Kenneth Burke and the Gargoyles of Language: Perspective by Incongruity and the Transvaluation of Values in Counter-Statement and Permanence and Change

Jeremy Cox
The University of Texas Permian Basin


Ideas of transgression and transvaluation were central to Kenneth Burke’s early writing and the development of his critical method of “perspective by incongruity.” During the 1930s, Burke was concerned with the impact that art and criticism could have on the tumultuous Depression-era politics in which he was living. For him, language in general—and literature more specifically—can provide a vital corrective for a society trapped within its own misapplied terminologies. While Permanence and Change is typically considered to mark a shift in Kenneth Burke’s interest from the socio-aesthetics of Counter-Statement to the critical inquiry of language itself, this paper argues that Burke’s method of perspective by incongruity links the two works together as parts of a common project. Reading these works alongside archival material from the intervening period between their publications shows that Burke’s initial concern with the radical potential of poetic invention evolved into a more general means of affecting social change.

The publication of Permanence and Change marked a shift in Kenneth Burke’s interest from the socio-aesthetics of Counter-Statement to the critical inquiry of language itself (see Selzer; Hansen; Prelli,; Scruggs; Hawhee; Jay; Weiser; Quandahl). Running through both of these works, however, is a persistent concern with the political and social ramifications of “trained incapacities,” which he describes as “that state of affairs whereby one s very abilities can function as blindnesses” (PC 7).1 This concern led to his development of a method for disrupting ossified symbol-systems, which he called “perspective by incongruity.” Scholars have used this method to great effect in analyzing pieces of discourse or developing rhetorical theory.2 However, despite the fact that “perspective by incongruity is the method of his early work,” (Blankenship et. al. 4) to date none have deliberately charted its development in his early writings, particularly its evolution from a general concern with the aesthetic “transvaluation of values” into a symbolic means of affecting social and political change.3 The following is an attempt to re-suture Burke’s two early works together under the rubric of a common concern with the agency of symbolic transformation. Below, I argue that the genesis of Burke's method of perspective by incongruity can be found in Counter-Statement, and represents a central preoccupation of the author during his early career as a rhetorical theorist. Archival material suggests that the development of his method was a continuing project for Burke in the time between the publication of Counter-Statement and Permanence and Change, linking the works together as two parts of a common enterprise. I first discuss Burke’s writing on the transvaluation of values in Counter-Statement and chart its continued development in his personal writings during the intervening years between the publications of his first and second books. I then connect these concerns to Burke’s preoccupation with the concept of “piety” as it first appears in Permanence and Change. Finally, I conclude by discussing Burke’s perspective by incongruity as a method for engaging in the type of transgressive rhetoric that he first discussed in his early criticism.

Burke and the Transvaluation of Values

In both Counter-Statement and Permanence and Change, Burke articulates an interest in the “transvaluation of values,” a reference to the Nietzschean inversion of good and evil outlined in Beyond Good and Evil and On the Genealogy of Morals. Hawhee has written on the affinity Burke displayed for Nietzsche in the 1920’s and 30’s, particularly as it surfaced in Permanence and Change (Hawhee; see also Crusius). Burke's affinity, however, stretches back earlier than Hawhee discusses in her essay, surfacing in his earliest book, Counter-Statement. Burke first mentions the transvaluation of values in an essay on the French modernist author Remy de Gourmont titled “The Status of Art.” In Burke’s telling, the nineteenth-century obsession with “utility” had resulted in a socio-political context in which art had been relegated to the status of  a solipsistic game of aesthetic appearances. As a result, art was considered essentially “unmoral,” in that it was believed to have no material effect on the socio-political context in which it operated (CS 65). As Burke states, this characterization of art’s “unmorality” was “a threat to the prestige of art…since it implied…the ineffectiveness of art” (CS 64). De Gourmont, by contrast, defended art on the grounds of it being “immoral," or “not merely useless, but positively subversive to social ends” (CS 65). To Burke, de Gourmont’s insights represented a complete “reversal of standards” in which “the outlaws [i.e. artists] were in reality the true preservers of the good” (CS 65). Central to Burke’s reading of de Gourmont was the latter’s insistence that art retained an ability to shock, challenge, and be “forceful” (CS 65) in society by “making people seek what they customarily fled and flee what they customarily sought” (CS 67). As Selzer explains, “Counter-Statement ultimately upholds art not as self-expression but as communication, not as self-contained and autonomous object but as moral and civic force” (31). For Burke, art’s marginalization under conditions of modernity had granted it a unique agency, allowing the artist to surreptitiously influence social structures by working toward the kind of transvaluation of values in which he envisioned de Gourmont (and others) engaging. For him, the “minor” status of both the artist and their work does not discount the pivotal role that such transvaluations may effect. He argues, “a single book, were it to greatly influence one man in a position of authority, could thus indirectly alter the course of a nation; and similarly the group that turns to ‘minority’ art may be a ‘pivotal’ group” (CS 71). Key to the success of such political transvaluation is the alignment of motives between an artist and their audience, which occurs through a confluence of text, situation, and opportune timing. As Burke states, “the ‘times were ripe’ for a Byron; but Byronism radiated from an individual” (CS 72). Given this necessary confluence of factors as a predicate of artistic influence, the question becomes: When, and why, engage in the transvaluation of values? For Burke, the answer is simple: “when the emphasis of society has changed, new symbols are demanded to formulate new complexities” (CS 59). Periods of social, scientific, and political upheaval—times which call for new symbols to help individuals cope with alterations to their life conditions—represent kairotic moments, in which the artist can (and should) engage in a transvaluation of values. Having staked this position on the telos of art, Burke shifts his concern to the expediency of such a radical poetical-rhetorical program.

The radical injection of a transvaluative rhetoric into a moment of social and/or political strife would seem akin to a strategy of pouring gasoline on a fire to control the burn. Burke indeed acknowledges the radicalness of transvaluation in “Program,” an essay in which he “turned [his attention] to the attitudes and material conditions which he felt ought to be addressed by artists in the midst of the crisis of the Great Depression” (Selzer 36). In it, he states, “the Fascists, the hopeful, the propounders of business culture, believe that the future lies in perfecting the means of control”(CS 115). The social and political tumult of the early twentieth century—particularly the rise of the corporate class and the growing rhetorical power of the positivistic sciences—was a moment in which Burke believed the “rationale of art” (PC 66) could serve as a corrective. This rationale rejects the monovocality of the ruling classes in favor of a discordant, chaotic, multitudinous, democracy. For Burke, “the democrat, the negativist, the man who thinks of power as something to be ‘fought,’ has no hope in perfection—as the ‘opposition,’ his nearest approach to a doctrine is the doctrine of interference” (PC 115). The oppositional voice of the artist should thus serve as “the corrective of the scientific rationalization” by inculcating “an art of living” (PC 66). For Burke, the corrective to what he saw as an overly rationalized ‘perfectionism’ of the corporate and scientific establishments could be found in the artist who would seek to undermine their systems of control “by wit, by fancy, by anathema, by versatility” (CS 115). To effect this type of change, Burke argues that it is necessary for the artist to engage in a practice of linguistic transgression—“When in Rome, do as the Greeks—when in Europe, do as the Chinese” (CS 119)—that stresses the value of the multitudinous over that of uniformity and control. Burke’s ‘program’ was, fundamentally, about creating division to counter the monolith of capitalist production.

Burke’s proposal for an aesthetics aimed at undermining the foundations of capitalism was undoubtedly idealistic. His deeper concern, however, was with preventing “society from becoming too assertively, too hopelessly, itself,” (CS 105) an idea that would come to inform much of his later work (see “Definition”). What Burke envisioned in his critiques of early twentieth-century capitalism was a society at risk of falling into traps of its own making. Because his concerns were still largely aesthetic, his diagnosis both for how such situations come to be, and how to correct them, revolved around the symbolic. As Burke argues in “Lexicon Rhetoricae,” symbols both “interpret”(CS 154) a situation, and serve as “the corrective of a situation” (CS 155). Any program aimed at altering an established social order had to take place on a symbolic level, where the “increase of perception and sensitivity” can be affected through the deliberate introduction of new terminologies with which to understand our situation (CS 182).

Burke’s concern with the rhetorical process of altering perspectives by adjusting terminologies was present during the earliest moments in his shift from aesthetic to rhetorical considerations. By the early 1930s he had come to supplement his program for creating productive divisions with an equal concern for establishing unity. In an unpublished essay from 1933 titled “Five Genealogists of Morals,” Burke builds upon this idea, discussing the “neo-catholistic” process of conversion whereby enemies are transformed into allies through a shift in symbols. He states:

the basis of a neo-catholistic movement, it seems to me, would be a technique of conversion, whereby mere differences of terminology would not be mistaken as differences of aim or reference. It is not truly catholistic to say: “Join my party and we shall be cronies.” The genuinely catholistic must be based upon a device for dissolving factions. This requires considerable sophistication as to the nature of linguistic symbolism…Human society is imbedded in the texture of speech: hence, our attitudes toward human problems should ever be based upon a concern for this rudimentary factor.4

The fundamental practice for altering human relations had to be, for him, rooted in the realm of the symbolic since language was the foundation upon which society was built. Social change could not be affected through division alone since that could result in an increase in factionalism and, subsequently, conflict. Rather, new vocabularies aimed at dissolving tensions between agonistic parties would have to be created within the context of democracy’s “babble of discordant voices” (CS 114). While Burke first began developing this program of artistic and political praxis in Counter-Statement, it was not until the publication of Permanence and Change in 1935 that he fully developed the theory and methodology that would encompass such a course of action.

Trained Incapacities and (Im)Piety

In Permanence and Change,Burke continued to developed his ideas about the symbolic means of affecting a transvaluation of values he first articulated in Counter-Statement. While his primary concern in Counter-Statement was the role of the artist in relation to society, in Permanence and Change he shifted his focus to the symbolic, or communication in general. Burke was particularly concerned with the ways by which individuals become trapped in symbol-systems of their own making, which, for him, is the result of an orientation gone awry. As he states, “orientation is … a bundle of judgments as to how things were, how they are, and how they may be,” (PC 14) and like most things in life, “orientation can go wrong” (PC 6). This is not, however, simply a matter of people making poor judgements. Rather, the kind of mis-orientations with which Burke was concerned arise from symbolic orders that were, at some point, an effective means of dealing with a particular set of circumstances. In other words, something that used to work has since become counterproductive. The reasons for this can be located in how all symbolic systems tend to ossify across time, and/or are misapplied to areas in which they have no business being used. For evidence of this phenomenon, Burke urges us to consider “what conquest over the environment we have attained through our powers of abstraction, of generalization; and then consider the stupid national or racial wars which have been fought precisely because these abstractions were mistaken for realities” (PC 6). Borrowing from Veblen, Burke termed these phenomena “trained incapacities,” or “the state of affairs whereby one’s very abilities can function as blindnesses” (PC 7). Symbolic frameworks that proved initially successful in dealing with some specific situation are then built into grand systems of thought demanding adherence to prescribed rules, norms, procedures, and values. Burke termed adherence to these totalizing systems of thought “piety.”

Piety, according to Burke, is “a desire to round things out, to fit experiences together into a unified whole. Piety is the sense of what properly goes with what” (PC 74).   Psychologically, it is experienced as “the yearning to conform with the ‘sources of one’s being’” (PC 69). Individuals acting in a particular social context will willingly conform to expected modes of behavior, not merely as a nod to social convention, but also as something deeply felt. Furthermore, the manner in which our behaviors are made to conform to normative social frameworks often remain “concealed from us because we think…that the ‘pious process’ is confined to the sphere of churchliness” (PC 75). Burke extends the notion of piety to encompass areas beyond religion, noting that an adherence to standards of vulgarity in vulgar situations is itself a kind of “piety.” In an fragment from an unpublished paper titled “Naming in Nietzsche,” (written sometime between 1925-1935) Burke expresses the extent to which piety affects even the avowedly impious, stating, “not even an atheist would care to shout in Church – and there are many concepts which make us unwittingly lower our voices or doff our hats or stand at attention, etc” (“Naming”). Burke returned to this line of reasoning in Permanence and Change, explaining, “Where you discern the symptoms of great devotion to any kind of endeavor, you are in the realm of piety” (PC 83).

Pieties work over time to create and reinforce trained incapacities since the seemingly appropriate response to a situation may actually be a hindrance to the necessary course of action for addressing some pressing exigence. In other words, our sense of what is and is not “appropriate” is itself a result of our various pieties. As Burke explains, “Piety is a schema of orientation, [which] involves the putting together of experiences. The orientation may be right or wrong; it can guide or misguide” (PC 83). At a snake-handling revival, for example, the most appropriate course of action would be to shout, “Stop, for goodness sake, and think about what you are doing!,” regardless of the perceived “impiousness” of such a pronouncement.5 Because of the pull of piety, however, it is doubtful that such a reaction would even occur to those caught in the grip of their serpentine-driven fervor. When these insights are extended into the realms of politics, economics, or ethics, it becomes apparent how misguided orientations can become closed off “self-perpetuating structure[s]”  (PC 262) across time. In such situations, “piety” is an active impediment to the actual improvement of one's situation.

In the concluding chapter of Permanence and Change, Burke summarized the book as being an attempt to “consider the many ramifications implicit in the statement that ‘our thoughts and acts are affected by our interests’” (262). As he makes clear throughout the work, our perceived “interests” are themselves shaped and constrained by our pious adherence to systems that may be hindrances to our actual interests (e.g., our ongoing reliance on the conveniences provided by fossil fuels in the face of unmitigated climate change). Burke was not satisfied with merely considering the various ways in which “our interests” can entrap us in systems of our own making; he also sought a corrective. Building on the work begun in Counter-Statement, Burke saw that this corrective would have to take shape within the realm of the symbolic.As he notes in “Five Genealogists of Morals,” (a work that shares strong similarities to Permanence and Change), “Our thinking may be dictated by our ‘interests’ – but our ‘interests’ themselves are not absolute, they change color in accordance with the terms by which we define them.” The corrective to our pious self-entrapment in a particular symbolic order can be found in our capacity for inverting its values by changing the terms in which they are defined. At this point, we have arrived back where Burke left off in Counter-Statement: The transvaluation of values through the inversion of terminological systems. If pieties can work through symbolic means to reinforce trained incapacities, then challenges to such totalizing systems of thought have to begin on the symbolic level. In Permanence and Change Burke detailed the manner in which this transgressive program can be enacted.

Perspective by Incongruity, or the Method of Making Gargoyles

To summarize the argument so far, trained incapacities are rooted in our natural tendency to carry terminologies beyond the realms in which they are meant to operate. This natural tendency leads individuals to discount alternative perspectives that do not align with their habitual symbolic frameworks, preferring the warm embrace of piety over that which would challenge their established worldview. This is because the “correctness” or “incorrectness” of a particular orientation is not derived from its innate characteristics, but rather from its alignment with a particular symbolic order. In other words, “we are logical (logos: word) when we specifically state the nature of a problem and then go see within the terms of this specific statement” (PC 84). This is to say that the terms by which we define a situation shape subsequent understandings of it and delineate what does and does not count as a “logical” or “correct" assessment. As Burke explains, “the universe would appear to be something like a cheese; it can be sliced in an infinite number of ways—and when one has chosen his own pattern of slicing, he finds that other men’s cuts fall at the wrong places” (PC 103). Furthermore, the misapplication of those same terms to another, divergent situation will appear, to the individual symbol-user, as a perfectly natural extension of their original terminologies. To build on Burke’s metaphor, it doesn’t matter that brie and ricotta are different cheeses, the same manner of “slicing” will appear perfectly reasonable to the committed cheese-slicer (regardless of its actual efficacy). In such situations, what had initially proved successful will become a “trained incapacity,” or the misapplication of a symbolic order to a situation for which it was never intended, and which may produce counterproductive, or even harmful, effects. For Burke, since such maladies occur on the level of the symbolic, only a symbolic cure will fit the bill.

To counter such maladaptive pieties, Burke proposed a method of “perspective by incongruity,” which he describes variously as “verbal ‘atom cracking’” (ATH 308), a “way of transcending a given order of weightedness” (PC liv), and “methodic merger of particles that had been considered mutually exclusive” (PC lv). Archival documents shed additional light on how Burke arrived at his method. In a typed note titled “Perspective by Incongruity,” Burke appears to have numerically listed twenty-two separate descriptions of his method, each one approaching it from a slightly different angle. In it, he states that perspective by incongruity “serves the purpose of revealing hidden classifications” by way of a “principle of amplification,” which may have “‘heuristic value’ even in the deliberately erroneous” (“Perspective”). Burke returned to this line of thinking in Permanence and Change, arguing that perspective by incongruity is “heuristic insofar as we see close at hand the things we had formerly seen from afar, and vice versa” (124). In all, Burke’s method is meant to reorient individuals to their surroundings by linking together terms typically perceived as being incongruous. As he was developing these ideas, Burke created his own incongruous analogy for his method, ascribing to it the “combinative power of a gargoyle” (“Perspective”).

To develop his method of perspective by incongruity, Burke once again turned to the world of literature, where he saw “the humorists, the satirists, the writers of the grotesque, all contributed to this work with varying degrees of systematization, giving us new insights by such deliberate misfits [of language]” (PC 91). The discomfitures resulting from such seemingly “absurd” parings of incongruous terms effect a reorientation—a moment of pause—in a reader. Taken-for-granted categories of thinking innate to a given “piety” are upset by the application of a term to an area in which it is traditionally thought to be ill-fitted. As Burke states, “the merging of categories once felt to be mutually exclusive” is “the realm of ‘gargoyles’” (PC 69). In a hand-scrawled note written between the publication of Counter-Statement and Permanence and Change, Burke extends this analogy by reasoning that “gargoyles were probably ‘unified by philosophy’ – that is: parts of animals clearly dissociated in nature were put together in accordance with some common quality which they shared in the [domain?] of symbolism” (“Gargoyle”). He picks up this line of reasoning again in Permanence and Change, explaining:

The gargoyles of the Middle Ages were typical instances of planned incongruity. The maker of gargoyles who put man’s-head on bird-body was offering combinations which were completely rational as judged by his logic of essences. In violating one order of classification, he was stressing another. (112)

This is a crucial point for Burke, in that the terms fused together through the application of his method are already symbolically linked on some level through a shared characteristic or association. Perspective by incongruity is unsettling, but not arbitrary.

Interwoven with Burke’s use of the gargoyle analogy is a discussion of the “grotesque.” For him, the grotesque is a “further step in [the] incongruous” (“Perspective”) in that it “tends to be revolutionary” in orientation (PC 112). The deployment of the grotesque as a rhetorical strategy is therefore inherently radical since the very appearance of “grotesqueness” is rooted in it how it challenges some prevailing piety. For Burke, a turn toward the grotesque as a form of critique tends to surface in situations in which the prevailing symbolic order has already come under assault. As he explains, “Grotesque inventions flourish when it is easiest to imagine the grotesque, or when it is hardest to imagine the classical...One sees perspectives beyond the structure of a given vocabulary when that structure is no longer firm” (PC 117). In instances in which a culture’s pieties come into question, grotesque inversions—the transvaluation of values—suddenly become not only thinkable, but more “rational” than their counterparts. This suggests that, for Burke, radical acts of perspective by incongruity may not always be readily available to a rhetor. Rather, “grotesque” inversions of a piety cluster around kairotic moments in which the assumptions of the prevailing order have lost their appearance of stability. At such moments, dominant symbol-structures may be inverted through the “gargoyling” of language, “merging things which common sense had divided by dividing things which common sense had merged” (PC 113). As a means of demonstrating this principle, Burke ingeniously deployed his own perspective by incongruity, the gargoyle metaphor itself.

While Burke’s method of perspective by incongruity provides valuable insight into the ways in which language functions to reorient perspectives, it is not without philosophical antecedents. As mentioned above, in developing his method Burke was heavily influenced by Nietzsche. In a note written sometime before the publication of Permanence and Change, he discusses Nietzsche’s proclivity for perspective shifting, stating, “Nietzsche used this continual shifting of epithet to attain “unmoral” perspectives by the juxtaposition of the morally incongruous” (“Naming”). This represents perhaps the first instance in which Burke begins merging the terms “perspective” and “incongruity” into a formula for altering symbolic relations. In Permanence and Change, he notes:

Nietzsche, we learn in his Will to Power, was interested in the establishment of trying to analyze just what he meant by them, I came upon reasons for relating his cult of perspectives to his dartlike style. It was in the explanation of this that I came upon the term, “Perspective by Incongruity.” (88, emphasis added)

It would appear that the “explanation” to which Burke is referring is “Naming in Nietzsche.” In the note, Burke charts the method by which Nietzsche formulated his famous “transvaluation of values,” giving special attention to the manner in which the philosopher used terminology to upend ossified orientations. He notes how Nietzsche “would borrow an epithet belonging to a certain ‘moral set-up’ and would use it to modify a concept generally considered as belonging to another ‘moral set-up’” (“Naming”). The result of such gargoyling of language was the amplification of previously hidden values, interests, and assumptions through a process of “purification by excess; dip him in the river who loves water; give him enough of it that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and so die; cure a bad habit by forcing indulgence” (“Naming”). As a result, “weighted words” would be destroyed through “an over-exaggerated use of their ‘weightings’” (“Naming”). Like Nietzsche, Burke conceived of his method as a means of “cracking the atoms” of pieties so that they might be replaced by symbol-systems more in-tune to the times in which we are living.

Burke’s continual development of his method in the time between when he wrote Counter-Statement and Permanence and Change can be clearly seen in his notes from these intervening years. In the note titled “Perspective by Incongruity,” he analogizes his method to a “Judas-kiss, [a] simple reversal of character” (“Perspective”). In “Naming in Neitzsche,” Burke notes the “opening of perspective by the deliberate violation of congruity” found in writers like Freud and Bentham (“Naming”). In his estimation, however, we must be on guard against a singular concern with “downward' shifts in perspective” that only see value in profaning the sacred (“Naming”). Perspectives by incongruity should instead “be up and down, and across, ever on the alert to violate the unsuspected cannons of speech (of ‘good taste’) which even the supposedly most ‘uncultured’ scrupulously obey” (“Naming”). As he later notes in Permanence and Change, even street-corner hoodlums adhere to their own brand of piety, and a perspective by incongruity overly concerned with the continuous debasing of “upward” systems will soon develop into a piety of its own (77). For Burke, transgression is a two (or three, or even four) way street.

Perspective by incongruity is “aimed at some aspect of our pious orientations, ferreting out the last ultimate assumption which we may have let go unquestioned” (PC 87). This is done by utilizing metaphors that are designed to reveal “relationships between objects which our customary rational vocabulary has ignored” (PC 90). The use of such metaphoric pairings is readily apparent in Burke’s own corpus—e.g. “the bureaucratization of the imaginative”; “terministic screens”; “the delights of faction”; “the human barnyard," etc.— each designed to reveal some hitherto overlooked aspect of a particular phenomenon. In Counter-Statement, Burke considered such perspective-shifting to be the exclusive realm of the artist. By the time he published Permanence and Change, however, Burke extended his theory to encompass a much broader range of human activity. As he notes in “Perspective by Incongruity,” “scientists, like poets, make new metaphors. Whole centuries of thinkers may be devoted to writing a given metaphor over and over, in all its possible restatements. Thus with: man is like a God – or man is like a plant – or man is like a machine” (“Perspective”). This idea eventually found its way into Permanence and Change, wherein Burke argues:

Indeed, as the documents of science pile up, are we not coming to see that whole works of scientific research, even entire schools, are hardly more than the patient repetition, in all its ramifications, of a fertile metaphor? Thus we have, at different eras in history, considered man as the son of God, as an animal, as a political or economic brick, as a machine, each metaphor, and a hundred others, serving as the cue for an unending line of data and generalizations. (95)

Burke, of course, would eventually throw his own hat into this ring with his definition of man as the “symbol using animal” (“Definition”). The utility of such metaphors is found in their ability to “[bring] out the emphases needed for handling present necessities.” For him, it was a playful method with serious implications—a “methodology of the pun” (ATH 262) which “links by tonal association words hitherto unlinked” (309). In sum, perspective by incongruity fulfills the transvaluative program he first outlined in Counter-Statement. By “impiously” challenging customary symbolic-linguistic patterns, Burke’s method reopens taken for granted perspectives for critical inquiry and dialogue.


The above discussion adds to our understanding of Burke’s corpus by displaying the way in which the ideas of transgression and the “transvaluation of values” were central to his early writings, and the development of his critical method of perspective by incongruity. During the 1930s, Burke was concerned with the impact that art and criticism could have on the tumultuous Depression-era politics in which he was living. For him, language in general—and literature more specifically—can provide a vital corrective for a society trapped within its own misapplied terminologies. The use of perspective by incongruity “cracks the atoms” of inherited symbolic orders by inviting us to rethink old assumptions in new ways. By inverting established symbolic orders, what at first appears normal and stale can suddenly become strange and new. 


1. For a detailed discussion of Burke’s use of Veblen’s concept of trained incapacities, see Erin Wais, “Trained Incapacity: Thorstein Veblen and Kenneth Burke,” KB Journal 2, no.1 (2005).

2. For examples of the varied uses of perspective by incongruity in rhetorical scholarship, see: Allen and Faigley, “Discursive Strategies for Social Change: An Alternative Rhetoric of Argument”; Wedbee,“Perspective by Incongruity in Norman Thomas’s ‘Some Wrong Roads to Peace’”; Miller,“Plymouth Rock Landed on Us: Malcolm X’s Whiteness Theory as a Basis for Alternative Literacy”; Lowrey et. al.,“‘When God Gives You AIDS ... Make Lemon-AIDS’: Ironic Persona and Perspective by Incongruity in Sarah Silverman’s Jesus is Magic”; Duerringer, “Using Perspective by Incongruity to Crack Invisible Whiteness”; Tully, “‘Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Don’t Rape’: Subverting Postfeminist Logics on Inside Amy Schumer”; Morrissey, “The Incongruities of Queer Decorum: Exploring Gabriel García Román’s Queer Icons”; Anderson, “Deflowering the voting virgin: Piety, political advertising, and the pleasure prerogative”; Pfister, “Against the Droid's “Instrument of Efficiency,” For Animalizing Technologies in a Posthumanist Spirit”; Coles, “The Exorcism of Language: Reclaimed Derogatory Terms and Their Limits”; McCarthy, “A Burkean Reading of the Antigone: Comical and Choral Transcendence”;Gore, “Attitudes Toward Money in Kenneth Burke’s Dialog in Heaven Between The Lord and Satan.”

3. Closely related to this, however, have been analyses of Burke’s theory of perspective by incongruity as compared to similar theories by other writers. For examples of this approach, see: Anders, "Pragmatisms by Incongruity: ‘Equipment for Living’ from Kenneth Burke to Gilles Deleuze”; Henderson, “Dialogism Versus Monologism: Burke, Bakhtin, and the Languages of Social Change.”

4. The underlined portions of materials from the Burke archives are all found in the original documents.

5. Author’s note: Having grown up in rural West Texas, I can assure you that these things do happen.

Works Cited

Allen, Julia M. and Lester Faigley. “Discursive Strategies for Social Change: An Alternative Rhetoric of Argument.” Rhetoric Review, vol. 14, no. 1, 1995, pp. 142-172.

Anders, Abram. ”Pragmatisms by Incongruity: ‘Equipment for Living’ from Kenneth Burke to Gilles Deleuze,” KB Journal, vol. 7, no. 2, 2007.

Anderson, Karrin Vasby. “Deflowering the Voting Virgin: Piety, Political Advertising, and the Pleasure Prerogative.” Quarterly Journal of Speech,vol. 103, no. 2, 2017, pp. 160–181.

Blankenship, Jane, Edward Murphy, and Marie Rosenwasser. “Pivotal Terms in the Early Works of Kenneth Burke.” Philosophy & Rhetoric, vol. 7, no. 1, 1974, pp. 1-24.

Burke, Kenneth. Counter-Statement.University of California Press, 1968.

—. “Definition of Man.” Language as Symbolic Action. University of California Press, 1966.

—. “Five Genealogists of Morals.” Kenneth Burke papers, 06369, Eberly Family Special Collections Library, Pennsylvania State University.

—. “Gargoyle and Linkage” Kenneth Burke papers, 06369, Eberly Family Special Collections Library, Pennsylvania State University.

—. “Naming in Nietzsche.” Kenneth Burke papers, 06369, Eberly Family Special Collections Library, Pennsylvania State University.

—. Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose. University of California Press, 1965.

—. “Perspective by Incongruity,” Kenneth Burke papers, 06369, Eberly Family Special Collections Library, Pennsylvania State University.

Coles, Gregory. “The Exorcism of Language: Reclaimed Derogatory Terms and Their Limits,” College English, vol. 78, no. 5, 2016, pp. 424-446.

Crusius, Timothy. “The Question of Kenneth Burke’s Identity: AndPermanenceandChange.” JAC, vol. 18, no. 3, 1998, pp. 449-61.

Duerringer, Christopher. “Using Perspective by Incongruity to Crack Invisible Whiteness.” Communication Teacher, vol. 28, no. 2, 2014, pp. 75–79.

Gore, David. “Attitudes Toward Money in Kenneth Burke’s Dialog in Heaven Between The Lord and Satan,” KB Journal, vol. 5, no. 2, 2009.

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