reviews

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

Review: The Chameleon President by Clarke Rountree

Four Ways of Looking at Eleven Ways of Looking

Clarke Rountree, The Chameleon President: The Curious Case of George W. Bush. Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2013.

Jason C. Thompson, University of Wyoming

In 1917 Wallace Stevens published “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” a poem that, in presenting alternative perspectives of a mundane act, argues not for the narrative construction of one singular and edifying meaning, but for the intellectual possibility of perspectivism: in place of a distinct narrator’s voice, thirteen narrators speak, a literary prefiguration of the “virtual camera” that pioneered Bullet Time® in the 1999 film The Matrix.

Review: Rhetorical Listening by Krista Ratcliffe

Ratcliffe, Krista. Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005. 248 pages.

Steven M. Pedersen, Oklahoma State University

During the 2005 Kenneth Burke Conference at Penn State, I was lucky enough to meet Donald Jennerman, who told me stories about knowing Kenneth Burke. One in particular has always stayed with me. It has to do with Burke’s notion of the negative. The story goes that, as a child, Burke’s grandmother would follow him around the house and any time Burke would touch or grab something he wasn’t supposed to, his grandmother would shake her index finger and say, “You musn’t.” This experience of listening to his grandmother, as I understand it, was the genesis of his later theories of the negative.

Review: Pragmatist Politics by John McGowan

McGowan, John. Pragmatist Politics: Making the Case for Liberal Democracy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Paul Stob, Department of Communication Studies, Vanderbilt University

John McGowan’s Pragmatist Politics draws upon the pragmatist tradition—primarily the work of William James, John Dewey, and Kenneth Burke—to formulate a liberal democratic politics for the twenty-first century. At least that’s the overt aim of the book. But what may stand out most to readers of KB Journal is how McGowan seems intent on crafting an attitude. In formulating a pragmatist politics, McGowan fails to explicate political programs and initiatives, he disregards the nuts and bolts of democratic negotiation, and he provides no real strategies for building grassroots coalitions. What he does—and what he does admirably—is present readers with a pragmatist attitude that will, he hopes, come to permeate public culture. This attitude leaps off the page in the book’s introduction as McGowan foregrounds the writers who will help him construct a pragmatist politics:

Review: Moving Bodies by Debra Hawhee

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

Patricia Fancher, Clemson University

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