other people (either to Kevin Bacon's films or interpersonally to everyone else on the planet). That web of interconnectedness has at least two distinct dimensions: the causal connections that scientists focus upon and the human relations which cannot be reduced to mere causal relations. Of course scientists have tried to reduce human action to mere motion; however, as Kenneth Burke has noted, any such reduction loses what is unique about human action which, he insists, cannot be reduced to motion.

When we try to explain something in the world, we necessarily carve out some segment of that web in the explanation. For example, if I provide a causal explanation of how I sunk the eight ball in the side pocket in a game of pool, I don't start with the origins of the materials that make up the billiard balls, cue sticks, and table; or the construction and placement of the table in my house, or what I had for breakfast that gave me the energy to hit the cue ball. I say something like: "I kissed the side of the eight ball with my shot, nudging it into the corner pocket." Exactly what counts as relevant and proximate in such explanations is subject to debate, of course; but the whole idea of explaining circumscribes what is expected.

When it comes to parsing webs of human relationships, Kenneth Burke has given us a conceptual framework. He suggests we distinguish particular acts and their corresponding agents, agencies, purposes, scenes, and, when useful, attitudes (on this last term, see Burke, Grammar, 443). That is, he tells us to look for what is done, who did it, how she or he did it, why, when, where, and in what manner. The pentadic terms and the questions they represent are grammatically connected to one another so that a pentadic set, or pentadic "root" (Birdsell), is formed that circumscribes relevant elements. For example, if I say, "Jill drove John to the movies," I cannot say that the act of driving is something that John did, because Jill is the agent of that action in this construction. But if I am describing the action, I have the option of characterizing elements in a way that reduces Jill's agent role, such as saying, "Jill, a student driver, drove her watchful father John to the movies."

Burke was interested in the inventional resources available to rhetors in the construction of such actions. His A Grammar of Motives describes those resources and undergirds our understanding of the rhetoric of motives, where rhetors get to choose how to answer the pentadic questions with respect to a given construction of motives, stressing scene or agent or purpose or another term as dominant in accounting for motives in a given case. The relationships among the terms are considered in pairs, or ratios, to show how one element transforms our understanding of another. Thus, a scene may be shown to contain an act, an agency may be adapted to a purpose, a particular kind of agent may be said to be responsible for a corresponding kind of action (heroic, foolish, selfish, etc.), and so forth.

While this Burkean account of action and its corresponding approach to rhetorical criticism is well known, I wish to build on Burke's theory and method to account for a common but much more complex rhetorical phenomenon: the construction and strategic connection of multiple pentadic sets. Because, as I have noted, everything is somehow connected to everything else (including different actions), it is unsurprising that rhetors often construct more than one act and place those distinct acts in relation to one another. To take a simple but fateful example: President George W. Bush said that President Saddam Hussein of Iraq was constructing weapons of mass destruction (Act 1, undertaken by Hussein), he announced that the United States was going to war to stop him (Act 2, undertaken by Bush), and he claimed that Act 1 created a dangerous scene that necessitated Act 2.

To distinguish these different acts, I will use the term "pentadic sets," rather than Birdsell's "pentadic roots," because, theoretically, the same act could be constructed by different rhetors who feature different roots. For example, the "Do-Nothing" Congress dominated by Republicans in President Obama's second term might construct legislation he is proposing by emphasizing who is proposing it (agent), while a supporter might emphasize what it tries to accomplish (purpose). Each side highlights a different root. A pentadic set, by contrast, emphasizes that particular grammatical constructions serve to distinguish unique acts that have their own grammatically-related terms covering scene, agent, agency, purpose, and attitude.

Of course, as this paper will show, some of the terms of one pentadic set may be shared with different pentadic sets; however, no two pentadic sets will ever share all elements. Even the factory worker who makes the same widget day after day can be said to engage in different acts owing to the fact that, on different days, she will find herself in a different scene (a day later), a different agent (a day older, married between working days, changing party affiliations), and may have a different attitude (one day happy another sad) or may use a slightly different agency (a new wrench), etc.

Although rhetorical scholars have examined particular inter-pentadic constructions before, they have said very little about the practice in general. This essay theorizes such constructions with respect to actions that are connected for rhetorical purposes. It illustrates the forms that connections between acts may take and explains why they are rhetorically powerful. And it considers the need for rhetorical critics to take notice of this form of motive construction.

Grammars of Motives

Burke only hints at connections across different pentadic sets in A Grammar of Motives. For example, in discussing Eugene O'Neill's play, Mourning Becomes Electra, he notes: "When Lavinia instructs Seth to nail fast the shutters and throw out the flowers, by her command (an act) she brings it about that the scene corresponds to her state of mind. But as soon as these scenic changes have taken place, they in turn become the motivating principle of her subsequent conduct [i.e., additional acts]" (9-10). Burke's focus in the Grammar on providing a basic explanation of the pentadic terms and their connection in discourses about action (including much of the Western canon!) did not lead him to examine more generally how such acts may be related to another.

Rhetorical critics employing Burke's pentad have occasionally considered the relationships that prevail among different acts described by rhetors. For example, in his classic analysis of Senator Edward Kennedy's tragic accident at Chappaquiddick and its aftermath, David Ling describes two pentadic sets connected by Kennedy. The first involves the accident and Kennedy's subsequent actions, where a narrow, poorly lit bridge over cold, rushing water is blamed for the accident, for Kennedy's inability to save his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, and for Kennedy's disorientation, which, he urged, led to a failure to report the accident for eight hours. As Ling notes, Kennedy invokes the scene as controlling his actions. But, after recounting this construction, Kennedy puts his future into the hands of the people of Massachusetts, asking them to decide (in this second act) whether his actions warranted a decision that he remain in office representing them. Kennedy's constituents, in other words, were asked to act in a new scene in which their senator might be viewed in a different light. To the extent that he constructed his disoriented action as beyond his control, perhaps he could be forgiven and allowed to continue to serve the State of Massachusetts. (It also did not hurt that the agency of supporting or rejecting Kennedy was weak, involving sending letters of support or rejection to the Senator or, perhaps, to the local newspaper; and he was the ultimate judge of whether the State had "spoken" and what they "said.")

Colleen E. Kelley also conducted a study of a politician in trouble which looked at multiple pentadic sets. Congressman George Hansen of Idaho was constructed by the media as a crook after he was charged and convicted for filing false financial reports. But he managed to use that conviction as evidence of a federal conspiracy against him to win reelection. Kelley does not explicitly discuss the connections between the two other than indicating how the media's construction of Hansen required him to respond to a scene within which he was viewed by many as corrupt. She does show that he did so by actually using his conviction as a campaign point to demonstrate that the government wanted to get rid of him because he was crusading against it.

David S. Birdsell looked at two different acts constructed by Ronald Reagan following the deadly suicide bombing of over two hundred U.S. Marines in Beirut, Lebanon and his subsequent decision to invade the tiny Caribbean nation of Grenada. Birdsell notes that the two acts were framed differently, but were reconciled by Reagan "in the context of his elliptical remarks on foreign policy at the end of the speech" (267-68). Birdsell's analysis of Reagan's constructions was "complex and 'layered,' featuring a different pentadic 'root' for each portion of the speech."

My own work has featured some of the most complex constructions of multiple, related pentadic sets. In my analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court's Japanese internment case, Korematsu v. United States, I argued that "[t]he chief rhetorical work of the judicial opinion…is to embody and characterize actions" (Rountree, "Instantiating 'the Law'" 3-4). Among the most important of the characterized actions are constitutions (enactments of their founders), laws (acts of legislatures), precedents (acts of former courts), acts of litigants (such as the crimes they are alleged to have committed), and the acts of the government (e.g., law enforcement officers, prosecutors, regulators, etc.). Embodied actions, I argued, are those of judges handing down opinions. They must appear judge-like, speaking to the law, to justice, and (for appellate courts) to future interpreters of law (who may cite them). I extended my discussion of judicial constructions of action in a book on the Bush v. Gore decision, which ended the recount of presidential ballots in the 2000 election, awarding the presidency to George W. Bush (Rountree, Judging the Supreme Court). I showed how majority, concurring, and dissenting opinions connected a wide array of actions (by the Founding Fathers, the Florida Legislature, the Florida Supreme Court, the U.S. Congress, and others) to construct their disparate views of what law, justice, and good precedent requires.

None of this work, including my own, has grappled more generally with what is involved when distinct pentadic sets are constructed by rhetors and connected. This paper seeks to remedy that.

Constructions of Relationships between Acts

The most common way relationships are constructed between different acts is through a terministic bridge connecting two acts. That is, the first act constructs an element that becomes a scene, agent, agency, purpose, or attitude in a second act. Such terministic connections across pentadic sets may be very complex and rhetorically sophisticated. I will illustrate the terministic possibilities for each of the pentad's "bridging" terms.

Constructing Scenes

One of the most common inter-pentadic constructions involves a first act that creates a scene to which a second act must respond. American foreign policy is built around the idea that we only engage in defensive wars—wars ironically pursued in the name of peace. I have noted the example of President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq before, where he constructed Iraq's actions as threatening and the U.S. response as defensive and reasonable. Another example comes from President Bill Clinton's decision to launch air strikes against the same country in 1998. Clinton's scenic justification was crucial because he was embroiled in the Monica Lewinsky scandal at the time and critics saw the strikes as an attempt to distract the country from his problems. In a nationally-televised address on December 16, 1998, Clinton showed how actions by Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, created a scene that required action:

Six weeks ago, Saddam Hussein announced that he would no longer cooperate with the United Nations weapons inspectors, called UNSCOM. They're highly professional experts from dozens of countries. Their job is to oversee the elimination of Iraq's capability to retain, create, and use weapons of mass destruction, and to verify that Iraq does not attempt to rebuild that capability. The inspectors undertook this mission, first, seven and a half years ago, at the end of the Gulf War, when Iraq agreed to declare and destroy its arsenal as a condition of the cease-fire.

Clinton noted that Hussein had used WMD before, on his own people, "not once but repeatedly, unleashing chemical weapons against Iranian troops during a decade-long war, not only against soldiers, but against civilians." Given Hussein's actions and his past history, the world was faced with a dangerous scene, Clinton urged:

This situation presents a clear and present danger to the stability of the Persian Gulf and the safety of people everywhere. The international community gave Saddam one last chance to resume cooperation with the weapons inspectors. Saddam has failed to seize the chance. And so we had to act, and act now.

That action, he explained, involved "a strong, sustained series of air strikes against Iraq. They are designed to degrade Saddam's capacity to develop and deliver weapons of mass destruction, and to degrade his ability to threaten his neighbors." Thus, Hussein's earlier actions created a scene that contained Clinton's act of ordering air strikes to change that dangerous scene.

Another act frequently citing as changing the scene for future actions was the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Those attacks came several months after the most contested presidential election in U.S. history in which a bloc of the five most conservative justices on the United States Supreme Court ordered that the state of Florida stop recounting ballots that might have given Vice President Al Gore a victory in the 2000 presidential election. George W. Bush's inauguration was so controversial that for the first time in history the Secret Service declared the ceremony a "National Special Security Event," which required anyone attending the inauguration to have permission from the government (Greenfield, 298). Bush entered the White House as an agent whose presidential legitimacy was in question.

However, after the attacks of 9/11, his agent status changed. As Mark Miller, writing for the National Review, noted:

[A]ll questions of legitimacy suddenly vanished. In an instant, the controversy over hanging chads came to seem remote and inconsequential. The warnings about the stability of the American constitutional order were rendered utterly beside the point as the country absorbed far greater blows and survived with its constitutional integrity intact.

Thus, Miller argues, the terrorists' acts changed the scene; that scene altered our understanding of agent Bush from one of questionable legitimacy to a well-supported commander-in-chief who was then able to wield his authority boldly in subsequent acts of retribution against our attackers and those who harbored them.

Constructing Agents

As Burke has pointed out, agents and acts are related through a status-actus relationship, whereby who one is determines what one will do. Thus, a hero does heroic acts. Of course the reverse is true as well: acts establish who someone is. Thus, an otherwise nondescript pilot, Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, became a "hero" in January 2009 after making a successful emergency landing on the Hudson River when his U.S. Airways jet was hobbled by geese sucked into the jet's engines. Subsequent to this heroic deed, Sullenberger was chosen to be the Grand Marshall of the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California in 2010. In that act of serving as Grand Marshall, Sullenberg appears as the hero leading the parade (rather than as an ordinary United Airways pilot)—an appropriately prominent figure to lead off this annual event.

Prior actions can cut both ways, however. When President Bill Clinton was accused of having an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, constructions of his prior alleged infidelities (with Gennifer Flowers, Kathleen Willey, and Paula Jones) characterized him as a "womanizer," making his alleged affair with Lewinsky seem more probable (through an agent-act relationship).

Patrick J. Buchanan, who failed to win the Republican nomination for president in 1992 after running against a sitting Republican president, nonetheless spoke at his party nomination convention. And he used a contrast of past acts of Republican George H. W. Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton to explain what kind of agents they are and, thereby, what kind of presidents they would be. He argued:

An American President has many roles. He is our first diplomat, the architect of American foreign policy. And which of these two men is more qualified for that great role? George Bush has been U.N. Ambassador, Director of the CIA, envoy to China. As Vice President, George Bush co-authored and cosigned the policies that won the Cold War. As President, George Bush presided over the liberation of Eastern Europe and the termination of the Warsaw Pact. And what about Mr. Clinton? Well, Bill Clinton—Bill Clinton couldn't find 150 words to discuss foreign policy in an acceptance speech that lasted almost an hour. You know, as was said—as was said of another Democratic candidate, Bill Clinton's foreign policy experience is pretty much confined to having had breakfast once at the International House of Pancakes.

Buchanan's description of Bush's past acts (many of them being something, serving in a role) suggested that Bush would be better on foreign policy (a future act).

Constructing Agencies

Agencies may be technologies, methods, policies, laws, rules of thumb, ethical codes, protocols, how-to manuals, or other types of means for doing things. In the case of technologies, their creation is an act that provides a physical means for undertaking action. For example, Alexander Graham Bell's invention of the telephone was an act making possible subsequent acts of talking on the telephone. However, it is rare that a rhetor would want to refer back to that act (except perhaps on the anniversary of the telephone's invention). But such references are not as rare as you might imagine. Consider David Pogue's review of Apple Corporation's new iPad in the New York Times:

At least Apple had the decency to give the iPad a really fast processor. Things open fast, scroll fast, load fast. Surfing the Web is a heck of a lot better than on the tiny iPhone screen—first, because it's so fast, and second, because you don't have to do nearly as much zooming and panning.

But as any reader can tell you, the iPad can't play Flash video. Apple has this thing against Flash, the Web's most popular video format; says it's buggy, it's not secure and depletes the battery. Well, fine, but meanwhile, thousands of Web sites show up with empty white squares on the iPad—places where videos or animations are supposed to play.

Here Pogue speaks of what Apple did in building the iPad (it "had the decency to give the iPad a really fast processor") then turns to what iPad users subsequently do in using the iPad (surfing the web fast; seeing empty white squares on Flash websites). Their inventional act yielded an agency that is a means for subsequent user actions—in Pogue's view, an unnecessarily compromised one.

In the case of symbolic agencies, such as codes, laws, protocols, and the like, rhetorical constructions may suggest that their development, rationale, or purposes require them to be used as guides to present action in a particular way. For example, Abraham Lincoln's "Cooper Union Address" spoke of what the Founding Fathers believed in the past about the control of slavery in territories in order to suggest that the U.S. Constitution was a legal instrument that permitted the federal government to regulate slavery in the territories. For example, he notes:

In 1787, still before the Constitution, but while the Convention was in session framing it, and while the Northwestern Territory still was the only territory owned by the United States, the same question of prohibiting slavery in the territory again came before the Congress of the Confederation; and two more of the "thirty-nine" who afterward signed the Constitution, were in that Congress, and voted on the question. They were William Blount and William Few; and they both voted for the prohibition—thus showing that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything else, properly forbids the Federal Government to control as to slavery in Federal territory. This time the prohibition became a law, being part of what is now well known as the Ordinance of '87.

From this and similar evidence of what the Founding Father's intended, Lincoln draws an agency for present legislative action, insisting:

I do not mean to say we are bound to follow implicitly in whatever our fathers did. To do so, would be to discard all the lights of current experience—to reject all progress—all improvement. What I do say is, that if we would supplant the opinions and policy of our fathers in any case, we should do so upon evidence so conclusive, and argument so clear, that even their great authority, fairly considered and weighed, cannot stand; and most surely not in a case whereof we ourselves declare they understood the question better than we.

As I noted previously, judicial opinions are replete with references to precedents, whose "holdings" are agencies that they claim to follow (another court's means becoming its own means of action). But, anywhere rules, holdings, codes, and the like are invoked, we tether together two acts through an agency bridge.

Constructing Purposes

Purposes may be derived from religious texts, planning documents, corporate charters, lists of personal goals, or other ends-related sources. Thus, the Christian who proclaims she will join Doctors without Borders to help victims of the Syrian civil war, for "God's purposes," may construct religious texts, a "calling" she felt, an admonition from a spiritual leader, or another source to explain that this is where her purpose of helping the downtrodden originated. CEOs of Wall Street firms that took incredible risks with exotic financial instruments that led to the Great Recession may point to stockholder meetings where they received a demand to increase profits.

Susan B. Anthony invoked constitutional purposes in defending her present right to vote in an election in Rochester, New York. In defending herself from the charge of having illegally registered to vote, she noted:

The preamble of the Federal Constitution says:

"We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

She interpreted what these words meant in noting:

It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people—women as well as men.

Having established that "we" meant everyone, males and females, and that the central purpose of the constitution was to secure the "blessings of liberty," she builds on that established purpose to infer a means adapted to that end for present-day women such as her, insisting: "And it is a downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government—the ballot."

Richard Nixon used others to construct his purposes in his 1952 bid to become Dwight D. Eisenhower's vice president. He had been accused of misusing $18,000 in political contributions. He retorted: "Not one cent of the 18,000 dollars or any other money of that type ever went to me for my personal use. Every penny of it was used to pay for political expenses that I did not think should be charged to the taxpayers of the United States." He cited an independent audit by the accounting firm Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher, reading their statement:

It is our conclusion that Senator Nixon did not obtain any financial gain from the collection and disbursement of the fund by Dana Smith; that Senator Nixon did not violate any federal or state law by reason of the operation of the fund; and that neither the portion of the fund paid by Dana Smith directly to third persons, nor the portion paid to Senator Nixon, to reimburse him for designated office expenses, constituted income to the Senator which was either reportable or taxable as income under applicable tax laws.

Here, an act of auditing constructs a purpose for Nixon: using campaign contributions for things other than personal expenditures. Nixon constructs the audit as objective and credible. The audit yielded a purpose for Nixon's use of the money (or at least rejected a questionable purpose); that purpose, in turn, becomes the centerpiece of Nixon's construction of his own actions in taking and using those political contributions.

Constructing Attitudes

Prior acts may create attitudes that can bleed over into constructions of subsequent acts, shaping them. For example, unfair or tyrannical actions by a manager may lead to low morale on the part of his employees; that negative attitude may spill over into subsequent actions by those employees. On an individual level, an act may lead an agent to love, hate, envy, or have some other significant attitude towards another person; that, in turn, may be said to shape subsequent actions towards that person.

Like many sharp-tongued political speakers, Texas Governor Ann Richards sought to shape attitudes towards her party's opponent. Vice President George H. W. Bush was running against Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1988 and Richards skewered him at the Democratic National Convention. She argued:

[F]or eight straight years George Bush hasn't displayed the slightest interest in anything we care about.

And now that he's after a job that he can't get appointed to, he's like Columbus discovering America. He's found child care. He's found education.

Poor George. He can't help it—he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.

Richards constructs Bush as disinterested in voter's needs, spoiled, and a poor speaker. She creates attitudes of disdain and, sarcastically, pity (with "Poor George"). The attitudes towards a presidential candidate are generally incompatible with supporting that agent's candidacy.

Constructing Acts

Even the hub of action—act itself—can be said to connect to a previous act. For acts that are constructed as emulating or following previous acts, this may involve some kind of precedent. This is most obvious in the law, where prior cases lay down a pattern for subsequent cases. This connection might be limited to an agency link, where a prior case's "holding" becomes the legal means for resolving the subsequent case, as I suggested in the discussion of agency above. But, it is not always this simple. Often, the agents, scenes, purposes, and even attitudes of a previous act are invoked, so that a complex matching of one act to the other is a more accurate description. Consider Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's dissent in Kelo v. City of New London, an infamous case in which eminent domain was invoked to take the modest homes of residents along a river and give them to a development corporation to help the city's economic fortunes. The majority claimed that prior cases allowed economic development as a justification for such takings. O'Connor distinguished two key precedents, insisting:

The Court's holdings in Berman and Midkiff were true to the principle underlying the Public Use Clause [of the Fifth Amendment]. In both those cases, the extraordinary, precondemnation use of the targeted property inflicted affirmative harm on society—in Berman through blight resulting from extreme poverty and in Midkiff through oligopoly resulting from extreme wealth. And in both cases, the relevant legislative body had found that eliminating the existing property use was necessary to remedy the harm. (464-65)
Thus, O'Connor invokes scene (harmful), agency (eliminating property), purpose (remedying a harm), and agent (legislature) in constructing what it meant to "follow" those precedents. Here a well-fleshed-out first act informs what the court should do in its subsequent act.

Other acts are invoked because they provide comparisons for critics or analysts of other acts. For example, past state of the union addresses might be compared to a current one (e.g., Barack Obama versus his predecessor, George W. Bush), past sports records may compared to current ones (Barry Bonds versus Roger Maris on the number of homeruns hit in a season), past acts of government action versus current actions (George W. Bush on Hurricane Katrina versus Barack Obama on the Gulf oil spill), and so forth. During political campaigns, comparisons of candidates' records to their opponents are common, stressing the contrast. As I have noted previously, hypothetical acts may be constructed by rhetors (Rountree, "Judicial Invention" 59-60) providing opportunities for comparing two competing proposed actions (e.g., taxing carbon emissions versus creating a cap and trade system for carbon credit), comparing an existing action with a proposed action (e.g., existing financial regulations versus proposed regulations), or a past action with a proposed action (e.g., putting a moratorium on capital punishment in the past and perhaps in the future). Rhetors may even compare fictional, mythical, or historical accounts of actions to present or future actions (such as when Christian children are told to treat others as "the Good Samaritan" did).

These are but a few of the ways in which acts can be connected. Stokely Carmichael provides a completely different approach in his speech, "Black Power," from October 1966. He references recent killings of three "Freedom Riders" in Mississippi:

On a more immediate scene, the officials and the population—the white population—in Neshoba County, Mississippi—that's where Philadelphia is—could not—could not condemn [Sheriff] Rainey, his deputies, and the other fourteen men that killed three human beings. They could not because they elected Mr. Rainey to do precisely what he did; and that for them to condemn him will be for them to condemn themselves.

How does he explain the failure of whites in Neshoba Country to condemn the killings of the civil rights activists? Through their earlier act of voting in a sheriff for the purpose of maintaining Jim Crow through any means necessary. That earlier action (with its racist purpose) shapes present action (or inaction) so that "for them to condemn [the sheriff] will be for them to condemn themselves." What they did in the past is connected to what they will not do in the present (a hypothetical act that one might expect to follow from the murders).

Rhetorical Advantages of Constructing Multiple Acts

To understand the advantages to rhetors of constructing multiple acts we must begin by considering the advantages of constructing any act. Generally, we see the construction of an act as an effort to portray the act in a particular way. For example, if I am a politician I show that my acts are good and noble and beneficial, while the acts of my opponents are bad and selfish and harmful. If I am a defense attorney I show that the acts of my client were innocent, while the prosecutor shows that they are guilty. If I am a critic I show that the acts of those I would praise are praiseworthy and those I would censure are blameworthy.

Rhetors also construct acts to shape our understanding of those acts, their agents, their scenes, their agencies, their purposes, or their attitudes. A politician may tell the story of a brutal murder to convince voters that they live in a dangerous world. If he emphasizes that the murder was committed by an illegal immigrant, he may be suggesting that immigration policies (an agency of government action) are not working. If he stresses the easily-obtained handgun that was used in the murder, perhaps he is suggesting that our gun laws are flawed. If he emphasizes where the murder took place, perhaps he is segmenting a city into "good" and "bad" neighborhoods. If he emphasizes the brutality of the murder, perhaps he is warning about a new attitude of reckless disregard for human life in our culture.

As Burke has shown, rhetorical constructions of motives work within the grammar of motives, drawing upon the power of act, scene, agent, agency, purpose, and attitude. Because of the grammatical relationships between each term, the characterization of one term will affect our understanding of them all; thus, there are limits to what a rhetor can do in constructing motives, since pulling a construction one way limits how far the other terms can be pulled in another direction. So, for example, as Ling has shown, Senator Edward Kennedy relied on scene to explain his failure to report the deadly accident at Chappaquiddick in a timely manner. But, having constructed himself as an agent victimized by a scene where a narrow, unlit bridge over cold, swiftly moving water led to an accident and the near drowning of the junior senator from Massachusetts, Kennedy could not promise voters that he was a heroic figure capable of overcoming all obstacles (since he obviously had succumbed to one in a moment of crisis). Kennedy sacrificed a better agent construction to explain his action, hurting his image as a candidate in subsequent presidential races, where Chappaquiddick was regularly invoked to question his presidential timbre.

When rhetors construct more than one act, they increase their inventional opportunities. Consider the Iraq War example from above: Bush could play within the grammar of motives of his "Saddam Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction" pentadic set (playing up agency, such as the report that Iraq had bought yellowcake from Africa), then use that to bolster his "The U.S. needs to invade Iraq" pentadic set. The Bill Clinton critic could draw on the most credible acts of alleged infidelity by the former Arkansas governor, then use that construction of Clinton as a "womanizer" to conclude, "Of course he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky!"

Judges are among the most sophisticated rhetors constructing multiple acts. In the Kelo case cited earlier, the Supreme Court's majority opinion constructed the Berman and Midkiff precedents cited by Justice O'Connor (Acts A and B) to support their construction of the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment "Takings" clause (Act C, undertaken by the founding fathers) and applied that construction their own act of allowing New London, Connecticut to seize the property of home owners (Act D). They also noted that such takings were permitted by Connecticut law (Act E, by the state's legislature). It was obviously useful for the court to construct the Constitution, federal statutes, and state statutes as supporting their own action in deciding this controversial case. Such constructions build a web of inter-pentadic relationships around judges, entangling their decision strategically to "force" their hand in acting. Once the groundwork is done, they can simply proclaim: "I was following the law in handing down this decision."

Another advantage of rhetoric that draws upon the power of the grammar of motives is that it can be indirect, subtle, and sophisticated. The woman who wants to get her sister to stop dating some guy doesn't have to come right out and say, "He's a womanizer"; instead, she can say, "I think I saw Joe's car when I passed the strip club last night." This scenic reference does the rhetorical work of constructing the agent as a womanizer by (grammatical) implication.

Given grammatical relationships between different acts, such rhetorical strategies can be quite sophisticated, deployed the way a chess master sets up the board several moves ahead to prepare the way to spring a trap. As I have argued elsewhere, the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund deployed a sophisticated, long-term strategy to put in place the elements for overturning the "separate but equal" doctrine laid down in Plessy v. Ferguson (Rountree, "Setting the Stage"). They worked for forty years to develop litigants, litigators, receptive courts, and precedents. They strategically focused on cases where African-American applicants to state graduate schools had been rejected solely because of their race. That allowed them to sidestep problems in public K-12 schools, where states could argue that, indeed, black schools were equal to white schools. There were no graduate schools for blacks in segregated states, so "separate" could not be "equal." A 1914 precedent established that states could not simply argue that too few black students wanted graduate degrees making it economically unfeasible, because the High Court found, equal accommodations is an individual right (McCabe v. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe R. Co.). When states began to throw together graduate programs for a handful of black students, it was easy to show that these extremely limited programs (limited in faculty, resources, course offerings, etc.) were not equal to those of hundred-year-old, esteemed programs such as that at the University of Texas Law School (Sweatt v. Painter). Constructions of state acts of not providing graduate education, of providing poorer education to African Americans, and of showing racial animus in these efforts, were easy to develop by the LDF's lawyers, setting the stage for a reversal of Plessy's doctrine for all public schools in Brown v. Board of Education.

This last example adds an interesting twist to the construction of multiple acts: that rhetors may actually become involved in creating the acts, scenes, agents, agencies, purposes, and attitudes they later construct, doing things that materially change conditions that they later would invoke symbolically. As I have noted elsewhere, Burke accounts for such nonsymbolic strategies coupled with the symbolic in his discussion of Machievelli's "administrative rhetoric" in A Rhetoric of Motives, noting: "[t]he persuasion cannot be confined to the strictly verbal; it is a mixture of symbolism and definite empirical operations" (158). I illustrated this form of rhetoric with President George H. W. Bush's rhetorical strategy to move the United States to war against Iraq's occupation of Kuwait in 1990-1991 (Rountree, "Building up to War").

Bush already had sent 100,000 troops to Saudi Arabia to prevent Iraq from moving its invasion into the territory of this oil-rich U.S. ally. But Congress was balking at Bush's plans to move from a defensive force to an offensive force and place American troops into combat. Senator Sam Nunn, the Democrat from Georgia who chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee, favored giving time for sanctions to work. Bush's strategic move was to wait for Congress to recess and then to order a doubling of the troops in case an offensive force was needed. Grammatically, Bush's actions changed the scene dramatically: members of Congress heard complaints as National Guardsmen were called up to service for an unknown period. News stories of mothers in the Guard separated from their young children played up the sacrifices, placing pressure on Congress to do something. But Bush's actions had upped the ante in the war and made backing down nearly impossible. As former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told "This Week with David Brinkley": "Once 200,000 troops were sent there, we could not withdraw these troops without achieving our objectives without a collapse of our entire position in the Islamic world and the high probability of a much more damaging war."

By the time Bush addressed Congress in January 1991 to ask for their approval to engage in war with Iraq, the table had been set. He could describe a scene he himself had created as one requiring action.

Developing scenes that one later invokes is one possibility. Rhetors also can create agencies, such as weapons to be used later or precedents to be invoked; they can create purposes, as JFK did in calling for a mission to the moon; they can establish agents, such as appointing people to positions where they are poised for action; they can help create attitudes, as Reagan did over years in calling "big government" our biggest problem; and they can engage in, or encourage others to engage in, acts that may be invoked as precedents, examples, counter-examples, and so forth. Bringing such administrative rhetoric into the mix opens to the door to some complex and often long-term strategies of persuasion.


I have argued in this journal previously that Burke's pentad offers a literal description of how humans think about action, insisting: "No recognizably human society ever existed that was not able to draw the distinctions we draw in answering the questions Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why. In other words, these questions and the answers they call for are universal in human societies" (Rountree, "Revisiting the Controversy"). If I am correct, then how we think and talk about action necessarily works within the grammar of motives described by Burke. Thus, if rhetorical critics want to understand the logic undergirding the strategic constructions of motives that pervade human discourse, such analyses should yield an understanding of the inventional possibilities of the rhetoric of motives.

Even if we set aside my position that Burke's grammar of motives is universal, we at least should concede its heuristic value in framing analyses of particular constructions of action. Whether our use of Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why is implicit in the very idea of action or not, these questions undeniably pervade and usefully frame our discussions of action, as this essay has illustrated through a variety of texts.

Of course identifying the grammar invoked by a particular discourse alone is only a starting point for rhetorical analysis. What Anderson and Prelli call "pentadic mapping" reveals the structures of meaning in talk about action, showing that some discourses are privileged while others are marginalized. It is for the critic to explain why it matters that it is easier to talk and interpret some ways than others, whether that involves ideological hegemonies, muted voices and groups, preferred ontologies, favored constructions of knowledge, or something else. Pentadic mapping may ferret out more than strategic constructions of motives, getting at language practices that think for their users, leading them "logologically" through the verbal telos of a terministic screen of which they may scarcely be aware.

For those of us who are interested in strategic rhetoric, pentadic analysis reveals inventional choices and the constraints placed upon those who would lead us to view particular actions in particular ways. As I have suggested here, those choices and constraints become much more complex when more than one pentadic set is constructed. But, again, to identify those choices and constraints is the starting point for rhetorical analysis, rather than the end of it. So, for example, I show above (and in much of my research) that appellate courts strategically construct lots of acts in their judicial opinions; the rhetorical benefit, as I note above, is that constructions of such acts (including laws, constitutions, lower-court decisions, precedents, etc.) serve to constrain the appellate court's decision making, "forcing" their decision to "follow the law" rather than their own personal predilections (which unelected judges are supposed to avoid). That is, judges forge legal manacles for themselves, allowing them to claim that they are chained to the law and, as a result, that their conclusions are inevitable. Other rhetors also fashion "outside" acts to detract responsibility for their actions, such as in the war examples I note above where the (constructed) scene is said to constrain presidential action.

The examples I use in this paper of the ways in which rhetors strategically connect different acts stress their efforts to limit the ways their audiences are likely to interpret actions. That is not to say that their efforts will succeed, since language is normally flexible enough to yield different meanings. However, effective constructions suggest a preferred reading, closing the "universe of discourse" as Anderson and Prelli might say. Some preferred readings are quite closed, as I noted in the opening example of Jill driving John to the movies, where it becomes difficult to say that Jill is not the agent of the "driving" action.

On the other hand, as I pointed out in my essay "Coming to Terms with Kenneth Burke's Pentad," differences in interpretation are to be expected in light of cultural differences in audiences (and, I would add now, in personal and other differences as well). In particular, my essay distinguished those differences as reflecting general and specific dimensions of pentadic relations, noting: "General dimensions are described and amply illustrated by Burke in his Grammar of Motives: The scene 'contains' the act; means (agencies) are adapted to ends (purposes); agents are the 'authors' of their actions; and so forth." In contrast,

Specific dimensions of terministic relations are normative, established by a discourse community's shared beliefs about "what goes with what" at a given point in time, underlying expectations that one will or should find certain types of agents engaging in certain types of actions, using certain agencies, within certain scenes, for certain purposes, evincing certain attitudes.
For example, in the United States of the early 19th century, women were not thought of as public speakers. As Karlyn Kohrs Campbell notes: "Quite simply, in nineteenth-century America, femininity and rhetorical action were seen as mutually exclusive. No 'true woman' could be a public persuader" (9-10). Yet, as I write this in 2016, Hillary Rodham Clinton is crisscrossing the country in her bid for President of the United States. The interpretation of which agents can do what has changed. While there is some lingering anti-woman sentiment in the electorate, the shock and novelty that abolitionist Angelina Grimké confronted on the public stage in the 1830s is gone. Culture matters to the construction of motives, whether those cultural differences derive from changing times or divergent audiences.

Beyond such specific terministic relations, words themselves can be vague, ambiguous, or freighted, leading audiences to interpret motive constructions differently than a rhetor intends. And, of course, there is the problem of the world itself threatening to impinge on a rhetor's constructions—Burke's recalcitrance. For example, 2016 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that he never supported the Iraq War that began in 2003. A recording of him with talk show host Howard Stern in September 2002 shows that he did support the invasion, rather unenthusiastically. What many fact checkers have called a lie has apparently been dismissed or ignored by many of Trump's supporters who do not care about the lie or who take his own construction at face value (Caroll and Greenberg).

Constructions of motives, like other rhetorical discourses, always are shaped and understood in view of the communication situations where they are deployed. While analyses of the grammar of motives in particular statements about action can be quite rigorous—explaining general and specific dimensions of the relationships among pentadic terms and revealing rhetorical opportunities and constraints—the rhetorical work those motive constructions perform in a given case take the critic's analysis beyond the comforts of the speech transcript or the written appellate court opinion. Indeed, if we assume that visual images can be part of a text, as Blankenship and her colleagues did in studying Ronald Reagan's television image as one element of the construction of motives, the analysis can get quite messy. Going one step further, as I have suggested, to scrutinize changes in the material condition strategically wrought by far-seeing rhetors opens a whole new context-as-text to the rhetorical critic. Small wonder that rhetorical critics using the pentad have typically focused on words on a page in a relatively contained rhetorical act, such as a single speech.

Certainly there are justifications, beyond a critic's comfort, for such a focus. In my own work on U.S. Supreme Court opinions, the words of their written opinions carry the greatest rhetorical impact in most cases, telling litigants, lower courts, their own bench's future membership, and the public at large what the law is and why they think it is what they say it is. But facing up to the challenges of rhetorical analysis should remind critics—including those using what otherwise seems a straightforward and simple pentadic method—that teasing out what is interesting in rhetorical discourse is hard work. As this essay has argued, even analyzing a contained text can be complicated when multiple acts are constructed.

Of course not all rhetors engage in inter-pentadic constructions of motives. And even if they do, they do not always open up a prior pentadic set for significant grammatical construction. They may simply select a prior act as an example, counter-example, illustration, and so forth, without deploying the power of the grammar to construe it this way or that. However, when rhetors do take advantage of the connections between everything, they have the opportunity to work within more than one grammatical relationship to yield a relationship between acts that is sometimes easy and obvious but occasionally cunning and stealthy. Indeed, they may even engage in material actions that set the stage for those later constructions, either felicitously or strategically. Rhetorical critics ought to take note of such inter-pentadic constructions to better account for the rhetoric of motives. And rhetorical theorists might take this essay as a prolegomena to the study of the forms such inter-pentadic relations may take and the functions they serve.

* An earlier version of this essay was presented to the Eighth Triennial Kenneth Burke Conference in Clemson, South Carolina in May, 2011.

Works Cited

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Birdsell, David S. "Ronald Reagan on Lebanon and Grenada: Flexibility and Interpretation in the Application of Kenneth Burke's Pentad." Quarterly Journal of Speech 73 (August 1987): 267-79.

Blankenship, Jane, Marlene G. Fine, and Leslie K. Davis. "The 1980 Republican Primary Debates: The Transformation of Actor to Scene." Quarterly Journal of Speech 69 (1983): 25-36.

Buchanan, Patrick J. "Address at the Republican National Convention." Houston, TX. 17 August 1992. Downloaded from

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

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Campbell, Karlyn Kohrs. Man Cannot Speak for Her, Volume I: A Critical Study of Early Feminist Rhetoric. New York: Praeger, 1989.

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Greenfield, Jeff. "Oh, Waiter! One Order of Crow!" New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2001.

Kelley, Colleen E. "The 1984 Campaign Rhetoric of Representative George Hansen: A Pentadic Analysis." Western Journal of Speech Communication 51 (Spring 1987): 204-17.

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Lincoln, Abraham. "Cooper Union Address." 27 February 1860. New York, NY. Downloaded from

Ling, David A. "A Pentadic Analysis of Senator Edward Kennedy's Address to the People of Massachusetts, July 25, 1969," Central States Speech Journal 21 (1970): 80-86.

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Nixon, Richard M. "Checkers Speech." Nationally broadcast on television and radio. 23 September 1952. Downloaded from

Pogue, David. "Looking at the iPad from Two Angles." New York Times Online. 31 March 2010.

Richards, Ann. "Democratic National Convention Address." 18 July 1988. Downloaded from Gifts of Speech website at

Rountree, Clarke. "Building up to War: Bush's 'Administrative Rhetoric' in the Persian Gulf Conflict," The Speech Communication Annual 10 (Spring 1996): 5-19.

—. "Coming to Terms with Kenneth Burke's Pentad." The American Communication Journal 1, no. 3 (May 1998). Reprinted in "Kenneth Burke." Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Vol. 286. Layman Poupard Publishers, LLC. 215-220.

—. "Instantiating 'The Law' and Its Dissents in Korematsu v. United States: A Dramatistic Analysis of Judicial Discourse." The Quarterly Journal of Speech 87 (February 2001): 1-24.

—. Judging the Supreme Court: Constructions of Motives in Bush v. Gore. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State UP, 2007.

—. "Judicial Invention in Cases Contributing to the Development of Corporate Criminal Liability: A Multi-Dimensional Dramatistic Analysis," Diss., University of Iowa, 1988, 59-60.

—. "Revisiting the Controversy over Dramatism as Literal." KB Journal 6.2 (Spring 2010).

—. "Setting the Stage for Brown v. Board of Education: The NAACP's Litigation Campaign Against the 'Separate But Equal' Doctrine," in Brown v. Board of Education at 50: A Rhetorical Perspective, Clarke Rountree, Ed. (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004): 49-90.

Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629, 633-34 (1950).

This Week with David Brinkley, ABC, 11 November 1990.

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The January 1832 Debate on Slavery in Virginia: Clashing Scenes and Terministic Screens

Jim A. Kuypers, Virginia Tech


Following the Nat Turner rebellion, the Virginia State Legislature held a debate in early 1832 over the abolition of slavery in the state. Two sides, pro-abolitionists and traditionalists, sparred over a two-week period. Using dramatistic analysis, I undertake a case study of the debate, looking specifically for the terministic screens used by each side to ascertain their worldviews that ultimately led to a narrow defeat of the pro-abolitionists.

FOR TWO WEEKS, RICHMOND WAS AWASH WITH CITIZENS OF ALL CLASSES AND SLAVE-HOLDING STATUS.1 They came to witness a spectacle new to the American South; in January 1832, members of the State Legislature formally debated the abolition of slavery in Virginia. Newspapers described the momentous event, claiming, "we have never heard any debate so eloquent, so sustained, and in which so great a number of speakers had appeared and commanded the attention of so numerous and intelligent an audience. . . . Day after day, multitudes thronged to the capitol, and have been compensated by eloquence which would have illustrated Rome or Athens" (Dew 8). Governor John Floyd wrote in his diary that, "Nothing now is talked of or creates any interest but the debate on the abolition of slavery" (Ambler 172). The openness and candor of the delegates, coupled with the intense public and press scrutiny, produced an attention the likes of which Virginia never again lavished on the charged subject.

The deliberations represent only a footnote in history, overshadowed by the growing abolitionist movements in the North and the Nullification Crisis in the South. It is, however, a defining moment in the history of Southern oratory. Political oratory on the slavery issue, particularly the urgent calls for gradual emancipation, presaged many of the arguments and debates that constituted the "Rhetoric of Desperation" characterizing the South up until the War Between the States (Eubanks 19-72). The catalyst for this event, however, remains more than a historical note.

It occurred in late 1831, when Virginia witnessed the bloodiest slave insurrection in American history. Nat Turner, a slave and self-proclaimed prophet, met with six other slaves on August 22 ("The Confessions of Nat Turner"). That night he and his followers tore through Jerusalem, Va., leaving fifty-seven whites—mostly women and children—shot, axed, and bludgeoned to death (Pleasants 64). Rumor of the uprising spread quickly, fueled by grisly reports such as that published in Richmond's Constitutional Whig on August 22, 1831: "It was hardly in the power of rumor itself, to exaggerate the atrocities which have been perpetrated by the insurgents: whole families, father, mother, daughters, sons, sucking babes and school children, butchered, thrown into heaps, and left to be devoured by hogs and dogs, or to putrify on the spot. At Mr. Levi Waller's, his wife and ten children, were murdered and piled in one bleeding heap on the floor . . ." (Pleasants 64).

Fear of similar revolts from slaves viscerally gripped the outlying slave states Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky through to the Deep South. Virginians dreaded a second rebellion, and no attempt by politicians and newspapers could soothe the public's apprehension at the thought of approximately 470,000 slaves (almost 40% of the state's total population) in open revolt ("U.S Census Office" tables 10-13).2 Joseph Robert wrote that until Nat Turner's capture on October 31, the whites living in heavily black populated sections of Virginia "hung dangerously near the panic stage," ready to spring to action at the slightest provocation (Robert 7). In the following months, other slave states took action to curb growing slave populations, attempting to avert rebellions. Georgia and Louisiana passed resolutions forbidding the importation of slaves from other states, and other regions considered similar measures (Robert 13). Virginia was a slave exporting state, and with a rapidly shrinking export market, Virginians realized that the black population would continue to grow faster than the white.

On December 5, 1831, Governor Floyd declared his commitment to ending slavery in Virginia ("The Diary of John Floyd" qtd. in Whitfield 63). The House of Delegates responded promptly, creating a committee of thirteen members to discuss the "insurrectionary movements of the slaves, and the removal of the free persons of color" (qtd. in Robert 15-16). After laborious proceedings, committee chairman William Brodnax requested that eight additional men join his ranks; thus, the final composition of the committee was sixteen easterners and five westerners (eastern Virginia had more representatives because it was more populous and heavily dependent upon slave labor). As discussion continued, the delegates coalesced into two main factions, labeled here as traditionalists—those who believed that slavery should remain in place—and the activists—who urged change, generally in the form of gradual emancipation. On January 10, 1832, traditionalist William Goode inquired after the progress of the committee. Brodnax replied that "any apparent tardiness…consisted of two main problems: the removal of the free Negroes and gradual emancipation" (Robert 18). On January 11, Goode, feeling the interests of his slave-holding constituents threatened, designed a resolution that he believed could keep the issue from reaching the floor (Robert 19). Thomas Jefferson Randolph moved immediately to amend the resolution, which, contrary to Goode's intention, opened the floor to debate. For the next two weeks, the delegates engaged in a historic sparring match over the merits and morality of slavery, its open discussion, and abolition.

Rhetorical Insights

Historians have been long aware of the 1832 slavery debate, and traditionally held that the results of the debate confirmed Virginia's acceptance and defense of the "Deep South's pro-slavery philosophy. . . . Supposedly, only the westernmost portions of the state seriously proposed emancipation in some form. The eastern areas with ease defeated the proposals and henceforth closed all further discussion of the issue" (Campbell 322). This traditional view has not gone unchallenged, with some, notably Alison Goodyear Freehling, writing that the debate was actually one act in a long struggle between conservative planter class aristocrats and democratic reformers who wished for more equitable participation in state and local affairs. Freehling stressed that the debate was "part of an ongoing contest between a white community irrepressibly divided by slavery. The struggle for political power . . . centered on slavery. Again and again, as democratic reformers challenged aristocratic conservatives for control of Virginia's government . . . a fundamental question recurred: Is slavery compatible with majority rule? Or must Virginia, to safeguard slavery, forever deny white men equal political rights?" (Freehling xii).3 Although these works focus on the historical and sociopolitical contexts, they do not engage in close rhetorical reading of the texts of the orations (Root; Aptheker; Curtis). A rhetorical analysis complicates some historical claims, notably one made by Freehling that the debate was but an additional act in a continuing struggle between democratic reformers and their aristocratic enemies. Viewed rhetorically, however, no such struggle ensued during the debate; instead, we find that many slave owners participated in substance with the activists and voted for emancipation. Viewed rhetorically, we also discover that "acceptance and defense of the 'Deep South's pro-slavery philosophy . . .'" was not as widespread or homogenous as some historians believed. The activists took great pains to identify with slave owners, and attempted to create a new vision of shared substance; traditionalists actively participated in the creation of this vision. Both sides expressed nuanced understanding of the issue, and acknowledged slavery's evil and impractical nature.

Through the analysis that follows, I reveal the historical moment's predominant attitudes and beliefs, as rhetorically expressed through the delegates' public discourse during the slavery debate. The aftermath of the Turner rebellion left Virginia in a complex and fragile state, one calling for bold yet delicate responses to the sociopolitical, material, and rhetorical dynamics. However, the way in which the speakers in this situation, the traditionalists and the activists, created their responses shows a very different understanding of the nature of the crisis, one that, when viewed rhetorically, transcends historical accounts of the debates.

A fruitful way of exploring the different understandings expressed during the debate is through the analysis of the terministic screens used by the delegates. Explaining terministic screens, Kenneth Burke wrote, "even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology, it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality" (Language as Symbolic Action 45). Certainly, a speaker's choice of words and phrases orients listeners' attention to some aspects of reality over others. Importantly, "whatever terms we use … constitute a … kind of screen…." This screen "directs [our] attention to one field rather than another." Within that field there can be different screens, each "directing attention in different ways." According to Burke, "there are two kinds of terms: terms that put things together, and terms that take things apart" (Language as Symbolic Action 49). In short, continuity and discontinuity; composition and division; for Burke, all "terminologies must implicitly or explicitly embody choices between the principle of continuity and the principle of discontinuity" (Language as Symbolic Action 50).

Looking at the debate, we see how terms open up possibilities for unity, for consubstantial co-existence even while representing different political views on emancipation; or, alternatively, we see how terms diminish the strength of a consubstantial moment by stressing division. According to Lawrence Prelli and Terri S. Winters, the "notion of terministic screens enables us to scrutinize how efforts to come to terms with problematic situations often involve similarities and differences about what meanings to reveal and conceal, disclose and foreclose. At stake in efforts to 'screen' meanings terminologically is the adequacy of underlying perspectives in depicting a situation's reality" (Prelli and Winters 226). Along these lines, Burke stressed that "much that we take as observations about 'reality' may be but the spinning out of possibilities implicit in our particular choice of terms" (Language as Symbolic Action 46). Expanding on this notion, Paul Stob wrote that terministic screens "speak to the point at which language and experience move together. They emphasize the way that terms push us into various channels and fields, which continually shape and reshape our vision and expression" (146). Terministic screens allows us to infer the various means whereby identification occurs, so we can see how they open up or close down possibilities for consubstantiality.

Burke ascribed a strong influence to terminological screens; not so much in the sense of once uttered that they impose or compel a particular way of viewing the world, but rather they are indicative of the internal thinking of the communicator. These screens potentially have an influence upon those hearing the discourse: the nature "of our terms affects the nature of our observations, in the sense that the terms direct the attention to one field rather than to another.

Also, "many of the 'observations' are but implications of the particular terminology in terms of which the observations are made" (Language as Symbolic Action 46). Thus, these words and phrases can deflect, reflect, and select attention toward or away from a particular element of the Burkean pentad (Bello 243–52). Just as descriptions of acts, for instance, when viewed as representative anecdotes for a situation, are terministic screens, so too can we view descriptions of other elements of the pentad (Burke, A Grammar of Motives 199). Thus, discovering terministic screens allows us to track pentadic elements—act, scene, agent, agency, purpose—and better understand the larger, and sometimes background understanding of a situation expressed by the communicator. By examining the key terms and phrases used, we can answer very real questions concerning the nature of the observations "implicit in the terminology" chosen (Burke, Language as Symbolic Action 47). We can discover how the terminologies direct attention to affect a particular quality of observation. Moreover, by determining the nature and inner workings of the terministic screens operating, we can shed insight into the Motives, or underlying worldviews, operating to shape the delegates' understanding of the situation.

In our present case, there is a strong underlying current of scenic elements throughout the debate. Scene is essentially a container of sorts for all the action in a situation; it is both context and physical location, encompassing both time and events. With a focus on scene, we have a link to the philosophy of materialism. In describing materialism, Burke cited Friedrich Paulsen, who wrote that the "reduction of psychical processes to physical is the special thesis of materialism" (Baldwin 45). Of note, texts that emphasize scene, thus having a materialistic influence, "emphasize the power of the surrounding environment or the coercive power of circumstance . . ." (McGeough and King 153). Thus, by examining the discourse, we can assess the degree to which scene, which exists outside of an agent or an agent's act, influences the actions and thoughts of that agent. Ryan Erik McGeough and Andrew King stressed the potentially deterministic nature of such discourse:

Texts that emphasize scene downplay free choice and emphasize situational determinism. They tend to emphasize the power of circumstances over individual choice. Clarence Darrow excused the behavior of many criminals by arguing that they were victims of bad heredity and merciless environment. Supporters of social welfare programs point to bad schools and failing local economies as reasons that such programs are needed. Speakers who advise accommodating to circumstances emphasize the deterministic power of scene. (156)

As will be shown later, scene is an important element in the slave debates, yet even with such a deterministic influence, the delegates were able to work against it to stress their own moral action and agency.

I demonstrate in the pages that follow how the debaters' construction of past, present, and future scenes framed their perspectives and accounts for the differences in their deployment of terministic screens. Marguerite Helmers suggested that traditional notions of Burkean scene are temporally bound (77-94); in so far as this is true, the present case study extends our notion of scene since it highlights shifting constructions and interanimations of past, present, and future scenes. As will be shared, the terministic construction of scene is central to understanding the debate's outcome, and allows us to better understand the terministic strategies used within the four distinct themes addressed by the delegates, ultimately contributing to an understanding of scene that is supportive of competing views and, ultimately, policies. Moreover, the examination of the debate shows how even in the face of an overwhelmingly coercive power of scene, willful agent-centered moral action is attainable.

The Virginia debate offers a unique opportunity to view the clashing of terministic screens on a stunningly important topic. By examining the screens used, we can see just how close the sides came to a truly consubstantial moment; additionally, identifying these contending screens allow us to see how the political actors viewed the situation, and imbued it with meaning. Such an examination of the debate can reveal the speakers' thoughts and assessments of the political climate, latent feelings, attitudes toward slavery, and a multitude of related issues. Because the activists had the larger rhetorical burden in this debate, I focused primarily on them. I began this study by examining each speech for major themes, and then determined which themes were conveyed terministically throughout the debate.4 There are four themes, each with contrasting screens: discussion of slavery, the economy, public safety/property, and morality.

The Debate

The Discussion about a Slavery Debate

For traditionalist members of the Legislature, the debate itself seemed unwise, a foolish endeavor they needed to curtail as quickly as possible. Ironically, it was traditionalist William Goode's resolution to bar the discussion of any plans for manumission that inadvertently allowed members of the Legislature to spar. The activists' first order of business, then, addressed this issue: should the Legislature even discuss slavery? Some of the activists dwelled on this subject for large portions of their orations, making it a focal point in the debate, and an issue with which they easily attacked traditionalists. James McDowell offers a telling example in his forceful introduction:

And, sir, I would not break [the silence] now; I would not open the lips which discretion should seal, were it not that the question which we are discussing, and the discussion itself, have brought a crisis on the country; have brought up a measure for decision here, of such eventful influence over the social structure and condition of the State, as to demand . . . that, guided only by his judgment and his conscious, he should stand forth, firmly and deliberately, and take his position upon it (McDowell 3).
McDowell claimed that the debate had "long been repressed by unmanly apprehensions or smothered as the dream of impracticable benevolence" (4). Like many others, he argued that every representative—by the nature of his position—had a right and obligation to fully address an issue of such great concern to the populace. The activists appealed to a common sense of duty, patriotism, and manliness, all virtues lauded in antebellum Southern rhetoric.5 Robert Powell cried: "Sir, a crisis is at hand; this great question is obliged to be met; it can no longer be evaded; and it becomes to us, as men, and as patriots, to meet it with firmness and decision, yet with caution and circumspection" (1). William Summers called the debate a "duty to ourselves"; William Roane claimed it was the "bar of patriotism"; Philip Bolling demanded "open, bold and manly" discussion (Summers; Roane; Bolling 3). Further, Bolling claimed that, "No man, who is firmly convinced that he is sustained by reason and justice, hesitates to confront his adversary," because that was "a tacit admission that reason and justice are against him" (3). Thomas Jefferson Randolph, the grandson of Thomas Jefferson, chided the representatives, claiming they had the "sagacity of the Ostrich who, if it hides its eye behind a pebble, imagines its huge body concealed from its enemies" (2). Stressing norms of virility, James Chandler acknowledged the attending females, noting the "mirth and happiness in their eye." He then goaded the men, proclaiming: "And shall man, fearless man, whose boast and pride it is to be regardless of danger, shrink from the discussion of that, which woman, lovely woman, with all her tender sensibilities and timid apprehensions, smiles at?" (Chandler 4).

Appeals to manly virtues did serve as motivational leverage, but did not squelch the opposition. The traditionalists wished to avoid discussion because they felt it would lead to widespread malcontent, and possibly incite additional slave revolts. William O. Goode described this position: The debate "is creating great pain and anxiety among a large portion of the citizens of the State, and it will raise expectations in the minds of the colored population—doomed to a disappointment which could not fail to endanger feelings highly injurious and dangerous to all parties" (1).

Charles Faulkner, a preeminent orator in the Legislature, cleverly reversed this sentiment: "There is not a county—not a town—not a newspaper—not a fireside in the state where the subject is not fully and fearlessly canvassed . . . shall we alone be found to shrink from this inquiry?" (6). Many of the state newspapers had written as much; now that the issue was in the open, they expected debate. For Faulkner and others, silence on the issue would amount to blithe neglect of their duties to their constituents, to democracy, and to Virginia. Samuel Moore admitted the debate was a "duty I owe to my constituents and to myself," so he could ensure the "future prosperity of [his] country" (1-2). These men believed their constituents deserved faithful representatives to speak for them, especially since so many Virginians considered this a crisis. By calling for direct public involvement, the representatives drew upon the ideals of democracy. Henry Berry gladly conceded, "[L]et the decision of the people be what it may, I shall cheerfully submit. I bow with submission to the will of the majority, in all matters of state" (8).

The debate was even more complex for politicians from western Virginia. The West had far fewer slaves, and most citizens wanted to maintain this balance. Western representatives, outnumbered approximately 3-to-1, had a twofold task. They had to convince the House to debate and explain how they, as Westerners—ostensibly with little vested interest—could proclaim their views on slavery. Once again, ideals of democracy and duty came to the fore; speakers also described the state as one entity, a tactic to lessen perceived differences. Faulkner defended his position by connecting the tenets of democracy and the notion that slavery directly impacted western Virginia: "I am disposed to accord to the east, exclusive legislation upon this and every other question, where the consequences of that legislation can alone affect themselves, so, in the same spirit of liberality and justice, do I claim to be heard upon any and every subject, where the effect of your legislation most fundamentally and vitally concerns my own people" (7). According to Faulkner slavery had become "a measure of vital policy with the west" for "self defense" (8). Since many slave markets had closed, and others were threatening to do so, these politicians feared that the expanding slave population would move over the mountains and into their domain. The West was now "in the same situation that the East was 100 years earlier—slaves are being imported, but [the West] wish[ed] they weren't" (Faulkner 7).

The idea of unity and community rallied the Westerners to call for the entire state to remain, in Summers's words, part of the "same political family." He further asserted that the Westerners had "come at [the Easterners'] request, not to lead and conduct the struggle, but to labor side by side, with them, to contribute whatever we may, to the success of the good cause in which we find them embarked, and which we feel to be the cause of all. I hope, Sir, that the people of the West, are yet permitted to entertain a kindly interest in the common safety, prosperity, and happiness of this Old Dominion, of which they form an integral part" (1-2).


For activists, the situation was "a crisis" of "eventful influence," one with a force such as to "demand imperatively" action; it "obliged" the assembled men to embrace their "duty" to "future prosperity." This action of discussion would enact democratic ideals: "the people," "the majority," and "public will." The public would see fear of such discussion as a "disease," "an evil." In such a scene, men must act with "judgment," and be "conscious" of allowing "unmanly" apprehensions to prevent them from discussion. They must discuss the difficult issue "as men," with a "duty" to themselves "as patriots," and with "firmness" in their decision. True men act in an "open, bold, and manly" manner, with "reason" and "justice." Certainly, if women could smile viewing the debates, men could discuss the issue with "caution and circumspection." Certainly outside the legislature the issue was being "fully and fearlessly" discussed; thus, the debate was their duty to themselves as men, to their constituents as elected officials, and finally to their state as proponents of democracy.

Ignoring these concerns could result in abhorrent consequences, even the division of the state, a prospect none found appealing. To continue the debate, the activists realized they first had to highlight their right to speak on the subject, and convince the House that the time was ripe to act.To this end, Western Virginians, although not slave owners to any large degree, were "one of the community," an "integral part," could act "disinterested," and "labor" with Easterners to contribute to the "common safety, prosperity, and happiness" of all Virginians.

Should discussion continue, traditionalists projected a future that would cause pain, anxiety, and "raise expectations." Failure to meet such expectations would lead to "feelings highly injurious" to others, "dangerous" and potentially leading to greater damage than that spawned by the rebellion. Certainly, those advocating discussion presented powerful arguments steeped in democratic tradition. In answer to such concerns, the traditionalists could only muster the specter of hurt feelings and disappointment, and a vague idea of further rebellion. Of note is that such sentiment simply begs the question of a failed emancipation. For the activists, we see a strong dominance of the present scene pressuring true men to act now for the purpose of a better future scene. For traditionalists, we see the present scene as one of relative peace, and concerns of the act of discussion leading to a future scene of chaos.

The Economy

The amended resolution proposed by Randolph had at its heart a plan conceived to alter slavery without negatively impacting Virginia's economy: "the children of all female slaves, who may be born in this state, on or after the 4th day of July 1840, shall become the property of the commonwealth, the males at the age of twenty-one years, and females at the age of eighteen, if detained by their owners within the limits of Virginia, until they shall respectively arrive at the ages aforesaid, to be hired out until the net sum arising therefrom, shall be sufficient to defray the expense of their removal, beyond the limits of the United States, and that said committee have leave to report by bill or otherwise" (Berry 8). This plan of gradual emancipation, which was not unlike many Northern states' gradual emancipation plans, sought to minimize the economic impact upon Virginia's citizens, which would have been colossal.6 An individual slave in the 1830s was worth approximately $80,000 in 2015 dollars, and the overall economic value of slaves in the entire South was over 7.4 trillion in 2015 dollars, with Virginia claiming about 28%, or almost 2.1 trillion (Williamson and Cain; Historical Census Browser).

Delegates from both sides were concerned about Virginia's economic progress. According to the 1830 Federal census, Virginia had slipped from the most populous state in 1810 to the third most populated, and could soon lose clout in the national political arena (Robert 11). Even worse, some delegates saw Virginia slipping into an economic depression, and they sought to highlight this context within the debate, ascribing the economic woes to slavery. Philip Bolling lamented of the slaveholding areas of the state: "it seems as if some judgment from heaven had passed over it and seared it; fields once cultivated, are now waste and desolate—the eye is no longer cheered by the rich verdure that decked it in other days. No, sir, but fatigued by an interminable wilderness of worn-out, gullied, piney old fields" (5).

Activists saw Randolph's adaptation of Thomas Jefferson's emancipation scheme as the best remedy. Slavery, they said, was a system that "converts the energy of a community into indolence—its power into imbecility—its efficiency into weakness," that "puts an effectual extinguisher upon all the humble aspirations of their [white laborers'] ambition," and that creates "masters [who] are prodigal, [and] slaves [who] are wasteful" (Faulkner 17; Bolling 4; Berry 8). They maintained that the only way to increase Virginia's productivity was through a system based upon free white labor. Henry Berry painted a vivid portrait of this: "Every individual . . . is stimulated by a desire to become wealthy, distinguished, independent, and powerful. All the faculties of each individual are expanded, and fully developed; each acquiring all he can, and taking care of what he does acquire; hence the mass of production of all that is essential to the comfort and happiness of man, is infinitely greater in a free, than in a slave population" (Berry 8). James McDowell echoed Berry's ideal, stating that "no proposition can be more easily or conclusively established . . . than this, that the labor of a free white man, in the temperate latitude of Virginia, is more productive than that of a slave—yielding a larger aggregate for public and for private wealth" (McDowell 4). Thus, as profitable as slaves could be, labor of free whites would be as much or more so. Traditionalists framed Randolph's proposal in opposite light. Even in gradual abolition, they saw great peril. John Thompson Brown warned that, "A few bankruptcies may go unnoticed, but it is a fearful thing to drag down an entire community from affluence and ease, to abject poverty" (Brown 8; Bolling 6).


The activists frequently pointed to Virginia's economic plight. McDowell stressed that, "it is true of Virginia, not merely that she has not advanced but that in many respects she has greatly declined; and what have we got for a compensation for this decline? Nothing but the right of property in the very beings who have brought this disparity upon us" (9). With a rapidly increasing black population and an uncertain economy, Virginia must abandon slave labor for its more efficient counterpart. The plan itself was meant to incorporate the issue in a manner respecting property rights—hence the proposed time lag of decades. Moreover, the economic burden would be non-existent since slaves would labor until they reached a specified age, and then they would work to pay their passage to Africa. For the activists, the future scene with slavery compelled a change due to "duty" and the desire for "future prosperity." They contrasted this with a past scene of Virginia as a "rich verdure" and the present scene of a Virginian "wilderness" as a "judgment from heaven." Pushing a dichotomy of existential states, activists suggested that slavery turned "energy" to "indolence," "power" to "imbecility," "efficiency" to "weakness," and was the "extinguisher of ambition." Stressing free will, the activists linked "human nature" as "free" to a "more productive" state. A free society would be a "wealthy" and "powerful" society, one in which its members would be "distinguished," "independent," living in "comfort" and with "happiness." Traditionalists countered the activists' images of Virginia's economy with specific references to successful and flourishing plantations and cities. The primary focus, however, was upon a future scene where emancipation would lead to "bankruptcies," and from "affluence and ease" to "abject poverty." "Desolation" would result even from gradual emancipation.

The economic portion of the debate thus spawned dueling scenes of both present and future Virginia. The activists' screen involves a present with slavery causing the blight existing in Virginia; emancipation would lead to a prosperous future scene. The traditionalists' framing presents a present scene in which slave holders and the state are particularly well off with slaves, contrasted to a future scene where that aspect of society, and the benefits of culture and economy, would be ruined without slaves. Thus, a future without slavery would cause an even greater blight than that envisioned by the activists should their vision hold true.

The Question of Safety/Property

Any complete discussion of emancipation necessitated debating the problem of constitutional property rights versus public safety. Traditionalists constructed their argument around a defense of private property, whereas activists viewed slavery as a threat to the public safety that outweighed any individual's right to property. Although some activists—notably William Preston—argued that slaves were not property at all, most refused to debate the issue of slaves' humanity in the eyes of the law, realizing the futility at that time of such an argument. Traditionalist Willoughby Newton epitomized the entrenched commitment of his faction to their beliefs: "I [shall not] attempt to answer the arguments of gentlemen who maintain that our property is not our own—that slaves are not property. I mean no disrespect to the gentlemen who have urged these arguments; but, sir, I would as soon attempt to convince, by argument, the midnight assassin, that my life is my own—or the highway robber that my purse is my property" (Robert 98). Some delegates, in the same breath that they admitted slavery was an evil, claimed that a man's right to property should take precedence. James Bruce asserted that slavery's "glaring and palpable defects serve to show us the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of devising any scheme of emancipation which shall be practicable, and not at the same time in direct violation of the rights of property" (2). The next day, William Daniel took this argument one step further by asserting that no matter how terrible the evils of slavery, he would not allow the Legislature to interfere with their status as possessions. "You may prove, if you can," he stated, "that slavery is immoral, unjust and unnatural; that it originated in avarice and cruelty, that it is an evil and a curse, and you still do not convince me that our slaves are not property, and as such, protected by our Constitution" (1).

In order to increase their ranks, activists had to present the argument in a manner that would accept slaves as property, while simultaneously proving it a violable right. They thus designed their responses to counter the traditionalists' argument that any effort to abolish slavery—whether immediately, or in twenty years—would undermine the sacred right to property granted by the Constitutions of both the United States and Virginia. They chose to advance their case delineating the government's role in public safety, increasing the salience of this point by referencing as often as possible slavery's intolerable danger to the public. The recently released census that warned of an increasingly large proportion of blacks in Virginia bolstered this context; men on both sides of the debate expressed concern at the extent to which the black population was growing.

Rives, a delegate not firmly aligned with either camp, estimated that with closing borders for export, "the disproportion [of blacks to whites] would become as ten or twenty to one" (2). Activist John Chandler assumed that by 1880, Virginia would have over one million slaves, "an amount too great, too appalling for a statesman not to apprehend some danger from" (Chandler 9). Faulkner asked his audience to consider the effect this huge black population could have upon the whites of Virginia: "If this immense negro population were now in arms—gathering into black and formidable masses of attack—would that man be listened to, who spoke about property—who prayed you not to direct your artillery to such or such a point, for you would destroy some of his property?" (4). Such emphasis on the rapid growth of the state's black population added an extra degree of salience to the issue, and implied a timeframe after which action would be impossible and the system inextricably entrenched.

Activists asked their audience to prioritize the main purposes of government, and in arguing for personal safety, they agilely circumvented an individual's natural right to property. Henry Berry epitomized this stance when he posited: "The use and enjoyment of all property, is always controlled by a regard for the safety of the public, as the paramount law of every state" (Berry 5). James McDowell concurred that "security is the primary purpose for which men enter into government; property, beyond a sufficiency for natural wants, is only a secondary purpose" (McDowell 15). Berry later derided the traditionalists who claimed that nothing warranted the violation of property rights: "[R]aising young tigers… might be a very lucrative business; but, sir, it probably would be very dangerous to the public; and will it be pretended that the legislature could not check it?" He warned that, "it is probably that the raising [of] young slaves will be come equally dangerous" (Berry 5). Speaking in the wake of the Southampton tragedy, activists had a readily available emotional resource. Philip Bolling capitalized on this, seeking to prove conclusively that slaves are, beyond doubt, a grave danger to the public: "Fanaticism, of all the horrid passions with which man is cursed, is the most wild and ungovernable in its character, and is the peculiar child of ignorance. Ignorance is the necessary consequence of slavery; and we all know, sir, that our slaves are not only extremely ignorant, but extremely fanatical; and, therefore, always dangerous" (4). To buttress advocates' claim about slaves' threat to the public, John Chandler invoked Southampton directly: "Has slavery interfered with our means of enjoying LIFE, LIBERTY, PROPERTY, HAPPINESS, and SAFETY? Look at Southampton. The answer is written IN LETTERS OF BLOOD, upon the floors of that unhappy county" (7). Randolph felt that the uprising was just an indicator of bloodshed to come if things did not change.

In stark contrast to the doomsday rhetoric of the activists, traditionalists gave considerable effort to paint a scene populated by docile, happy, peaceful, and harmless slaves (Gholson). They accused activists of attempting to instill paranoia in the public: "these alarmists do injustice to Virginia, and the character of our people—The dangers they imagine, do not exist—the general alarm and apprehension of which they speak, do not exist" (Gholson 2). In another attempt to minimize the perceived threat to public safety, Rice Wood made the bold claim that even the Southampton massacre should hearten Virginians and convince them of their slaves' loyalty and contentment because the majority of slaves did not turn on their masters during the massacre: "They are obedient and tractable, and most of them, as recent events show, will not only put them upon their guard against meditated danger, but will shed their blood, in their defense when it comes. In the period of two hundred years, only one instance has occurred in which a black man has been so far misguided and deluded, as to attempt to assassinate the master and his family . . ." (qtd. in Robert 81). Committee Chairman William Brodnax turned the table of argument further and depicted activists' plan of gradual emancipation as a scheme that would lead to far more bloodshed than the current situation could ever yield. Citing the arbitrariness of the July 4, 1840 cut-off for emancipation, he asked, "Will this inequality of condition, do you suppose, excite no restlessness and dissatisfaction among them? Will they not feel that the same principle which gives freedom to one entitles the others to it? Will they quietly submit to such unmerited distinctions? Will this not also lead to lawless efforts and insurrections?" (Brodnax 16).


Depicting Southampton either as anomaly or tragedy, and choosing to focus on either property rights or public safety, created widely diverging pictures of the same events and institution. The activists stressed that the growing number of slaves was simply "too great" and "too appalling," thus delegates must apprehend immediate "danger." Should the numbers continue to rise, it would lead to "formidable masses of attack." Because of this immanent danger, the "safety" of the "public" trumped property rights. Safety was a "paramount law," with public "security" the primary purpose for the state. Slaves are a "danger" since "ignorance" is a consequence of slavery; slaves are "fanatical," and ignorance and fanaticism breed danger. Because of Southhampton, slavery has interfered with Constitutional guarantees to "life," "liberty," "property" (beyond slaves themselves), "happiness," and safety. There would be bloodshed to come. Traditionalists claimed that "alarm" and "apprehension" simply did not exist. Slaves, as a people, were "happy," "contented," "peaceful," and "harmless." Moreover, they had a 200 year history of being "faithful," obedient" and "tractable," demonstrating support to the assertion that Southhampton was an aberration. The state did not have the right to "confiscate" the property of citizens. It would be "impossible" to take property without "violation" of Constitutional "rights of property." Importantly, the proposed emancipation would introduce "inequalities" of condition in the slave population, and this would led to "restlessness" and "dissatisfaction." Non-emancipated slaves would become "lawless" and provoke "insurrection."

Although there is certainly a clash between the themes of property and safety, the real clash, as in the themes of the discussion of slavery and economic impact, lies between present and future visions of order and disorder. The traditionalists have one version of the character of the slave population. They point to a dearth of insurrections and violence, which acts as an anchor for a future scene. Activists use the tragedy of Southhampton as an anchor for a future scene as well, although one in direct contrast to that depicted by the traditionalists; additionally, they point to a different character of the slave population, one closer to a common human failing, that of ignorance within humans that leads to fanaticism and danger. So there exists a clash of the nature and character of slaves within the present scene following Southhampton. Activists see an ignorant, fanatical, and growing population turning violent, with no changes leading to insurrection. Traditionalists see a generally happy, protective slave nature continuing into a future based on a 200 year past lacking violence.7 For them, change will lead to other insurrections.

Morality and the Sins of the Father

Both activists and traditionalists widely acknowledged that the system as a whole—not necessarily the individuals involved—was evil. For the activists, morality represented a complex rhetorical posture. To convince traditionalists to abolish slavery, activists had to increase the salience of the evils of slavery to spur them to action; however, attacking the morality of slavery could be seen as a personal attack on the slaveholders themselves, something that would only engender bad feelings and resistance to change. To account for this, they referred to slavery and its related issues as evil, characterizing the system in the worst light possible: "the legacy of weakness, and of sorrow," "withering under the leprosy," "the evil of slavery," "the ruin of our best hopes," "deadening oppression," "disease," "a blighting, withering curse," "injustice and oppression," "advancing enemy," "the slothful and degraded African," "cancer," "an increasing curse," and "a hideous deformity" (McDowell 23; Powell; Garland; Bolling; White 7; Campbell qtd. in Robert 104; Faulkner 9; Berry 2; Chandler 7).

The traditionalists couched slavery in much the same terms: "appalling evils of slavery," "it is a mildew," "slavery in Virginia is a . . . transcendent evil," "abhorrence for slavery," and "evils of the system." They admitted the principle of slavery was wrong: "I should be the very last to agree with [the abstract principle of slavery]," the people must "mitigate its evils," and "I acknowledge [it] to be an evil" (Dabney; Brodnax; Gallagher qtd. in Robert 112; Bruce; Brown; Gholson; Wood qtd. in Robert 81). Nevertheless, the traditionalists went on to say eliminating slavery would not be worth the exchange. John B. Shell, for example, said: "I have attempted to show to this House, that whatever the evils of slavery may be—whatever the dangers which accompany its existence—whatever the calamities it is likely to bring upon our country, our pecuniary condition and prospects are such as to render action now totally impracticable" (2). That is, eliminating slavery would cause more material, economic harm than good. The emancipatory goals of the activists demanded that they somehow express the debate in terms of morality, and increase the salience of this issue. The other themes—the merits of the debate, economic arguments, and property rights—represented lesser issues. Morality, however, was the screen through which they desired the entire issue of slavery viewed. For if the immorality was considered pressing and destructive, then the other issues would be more easily resolved.

To avoid directly attacking the traditionalists, the activists delineated a nuanced view of morality. They claimed slavery was responsible for immoral acts, but it was through no fault of the slave owners. Samuel Moore explained that the "species of labor in which slaves are usually employed . . . is very generally regarded as a mark of servitude, and consequently as degrading and disreputable" (1). It was simply by affiliation that slavery's vices were transmitted to their owners and, according to Bolling, "every system of slavery is based on injustice and oppression" (9). Thus, it was not the owner's fault, but the institution's, since one could not escape slavery's inherent shortcomings. Faulkner claimed that slavery "converts the energy of a community into indolence—its power into imbecility—its efficiency into weakness" (17). Bolling elaborated on Falkner's idea: "Slavery always had, and always must produce a great amount of idleness and vice" because freemen will not want to reduce themselves to the level of a slave (15). For these speakers, idleness was a terrible side effect, one rooted in biblical prose known to all. Bolling deplored the system as well, pointing to the sheer number of slaves as a compounding factor for the immorality: "If one half of those inhabitants are slaves, one half of the mind, and moral susceptibilities of that society, is lost to all useful purposes . . . which I esteem a greater loss to the state than any amount of money could be" (12).

Perhaps the most emphasized aspect of morality was a theme addressing the sins of the fathers. Although traditionalists initially raised this issue, activists co-opted it quickly. Early in the debate, some traditionalists claimed it was unfair to blame current slave-owners for a system enacted by an earlier generation: "it is as unkind as it is unjust to reproach a generation for misfortunes transmitted to her by generations before her, and from which no exertions of hers could relieve her. . . . We are not responsible for the existence of slavery among us" (Gholson 2). The activists in no way shrank from this assertion; they instead embraced it, and simultaneously deflected criticism from themselves. First, activists redefined the issue by accepting Gholson's posture that the present generation was not responsible for slavery. Bolling referred to the institution as "a curse entailed upon us by our ancestors," and McDowell boldly declared "slavery has come down to us from our fathers" (Bolling 4; McDowell 10). In this sense, the activists avoided blaming the current slave-owners, and removed one of the traditionalists' potential attacks. The activists then used this situation to their advantage, defining the sins of the fathers in a manner that could induce guilt if an emancipation policy remained elusive. McDowell exemplified this idea, making posterity the motivational framework. The person "who could have blotted out this curse from his country . . . would have received the homage of an eternal gratitude, who casting away every suggestion of petty interest, had broken the yoke which, in evil hour, had been imposed and had translated . . . to another continent . . ." (10).

If the arguments of posterity were insufficient, the activists touched on the personal, focusing on the legacy delegates would leave their children. Creating guilt, they claimed that their children would revile them for inaction: "[T]he question now is, shall we, in turn, hand it over to our children? Hand it over to them in every attribute of evil? Shall we perpetuate the calamity we deplore and become to posterity the objects, not of kindness but of cursing? Possessed of slaves as a private property by the act of our ancestors, shall we transmit it as such throughout an indefinite future? This is the question" (McDowell 10). Moore worried about the Legislature's "lasting influence," and Randolph implored, "Are we then prepared to barter the liberty of our children for slaves for them?" (Moore 1; Randolph 9). The sense of posterity was palpable; speakers despaired that they could be the ones who could have averted calamity, and they would be enshrined in this position for eternity. Chandler feared for Virginia's very existence, exclaiming that the delegates could inevitably destroy the State: "Will not the life, liberty, prosperity, happiness and safety, of those who may come after us, be endangered in a still greater degree by [slavery]? How, then, can we reconcile it to ourselves, to fasten this upon them? Do we not endanger our very national existence by entailing slavery upon posterity?" (7).


For the activists, slavery represented a "weakness" that perpetuated a "sorrow" and an "injustice." Institutionally it had a "withering" effect upon the collective morality; it was a "leprosy," an "evil" that ruined the state's best hope for a resplendent future. Slavery was a "deadening oppression," a "disease," "curse," and "cancer." Left unchecked, it would continue to be an "advancing enemy" that "degraded" all Virginians with "hideous deformity." Activists saw the institution of slavery as a taint that could only infect further their genteel society: it was "disreputable," based on "injustice" and "oppression." Since laborers were not free, it also bred "idleness" and "vice"; yet in a culture steeped in the Puritan work ethic, this would also infect the entire planting class and beyond.

Activists clearly saw the institution as an ancestral curse, yet one to be broken in the name of posterity. The delegates could "blot out" the curse to receive "eternal gratitude" if only they would walk away from "petty interests" and "break the yoke" of actual slavery and its influence on the citizens of the state. The demeaning present scene must not continue; their children must not inherit it. Should they give to their children a "calamity" imbued with the "attribute of evil"? Should the delegates give kindness or a curse? This focus on the negative scene actually opens the door to a prevailing call for action, with "duty" coming first in order to avert the progress of evil. For speakers living in a time when family, history, and community weighed heavily on the psyche, the charge to posterity commanded attention.

Activists, though, intrinsically linked morality to economics and a particular scene. The increase in slaves, and the supposed desolation of the land, represented the catalyst demanding that the Legislature act at this exact moment. Postponing action would only make it more difficult to remove the disease growing daily stronger. This, of course, related to the original crisis and the need to engage in debate now, before it was too late. Having argued that slavery had a deleterious effect on master as well as slave, the activists now depicted emancipation as an act of "liberty" for all of their children. The rights of life, liberty, prosperity, property, and safety would be "endangered" by inaction. Traditionalists, too, framed slavery as an appalling evil, a "mildew," that was "transcendent," "abhorrent," and a systemic evil. The moral high road, emancipation, would rectify these wrongs, but would eventuate in the ruin of the state, which itself had moral implications. They minimized transcendental moral concerns through the foil of a greater practical immorality: of property loss resulting in economic collapse—a worse fate for the children of the state. This line of reasoning raised maintaining the status quo by the traditionalists to an actual moral act. Unlike the previous three themes, with their clashing present scenes, we see the clash between the traditionalists increasingly mired in the scene and inaction, and the activists in a similar scene, stressing the moral nature of human free will and the act.


At the beginning of 1832, Virginia and the South stood at a crossroads, with the Nullification crisis ushering in a strife-filled era of rancor characterizing all politics leading up to the War Between the States. The debate in Virginia represented a final moment when slavery was discussed openly and civilly, with all sides listening and issuing sound retorts. Although civil, the political maelstrom elicited fiery orations from both sides; the burden of proof, however, was squarely on the shoulders of the activists, for they attempted to alter the very fabric of Virginia, and proposed what most considered a radical view of government interference and eminent domain. In this respect, activists had to convince the legislature to embrace a plan never attempted, never even seriously considered. The activists showed both a remarkable awareness of their audience and an adroit ability to manipulate the stances of traditionalists into tools to further the cause of gradual emancipation. That they failed should not be a cause for reproach; instead, we might ask how it was they came so close to success. In the end, fifty-eight members voted to enact Randolph's plan for gradual emancipation, and seventy-three voted against it. Out of one-hundred-and-thirty-one votes cast, the outcome would have been different had only eight members changed sides. A compromise did pass; it decried the evils of slavery, supported removal of free blacks, and left open the possibility of future legislation. The activists valiantly attempted to overthrow an institution they felt was antithetical to a glorious future. Ultimately, they failed by a slim margin. Historians view this debate as a power struggle between the rich planter class and democratic reformers, the east versus the west. Viewed rhetorically, this distinction proves problematic; instead, the contest was not so much between planter class and reformers as it was between competing visions of Virginia's present, and what moral action would present the best Virginia future. Although not successful in terms of emancipation, the debate did present a strong consubstantial moment that almost transcended differences in class and economic means.

There were, of course, four interanimated themes whose terministic screens acted to construct their respective themes in a particular manner. In terms of the discussion of slavery, activists saw the scene (present and future) as awesome in power, yet this was less powerful than the free will of the men in the legislature who could act now to change the situation. Traditionalists saw the scene (future) as awesome in power as well, yet such was its power that their acquiescence to activist action would be to abrogate their free will. In a sense, then, their non-act in the face of activists' call for change was actually an act of free will. In terms of the economy, activists did portray the present scene strongly, yet it was this description of a future scene of tragedy that compelled delegates to act for a different future scene of prosperity. Traditionalists painted a scene of relative harmony now, contrasted with a scene of tragedy if the plans of the activists were developed. Taken together, it was the scene (present/future) as awesome in power and avoiding action as an act. In terms of property/safety, the activists saw a present scene of disorder, one becoming intolerable with no action—a future disordered scene. Traditionalists stressed a present scene of order, in danger of the proposed action. Emancipation would lead to a disordered future scene, one with bankruptcy and violation of basic constitutional guarantees. In terms of morality, activists and traditionalists shared a mutual negative present scene (presenting the best opportunity for consubstantiality). Activists stressed a moral act of emancipation steeped in an agency of free will and posterity; traditionalists stressed the present scene of immorality trumped by a worse scene of economic and social ruin should emancipation pass.

Taken together, these terministic screens combined in a nexus of dramatistical importance, and in this place very forcefully point toward clashing worldviews making consubstantial moments difficult. Activists lived in a world were the present scene was one of disorder, and left unchanged would only grow worse. They urged acting now for a positive future scene of order. Traditionalists lived in a world where the present scene was one of order, and any change would be so catastrophic as to lead to devastation and a future scene of disorder. They urged an active act of inaction. Thus we have the grating of inconsubstantial elements: although both activists and traditionalists were operating from a scene-act sense of reality, the grounding understanding of scene was simply too different to fully overcome.

The nexus of these terministic screens seem to coalesce around the issue of morality. Here we see the activists' best chance at winning converts, since traditionalists in general agreed with slavery as an evil. The activists presented this in two parts. First, the area in which traditionalists agreed was the morality tainting scene of slavery that impacted the entire South, and in particular the owners of slaves. In this sense, slavery (scene) affected the person (agent). In the second part, the activists stressed the scene of slavery in which an act of emancipation occurs; thus, the act now would determine a new future scene for Virginia. The traditionalists were strongly entrenched within an unyielding scene, and the vision presented by the activists was ultimately not enough to secure the necessary majority of those opposing emancipation. They failed to provide enough of the enabling aspect to those shaped by the evil of slavery (scene). If anything, it worked to reinforce for some the notion of an intractable scene.

In the discourse of both the activists and traditionalists exists a dominance of scenic elements that suggest a philosophical materialism underpinning the discourse. Burke offers a traditional notion of materialism: "that metaphysical theory which regards all the facts of the universe as sufficiently explained by the assumption of body or matter, conceived as extended, impenetrable, eternally existent, and susceptible of movement or change of relative position" (A Grammar of Motives 131). It is "the theory which regards all the facts of the universe as explainable in terms of matter and motion . . ." (A Grammar of Motives 131). This intimates, according to Jim A. Kuypers, "that action is reduced to motion when scene dominates. In this sense, only the material is significant; that which is observable, touchable, and measurable takes precedence over other concerns. This materialistic motive also allows pressure to be placed upon those interpellated within the scene. We are a part of that which is occurring, but we are not necessarily able to remove ourselves from it" ("From Science" 154-155). This is clearly the case with the traditionalists, who created a scenic understanding of both present and future so compelling that many delegates were simply unable to embrace the morally liberating act offered by the activist discourse. However, the focus on the scene was not of an overwhelming domination, placing crass materialism (love for property) over the moral cleansing offered by the activists. Instead, the traditionalists were, as were the activists, allowing the situation to influence their act. For traditionalists, not joining the activists was itself an act, an act whose purpose represented both acquiescence to the present generational curse of slavery, and the moral act of saving a society and culture whose future was uncertain in the face of the actions of the activists.

The materialism inherent in this domination of scene suggests human action replaced by human motion; the scene is so strong that only what we can observe is important. For Burke: "things are more or less real according as they are more or less energeia [activity] (actu, from which our 'actuality' is derived). [F]orm is the actus, the attainment, which realizes the matter" (A Grammar of Motives 227). Insofar as this is true, we can see both activists and traditionalist enacting their plans in accordance to the form suggested by their respective scenes, the sequence of the act. The scene in this case did not enervate action, because both activists and traditionalists provided for a moral aspect of response, thus embracing that morally vital side of a human agent who can act independently of the scene. In our present case, either act of the activists (emancipation) or traditionalists (status quo), viewed morally, allows for redemption and purification of Virginia society from the guilt caused by the Southhampton tragedy.

In response to the scene, both sides called for a moral agent acting now. Although not dominating the discourse, the strength of the acts described flow well from the scene, and strongly implies a philosophical realism underpinning this aspect of the discourse. This correlates well with the activists' focus on the situation as it is now, and how action is necessary to alter Virginians' shared future. Realism is the belief "in the real existence of matter as the object of perception (natural realism); also, the view that the physical world has independent reality, and is not ultimately reducible to universal mind or spirit." In this sense, a realist motivation suggests "the existence of objects in the external world independently of the way they are subjectively experienced"; thus, a division between the stark facts of a situation and the subjective or idealistic interpretation of those facts ("Realism"). By focusing on the facts, the activists were actually inviting the traditionalists to participate in a potentially consubstantial moment in shaping Virginia's future. As Bernard L. Brock, Robert L. Scott, and James W. Chesebro wrote, "the realist grammar begins with a tribal concept and treats the individual as a participant in substance" (188). In our present case, the activists initially had to overcome the sense that they were all from Western Virginia, and thus distinct from their considerably more numerous, and slave holding, Eastern brethren. The underlying stress on action presented such an opportunity. Here we can see the underlying, although competing, cycles of redemption with activists and traditionalists. Following Burke's notion of Motivation, we can trace how the activists and traditionalists established a redemptive cycle within their discourse, and also how both sides allowed for an agent-centered moral action that worked for the possibility of a redemptive transcendence of the problem. As Burke suggested, by analyzing the terministic screens used to discuss the situation, we determined how the delegates named "their structure and outstanding ingredients, and name[d] them in a way that contain[ed] an attitude toward them" (The Philosophy of Literary Form 1).8 It is within these elements that the motives underpinning the delegates' discourse reside. Ultimately, it is within these motives that we can gain insight and understanding into how the discourse worked to secure action. Put another way, we can see how the delegates allowed opportunity for consubstantial moments on the issue of emancipation.

Importantly, both the traditionalists and activists have calls for action, with both envisioning a moral agent acting now. It is in this action that the third phase of the dramatistic cycle—redemption—will occur. For the activists, if the act is for good (emancipatory; redemptive), the present and future scenes are recast and society is saved. If there is no action, then guilt and pollution remain, the scene will continue to dominate and a moral taint and threat to safety remain. For the activists, there is no need for a scapegoat or mortification, only right action, one that embraces an idealism of a new future scene. In contrast, the traditionalists also envision a moral agent acting now, through which we can also see the third phase of the cycle of redemption. For the traditionalists, if the act is good (preserving social order, culture, and society from the fallout of Southhampton; redemptive), the present and future scenes are recast and society is saved. Their action is actually deliberate inaction, thus empowered by their view of the scene instead of being sheer motion. For the traditionalists, the action of the activists would result in added guilt and pollution, the scene would become even worse with the immoral act of leaving only devastation for their children.

Through this moral struggle, a redemptive transformation is within reach: both activists and traditionalists are the agents of the act, and imbued with certain idealism; they are empowered individuals who exist in a society dominated by a guilt-ridden and polluted scene. To better understand potential consubstantial moments, we can argue that the dialectical pairs (in this case the elements of the pentad) "are not merely to be placed statically against each other, but in given poetic contexts usually represent a development from one order of motives to another" (Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives 11). With this in mind, we can better understand the qualitative progression from scenic domination to a delegate's act. In understanding the power of these envisioned acts, we must pause and look again at the debate as a whole so that we see how the terministic screens employed by the delegates acted to reflect their realities, deflect both their own and others' perceptions of reality, and select certain aspects of reality to highlight. Importantly, we also see how these screens acted to encourage certain notions of continuity and discontinuity with Virginia's past. It is in these moments that we can see where there were true possibilities for consubstantial action, and where the respective terministic screens locked-in certain interpretations of reality that would make consubstantial moments unlikely.

A clash occurred throughout the debate between the scenes embraced between the activists and the traditionalists. Both groups seemed to embrace a notion of action based on human free will that could mitigate the dangers of these scenes; unfortunately, the natures of the scenes were so different as to prevent a consubstantial moment where joint action would act for both groups in a society-wide redemptive moment. The best hope for this redemption was in the area of moral concerns, where both groups shared in the substance of an immoral present scene mired in the degrading spectacle of slavery. It is in this area perhaps, where worldviews coalesced, that both activists and traditionalists were able to jointly operate from a realist grammar. In discussing what act to take to remove the present scene, true persuasion operated and the delegates were able to ensconce their arguments in notions of human free will necessary for true moral action. The activists began the debate heavily outnumbered, and in the end, fell only eight votes shy of achieving their goals. Ultimately their idea of a moral act of free will to step out of the moral quagmire of slavery was overshadowed by a compelling vision of the moral quagmire of slavery replaced by, in the eyes of the traditionalists, a deeper moral quagmire of a future Virginia desolate and ruined by emancipation.


This project was a recipient of the South Atlantic Studies Initiative Award, College of Liberal Arts & Human Sciences, Virginia Tech; an earlier version of this paper was presented as the Top Competitive Paper of the Burke Division at the Southern States Communication Association Convention, Tampa, 2015. For their contributions to this project, the author wishes to thank Elsbeth R. Drews and Alston B. Ramsay, both students in his Southern Oratory Seminar at Dartmouth College, Ashley Gellert, his research assistant at Virginia Tech, Nneka Logan, his colleague at Virginia Tech, and the anonymous KBJ reviewers.


1. Black and Native American slaveholders were not present during this debate. At the time, fewer than 5% of Southern whites owned slaves, and of those who did, only the top 1% of this number owed more than 50 slaves. In 1830, approximately 12% of free blacks in Virginia owned slaves.

2. According to the 1830 census, Virginia's slave population was 469,755.

3. In addition to Freehling, others, as early as Thomas R. Dew, advanced that the debate was not a complete endorsement of slavery, but contained elements of eventual emancipation, and denied slavery as a perpetual good.

4. By themes I mean the subject of discussion, or that which is the subject of the thought expressed. See Kuypers, "Framing Analysis"

5. See Waldo W. Braden, The Oral Tradition in the South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1983); W. Stuart Towns, Oratory and Rhetoric in the Nineteenth-Century South: A Rhetoric of Defense (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998).

6. In 1830, these Northern states still had slaves: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan (territory), New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

7. We do know now that there were insurrections in the South before that period, but should resist the urge to suggest duplicitous motives on the part of delegates advancing such argument as those represented here. Without the presence of mass media, many smaller insurrections and violent actions simply never made it out of the boundaries of the county or state in which they occurred. See Aptheker for an overview of such insurrections.

8. See also pages 6, 298-304. For a detailed discussion of Burke's notion of motive see, Andrew King. "Motive." The American Communication Journal vol. 1 no. 3, 1998, See, too, J. Clarke Rountree, III. "Coming to Terms with Kenneth Burke's Pentad, The American Communication Journal vol. 1 no. 3, 1998,

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Burke on Psychodynamic Aesthetics: Forms that Help Us Cope

Christian Kock, University of Copenhagen


A discontinuity is sometimes claimed to exist between Burke's early literary aesthetics and his later work. I argue for a continuity: already in Counter-Statement (1931), the formal¸ aesthetically powerful properties of literature are among those that, in his later formulations, enable texts to be "equipment for living" and "symbolic action."

IT IS SOMETIMES ASSUMED THAT A DISCONTINUITY OCCURRED BETWEEN BURKE'S EARLY LITERARY AESTHETICS, with its emphasis on form, and his later work. I argue that there was continuity: already in Counter-Statement (1931), the formal properties of literature that bring aesthetic gratification are also among those that, in his later thinking, enable texts to be "equipment for living" and "symbolic action." Throughout, form was always a crucial factor in Burke's view of how discourse may impinge on people's lives. What broadened was the domain Burke considered. Throughout he aimed for "generalizations as to what poems do for everybody," as he wrote in Philosophy of Literary Form (73), but aesthetic form was also central to his understanding of what texts of any kind can "do."

From the beginning, Burke was fascinated by form and by discourse as equipment for living. When he wrote Counter-Statement, the material he discussed was mainly (while not exclusively) literature, but a primary concern of his was always form, wherever found, as equipment for living: as his scope broadened, he continued to study how form can help humans—speakers, writers, hearers, readers—cope with their lives.

I will discuss how Burke saw form as a psychodynamic agent, as discussed primarily in Counter-Statement. To offset what is distinctive in Burke, I will then set his thinking on this theme beside related ideas in some significant forerunners and contemporaries. Further, I will briefly exemplify how the psychodynamic function of form is evident in actual readers' experience of poetry. Finally, I will locate a similar effect of form in a piece of non-poetic discourse spoken into a critical social predicament: Winston Churchill's famous wartime speech on "blood, toil, tears, and sweat." I suggest that this analysis of the psychodynamics of form accentuates a constant and central theme in Burke's thought.

The Psychodynamics of Form

Much commentary on Burke posits a break away from the emergent school of "New Criticism," among whose precursors he is often counted. For example, René Wellek sees early Burke as a New Critical pioneer, but notes that he, like R.P. Blackmur, "later rejected the New Criticism in strong terms" and "moved away from his neo-critical beginnings" (613-14).

I suggest instead that Burke's thinking was always decisively different from New Critical doctrine, and that on the other hand his notions of how human discourse may function show a clear and original continuity.

In Counter-Statement Burke proposes an aesthetic psychology of literature, equating form with "the psychology of the audience" (31), whereas other critical schools with a psychological tilt usually mean the psychology of writers and/or fictional protagonists. Form, according to Burke, is the arousal and gratification of expectations in the reader—processes occurring in the reader during the process of experiencing the text. Clearly, such processes are even more central in the experience of (instrumental) music, whose elements lack the conventionally determined semantic meanings attaching to words, and in which purely formal phenomena for that reason acquire dominance. In fact, it seems plausible, as discussed by Bostdorff and Tompkins (1985), that Burke's early theory of aesthetic form in Counter-Statement grew out of his work in the late 'twenties as a music critic. The fact that the pivot of his aesthetic theory is a concept of form that is most obviously in evidence in music foregrounds the original etymology of the word "aesthetics": it concerns aisthēsis—i.e., sensory perception.

Aesthetics, however, is not all in Counter-Statement. There is also an awareness of an existential psychology of literature—of how it may help humans "encompass" situations in life. Later, Burke develops and further emphasizes the idea that symbolic action—in all kinds of discourse—helps people (writers and readers alike) encompass situations, although he sometimes tends to find the poetic mode of symbolic action superior to that of science because poetic visions of reality can better, through ongoing revision, encompass "recalcitrance" (cf., e.g., Permanence and Change, 257)—that is, the perceived world's resistance to the vision applied to it.

The idea that symbolic action can help encompass life situations is developed in Permanence and Change (1935) and Attitudes Toward History (1937), as documented by Prelli et al. (2011). The discontinuity assumed by some between Counter-Statement's insistence on the formal gratifications afforded by literature and the broader, existential psychology of symbolic action of all kinds in the following works is a misperception because the purely formal-aesthetic properties of texts are throughout an equal part of what endows them with existential-psychological functions (as "equipment for living").

Any rupture between Burke's early insistence on formal aspects of literary texts and his later interest in how all kinds of discourse can be symbolic action and equipment for living is thus imaginary. While championing a psychology of form, Burke sees literature as not only offering purely aesthetic gratification, but also as capable of cathartic or "propitiatory" action (a term used in Permanence and Change) —in part precisely by virtue of its formal properties.

To understand this better, recall how Burke often emphasizes the puzzling fact that we derive aesthetic gratification from form in works that we have read or seen many times; clearly the gratification they afford does not depend on new insight brought by their informational content. In this, literature differs from ordinary informative messages, but resembles music and ritual. Literature and music do something for readers/hearers—comparable to what ritual does for participants. In Philosophy of Literary Form (1941), Burke resolutely generalizes this idea: "We propose to take ritual drama as the Ur-from the 'hub,' with all other aspects of human action treated as spokes radiating from this hub" (103). But already in Counter-Statement we hear that literature, by adding form to human "patterns of experience," may provide cathartic release from the emotional stress such patterns generate: "Art, at least in the great periods when it has flowered, was the conversion, or transcendence, of emotion into eloquence and was thus a factor added to life" (41). A footnote describes Greek tragedy as "the sublimation of emotion into eloquence" (41). Eloquence equals form, in the Burkean sense circumscribed here. Turning situations into eloquence "encompasses" them; they achieve "poise and rhythm," providing gratification. The "truth" found in art is simply "the formulation of symbols which rigidify our sense of poise and rhythm" (42). Human predicaments supply art's content side, the substance in which art's cathartic eloquence (form) is embodied ("individuated")

Burke's concept of form includes expectation and its fulfillment, gratification. We might paraphrase him with a physical metaphor by saying that formally generated expectation builds up the "voltage" of the process by increasing the felt resistance (Burke might say "recalcitrance") and hence the reader's forward urge; "current" comes from the emotional subject-matter involved. The cathartic process is analogous to Ohm's law: voltage is proportional to current and to resistance.

Formal patterns have the power to engage because human beings are innately susceptible to them; this is true, for example, of what musicians call crescendo, and rhetoricians gradatio or climax: "the work of art utilizes climactic arrangement because the human brain has a pronounced potentiality for being arrested, or entertained, by such an arrangement" (45). The forms into which human experiences are embodied in literature provide gratification and cathartic effects because they fit the native susceptibilities of our minds in the way that keys fit locks. As symbol-using creatures we have a "feeling for such arrangements of subject-matter as produce crescendo, contrast, comparison, balance, repetition, disclosure, reversal, contraction, expansion, magnification, series, and so on. ... At bottom these 'forms' may be looked upon as minor divisions of the two major 'forms,' unity and diversity" (46).

Burke repeatedly underscores this connection between forms and innate susceptibilities:

The formal aspects of art appeal in that they exercise formal potentialities of the reader. They enable the mind to follow processes amenable to it. … The forms of art, to summarize, are not exclusively "aesthetic." They can be said to have a prior aesthetic in the experience of the person hearing or reading the work of art. … A form is a way of experiencing; and such a form is made available in art when, by the use of specific subject-matter, it enables us to experience in this way. (142-43)
In A Rhetoric of Motives (1950), Burke further explores how formal devices are "functional":
processes of "identification" would seem to function here ... the audience feels as though it were not merely receiving, but were itself creatively participating in the poet's or speaker's assertion. ... we know that many purely formal patterns can readily awaken an attitude of collaborative expectancy in us. (57-58)

We see, then, that according to Burke even "mere" form without specific subject-matter (as in music) has the capacity to perform cathartic functions. But the themes and "patterns of experience" that literary works embody (Burke says "symbols" where most of us would say "themes") also have the capacity to fit like keys into the locks of a readers' minds, helping them cope with situations. As an example, Counter-Statement cites the works of Byron, which allowed readers to feel "Byronic" if thus inclined: "Mute Byrons (potential Byrons) were waiting in more or less avowed discomfiture for the formulation of Byronism, and when it came they were enchanted. ... the symbol being so effective, they called the work of Byron beautiful" (58). Thus a writer may provide for himself (and his readers) "a vocabulary to a situation (stressing such ways of feeling as equip one to cope with the situation)" (108).

This anticipates the "equipment for living" idea formulated in The Philosophy of Literary Form. The wording in Counter-Statement is that writers offer readers "appropriate symbols for encompassing a situation" (80). Situations may, as Burke will later say, show "recalcitrance," but formal/aesthetic appeal can help a symbol motivate and engage; symbol and form together accomplish "the conversion of an existential pattern into a formula for affecting the audience" (157).

What features tend to generate formal appeal? A look at Burke's examples of texts offering formal gratification reveals, for example, many cases of strongly contrasting or opposite properties coexisting very near each other, or even coinciding as aspects of the same element. His first example in the section "Psychology and Form" is Hamlet, Act I, Scene 1—where Hamlet and Horatio wait for the appearance of the ghost. Their expectation (and ours), deftly generated by Shakespeare, is diverted as they hear the strident sounds of the King's carousal offstage; they drift into a discussion of Danes' overindulgence in drink—and then: "Enter Ghost." Its arrival is eagerly expected and yet—because the dialogue has taken a different turn—a surprise (30): two opposite qualities in one element. This backhanded way of satisfying our "appetite" is particularly gratifying. The formal ploy coupled with the existential urgency of Hamlet's desire to meet his father's ghost (which generates our sympathetic desire) makes the moment uniquely powerful.

Our expectations and gratifications increase, rather than decrease, if, by re-reading, we become more familiar with the work and know what to expect. We enjoy an "exaltation at the correctness of the procedure, so that we enjoy the steady march of doom in a Racinian tragedy with exactly the same equipment as that which produces our delight with Benedick's 'Peace! I'll stop your mouth. (Kisses her)'"—this being the climactic moment in Benedick and Beatrice's romance in Much Ado about Nothing (37).

Form thus involves "desires and their appeasements" (31); however, desire/expectation is not only formal/physical, but also symbolic (i.e., generated by theme/content). Thus formal "voltage" and symbolic "current" are proportional. Gratification provided by the "symbol" (i.e., theme) is the other main type of literary appeal that Burke dissects. In many of his analyses, the manifold partly subliminal meanings clustering around a symbol are what accounts for the work's main aesthetic appeal—and at the same time for its capacity to serve a cathartic function. Here too, the factors that provide aesthetic gratification are also the ones that allow the text to serve as equipment for living. Poetic texts, like music, are not messages imparting insight or knowledge; if they were, we could not derive the same gratification and catharsis from them repeatedly, the more so the better we know them. Rather, they function like rituals, not like revelations: "Revelation is 'belief,' or 'fact.' Art enters when this revelation is ritualized, when it is converted into a symbolic process. . . . Art as eloquence, ceremony, ritual" (168).

This does not mean that Burke "separates" form from content. The formal appeal (the ritual form, we may say) moves a certain content forward, the content providing the motivating impulse. Correspondingly, ritual is the formal enactment of some content/story/myth/ narrative. Burke's main emphasis is precisely on the ritual nature of aesthetic experience: the cathartic power resides in the process itself, as in ritual, not in any new information or insight it provides:

The "thoughts" of a writer are not the mere "revelation," not the statements of a fact – the "thoughts" are the framing of this revelation in ritual. Accordingly, our savants err who attempt to catalogue for us the "thoughts" of a stylist like Milton, by stating them simply as precepts divorced from their stylistic context. The "thoughts" of a writer are the non-paraphrasable aspects of his work. (168-69)

Forebears and Parallels

Burke's ideas of what form in literature can do, not only in terms of aesthetic enjoyment, but also in ways that extend beyond the reading experience, may become clearer in light of a few anticipations as well as contemporary parallels.

A quasi-ritualistic understanding of the capability of literary experience was proposed, of course, by Aristotle in his brief mention of catharsis in the Poetics. In Burke's "Preface" to the second edition of Counter-Statement (1952), he says his view is the same as "the principle implicit in Aristotle's view of tragedy, his somewhat homœopathic notion that we are cleansed of emotional tensions by kinds of art deliberately designed to affect us with these tensions under controlled conditions" (xii).

Aristotelian catharsis assumes the same connection that this article asserts: on the one hand it involves the specific processes activated during the progressive experience of the tragedy, and limited to that experience, by the tragedy's distinctive properties—the expectations aroused in spectators and the gratification (the "tragic pleasure") they experience in seeing such-and-such a hero undergoing peripety, anagnōrisis and the rest; on the other hand that experience also has an effect that lingers as an "afterglow," and it is through that effect—for which the formal properties are enabling conditions—that a tragedy may become "equipment for living" for citizens of the polis. Burke sees an intimate connection between the purely formal-aesthetic gratification that pleases while experienced, and its afterglow that remains for a while, helping spectators cope with their emotional situation.

That catharsis mattered to Aristotle both as an aesthetic and a social concept is evident in his Politics. There, near the end, we find a lengthy discussion of the social roles of music (1339a-1342b), and of which kinds of music should be used for which purposes in the polis— whose overall purpose, as stated at the beginning of the Politics (1252a), is to secure as far as possible the good life for all its citizens. Catharsis is a process for which every citizen has a need, hence the state should make it available to all. A city-state aiming to secure the good life for all should provide music and tragedy and related artifacts for its citizens as equipment for living. Further, catharsis is a psychodynamic process activated by music no less than by art forms with a verbal component (such as tragedy). What matters for us is that music (i.e., instrumental music), which is, in a sense, pure form with no meaning content, can be just as cathartic as verbal artifacts, perhaps more so. Since semantic meaning is absent in instrumental music, it follows that the purely formal gratification provided to hearers is at least co-responsible for its psychodynamic effect. As for artifacts with a verbal or representational component, they provide cathartic experiences by virtue of formal properties and the semantic content that they represent (or "imitate").

An anticipation of Burke's thinking on form is also found, not surprisingly, in one of his literary heroes, Coleridge, whose reflections in Biographia Literaria, for example, discuss how versification can lend poems a distinctive kind of pleasure and at the same time enable them to offer readers an experience of willful mastery. This is particularly clear in Ch. XVIII, where Coleridge speaks of the "Origin and elements of metre": This I would trace to the balance in the mind effected by that spontaneous effort which strives to hold in check the workings of passion. It might be easily explained likewise in what manner this salutary antagonism is assisted by the very state, which it counteracts; and how this balance of antagonists became organized into metre (in the usual acceptation of that term), by a supervening act of the will and judgment, consciously and for the foreseen purpose of pleasure.

Significantly, Coleridge refers to "that pleasure, which such emotion, so tempered and mastered by the will, is found capable of communicating" (my emphasis). His is one of the few attempts in literary theory that may help explain the labor that poets invest in writing versified, rhyming discourse rather than prose. The imposition of versification onto words expressive of passionate emotion provides intense pleasure; whether Coleridge means to the poet or to the reader or to both alike is not specified, but Burke would say: to both. Further, Burke would claim it can communicate an experience that the passions thus treated have been mastered or "encompassed." Other poets of the first rank have also attested to the power of poetic form. John Donne, in "The Triple Fool," a poem on the frustration of unrequited love written around 1600, says:

Then, as th' earths inward narrow crooked lanes
Do purge sea waters fretful salt away,
I thought, if I could draw my pains
Through rhymes vexation, I should them allay.
Grief brought to numbers cannot be so fierce,
For he tames it, that fetters it in verse.

What we see here is elements of a Poetics quite along the lines of Burke's early thinking in Counter-Statement. Even the idea of catharsis or "purgation" is there. Burke's "propitiatory" view of what literature can do has a contemporary parallel in Freud's theory of humor (1928); humor is a tool developed by humanity to immunize us against the suffering that life forces on us. Mastery could be the common denominator between this and Burke's thinking on how poetry may be symbolic action and do something for readers (and writers), rather than tell them insightful truths. Poems, like humor, may allow us to feel that we master or encompass situations in life.

Another contemporary of Burke, the Russian psychologist L.S. Vygotsky, proposes a related idea in his early treatise The Psychology of Art (1925, English translation 1971). One of his main examples of cathartic form is Ivan Bunin's story "Gentle Breath," in which Vygotsky finds that the imposition of form on a deeply depressing plot imbues the reading experience with a feeling of lightness and, indeed, "gentle breath." And Vygotsky's analysis of Hamlet makes the overall point that the play achieves its cathartic power through form as it leads spectators unexpectedly and by devious and surprising routes to the eagerly awaited result.

In musicology, a seminal idea reminiscent of this and of Burke's aesthetic thinking was proposed by the composer and philosopher Leonard B. Meyer (1956), who argued that value and greatness in music are functions of expectations deferred and then fulfilled.

As mentioned, Burke's thinking is often aligned with that of his contemporaries, the "New Critics." For example, there is the notion of "the heresy of paraphrase," elaborated by Cleanth Brooks in The Well-Wrought Urn (1947). Comparing literature to an exquisite urn (the book title is drawn from Donne's poem "The Canonization"), Brooks asserts that a poem's value is not in its informational content; but at the same time he insists that a poem is more than a mute, well-formed artifact: the poet, he says, gives us "an insight which preserves the unity of experience and which, at its higher and more serious levels, triumphs over the apparently contradictory and conflicting elements of experience by unifying them into a new pattern" (214). We see here the characteristic New Critical valorization of "irony" and "paradox"—devices based on contradiction—and a belief in the power of poetry comparable to Burke's; however, we also see a doctrine that the New Critics never abandoned, but which Burke never held: that the power of poetry comes from the insight it brings. Such insight, the New Critics would insist, is of a "higher and more serious" kind, made un-paraphrasable by properties such as irony and paradox. In contrast, Burke sees what poetry provides as ritual action, including but not limited to insight. Its ritualistic or formal element accounts for much of what it can do. Burke, in Counter-Statement, certainly shows himself to be just as much of a connoisseur of irony and paradox as the New Critics, but he sees these devices as aspects of formal appeal; poetry is not revelation. Burke deviates from New Criticism by recognizing that what poetry/literature does, partly in virtue of its formal "eloquence" (or "rhetoric,") is not to provide knowledge or insight ("revelation"); nor is its function only to provide aesthetic gratification, but also to perform "corrective," "cathartic" or "catalytic" functions in the lives of readers (and writers). New Critics such as Cleanth Brooks shied away from embracing a truly psychodynamic poetics, relying instead on their ambiguous theory that poetry does provide insight or knowledge, only of a "higher," non-paraphrasable kind. They highlighted many of the same properties as Burke—irony, ambiguity, paradox, contrast—but had little to say on the function of poetry, being generally anti-psychological, anti-emotional, anti-sociological, etc., like many of the leading intellectuals and creative artists of their period. They tended to believe, with a famous quote from Archibald MacLeish, that "a poem should not mean / but be"; to Burke a poem certainly also means something, but what it means is a vehicle for what it can do. He saw the gratifications provided by form and "symbol" as together constituting the aesthetic potential of a text, and thus its cathartic potential. Symbolic and formal effects, while not the same, are coordinated: "Symbolic intensity arises when the artist uses subject-matter 'charged' by the reader's situation outside the work of art. … Formal charges may be attributed to arrangements within the work itself" (163-64). What poetry can do for writers and readers is this: "Increase of perception and sensitivity through increase of terminology (a character or a situation in fiction is as much a term as any definition in a scientific nomenclature). An equipment, like any vocabulary, for handling the complexities of living" (183).

Form in a Reader's Experience

That grief and other unwieldy emotions may be "fettered" in verse (to use Donne's term) is known and felt not just by poets, but also by their readers. I will offer one example of this, a statement made by a graduate student, John, who took a graduate course of mine on "Why and How We Read" at a large Midwestern university. Students in the course had been asked to bring along literary texts or passages that had given them powerful aesthetic experiences. John brought Dylan Thomas's frequently anthologized poem "Fern Hill." Its speaker recalls his youth in highly suggestive language that is often slightly deviant in innovative ways; it is a poem much quoted by literary theorists for examples of linguistic "foregrounding." Irregular though the poem is linguistically, it is extremely rule-bound formally, using the same intricate metrical pattern—John calls it a "homostrophic form"—in all six stanzas:

This isn't really the way he lived his youth and none of us have our lives as well defined as this ... what he is doing here is imposing order on something. This is a good contrast, he's dealing with a subject which is mutability itself, time, and he imposes order on it, it's kind of yoking of opposites ... Thomas is using a homostrophic form here to combat the kind of chaos which his personal life possessed and which the passing of time possesses for all of us . . .

In Counter-Statement, Burke assigned to aesthetic form a function of which the order-imposing effect described by John the reader and the "fettering" celebrated by John Donne the poet are specific examples. In the poetics Burke developed in Counter-Statement, we can observe what he later described by saying "I was trying to develop a theory of literary form" (1976, 62). By expressing themselves in form, writers and speakers communicate to themselves, and to readers or hearers, an experience of overcoming something that needs overcoming. Here we find a bridge, rather than a rupture, between what poetry does according to early Burke and what rhetorical action in general does according to later Burke.

Another way of asserting this is to say that Burke would have seconded Jeffrey Walker's argument against "the bifurcated views of 'literature' and 'rhetoric,' or of epideictic and practical civic rhetoric" (146).

Eloquence to Match Exigence

I would like in conclusion to offer an example of how sheer formal eloquence of the kind that early Burke primarily finds in poetry can function similarly in non-poetic, public rhetorical action—in this case, a celebrated piece of rhetoric addressing a nation in a desperate situation: the speech given by Winston Churchill to Parliament on May 13, 1940.

At this time, Germany was victorious on all fronts. British forces had been humiliatingly ousted from Norway, and Hitler's armies seemed unstoppable in France. Only three days before Churchill had succeeded Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister. Chamberlain's appeasement policy, which Churchill had long opposed, had been discredited. Churchill too had opponents in all parties, but was seen as the only politician who, as Prime Minister, could muster the confidence of all parties. The speech, later that day broadcast to the nation, has been seen as the one that cemented Churchill's leadership and his status as master orator. His grandson, in a collection of his grandfather's speeches, writes: "With this speech, which was subsequently broadcast to the world, Churchill electrified the House and the nation. … In the House, as he sat down, there was a moment of stunned silence, followed by a wholly exceptional standing ovation" (Churchill 168). Likewise, there are numerous examples of the energizing effect the speech had on ordinary Britons; for example, Nellie Carver, a London woman, is quoted in Toye's monograph The Roar of the Lion as writing this on the day the speech was broadcast: "Winston's speeches send all sorts of thrills racing up and down my veins and I feel fit to tackle the largest Hun!" (8).

The speech is only 730 words long and took c. 6 minutes to deliver. The first two thirds of it (491 words) are held in formal, almost bureaucratic language, beginning with "On Friday evening last I received His Majesty's commission to form a new Administration." It continues in a style that might be described as "ceremonial," the parlance of parliamentary procedure, as in this representative excerpt: "I hope that any of my friends and colleagues, or former colleagues, who are affected by the political reconstruction, will make allowance, all allowance, for any lack of ceremony with which it has been necessary to act."

At just this point, moving into the last third of the speech, without any pause or paragraph, Churchill abruptly shifts into the pathos of the famous words: "I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat." Between these words and the previous passage there is a contrast that must have been surprising to all and may have been shocking.

A first observation about form at this point is that countless aesthetically powerful artifacts—from folktales to operas—have a structure where the last third, or the last unit of three, while continuous with the first two, differs markedly from them. Churchill's last third is the celebrated part; yet it could not have had the resonance it achieved if the preceding two thirds had not prepared a foil for it. It follows here (reprinted after Churchill, 168-69):

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realised; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, "come then, let us go forward together with our united strength."

Burke in Counter-Statement lists "crescendo, contrast, comparison, balance, repetition, disclosure, reversal, contraction, expansion, magnification, series, and so on" as "potentialities of appreciation which would seem to be inherent in the very germ-plasm of man, and which, since they are constant, we might call innate forms of the mind" (46). The abrupt change before the last third of the speech instantiates some of these phenomena—one could see it as a sudden crescendo creating a resounding contrast between before and after. Burke notes: "Over and over again in the history of art, different material has been arranged to embody the principle of the crescendo; and this must be so cause we 'think' in a crescendo, because it parallels certain psychic and physical processes which are at the roots of our experience" (45).

From here on Churchill continues in elevated, almost liturgical style, with literate, semi-archaic words like ordeal, grievous, and others from a pathos-laden register. We now find recurrent, tiny deviations from an unmarked, communication-conveying style, as in many long months of struggle and of suffering—the second of is a small, almost unnoticeable deviation from how one might normally say this. Similarly in You ask, what is our policy? I can say . . . , can has a similar effect of slightly deviating from the standard phrase one might normally use (which would just be: I say).

Aristotle declares in the Rhetoric: "It is therefore well to give everyday speech an unfamiliar (xenikon) air: people like what strikes them, and are struck by what is out of the way" (1404b). Churchill's little deviations from daily idiomatic speech have this quality, yet the passage seems to heed Aristotle's further advice that a rhetor "must disguise his art and give the impression of speaking naturally nor artificially. Naturalness is persuasive, artificiality is the contrary" (1404b). In other words, a feeling of the "unfamiliar" must be conveyed, but hearers must not be conscious of the unfamiliarity as a deliberate device. A modern term for features that impart an "unfamiliar air" to a text is foregrounding; in several empirical studies it has been shown that foregrounding involving "defamiliarization" correlates with affect and even a feeling of "sublimity" in readers (Miall and Kuiken 1994; Miall 2007).

Another formal artifice has to do with expectations aroused and gratified—but not necessarily gratified in the expected way. Consider, for example, the words to wage war, by sea, land and air. This phrase may raise an expectation that an anaphoric series has been begun, with wage war as the repeated initial element. But the continuation is not a parallel phrase beginning with wage war, but instead an adverbial phrase: with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us—which in turn might create an expectation of another anaphoric series where with all . . . is the recurrent initial element. However, now that hearers have probably stopped expecting a series with wage war, we do in fact get a reiteration of wage war. We may recall Burke's Hamlet example: the ghost doesn't appear when expected, but when the talk changes and almost makes us forget about it, it appears.

Churchill thus repeatedly raises and gratifies his listeners' expectations—either by fulfilling them, or by circumventing them and then fulfilling them when not expected, or in ways not expected. He inserts apparent beginnings of parallelisms, having us guess whether there will in fact be a parallelism, and if so, how complete and long it will be. In the passage without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realised, the short sentence Let that be realised helps cancel a possible expectation that an anaphoric series with without victory is to begin; but as soon as that expectation is likely to be canceled in listeners' minds, it is fulfilled. Significantly, Churchill admiringly wrote about the oratory of his father: "No one could guess beforehand what he was going to say or how he would say it" (Toye 14).

In Counter-Statement, Burke dissects specimens of "expert prose" (133), highlighting the prevalence of "dissimilar balances"—sequences where units are "intellectually equivalent" but "formally diverse." In Churchill's speech we find the converse phenomenon: recurrent words and forms that turn out to have different meanings or functions. Consider this anaphoric series with its apparently similar relative clauses beginning with that: no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. The first that-clause here is clearly a defining relative clause: it defines the scope of all. It is then natural to understand the second that-clause, beginning with that mankind... , similarly, i.e., as defining the scope of the ages. But in retrospect it turns out to be a parenthetical clause, relative to the noun phrase the urge and impulse of the ages: the object of the urge and impulse is that mankind will move forward towards its goal. Hearers are momentarily led to understand that they are hearing a complete parallelism, but must revise that understanding retrospectively. Linguists call such structures "garden path phenomena" (Pritchett 1988).

The synonyms urge and impulse themselves may momentarily challenge hearers' interpretive capacities, making them inadvertently seek a subtle semantic difference between these two nouns of apparently identical meaning: if Churchill intends no such difference, why does he use both? But this spontaneous reaching out after a supposed semantic nuance may pass as the next sentences follow, and what is left in hearers' minds may then be a vague sense that more meaning was conveyed here than they had time to grasp. This use of synonyms is distinctive of discourse that is generally felt to be elevated or sacred—for example, the poetry of the Old Testament (cf. Jakobson 1966).

I would suggest that numerous tiny effects of these kinds in the last third of Churchill's speech (Burke might say "a frequency of formal eloquence") are apt to induce an affect, a sense of elevating grandeur, scope, and power in the words, that transfers to the hearer. I should emphasize that I do not assume hearers may have had a conscious awareness of all these small features that would enable them to analyze them in the way I have suggested here. On the contrary: as Aristotle repeatedly points out, the "unfamiliar" stylistic air that he counsels orators to assume, depends for its effects on its being "disguised," i.e., not registered consciously by hearers.

In A Rhetoric of Motives (1950) Burke observes that "purely formal patterns can readily awaken an attitude of collaborative expectancy in us," and that "where a decision is still to be reached, a yielding to form prepares for assent to matter identified with it. Thus, you are drawn to the form, not in your capacity as a partisan, but because of some 'universal' appeal in it" (57-58); in other words, the effect of a formal pattern may be that "on the level of purely formal assent you would collaborate to round out its symmetry by spontaneously willing its completion and perfection as an utterance" (58-59). This "purely formal" appeal to the audience is, he again asserts in a later essay ("Rhetoric and Poetics," in Language as Symbolic Action, 1966), "universal. Hence, an audience can readily yield to this aspect of an exhortation" (296). Already in Counter-Statement Burke spoke about "the value of formal appeal in inducing acquiescence. For to guide the reader's expectations is already to have some conquest over him" (178).

There is in fact a great deal of empirical evidence that the May 13 speech helped Churchill have conquest. It won him a unanimous vote of confidence in Parliament, and Britons as well as occupied peoples felt increasingly energized to fight the "Hun"—although he had said nothing substantially new in the speech, offered no arguments for his intransigent attitude towards Germany (which many Britons questioned), and offered nothing but "blood, toil, tears and sweat." Instead, it seems plausible that this speech and others helped Churchill's audiences "encompass" Britain's situation by sheer formal means. This suggests that the formal devices Burke knew from poetry can also be "propitiatory" and serve as equipment for living when used in rhetorical action in response to a critical worldly exigence.1

Recently, rhetorical affect theory has focused on workings of rhetorical utterances akin to what we find in Churchill's celebrated oratory, or in great poetry. Jenny Edbauer Rice, in a discussion on recent work in affect theory, notes: "affective energies will still remain part of rhetoric, discourse, and communication. Theories of affect are worth our time and our attention, even if not yet our full agreement" (211).

I suggest that Burke would have welcomed affect theory on the critical scene. He discussed and analyzed form-induced affect more thoroughly than anyone else in his lifetime. There was no discontinuity between his early aesthetic formalism and his later life-encompassing rhetoric. The observations on quasi-ritual effects of form in literature that dominate his earliest book are continuous with his later thinking on language as symbolic action. Throughout he saw form in language as equally powerful, and similarly powerful. This was inherent in his literary theory and criticism from the beginning and remained central as he expanded his purview to the entire realm of discourse. Rhetorical scholars would do well to always take the psychodynamic power of form into account in their analysis and critique of rhetorical action.


1. A parallel to this reading of Churchill's historic speech is an analysis of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address by the Shakespeare scholar Stephen Booth (1998). Just as Churchill has numerous inconspicuous deviations from ordinary idiomatic English, so also Booth finds that the "simple, straightforward" Address is in fact "full of small gratuitous stylistic perversities that complicate—but do not weaken—our perceptions of the continuity and connection that syntax, logic, and phonetic patterning assert" (38). According to Booth, these "perversities" make the hearer feel, on the one hand, that he fully grasps the speaker's meaning, but on the other hand that this meaning, paradoxically, has a depth and complexity beyond his normal reach.

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Indexing: Kenneth Burke's Method of Textual Analysis

David Erland Isaksen, University College of Southeast Norway

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Volume 11, Issue 2 Spring 2016

Contents of KB Journal Volume 11, Issue 2 Spring 2016

Dramatism, Musical Theatre Interpretation, and Popular Artistic Production

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


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

Dramatism, Musical Theatre Interpretation, and Popular Artistic Production

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

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

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

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

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

Musical Theatre Interpretation and Little Women, The Musical

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scene 3: Getting Ready for the Ball

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

At the Ball

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

After the Ball

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

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

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

Dramatism and Little Women: The Musical

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

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

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

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

Directorial Intent, Actors, and Identification

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

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

Pentad: Beth dies

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

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

Dramatism, Musical Theatre, and Popular Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooke: Really?
Does she like me?

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

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

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

Meg: So do I.
I understand you.

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

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

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

Motion, Action, and Staging

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Bruner's Development of Trouble

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

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

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

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

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

Looking For Trouble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trouble and Pentadic Ratios

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

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

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

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

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

Ontological Trouble and Epistemological Trouble

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

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


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

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

Works Cited

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

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

Valerie Lynn Schrader, Penn State Schuylkill


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extending Burke’s Cluster Criticism for Performative Texts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hegemony in Wicked: A Case Study

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

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


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

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

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

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

Aligning Oneself with Those in Power

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demoting Animals to Lower Level Positions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wicked New for KBJ

Cluster Criticism for Layered, Performative Texts: Moving Forward

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Introductory Note

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

Contextualization: The Nature of the Syrian Conflict

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

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

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

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

Clashing Cultural Narratives

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

Assad Narrative

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

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

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

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

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

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

Islamic Front

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

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

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

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

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

Assad and the Opposition: A Contrast in Drama

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

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

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

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

Bashar Al-Assad's Interview with Kucinich and Palkot

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

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

Dramatistic Elements of Assad's Interview

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

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

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

Founding Declaration of the Islamic Front

The Islamic Front's Foundational Statement

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

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

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

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

Dramatistic Elements of Opposition Discourse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clashing World Views: Dramatism and International Audience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Débora Antunes, University of Antwerp*


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

1. Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Burke's Identification

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table 1. Identification Taxonomies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burke summarise the three strategies in the following paragraph:

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

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

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

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

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

3. The Guy Fawkes Mask

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. The Headless Suit

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Anonymous' Signature

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

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

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

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

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

6. Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Christopher Carter, University of Cincinnati


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


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

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

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

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

The Heavens Weep: Thing Rhetoric

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corresponding Substances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like a Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Jonathan A. Cannon, Oklahoma State University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Making of Barack Obama: The Politics of Persuasion, ed. Matthew Abraham and Erec Smith. Reviewed by Jean Costanza Miller

Abraham, Matthew, and Erec Smith, eds. The Making of Barack Obama: The Politics of Persuasion. Anderson, SC:  Parlor Press, 2013. 243 pages. $27 (paperback); $60 (hardcover); $20 (ebook)

Reviewed by Jean Costanza Miller, The George Washington University

Some U.S. presidencies are more historical than others, and some may be more rhetorical than others. Certainly, the election and presidency of Barack Obama has captured the attention of rhetorical critics, both because of the historic nature of the first election of a man who identifies as African-American and because of the rhetorical and oratorical skill he exemplifies. The Making of Barack Obama: The Politics of Persuasion is a collection of essays dedicated to exploring the rhetorical moves made by Obama as he "made" himself in his first campaign for the presidency and in his first administration, particularly his first two years in office. The book includes an introductory overview of the importance of studying Obama from a rhetorical perspective, nine essays delving into Obama's rhetoric—either in particular speeches or in addressing particular issues, and a final reflective essay by David Frank that draws out lessons to be gleaned from the substantive essays.

As a whole, the essays represent a nuanced account of Obama's rhetorical strategies, strengths, and shortcomings. Representing criticism that ranges from situational to Ciceronian to constitutive analyses, the essays address not only the challenges Obama faced, but also the implications of his successes and failures. In the Editors' Introduction, Matthew Abraham and Erec Smith note that, "Obama seems to have mastered Burkean concepts such as identification and consubstantiality, as well as Perelman and Olbrecht-Tyteca's conception of adherence." Indeed, issues of identification and division, of presence and adherence, are brought to the fore in this collection, offering much food for thought for Burkean scholars interested in the rhetoric of Obama, and specifically, how his rhetorical moves strategically negotiated the dialectic tensions of identification and division. In this review, I will highlight three themes that emerge in the book that serve to encompass Obama's construction of himself and his audience within the context of his campaign and early presidency:  how he faced unique situational constraints, how he addressed complex composite audiences, and how he attempted to construct himself as consubstantial with his audience.

While all of the essays consider situational constraints facing Obama, two of the essays make Obama's response to particular situational constraints a more explicit focus. In the first essay of the book, Robert Rowland answers critical evaluations of Obama's domestic policy rhetoric by demonstrating that Obama's explicit and detailed explanations and justifications of his budget proposals, clearly argued and rhetorically sound cases for reform, failed not from a lack of rhetorical effort, but due to a long list of systemic and political constraints that made it all but impossible for Obama to win Congressional support for his domestic policy agenda. In his essay on Obama's response to Bush's statements on torture policy, Richard Marback argues that Obama's restrained and deliberative rhetoric appears weak and unpersuasive when contrasted with his predecessor's expansive presidential rhetoric that emphasized his role as the sovereign "decider." Marback makes the case that Bush's rhetoric functions as a constraint on Obama, who had the daunting task to "raise the level of rhetoric from rationalizing the sovereignty of the decider to encouraging the character of everyone" (159). These two essays importantly remind us of Burke's admonition that rhetoric, indeed, is contextual, and real material constraints exist. These essays highlight how Obama's choices in the face of these constraints define him as a pragmatic policy advocate.

A consistent constraint of presidential rhetoric is the need to address composite audiences. John Jasso and Anthony Wachs offer an intriguing account of Obama's relationship with Catholics by tracing his appointments to key social welfare and health care posts as symbolic acts that negotiate his relationship with dissident Catholics, the Catholic laity, and the Church hierarchy. Jasso and Wachs show how the shifting appointments and rhetoric surrounding them signal shifts in Obama's strategies for appealing to Catholics and non-Catholics, and open opportunities for different interpretations of that relationship. Michael Kleine explicitly addresses the composite audience in his analysis of Obama's West Point Address. Drawing on classical rhetorical theory, Kleine demonstrates that in this discussion of the war in Afghanistan, Obama establishes both his own authoritative presidential ethos and the ethos of the nation as a moral member of the world community by unifying policy factions through his use of narrative, argument, and refutation in support of a moderate policy claim. Both of these essays remind us of the importance of rhetoric as addressed, and thereby as a means of negotiating meanings among multiple audiences with different interests.
Perhaps particularly intriguing from a Burkean perspective are the essays that address how Obama identifies himself with, even embodies, the American collectivity, and how these attempts at identification ultimately demonstrate the simultaneous pull toward division. Courtney Jue's account of Obama's campaign rhetoric demonstrates how he met the demands of constitutive rhetoric by appealing to common values and constructing the audience as an historical subject, which led Americans to embrace his identity as their own. At the same time, the backlash by those who did not see themselves as part of Obama's "we" shows the persistence of division among composite audiences. In his analysis of the much analyzed "A More Perfect Union" speech, Erec Smith focuses on Obama's response to the Jeremiah Wright controversy as a kairotic moment through which he was not only able to establish himself as "a model American," but also to call for a more participatory democracy (102). Smith contributes a strong argument for the value of the speech in creating a "neutrality of culpability" that is prerequisite for effective citizen dialogue on race (108). These essays offer new insights into the identificatory and constitutive dimensions of Obama's discourse.

Several essays highlight the shortcomings of Obama's identification strategies. Steven Salaita offers a comprehensive account of the discourse of racial belonging in America, demonstrating how Obama's response to racialist discourses targeted at him actually allowed him to place himself within a normative construct of Americanism positioned against the "foreign" identities of Arab and Muslim, thereby reinforcing the very division he purported to overcome. In his critique of Obama's Cairo speech, Matthew Abraham notes the constraints Obama faced in appearing empathetic to the Arab world while maintaining absolute loyalty as an American. Abraham shows how Obama met those constraints through a rhetorical strategy that reinforced a "good Muslims" and "bad Muslims" distinction within his call for "a new beginning in East-West relations" (182). René Agustin De los Santos' analysis of Obama's speech at the 2009 Summit of the Americas draws on Zarefsky's account of presidential rhetoric as defining political reality to provide an insightful exploration of the barbarism/civilization dialectic that has characterized the history of U.S.-Latin American relations. De los Santos shows that Obama's rhetoric ultimately falls short by failing to break out of that historic dualism. These essays artfully critique Obama's strategies of identification by attending closely to his linguistic motives as he addresses particular audiences.

The Making of Barack Obama: The Politics of Persuasion has much to offer rhetorical scholars in general, and Burkean scholars in particular. Individually and as a whole, the essays attend carefully to context and audience dynamics to provide insightful readings of many important speeches and issues addressed in Obama's first campaign and first term. The essays are strongly theoretically grounded, offering the reader new insights into constitutive rhetoric, the rhetorical presidency, and cultural politics. In the final essay of the volume, David Frank gleans insight from each essay as he notes the uneven character of Obama's presidential rhetoric. The influence of Burke can be seen in Frank's statement that he leaves the book "inspired to think through how presidents deal with the challenge of reconciling opposites and the rhetorical problem of the composite audience" (212).

The strength of the volume is, indeed, in its pointing up of the oppositions, tensions, and ambiguities that for Burke are the "characteristic invitation to rhetoric." Clearly, the push and pull of identification and division characterize the rhetoric of Obama, but this volume also points us to issues of rhetorically negotiating stability and change, a necessary task for a president, if not a candidate. Ultimately, the essays in the book point us also to the rhetorical tension of authenticity and strategy. Where some see in Obama's discourse an authentic rhetoric of unity, others see a strategic exploitation of divisions. The rhetoric of the Obama presidency will certainly be analyzed for years to come, and this volume suggests that such critique will likely result in new questions, deeper understandings of presidential rhetoric, and conflicting insights and conclusions. Burke wouldn't have it any other way.

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

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

Reviewed by Michael Osborn, University of Memphis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

Raymond Blanton, The University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Benjamin Crosby,  Iowa State University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work Cited

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

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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 d