[KB] Conversation Editing Redux 3

Phillip Tompkins tompkinp at Colorado.EDU
Sat Jan 21 17:32:52 EST 2017


     I have been reading this exchange about "trouble" in the Pentad and
perhaps other constructs that Burke left us.  It seems to me that the
"trouble" is located mainly in the agents, and that reminded me of a written
exchange I had with KB.  In the 1970s I taught a freshman-level course in
rhetoric and communication at what is now called the University at Albany.
I began with the Definition of [Hu]man; the audio-visual people on campus
achieved a work of art illustrating it with sounds and sights.  Students
applauded it.  I sent a printed copy of it to KB in the hope we could
persuade him to visit our campus.

    "Thank you most cordially," his typewritten letter of November 16, 1974
began, "for your letter about my 'Definition of Man' and the charmingly
picturesque representation."  The second paragraph explained his delay in
responding to my letter.  The third paragraph began this way:

     "I might get at the point by saying that I have been thinking of
inserting one more clause in my Definition.  Probably between 'goaded by the
spirit of Hierarchy' and 'rotten with perfection,' I'd add 'acquiring
foreknowledge of death.'  It seems to be a notable distinctive aspect of
human motivation.  And maybe, in the last analysis, it is subsumed under the
term 'perfection,' in the somewhat ironic sense that, etymologically, the
'perfect' is the 'consummated,' the 'finished.'"

     This foreknowledge is located in the Agent, of course, where other
problems may be found.  KB went on to say that the thought of death had not
crept up on him in old age; "for thoughts of death exercised me most when I
was a child."  This letter has always meant to me that KB did not want us to
take his writings as "rotten with perfection," that he saw ways of improving
how he had expressed his basic ideas.  That means that we can enter into the
small drama of finding problems in that work, i.e., agency, and trying to
solve them.




From: KB [mailto:kb-bounces at kbjournal.org] On Behalf Of Edward C Appel
Sent: Friday, January 20, 2017 2:17 PM
To: kb at kbjournal.org
Subject: [KB] Conversation Editing Redux 3




          Thanks to Jim and Les for the ponderable points they raise. Will
get to them later. Want to keep on the trajectory I've begun.


          Continuing on with my "troublesome" reading of Burke:


          In addition to Burke's explicit, if elliptical, fastening of the
pentad to the manifest "Trouble," as I see it, suffusing the terms of the
guilt-redemption cycle (in "Terministic Screens"), Burke, in his
"collage-like" way (Tilly Warnock's descriptive for Burke's quirky style),
performs the same operation even more nonlinearly in his introduction to the
order terms in RR. Note in particular pages 180-188 in the chapter, "The
First Three Chapters of Genesis." These are the pages that come just before
and just after Burke's famous chart, "Cycle of Terms Implicit in the Idea of
'Order'" (p. 184). Just prior to introducing those guilt-redemption terms in
elaborated form, Burke harks back to the pentad in order to show its
inadequacy, by itself, for giving a full picture of "verbal action." Burke
says, on page 180, "The most general starting point for the Dramatistic
cycle of terms would be in the term 'act.'" Burke goes on to reference "the
many kinds of 'rationally' purposive motion" that might implicitly follow
from the idea of an "act." One example: God's act of Creation.


          However, Burke says, this "general," high-abstraction start for
the "Dramatistic cycle of terms" would, by itself, "not serve our present
purpose," which will be putting "stress upon 'sin' or 'guilt.' Frankly, it
[the pentad] would not be morbid enough."


          Morbid: etymologically, diseased. "Of, relating to, or
characteristic of disease. Abnormally susceptible to or characterized by
gloomy or unwholesome feelings" (the Collegiate, p. 807).


          How, once again, did Burke describe that "route" down which the
notion of an "act," and therefore all the other "general" pentadic terms the
notion of an "act" inevitably suggests, that "route" toward, also, on
presumably a less-general level of abstraction---how did Burke language that
slippery slope downward that "always" draws us on to, or efforts to
withstand or guard against, some measure or intensity of "conflict" and
"victimage," i.e., full-fledged "drama"? It is the "gloomy route," the
"morbid" route, some manifestation of the endemic "disease" of human


          "Morbid[ity]," "disease": analogous terms for "Trouble" in Burke's
"reenvisioning," if you will,


          On p. 17 in PLF, Burke invokes "disease" as literally construed,
yes, but also, I think, as metaphor, equivalent to the "burden" or
"discomfiture" that Burke indicates serves as, what, the "trouble" (?) that
initiates one's drama. Burke goes on, then, to articulate this general axiom
of dramatic criticism: ". . . The true locus of assertion is not in the
DISEASE [initiating conflict, complication, violation, burden, "Trouble"],
but in the STRUCTURAL POWERS by which the poet encompasses it" [read:
victimage, sacrifice, of self or other or both]" (p. 18, emphasis in


          Disease or "sickness," with its "symptoms," as Burke's terms,
metaphorically employed or not, for the "Trouble" that prompts and
exacerbates human dramatic conflict is highlighted in both endings of the
Grammar (pp. 317, 443).  Hence Burke's prescription for "hypochondriasis" as
salubrious ATTITUDE or regimen for coping with such symptoms, if not
"curing" this endemic epidemic. "Hypochondriasis: the attitude of a patient
who makes peace with his [sic] symptoms by becoming interested in them."


          In explaining in RR the operations of the guilt-redemption terms,
Burke cannot get away from use of the pentad/hexad, nor can anyone else. The
two paradigms of action are inextricably related in general discussion. Only
by studied abstraction can the pentad be so detached, isolated, and employed
for critical use. See especially p. 188 in RR for such an integrated usage.


          Here's the thing, though, that dawns on me in respect to the
article in question in the KBJ. The authors are, as I see it, surely right
that "Trouble," no matter how it's phrased, drives the drama. But, also,
they are calling attention, perhaps indirectly, but still calling attention,
to a seemingly huge lacuna in the case Burke makes in the Grammar. What in
the foregoing text prepares us for, especially, the first ending, the one
that comes after the "Philosophic Schools"? Where is the "Trouble" in the
Grammar that explains Burke's conclusion that symbolic facility should be
likened to a "sickness" that fosters "absurd ambitions" that are dangerous
for humankind and likely unstoppable? As the authors suggest, such "Trouble"
is not in the Grammar as carefully developed analysis. The negative, the
motive of perfection, the terms for order thoroughly anatomized, theological
impetus as master screen and temptation that, when immanentized in pursuit
of some ultimate secular reverence in this imperfect world---i.e.,
"logology"---these later obsessions of Burke's that would more clearly
justify the dire warning Burke makes on pp. 317-20 are nowhere present in
argumentative relevance, even in Burke's brief treatment of the "negative"
under "Agency and Purpose" (pp. 294-97).


          For someone reading the Grammar in isolation, too much seems to be
missing from that book to support something of a prologue to the Helhaven
Papers of the early 1970s. Such a prologue is what Burke seems to be
suggesting in those two endings to the Grmmar. The Helhaven Papers appear
after the lineaments of logology have been drawn. 


          More later, perhaps, on the pentad as separate critical tool, on
the ubiquity in Burke of the dramatic terms for order way BEFORE Burke gets
to the Grammar and its airy pentad, and therefore the question, could the
pentad be seen rather as the "reenvisioning" of the messy nitty-gritties of
sacrifical drama?


          Inquiring minds want to know.





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