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 (www.rhetoricculture.org), go even further back in time when they write that “new rhetoric becomes a constitutive art ‘that not only moulds individual personality but creates and sustains culture and community’ and the ideal of a new rhetorical pedagogy can therefore also be seen as ‘the preparation of the citizen and the formation of community [which is] reminiscent of the older sophists and their successors’” (p. 740).

It is from here that the present paper departs in order to recall some of Kenneth Burke’s flamboyant contributions to the study of rhetoric, which help us to better understand how figurative forms of expression are indispensible not only in educational practice but also when we think and argue about the discipline itself. Can Western forms of education claim universal relevance, or are they in other cultural contexts inappropriate—even destructive? The search for an answer will lead us to Maimire Mennasemay, an eminent Ethiopian scholar who more than anyone else has tried to figure out what the development of genuine forms of education in his country may involve.

The Continuing Relevance of Kenneth Burke

Kenneth Burke was a veritable Homo rhetoricus who had—and still has—a strong hold over his audience. I think this has to do with Burke’s skill to weld form and content together as he sought for an adequate way to speak about the world. It has to do with his genius to ‘size up’ issues, his capacity to imagine unheard-of phenomena, like the ‘terministic screen,’ and also his foible for hyperbole and his inexhaustible sense of drama.

At one time, inspired by “The Golden Bough” (1890), in which Sir James Frazer had explicated the workings of homoeopathic magic, Burke argued, “The poet is, indeed, a ‘medicine man’” who “would immunize us by stylistically infecting us” (1967, pp. 64–65). We can extend this image of poet as ‘medicine man’ to Burke the scholar, and use it to explain the spell he was—and still is—able to cast on his audiences. This involves: his imaginative ways of identifying and naming particular topics of discourse; his ingenious use of figuration; his labeling, sizing things up, identifying and finding key terms—a process, which he calls ‘entitlement;’ his Faustian ability to “conceal or reveal,” as one commentator says, “magnify or minimize, simplify or complexify, elevate or degrade, link or divide;” and last but not least his great delight in puns, paradoxes, contradictions, irony and the whole realm of the comic.

It is known that Burke read very widely (Homer, Aristotle, St. Augustine and Goethe being among his favorites), and the influences that impinged on him may be legion, but I cannot help thinking that two idiosyncratic modern writers were of special importance and energized his writing: Friedrich Nietzsche and James Joyce. To show some of the resonance between these three literary giants, I quote here what Burke wrote about Nietzsche and Joyce:

    In reading Nietzsche, one must be struck by the pronounced naming that marks his page. Nietzsche’s later style is like a sequence of darts…. His sentences are forever striking out at this or that, exactly like a man in the midst of game, or enemies. They leap with a continual abruptness and sharpness of naming, which seems to suggest so much as those saltations by which cruising animals suddenly leap upon their prey. (1984, p. 88)

    Language, of all things, is most public, most collective, in its substance. Yet Joyce has methodologically set about to produce a private language, a language that is, as far as possible, a sheer replica of inturning engrossments. His medium is of the identical substance with himself—and with this medium he communes, devoting his life to the study of its internalities. (1967, p. 44)

Anyone who knows him will realize that Burke has not only characterized Nietzsche and Joyce here, but also his own style of thought and writing. He shares with them the ‘pronounced naming’ that hits like ‘darts,’ and thoughts that ‘leap’ like lions, as well as the production of a new—and therefore private—language that is recklessly subjective and involves what Joyce (1944) has called ‘epiphany:’ the joy we feel when the ‘whatness’ of a thing or a situation, ‘leaps to us from the vestment of its appearance’ (p. 213).

Nietzsche, Joyce and Burke are certainly great educators. But they are also often extreme, at times elitists, and some times obscure. This is why people read them opportunistically and, as time goes by, in ever-new ways. Burke’s essay, “Literature as equipment for living” has, for example, recently had such a renaissance, and in fact the whole move of rhetoric towards education, which Kris Rutten and Ronald Soetaert are currently initiating at the University of Ghent, gets its impulse from a new and inspired reading of Burke.

‘Equipment for living‘ is a lucky entitlement, when paired with ‘literature,’ as well as ‘rhetoric.’ Also, it shows itself to be an educational topic par excellence when it is supported by a methodology, as well as theory, that says, “Art forms like ‘tragedy’ or ‘comedy’ or ‘satire’ would be treated as equipment for living, that size up situations in various ways and in keeping with correspondingly various attitudes” (Burke, 1967, p. 304). To better understand what is involved here let us read—not quite in full—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which is a paragon of literature as equipment for living:

Good! The sorcerer, my old master
left me here alone today!
Now his spirits, for a change,
my own wishes shall obey!
Having memorized
what to say and do,
with my powers of will I can
do some witching, too!
Go, I say,
Go on your way,
do not tarry,
water carry,
let it flow abundantly,
and prepare a bath for me!
Look, how to the bank he's running!
and now he has reached the river,
he returns, as quick as lightning,
once more water to deliver.
Look! The tub already
is almost filled up!
And now he is filling
every bowl and cup!
Stop! Stand still!
Heed my will!
I've enough
of the stuff!
I've forgotten – woe is me!
what the magic word may be.
Oh, the word to change him back
Oh, he runs, and keeps on going!
He keeps bringing water
quickly as can be,
and a hundred rivers
he pours down on me!
No, no longer
can I let him,
I must get him
with some trick!
I'm beginning to feel sick.
Oh, you ugly child of Hades!
The entire house will drown!
Everywhere I look, I see
water, water, running down.
And they're running! Wet and wetter
get the stairs, the rooms, the hall!
What a deluge! What a flood!
Lord and master, hear my call!
Ah, here comes the master!
I have need of Thee!
From the spirits that I called,
Sir, deliver me!

This wise and multi-layered poem is precisely what Burke means by ‘literature as equipment for living,’ and it helps us to answer the question why Burke chose the seemingly simple and technical term ‘equipment’ to address such complex matters as the meaning and educational value of literature. Partly, the answer is that he delighted in vernacular terms, which, like a magician, he would turn into gold when he applied them to matters of learning. But there was also something else at the back of ‘literature as equipment for living:’ The dictionary defines the verb ‘equip’ as, “furnish (ship, army, person with requisites); furnish (oneself etc.) with what is needed for a journey etc. (from French equipper, probably from Old Norse skipa, to man a boat.’ The noun ‘equipment’ is glossed as ‘outfit, tools, apparatus necessary for an expedition, job, warfare, etc.”

So, when Burke spoke of ‘equipment’ he likened ‘equipment’ in his mind to manning a boat with individuals who help a skipper on his voyages to distant destinations. This includes that Burke also matched ‘equipment’ with his knowledge that rhetoric derives its power from countless devices, which serve well so long as the speakers are their masters. But all too often these devices turn into vices, means turn into masters, and the crew with whom the boat is equipped goes it’s own way. Rhetorical figures like metonymy, synecdoche, metaphor, irony, chiasmus, hyperbole and so on, are striking examples of such an unruly crew. Burke knew how much inappropriate, shallow and backfiring metaphors abound in everyday life. This is why, right at the beginning of his essay Linguistic approach to problems of education, he stressed that “Man literally is a symbol-using animal. He really does approach the world symbol-wise (and symbolfoolish)” (Burke, 1955, p. 260, my emphasis).

Burke was, of course, also aware that tropes may obscure as much as they reveal, which is an important fact that Stephen Tyler drew attention to when he wrote about metaphor: “There can be no doubt but that a good metaphor has a dual role in the imagination, for it both reveals and obscures. By emphasizing certain features in a comparison, for example, it draws our attention to just those features, pushing others into the background. When we see something as something else we see only the similarities and not the differences. A metaphor may mislead in exact proportion to the amount it reveals, but this is the price of any revelation” (1978, pp. 335–36).

The age-old suspicion—and often even outright rejection—of rhetoric derives from this willfulness; from the power of rhetoric to act like the spirits in Goethe’s poem. And are not all of us who choose rhetoric as ‘equipment for living’ prone to feel at times like the sorcerer’s apprentice who cried out “What a deluge! What a flood!”? Burke was acutely aware of this dangerously independent life of rhetoric, and yet he fought for a rhetorical mode of discourse. For even though we may lose control and open the floodgates of insanity, we have no choice but engage and cultivate rhetoric as equipment for shaping ourselves, and the social worlds we live in.

I had similar thoughts myself while doing ethnographic fieldwork in Hamar, southern Ethiopia, where I noted down the following:

    At the root of Hamar reasoning lies the all-pervasive practice of thinking and speaking metaphorically. People know from experience that metaphor is a useful cognitive tool. And in my view it makes sense that in societies like Hamar analogical, or rather metonymical and synecdochical thinking should abound. Where cause and effect, whole and part, etc., can not always be clearly distinguished, where many causal relationships in nature are still an open question, much analogical reasoning should be allowed. But the problem is that analogies often have limits, which are difficult to check. Therefore, even though they lie at the heart of discovery and are essential for an extension of knowledge, they do have their pitfalls and can become an obstruction to objective knowledge. (Strecker, 2013, p. 343)

Maimire Mennasemay: The Dekike Estifanos of Ethiopi

Kenneth Burke observed that the persuasive—even bewitching—power of rhetoric shows itself in all domains of human life but is most evident in the field of religion:

    The study of religion fits perfectly with the approach to education in terms of symbolic action. What more thorough examples of symbolic action can be found than in a religious service? What is more dramatistic than the religious terminology of action, passion, and personality? What terminology is more comprehensive than the dialectic of a theologian? What is linguistically more paradoxical than the ways wherein the mystic, seeking to express the transcendently ineffable, clothes theological ideas in the positive imagery of sheer animal sensation? (1955, p. 296)

Here we have again an example of Burke’s hyperbolic style. He does not say, “in the imagery of nature,” or “in the imagery of whatever is at hand in his habitat.” No, this would lack verve! Instead, “sheer animal sensation” is excitingly raw and primitive, counterpointing as it does the “transcendently ineffable.” The concomitant assertion that it is linguistically paradoxical to compare the ineffable with animal sensation is also hyperbolic, because we know that since time immemorial Homo sapiens or Homo rhetoricus has ingeniously used analogies drawn from nature to address the social and moral realm.

In an essay about Dekike Estifanos (2009), Maimire Mennasemay provides a striking example of how the rhetorical use of figures was central in the teachings of this heretical movement that flourished in medieval Ethiopia.

The Dekike Estifanos were most active in the fifteenth century and spread over all regions of the Ethiopian Empire. Although the “Ethiopian Orthodox Church was riddled with heresies at the time,” the Dekike Estifanos were persecuted—particularly by Emperor Zera Jacob—more mercilessly than other movements, because their heresy could be understood as “bearing within itself utopian, rational and political critique of Ethiopian society mediated through a religious discourse” (Mennasemay, 2009, p. 73).

Zera Yacob was a despot who used the Church “as an effective tool for strengthening his hold over his kingdom . . . (and) for imposing his will, for repressing dissent and subduing rebellious chiefs, and for penetrating the everyday life of his subjects” (Mennasemay, 2009, p. 79). Maimire argues that the Dekike Estifanos’ “critical stand against the absolute power of the Monarch” “bequeathed” Ethiopia in the process “a legacy of critical questions and ideas.” To fully recover this legacy, Maimire “deciphers” from the teachings and actions of the Dekike Estifanos “their criticisms of power, of institutions, and of knowledge” and in addition considers “the roles that reason, hope and imagination play in their critiques” (2009, p. 80).

The Dekike Estifanos “use metaphors, allegories, stories and dreams in their teachings,” which requires “that we go beyond their immediate meanings and disclose the unsaid, the ‘political unconscious,’ in what they say” (Mennasemay, 2009, p. 76). There is no room here to fully present what Maimire has said about the polysemic character of Dekike Estifanos discourse. It must suffice to provide a single—but very telling—example, which I quote here at some length:

    On the surface, the conflict between the Dekike Estifanos and Zera Yacob appears to be about religious matters. At the center of the debates are issues such as the mystery of the Trinity and of the incarnation, the adoration of religious images and the crucifix, and the nature of Debre Tsion or salvation at the ‘end of times.’ However, behind these seemingly theological conflicts gestate new ideas about power, law, institutions, and knowledge. Whereas laymen, nobles, priests, and monks address the Emperor by using the respectful ‘You,’ the Dekike Estifanos refuse to follow this practice and address the Emperor using the familiar ‘you;’ and whereas others prostrate themselves before the Monarch, the Dekike Estifanos refuse to do so. When the Emperor demands that they, like everyone else, should use the respectful ‘You,’ and that they should prostrate themselves before him, they respond that since they use the familiar ‘you’ when they address God in their prayers, there is no justification for using the respectful ‘You’ when they address a human being. As for prostration, according to them, it is due only to the Trinity; to prostrate themselves before the Emperor would be to treat him as the Fourth person of the Trinity, which is sacrilegious.
    Though couched in a religious language, these reasons harbor criticisms of the relationships between the Monarch and his subjects. Insofar as the Monarch’s demands imply a qualitative gap between his humanity and that of his subjects, and insofar as the Dekike Estifanos’s refusal to accede to his demands implies a rejection of such a qualitative gap, the implications of their refusal go beyond the conflicts between them and the Monarch. Theirs is a challenge that desacralizes the Emperor and affirms the notion of equality between the Monarch and his subjects. (Mennasemay, 2009, pp. 80–81)

It is plain that two rhetorical strategies were employed here. One was non-verbal and literally “embodied” by bodily posture: The Emperor demanded that his subjects prostrate themselves before him, and the Dekike Estifanos refused to do so. The other was verbal and pertained to the term of address, the Emperor demanding the respectful ‘You’ while the heretics granted him only the familiar ‘you.’ This in turn provoked the wrath of the ruler who then took recourse to yet another embodied rhetoric, which was meant to let everyone see what he thought of them: He had them “flogged, thrown down ravines, their hair torn out, their faces and bodies lacerated with knives; they were speared, dragged on the ground until their skins peeled off, tortured by fire, their tongues pulled out, their ears and nose cut, their eyes gouged out and hot rods inserted in the sockets, their limbs chopped off, beheaded, their corpses dismembered and burnt” (Mennasemay, 2009, pp. 73–74).

Here Maimire terminates his horrific litany of the Emperor's figurative rhetoric, which, as we can see, involved not only the destruction but also the disfiguration of the bold Dekike Estifanos, who in their deeds and writings wanted to teach him the ethos of equality.

Figures in Maimire's Discourse about Education.

Maimire's essay about the Dekike Estifanos has the subtitle, “Towards an Ethiopian Critical Theory” and is meant to show how an ancient Ethiopian tradition—the teachings of the Dekike Estifanos—“bequeaths us questions, ideas and ideals that could provide the intellectual resources for developing an Ethiopian critical theory capable of illuminating the potentially possible routes to a modernization productive of freedom, equality, justice, and prosperity” (2009, p. 64).

Again there is no space here to do justice to the complex argumentation of the author, especially as he musters a host of historical and cultural details. So I will focus on only one rhetorical figure—chiasmus—which Maimire uses three times to structure his text and propel his argument about education and the emancipation of Ethiopia:

  1. Individuality without individualism versus individualism without individuality. The following is what Maimire writes about this chiasmus as it emerges from a confrontation between Western education and the teachings of the Dekike Estifanos:
  2. The Dekike Estifanos are not individualists avant la lettre. To think so is to misunderstand them, for they value life in a community: ‘He who lives in a community fulfills the hope of God’s word.’ Yet, the Dekike Estifanos also claim that one should ‘follow one’s mind’ and struggle until ‘one reaches one’s goals’ or ‘summit.’ When these apparently contradictory statements valorizing community life and individual autonomy are mediated through their challenges to the Monarch’s absolute power, their notions of ‘litigation,’ mutual accountability and ‘not being an insult to Ethiopia,’ one sees the emergence of something new: ‘individuality without individualism.’ This is a unique understanding of individual identity that emerges from within Medieval Ethiopia as an immanent critique of the subjugation of the individual to the absolute power of the monarch (Mennasemay, 2009, pp. 92–93).

    From here Maimire goes on to envision a future Ethiopia where “‘Individuality without individualism’ makes possible identification with collective projects and harbors the potential of society-transforming actions. In the Dekike Estifanos . . . the notion of ‘individuality without individualism’ has a critical dimension: it points to a society-oriented vision that avoids the pathological closures of both the atomistic and collectivist conceptions of the individual that now confront Ethiopians. It offers an alternative to the atomistic conception, spawned by modernization in Ethiopia, which breeds a culture of indifference to injustice and to the suffering of others” (Mennasemay, 2009, p. 93).

  3. The future is a critical moment of the present, and the present is a critical moment of the future. In the interest of their rulers the Ethiopian clerics conjured up “Debre Tsion as a place outside time and space: an abstract utopia that detaches hope for a better life from earthly possibilities and projects it into another world separated by an unbridgeable abyss from the present” (Menassemay, 2009, p. 100).
  4. The Ethiopian heretics, however, opposed this view and defined Debre Tsion “in terms of a dialectic of immanence and transcendence that points to its emergence from within the here and now” (Menassemay, 2009, p. 101). Asked if they believe in Debre Tsion, they responded that for “the holy, Debre Tsion is already here, and for those whose holy work is in the future, Debre Tsion will be there.” Maimire adds, “The interesting point is that whereas Zera Yacob’s understanding makes a radical gap between profane time and the holy time of Debre Tsion, the Dekike Estifanos interrelate dialectically profane and holy time and see Debre Tsion as immanent in the present. For ‘the holy’ they claim, ‘it is already there’ . . . Unlike Zera Yacob, the Dekike Estifanos do not devalue the present in their conception of Debre Tsion. One could say that for them, the future is a critical moment of the present, and the present is a critical moment of the future. As such, they see the present as a historical site within which gestates a ‘concrete utopia,’ Debre Tsion. This has important implications for an Ethiopian critical theory. Modernization in Ethiopia treats Ethiopia as a tabula rasa in that it is premised on a rupture with the past and the lived present, making it a free-floating phenomenon that comes from above (experts, foreign aid, international institutions). But were we to consider modernization from the perspective of the ‘concrete utopia’ gestating in the present, following the Dekike Estifanos’s conception of Debre Tsion, it has to be conceived as a utopian grasp of the future informed by empirical judgments” (Menassemay, 2009, pp. 101–102).

  5. Reason cannot blossom without hope and imagination, and hope and imagination cannot speak without reason. I quote again at length to show how Maimire uses this chiasmus to articulate the emancipation of Ethiopia, which he envisions as follows:
  6. The Dekike Estifanos conception of Debre Tsion brings out the role that hope and imagination play in their critique of power, institutions and knowledge. According to them, hope drives man to that which is essential to him as thirst drives one to water . . . Their religious terms should not obscure the important critical idea—that hope and imagination are the militant partners of reason in the quest for an emancipated society (Debre Tsion) . . . In the discourse of the Dekike Estifanos, hope and imagination interpenetrate, and the latter takes the form of tales and dreams. Where there is hope, the imagination is active; and where there is imagination, hope emerges. To paraphrase Bloch, reason cannot blossom without hope and imagination, and hope and imagination cannot speak without reason. Imagination unveils the emancipatory possibilities of the future by going against the grain of the present, while hope breaks down the firewall between the present and the future by inseminating the present with the semantic contents of the possible emancipated future. The conjugation of the two revolutionizes the symbolic realm, reinvents the very modes of anticipating the future, and makes it possible to envision an Ethiopia beyond the actual, to see that which in the present is ‘more’ (the concrete utopia) than the present itself, prefiguring an alternative future. Hope and imagination provide new resources for context immanent social critique. They are, to adopt the poetic language of the Dekike Estifanos, the critical eyes that could see what is not yet visible and the critical ears that could hear what is not yet audible. Without hope and imagination, critique would be, to borrow again from their poetic language, like ‘clouds without rain, fruit trees without fruits.’ Hope and imagination could see and hear what reason's power of conception cannot: that Ethiopians could be ‘more’ than present conditions permit (Mennasemay, 2009, pp. 102–103).


In the present paper I have tried to fathom some of the implications of Rutten, Soetaert and Biesta's invitation to rethink education as something “more than the simple acquisition of knowledge and skills.” As a first step, and in order to evoke what this more might mean, I recalled Kenneth Burke's seminal texts on rhetoric as ‘equipment’ for living in general, and for education in particular. This led on to reflections on the unruly nature of the orator's (or writer's) rhetorical ‘equipment,’ and the risks we take when we use figures to articulate our rhetorical will. Tropes—as for example metaphor—are prone to simultaneously reveal and mislead, and we can never be in full control of them. But to get the work of the world done we cannot do without them. True, certain situations demand strictly univocal forms of expression, but this does not mean that univocality, i.e. discourse reduced to literal meanings, should be our universal maxim. Particularly in education, Stephen Tyler's dictum applies: “To ask for mathematical exactitude in our everyday rules is to ask for disaster, the very destruction of the form sought rather than its fulfillment” (1978, p. 396).

In the second part of the paper, I moved on to show firstly how an emerging Western interest in new—or rather, very old—forms of education is also found in other parts of the world. Although Maimire Mennasemay did not refer to Burke, who noted that “the study of religion fits perfectly with the approach to education in terms of symbolic action” (see above), he was of the same mind when in his essay “Towards an Ethiopian critical theory” he enlisted the teachings of the Dekike Estifanos, a religious movement in medieval Ethiopia, to call for a retrieval and new cultivation of an old ethos not of individualism but of individuality in his country.

Secondly, I chose Maimire's text to exemplify how rhetorical figures are used in teaching. The Dekike Estifanos applied rhetorical means of evocation, that's to say a host of polysemic figures, to nudge their pupils, including the Monarch, towards understanding the issues at hand. But their efforts also fueled situations where social confrontations and threats were involved, and the despot Zera Yacob reacted by teaching the heretics a lesson, not simply killing them, but using gruesome bodily disfiguration.

Thirdly, Maimire's essay provides an intriguing instance of figuration in the discourse about education. As we have seen, at crucial junctures in his text Maimire uses chiasmus to propel his argument forward. In this way he captivates the mind and emotion of his readers and leads them to imagine what he has in mind. His key chiasmi are (1) individuality versus individualism, (2) future in the present versus present in the future, and (3) reason depending on hope and imagination versus imagination and hope depending on reason. The “versus,” which I have written here in italics, represents what George Kennedy (1998) would call the “rhetorical energy” of the figure. That is, like other tropes (metaphor, hyperbole or irony), chiasmi carry rhetorical energy that causes the mind to ‘turn’ from one direction (or one semantic domain) to another, leading to a cognitive and affective oscillation that only comes to an end when reason and desire have been satisfied (or exhausted).

The rhetorical use of figures—so well understood by Kenneth Burke and so convincingly demonstrated by Maimire Mennasemay—is indispensible in education. As long as teaching aims exclusively at technical knowledge and skills, education may confine itself to a strictly literal use of language, but when it comes to questions of nurturing the person, of Bildung, of individuality, hope and imagination the limits of literalness and the need for figural uses of language become apparent.

Here the new conception of ‘education as rhetoric,’ which is advocated by Biesta, Rutten, and Soetaert, is surprisingly close to postmodern ethnography and anthropology. Ever since its inception, anthropology has had a wide-ranging educational mission. No matter how far we go back into the past, be it to Antiquity (Herodotus), the Renaissance (Giambatista Vico), the Enlightenment (Wilhelm von Humboldt), Modernity (Franz Boas) or Post-modernity (Stephen Tyler), anthropology has aimed to learn from “Other Cultures” (so the title of John Beattie’s influential introduction to anthropology). By providing a “Mirror of Man” (as Clyde Cluckhohn called it) anthropologists have helped to create trans-cultural visions that reflect the complexity of the human condition and allow us to better know and, however imperfectly and provisionally, ‘improve’ ourselves.

In his provocative essays assembled in The unspeakable: Discourse, dialogue, and rhetoric in the postmodern world (1987), Stephen Tyler has envisaged this ‘improvement’ as an urgently needed resistance to the hegemony of literalness in the scientific discourse of Modernity, “that inappropriate mode of scientific rhetoric which entails ‘objects,’ ‘facts,’ ‘descriptions,’ ‘inductions,’ ‘generalizations,’ ‘verification,’ ‘experiment,’ ‘truth,’ and the like concepts which, except as empty invocations, have no parallels either in the experience of ethnographic field work or the writing of ethnographies. The urge to conform to the canons of scientific rhetoric has made the easy realism of natural history the dominant mode of ethnographic prose, but it has been an illusionary realism, promoting, on one hand, the absurdity of ‘describing’ nonentities like ‘culture’ or ‘society’ as if they were fully observable, though somewhat ungainly, bugs, and on the other, the equally ridiculous behaviorist pretense of ‘describing’ repetitive patterns of action in isolation from the discourse that actors use in constituting and situating their action, and all in simple-minded surety that the observer's grounding discourse was itself an objective form sufficient to the task of describing acts” (p. 207).

After he has argued against the hegemony of science, Tyler urges us to realize “the ethical character of all discourse, as captured in the ancient significance of the family of terms ‘ethos,’ ‘ethnos,’ and ‘ethics’” (1978, p. 203). Part of this is to acknowledge the creative role of rhetorical figures and to accept evocation—the process that “makes available through absence what can be conceived but not represented” (Tyler, 1978, p. 199)—as a key term in the epistemological repertoire of anthropology (and by implication also education).

Evocation is of such importance and yet so difficult to grasp that in a paragraph entitled Free voice: Postmodern ethnography Tyler has tried twice to articulate what he means. Convinced as I am of the value of parallelism as a means for emphasis—and also to provide food for thought beyond my conclusion—I quote both passages here in full:

  1. A postmodern ethnography is a cooperatively evolved text consisting of fragments of discourse intended to evoke in the minds of both reader and writer an emergent fantasy of a possible world of commonsense reality, and thus to provoke an aesthetic integration that will have a therapeutic effect. It is in a word, poetry—not in its textual form, but in its return to the original context and function of poetry which, by means of its performative break with everyday speech, evoked memories of the ethos of the community and thereby provoked hearers to act ethically . . . Postmodern ethnography attempts to recreate textually this spiral of poetic and ritual performance. Like them, it defamiliarizes commonsense reality in a bracketed context of performance, evokes a fantasy whole abducted from fragments, and then returns participants to the world of commonsense—transformed, renewed, and sacralized. (Tyler, 1987, p. 202)
  2. Postmodern ethnography is a return to the idea of aesthetic integration as therapy once captured in the sense of Proto-Indo-European ‘ar’ (‘way of being,’ ‘orderly and harmonious arrangement of the parts of a whole’) from which have come English ‘art,’ ‘rite,’ and ‘ritual,’ that family of concepts so closely connected with the idea of restorative harmony, of ‘therapy’ in its original sense of ‘ritual substitute’ (cf. Hittite tarpan-alli), and with the poet as therapon, ‘attendant of the muse.’ A postmodern ethnography is an object of meditation which provokes a rupture with the common sense world and evokes an aesthetic integration whose therapeutic effect is worked out in the restoration of the commonsense world. (Tyler, 1987, p. 211)


Biesta, G. (2009). Good education in an age of measurement: on the need to reconnect with the question of purpose in education. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 21(1), 33–46.

Biesta, G. (2012). Becoming world-wise: an educational perspective on the rhetorical curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 44(6), 815–826.

Burke, K. (1955). Linguistic approaches to problems of education. In N. B. Henry (Ed.), Modern Philosophies and Education: The Fifty-Fourth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Part 1 (pp. 259–303). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Mennasemay, M. (2009). The Dekike Estifanos: Towards an Ethiopian critical theory. Horn of Africa, 27, 64–118.

Nelson, J. S., Megill, A., & McCloskey, D. (Eds.). (1990). The Rhetoric of the Human Sciences. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Rutten, C. & Soetaert, R. (2012). Revisiting the rhetorical curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 44(6), 727–743.

Simons, H. (1990). The rhetorical turn: Invention and persuasion in the conduct of inquiry. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Strecker, I. (Ed.). (2011). Ethnographic chiasmus: Essays in culture, conflict and rhetoric. Berlin: Lit Verlag.

Tyler, S. (1978). The said and the unsaid: Mind, meaning and culture. New York, NY: Academic Press.

Tyler, S. (1987). The unspeakable: Discourse, dialogue, and rhetoric in the postmodern world. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

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Reading the Negative: Kenneth Burke and Jean-Francois Lyotard on Augustine's Confessions

Hanne Roer, University of Copenhagen


This article offers a contrastive reading of Burke’s chapter on Augustine’s Confessions in The Rhetoric of Religion (1961) with Lyotard’s posthumous La Confession d’Augustin (1998). Burke’s chapter on Augustine throws new light on his logology, in particular its gendered character. Central to the interpretations of Burke and Lyotard is the notion of negativity that Burke explores in order to understand the human subject as a social actor, whereas Lyotard unfolds the radical non-identity of the writing subject.


In this article I compare Kenneth Burke’s reading of Augustine’s Confessions in The Rhetoric of Religion (1961) to Jean-Francois Lyotard’s posthumous La Confession d’Augustin (1998, English 2000). The publication has attracted many readers because it offers new perspectives on Lyotard’s preoccupation with the philosophy and phenomenology of time. Understanding time is no simple matter as Augustine famously put it in the Confessions (book 11, 4):

    What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks me, I do not know. Yet I say with confidence that I know that if nothing passed away, there would be no past time; and if nothing were still coming, there would be no future time; and if there were nothing at all, there would be no present time. But, then, how is it that there are the two times, past and future, when even the past is now no longer and the future is now not yet?

This paradoxical circularity of time, the absence of presence, is central to Lyotard and also to Burke’s reading of the Confessions. It is inextricably connected to the notion of negativity, and I hope that my juxtaposition of Burke and Lyotard’s readings may clarify what the negative means to these two philosophers. My point is that although Burke’s reflections in The Rhetoric of Religion in many ways are related to and anticipating poststructuralism, his logology still presupposes some traditional assumptions, such as a gendered notion of the subject, that come to light in the comparison to Lyotard. Last but not least, Burke’s cluster reading of Augustine deserves more scholarly attention, often disappearing between the other parts of the work.

In the first part of The Rhetoric of Religion, “On Words and The Word, Burke defines his new metalinguistic project, logology, leading to the outlining of six analogies between language and theology. The second part, ”Chapter 2: Verbal Action in St. Augustine’s Confessions,” deals with Augustine’s Confessions, of which the last book (XIII) deals with beginnings and the interpretation of Genesis. Burke in the third part of The Rhetoric of Religion similarly proceeds to a reading of Genesis. It probably is unfair to concentrate on just one part of the work, since there might be a greater plan involved. According to Robert McMahon, Burke imitates the structure of Augustine’s Confessions, its upward movement towards the divine, ending with an exegesis of Genesis. Burke too goes from his reading of the Confessions to an interpretation of Genesis, but the last part of the book, “Prologue in Heavens” lends a comic frame to his ‘Augustinian’ enterprise (McMahon 1989). Rhetoricians, however, have focused mainly on the first part, the third chapter on Genesis and “Prologue in Heaven” (e.g. Barbara Biesecker 1994, Robert Wess 1996).

Scholars in the field of Augustinian studies have paid even less attention than rhetoricians to Burke’s reading. Thus Annemare Kotzé in her book Augustine's Confessions: Communicative Purpose and Audience (2004) laments the lack of coherent, literary analyses of Augustine’s Confessions, one of the most read but least understood of all ancient texts (Kotzé 1). Today most scholars have given up the idea that the Confessions consists of a first autobiographical part, followed by a second philosophical part, arbitrarily put together by an Augustine who did not really know what he was doing! Kotzé does not mention Burke at all, as is often the case in scholarly works on Augustine.

Burke on Augustine’s Confessions

In the chapter on Augustine, Burke defines theology as ‘language about language’ (logology), words turning the non-existing into existence. The Confessions demonstrate this movement from word to Word, hence Augustine’s importance to Burke’s logological project: the study of the nature of language through the language of theology. Burke’s reading of the Confessions is essentially a commentary, following the dialectical moves of crucial pairs of oppositions (such as conversion/perversion) and comparing them to later authors such as Joyce, Shakespeare and Keats. It is not a literary analysis, in Kotzé’s sense, because Burke does not discuss the character of the authorial voice nor questions that the first half (books 1-9) of the Confessions is an autobiography (a modern idea, according to Kotzé).

Burke is closer to literary analysis when it comes to the structure of the work. He focuses on the interplay between narrative and purely logical forms, as he calls it. His subtle reading points to the paradoxical circularity of Augustine’s work, working on many levels. The transcendent state of mind pondered upon books 10-13 is the result of the conversion, but it is also the condition allowing Augustine to write his story ten years after the event. The first and the second parts are stories about two different kinds of conversion. Book 8, the conversion scene in the garden, is the centre of the whole book and it has a counterpart in book 13, “the book of the Trinity,” where Monica’s maternal love is transformed into that of the Holy Spirit. This is, in Burke’s words, a dramatic tale, professed by a paradigmatic individual and addressed to God (and thus, one may add, not really an autobiography in the modern sense).

Another indication of the highly structured character of the Confessions is that the personal narrative in books 1-9 does not follow a chronological pattern but presents the events according to their “symbolic value,” in Burke’s words. This is the tension usually described by plot/story in narratology. For example, Burke notes, we are told that Monica dies before Adeodatus, but the scene describing Augustine’s last conversation with her and her death the following day comes after the information that Adeodatus has died.

Burke also demonstrates that the Confessions is tightly woven together by clusters of words forming their own associative networks. Burke’s cluster criticism is a kind of close reading, following the dialectical interplay between opposites. For example, in the Confessions, Burke observes, the word “open” (aperire) is central and knits the work together in a circle without beginning or end. Thus the work begins with the ”I” opening itself to God in a passionate invocation, the word “open” is also central to the moment of conversion in book 8 and, finally, it ends with these words: “It shall be opened.” Throughout the work “open” is used about important events, especially when the true meanings of the Scriptures open themselves to Augustine.

Verbum is another central term, not surprisingly, in the Confessions where Augustine transforms the rhetorical word into a theological Word. Burke claims that Augustine plays on the familiarity between the word verbum and a word meaning to strike (a verberando) when saying that God struck him with his Word (percussisti, p. 50). Verbum has several meanings in the Confessions: the spoken word, the word conceived in silence, the Word of God in the sense of doctrine and as Wisdom (second person of the Trinity). Burke also notes that Augustine links language with will (voluntas, velle), which is grounded in his conception of the Trinity. Burke thus recognises his own ideas about motivations in language in Augustine.

Another cluster of words and verbal cognates that form their own web of musical and semantic associations throughout the Confessions are the words with the root vert, such as: “adverse, diverse, reverse, perverse, eversion, avert, revert, advert, animadvert, universe, etc.” (Burke’s translations p. 63). These words abound in book 8 where God finally brings about the conversion of Augustine (conversisti enim ad te). The most important dialectical pair is conversion/perversion, which runs through all of the books. Book 8 is the dialectical antithesis of book 2: the two scenes – the perverse stealing of the pears and the conversion in the garden – are juxtaposed.

Burke also notices that the word for weight, pondus, is used in a negative sense in the beginning of the Confessions (the material weight of the body is what leads him away from God), but its sense is being converted until designating an upward drift in the last part of the book. This conversion of a single word is another evidence of Augustine thinking of language-as-action.
Burke concludes that the Confessions offer a double plot about two conversions – one formed by the narrator’s personal history, the other his intellectual transformation. In the last four books Augustine turns from the narrative of memories to the principles of Memory, a logological equivalent of the turn from “time” to “eternity,” Burke says (p. 123 ff). Memory (memoria) for Augustine is a category that subsumes mind (opposite modern uses of the word memory), thus his reflections on time and memory are also reflections on epistemology.

The Confessions are full of triadic patterns alluding to the Trinity, for example in Book XIII, xi where Augustine says that knowing, being and willing are inseparable. His road to conversion was triadic and involving the sacrifice of his material lusts, paralleling the sacrifice of Christ the Mediator: “And the Word took over his victimage, by becoming Mediator in the cathartic sense. In the role of willing sacrifice (a sacrifice done through love) the Second Person thus became infused with the motive of the Third Person (the term analogous to will or appetition, with corresponding problems). Similarly, just as Holy Spirit is pre-eminently identified with the idea of a “Gift,” so the sacrificial Son becomes a Gift sent by God. By this strategic arrangement, the world is “Christianized” at three strategic spots: The emergence of “time” out of “eternity” is through the Word as creative; present communication between “time” and “eternity” is maintained by the Word as Mediatory (in the Logos’ role as “Godman”); and the return from “time” back to “eternity” is through the Mediatory Godman in the role of sacrificial victim the fruits of Whose sacrifice the believer shares by believing in the teachings of the Word, as spread by the words of Scriptures and Churchmen” (pp. 167-8).

As a conclusion to his long analysis, Burke suggests that the clusters of terms (especially the vert-family) may be summed up in a single image (159), a god-term, that somehow is “another variant of the subtle and elusive relation between logical and temporal terminologies” (160). Burke also notices that Augustine in his search for spiritual perfection is on the way to delineate a new ecclesiastical hierarchy ready to replace the hierarchies of the Roman Empire.

The Frame: Logology and the Six Analogies Between Language and Theology

An explanation of the lack of interest among scholars in Burke’s reading of Augustine might be that in some ways it simply illustrates what he says about logology in the first part of The Rhetoric of Religion. The reading on Genesis in part Three, however, goes a step further ahead from the analogy between the philosophy of language and theology to the hierarchical aspects of language, the way language is constitutive of social order (Biesecker pp. 66-73). In this context I shall look closer at the first chapter, in order to understand Augustine’s role in the logological enterprise.

Augustine analysed the relation between the secular word and the Word of God, thus approaching the divine mystery through language, but Burke goes the opposite way. His logology is the study of theology as “pure” language, words without denotation, in order to understand how human beings signify through language. Logology is the successor to the dramatism of A Grammar of Motives (1945) and A Rhetoric of Motives (1950). Burke apparently grew more and more dissatisfied with the ‘positive dialectics’ inherent in dramatism and its reading strategy, the pentad, preventing him from writing the promised “A Symbolic of Motives.”1 Burke initially thought of dramatism as an ontology, a philosophy of human relations. These relations, similar to those between the persons in a drama, were thought of as determining human actions. Analysing these situations and the relations between the elements of the human drama would reveal the character of human motives.

However, having discovered the importance of the idea of negativity in philosophy and aesthetics, Burke became unsatisfied with dramatism conceived as ontology because this ignored the absence of meaning involved in language use. He studied the range of the meaning of negativity in philosophy and theology in three long articles from 1952-3 (reprinted in LSA, to which I refer). I shall look briefly at them because they are the forerunners of the logological project of The Rhetoric of Religion. In the first of these articles, Burke examines the notion of negativity in theology (Augustine, Bossuet), philosophy (Nietzsche, Bergson, Kant, Heidegger) and literature (Coleridge), leading to his own “logological” definitions, analyzing the role of the negative in symbolic action. He credits Bergson for the discovery of negativity as the basis of language but criticizes him for reducing it to the idea of Nothingness. The negative is primarily admonitory, the Decalogue being the perfect example of “Thou-shalt-nots” (LSA 422).

Burke produces a host of examples of the inherent negativity of our notions such as “freedom” (from what) and “victim” (seemingly the negation of guilt). There are formalist (negative propositions), scientist and anthropological ways of analysing the negative but the dramatistic focuses on the “”essential” instances of an admonitory or pedagogical negative.”

In the second article, Burke turns to Kant’s The Critique of Practical Reasoning. Burke sees Kant’s categorical imperative as a negative similar to the Decalogue. He also discusses the way the negative may be signified in literature, painting and music. An analysis of a sermon by Bossuet focuses on the interaction of positive images and negative ideas, linking it to Augustine’s “grand style” in De doctrina christiana. Behind moral advocacy and positive styles lies a negative without which great art has no meaning (453).
In the third article, Burke outlines a series of different kinds of negativity: the hortatory, the attitudinal, the propositional negative, the zero-negative (including ‘infinity’), the privative negative (blindness), the minus-negative (from debt and moral guilt) (459). From the original hortatory No language develops propositional negatives.

Now let us return to The Rhetoric of Religion in which Burke arranges these definitions into a new system, the logology replacing dramatism. The distinction between motion (natural) and act (determined by will) was a principal idea to dramatism and also to logology though Burke now discusses whether there are overlaps. He still claims that nothing in nature is negative, but exists positively, and hence language is what allows human beings to think in terms of negativity. Burke translates Augustine’s notion of eternity as God-given in contrast to sequential, human time into a distinction between logical and temporal patterns. This paradox between logical and narrative patterns is a leading principle of the logological project that seeks to explain the relation between the individual and social order, between free will and structural constraints.

Though the opposition between motion and act runs through all of Burke’s texts he now questions the clear boundary between them. In a similar way he questions his own analogy between words and the Word, hence his logology implies a deconstructive turn:

“So, if we could “analogize” by the logological transforming of terms from their “supernatural” reference into their possible use in a realm so wholly “natural” as that of language considered as a purely empirical phenomenon, such “analogizing” in this sense would really be a kind of “de-analogizing.” Or it would be, except that a new dimension really has been added” (8).

Burke thus nuances his former definition of language as referencing to everyday life and the natural world. As Biesecker puts it, there is an exchange between the natural and the supernatural taking place in language itself (56). Language is not just a system of symbols denoting objects or concepts because linguistic symbols create meaning by internal differences or similarities. Rhymes such as “tree, be, see, knee” form “associations wholly different from entities with which a tree is physically connected” (RR 9). What Burke observes here is what Saussure referred to as the arbitrariness of language or perhaps, more precisely, Roman Jakobson’s distinctive features. But is Burke’s logology based on theory of the sign? Again, we do not hear much about that, but there is a telling footnote in which Burke defines the symbol as a sign:

    A distinction between the thing tree (nonsymbolic) and the word for tree (a symbol) makes the cut at a different place. By the “symbolic” we have in mind that kind of distinction first of all. As regards “symbolic” in the other sense (the sense in which an object possesses motivational ingredients not intrinsic to it in its sheer materiality), even the things of nature can become “symbolic” (p. 9).2

Words are symbols that stand for things, a classical definition of the sign going back to Aristotle (who uses the term “symbolon” in De interpretatione) and Augustine (De doctrina christiana II). We may also note that Burke mostly talks about words, which at a first glance places him in this classical rhetorical tradition, in contrast to modern semiotics according to which the word is not the fundamental sign-unit. Burke is not primarily interested in linguistics but in the philosophy of language, i.e. theories concerning the relation between language and reality, meaning and language use. He warns against an empirical, “naturalistic” view of language that conceals the motivated character of language (p. 10). This shows his affinity to, on the one hand, the American pragmatic tradition of language philosophy (such as C. S. Peirce), and on the other, to reference and descriptivist theories of meaning. The latter is evident in his interest in naming, leading to his theory of title, entitlements and god-terms, terms that subsume classes of words.

Burke summarises these dialectics of theology in the six analogies between language and theology: The ‘words-Word’ analogy; the ‘Matter-Spirit’ analogy; the ‘Negative’ analogy; the ‘Titular’ analogy; the ‘Time-Eternity’ analogy; and the ‘Formal’ analogy. I shall shortly characterize these analogies in which the negative is the linking term, as Biesecker has argued (56-65).

1) The likeness between words about words and words about The Word: “our master analogy, the architectonic element from which all the other analogies could be deduced. In sum: What we say about words, in the empirical realm, will bear a notable likeness to what is said about God, in theology” (RR 13). Burke then defines four realms of reference for language: a) natural phenomena b) the socio-political sphere c) words and d) the supernatural, the ineffable. In a footnote he explains that language is empirically confined to referring to the first three realms, hence theology may show us how language can be stretched into almost transcending its nature as a symbol-system (p. 15). Hence the logologist should forget about the referential function and look at the linguistic operations that allow this exchange between words and the Word (cf. Biesecker 57).

2) Words are to non-verbal nature as Spirit is to Matter. By the second analogy, Burke emphasizes that the meaning of words are not material, though words have material aspects. As Burke puts it, there is a qualitative difference between the symbol and the symbolized. Biesecker (58) interprets the first two analogies this way: “If the purpose of the first two analogies is, at least in part, to calculate the force of linguistic or symbolic acts, to determine the kind of work they do by contemplating how they operate, the purpose of the third analogy is to try to account for such force by specifying its starting point.”

3) The third analogy concerns this starting point, the negative. Burke dismisses any naïve verbal realism (RR 17) and explains “the paradox of the negative: […] Quite as the word “tree” is verbal and the thing tree is non-verbal, so all words for the non-verbal must, be the very nature of the case, discuss the realm of the non-verbal in terms of what it is not. Hence, to use words properly, we must spontaneously have a feeling for the principle of the negative” (18).

Burke’s exposition of the ‘Negative’ analogy summarizes his reflections from the three articles mentioned above. Interestingly he interprets Bergson’s interest in propositional negatives as a symptom of “scientism” and prefers talking “dramatistically” about “the hortatory negative, “the idea of no” rather than the idea of the negative (20). Burke emphasizes that symbol-systems inevitably “transcend” nature being essentially different from the realm they symbolize. Analogies and metaphors only make sense because we understand what they do not mean. As Biesecker points out (58), the paradox of the negative governs all symbol systems and secures the ‘words-Word’ analogy that is the basis of logological operations. It is also the principle of the negative that produces the last three analogies.

4) The fourth analogy involves a movement upwards, the “via negativa” towards ever higher orders of generalizations. Whereas the third analogy concerned the correspondence between negativity in language and its place in negative theology, the fourth concerns the nature of language as a process of entitlement, leading in the secular realm towards an over-all title of title, this secular summarizing term that Burke calls a “god-term” (RR 25). Paradoxically this god-term is also a kind of emptying, and this doubled significance, in Biesecker’s words (60), is also central to the next analogy.

5) The fifth analogy: Time is to “eternity” as the particulars in the unfolding of a sentence’s unitary meaning. Burke is inspired by the passage in the Confessiones 4, 10, where Augustine ponders on signs: a sign does not mean anything before it has disappeared, giving room for a new sign. Burke finds an analogy between this linguistic phenomenon (the parts of the sentence signify retrospectively in the sequence of a sentence) and the theological distinction between time and eternity (27). For Augustine as well as Burke, meaning exceeds the temporal or diachronic series of signs through which it is communicated.

According to Biesecker, Burke’s Time-Eternity analogy reproduces the Appearance/Thing polarity so essential to Romantic idealism (62). Burke’s quote from Alice in Wonderland concerning the Cheshire cat’s smile tells us that the phenomenon is nothing in it self but “points to something [“smiliness”] in which meaning and being coincide.” Biesecker concludes: “… the movement of the argument implies the persistence rather than the undoing of a metaphysics of presence and the reaffirmation rather than the denigration of ontology, for what is being proposed here is that truth is accessible.” She does not agree with those have interpreted this passage as anticipating poststructuralism or Foucault. This priority of the essential receives support from the sixth analogy (Biesecker 63).

6) The sixth analogy concerns the relation between the thing and its name that really is a triadic relationship similar to “the design of the Trinity.” There is something between the thing and its name, a kind of knowledge (RR 29). Burke continues: “Quite as the first person of the Trinity is said to “generate the second, so the thing can be said to “generate” the word that names it, to call the word into being (in response to the thing’s primary reality, which calls for a name).” Burke next claims that there is a “There is a state of conformity, or communion, between the symbolized and the symbol” (30), an almost mystical realism that is not further explained, but supports Biesecker’s claim that this is a metaphysics of presence.

As a conclusion to his exposition of the six analogies, Burke says that they may help as conceptual instruments for shifting between “philosophical” and “narrative,” between temporal and logical sequences, hence enabling us to discuss “principles” or “beginnings” as variations of these styles (33). The new interpretative strategy, cluster criticism, is grounded in Burke’s preference for logical priority. Since temporal succession is secondary to logical structures, the task is now to discover “a detemporalized cycle of terms, a terminological necessity” (Melia quoted in Biesecker 66).

Lyotard on the Confession of Augustine

Burke characterizes his logology as a fragmentary, uncertain way of thinking, in opposition to a positivist thinking (RR 34). This certainly also holds for Lyotard’s way of reading, focusing on fissures and breaks in the text. Whereas Burke prioritizes the ‘logical’ patterns that so to say engender the narration, Lyotard, however, seeks to do away with this metaphysics of presence. The little book compiled after his death by his wife is a collection of fragments and thoughts, intended for a work on Augustine – as it is, it is “a book broken off” (Lyotard vii). The French text La confession d’Augustin consists of 20 fragments with these titles: Blason, Homme intérieur, Témoin, Coupure, Résistance, Distentio, Le sexuel, Consuetudo, Oubli, Temporiser, Immémorable, Diffèrend, Firmament, Auteur, Anges, Signes, Animus, Félure, Trance, Laudes (Blazon, The Inner Human, Witness, Cut, Resistance, Distentio, The Sexual, Consuetudo, Oblivion, Temporize, Immemorable, Differend, Firmament, Author, Angels, Signs, Animus, Fissure, Trance, Laudes). The Confession of Augustine unites two texts, the first 12 fragments are based on a lecture given October 1997, the last eight on a lecture given May 1997 and published under the title “The Skin of the Skies.” This is marked by a white page in the French text, but not in the English translation. The book also offers a last part, cahier/Notebook, containing collections of fragments and handwritten notes

Though Lyotard did not intend a publication as fragmented as it turned it out to be, the book is an example of Lyotard’s way of commenting sublime art. He interweaves quotations from the Confessions – particularly from the last four books on time and memory, also at centre of Lyotard’s own philosophy – with his own thoughts, creating a new persona, Augustine-Lyotard. In what follows I mostly quote the English text, but it should be remembered that there are differences, such as the choice of an old English translation of Augustine’s text. In this way the translation slightly differentiates between Augustine’s text and Lyotard’s commentary. Maria Muresan in her penetrating article, “Belated strokes: Lyotard’s writing of The Confession of Augustine,” points to the fact that Augustine also blends quotations from the Psalms without reference into his own text, a cut-up technique that Lyotard repeats in his reading (“the writing takes the form of a marginal gloss, which is a citation of the original text without quotations marks,” p. 155; Lyotard 85). These cuts are the effects of the stroke, the way the “I” in Confessions was struck by the divine word (percussisti, percuti, ursi), also noted by Burke. This original event is an absent cause, one that cannot be represented in language, but its effect is felt as a series of belated strokes, après-coups, a concept central to Lyotard, translating Freud’s Nachträglichkeit. These textual cuts perform a continued conversion, a process rather than a finite event (Muresan 152, 162).
Lyotard does not, as Burke, accept the narrative of Confessions locating the moment of confession to the scene in the garden (Tolle, lege) in book 8, but insists that Augustine’s work is an attempt at witnessing, not representing, a moment of conversion. Hence his book is called the “Confession d’Augustin,” in the singular instead of Augustine’s plural (ibid. 155). The words of Lyotard-Augustine intertwine in a co-penetration, a dramatic enactment of this conversion-experience, in which the “I” and “You” blend, the personae of Augustine’s work that imitate the ecstatic mode of the Psalms, the individual addressing his God, or rather his unknown, absent cause. Like Burke, Lyotard deconstructs the Christian theology, inverting the paradigm: “Lyotard discovered in the poetic parts of the Confessions the possibility of an inversed paradigm, namely verbalisation: instead of the Word made flesh, he found the possibility of the flesh made word […] what Lyotard reads in the Christian mystery is not primarily incarnation, the Word (the law, the concept) made flesh, but the opposite movement of the convulsion of flesh that liberates words, making itself word” (159).

Lyotard thus reverses the pattern between literature and theology, but his commentary is very different from Burke’s. He pays no attention to the narrative patterns but cuts out the lyrical, ecstatic passages (see his comment, Lyotard 67). He opens with this passage from Confessions 10, 27 that Burke also noted:

    Thou calledst and criest aloud to me; thou even breakedst open my deafness: thou shinest thine beams upon me, and hath put my blindness to flight: thou didst most fragrantly blow upon me, and I drew in my breath and I pant after thee; I tasted thee, and now do hunger and thirst after thee; thou didst touch me, and I even burn again to enjoy thy peace.
Lyotard’s commentary:
    Infatuated with earthly delights, wallowing in the poverty of satisfaction, the I was sitting idle, smug, like a becalmed boat in a null agitation. Then – but when? – you sweep down upon him and force entrance through his five estuaries. A destructive wind, a typhoon, you draw the closed lips of the flat sea toward you, you open them and turn them unfurling, inside out. Thus the lover excites the five mouths of the woman, swells her vowels, those of ear, of eye, of nose and tongue, and skin that stridulates. At present he is consumed by your fire, impatient for the return to peace that your fivefold ferocity brings him.Thine eye seekest us out, he protests, it piercest the lattice of our flesh, thou strokedst us with thy voice, we hasten on thy scent like lost saluki hounds. Thou art victorious; open-mouthed he gapes at your beatitude, you took him as a woman, cut him through, opened him, turned him inside out. Placing your outside within, you converted the most intimate part of him into his outside. And with this exteriority to himself, yours, an incision henceforth from within, you make your saints of saints, penetrale meum, he confesses, thy shine in me. The flesh, forced five times, violated in its five senses, does not cry out, but chants, brings to each assault rhythm and rhyme, in a recitative, a Sprechgesang. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, invented the practice, from what Augustine says, for the Psalms to be read in this way, a modulation of respectful voices, in the same pitch of voice, to whose accents the community of Hebrews swayed (2-3).

Lyotard picks such passages from Confessions where the “I” tells us about being penetrated with God, feeling the terror accompanying the destruction of the subject, and the repercussions hereof in memory (most of the quotes are from Book X). Lyotard is exclusively interested in the intense aspects of Augustine’s religious experience that he finds expressed in the passages in which Augustine invokes his God or himself.

In the passage above and elsewhere in the text, Lyotard spells out the erotic connotations of Augustine’s words that occur particularly in his quotations from the Psalms. The first fragment has the title “Blazon,” a late medieval genre praising the parts of the female body, that Lyotard considers an inheritor to an ancient near-eastern tradition of love poetry. In Muresan’s words: “this erotic tradition was an intensive writing on the female body, whose beauty was located in a part of this body (sourcil, têtin, larme, bouche, oreille etc). […] In order to make visible this world of desire, the technique of the cut-out receives its full effect here: only parts of a body can make the writer write, and the reader love” (158). Whereas Burke tries to follow Augustine’s wish of controlling desire on the terms of the narrative, Lyotard goes the opposite way. When Burke notices that Augustine transfers his love for his mother to Continentia and the Holy Spirit, it is a subtle interpretation, relevant to the academic altercations about Augustine’s views on women and sex. Lyotard, on the other hand, does not take Augustine’s words for granted, but insists that the conversion-strokes are of an erotic character. Augustine does not transfer his desire into Continentia, rather he is transformed into a woman, a container of the divine (“the five holes”). Lyotard has not ‘given up’ Freud though he does not consider the Freudian unconscious a privileged source of the negative.3 Rather it is the belatedness (Nachträglichkeit) of the subjective experience that causes negativity, removing the origin into the unknown. The desire for God is related to the erotic urge: “ Two attractions, two twin appetites, almost equal in force, what does it take for one to prevail upon the other? A nuance, an accent, a child humming an old tune?” (Lyotard 22).

Lyotard reads Augustine’s conversion-stroke as a “Sprechgesang,” focusing on his rhythm, style and figures. The Confessions abound in figures combining metaphor and metonymy, such as “de manu linguae mea,” from the hand of my tongue. Read allegorically these figures express the sublimation of the physical into the spiritual, but they still convey a figural sensuality, alluding to the link between writing, beauty and desire. It is this ambiguity that Lyotard unfolds: “Receive here the sacrifice of my confessions, de manu linguae mea, from the hand of my tongue which thou hast formed and stirred up to confess unto thy name” (Confessions V I, cut into Lyotard’s fragment “Oblivion,” 26).

The belated stroke, the conversion-experience, is linked to beauty, being the aftermath of an a-temporal creative principle (Muresan 152). Augustine calls this process of creation pulchritudo (Divine beauty), in contrast to beautiful forms, species. Lyotard opens his commentary with the famous words from Confessions X 27: Sero te amavi, pulchritudo. Freud placed the artistic drive in the sexual desire, an expression of libidinal urges, and Lyotard agrees: “the feeling of Beauty and religion are both immanent movements of desire […] the illusory part of any transcendence” (Muresan 157).

Muresan’ emphasizes that Lyotard’s main interest in the Confessions are Augustine’s species and pulchritudo, both a-temporal principles creating time (163; see also Caputo 503-4). It is also an important observation that this pulchritudo is not identical to the Kantian sublime: “The sublime is a feeling opposing the senses’ interest (Kant), while Beauty-Pulchritudo is carried at the heart of this interest, which it actually endorses from the place of a surplus-value and a hyper-interest” (163). Beauty is a belated stroke, and writing is an act of recollecting the act, from memory. Beauty is the origin, a creating instant, a principium in which “God enjoyed this perfect coincidence of creation and the Word” (166).

Here as elsewhere, Lyotard comments on Augustine’s pair of opposites, distentio/intentio, the erring of the subject in earthly matters versus the urge for finding God, the conflict that the Confessions on the level of the narrative seems to dissolve. But the lyrical parts, according to Lyotard, reveals the act of writing is distensio, which is the constant companion of intentio. The confessive writing reveals a split subject, a subject penetrated by the other, and a product of time: “Dissidio, dissensio, dissipatio, distensio, despite wanting to say everything, the I infatuated with putting its life back together remains sundered, separated from itself. Subject of the confessive work, the first person author forgets that he is the work of writing. He is the work of time: he is waiting for himself to arrive, he believes he is enacting himself, he is catching himself up; he is, however, duped by the repeated deception that the sexual hatches, in the very gesture of writing, postponing the instant of presence for all times” (Lyotard 36).

The last fragments, from the lecture “The Skin of the Skies,” comment a passage from Confessions XIII xv in which Augustine envisions the firmament as covered by a tent, made by the skin that Adam and Eve had to wear after the Fall (Augustine’s interpretation of Isaiah xxxiv, 3-4). Though this eternal night is the punishment of Yahweh, the skin of the Heaven at the same time bears the Holy Scripture as inscription: the signs of bestiality have been transformed into the Holy Scripture.

Lyotard writes:

    Firmament. Is it not true that you dispensed the skin of the skies like a book? And who except you, O our God, made that firmament of the authority of the divine Scripture to be over us? For the sky shall be folded up like a book, and is even now stretched over us like a skin. […] The mantle of fur that you stretch out like a canopy over our heads is made from animal skin, the same clothing that our parents put on after they had sinned, the coverings of the exiled, with which to travel in the cold and the night of lost lives, sleepwalkers stumbling to their death (37).

This is the writing of God, the writing of the creator: “ Auctoritas is the faculty of growing, of founding, of instituting, of vouchsaving” (39). We are waiting for the divine to break through, knowing that without the protecting skin of the heaven it would crush us (40). We are reading the signs, the traces of the divine, but the confessive writing stems from a fissure, a stroke undermining the belief in the universal referents of sign systems. The writing intellect, the animus, tries in vain to understand itself.

This is far from the rhetoric of the law court, Lyotard notices: arguments, reasons, causes, the philosophical and rhetorical modes only presume to find light in the obscurity of signs (46). Still, the animus finds an escape in time and in memory making it possible to write its own story, not as a presentation of a reality but as a witness of this confession-experience. Surprisingly, perhaps, Lyotard’s La confession d’Augustin ends on a note of hope:

    What I am not yet, I am. Its short glow makes us dead to the night of our days. So hope threads a ray of fire in the black web of immanence. What is missing, the absolute, cuts its presence into the shallow furrow of its absence. The fissure that zigzags across the confession spreads with all speed over life, over lives. The end of the night forever begins” (57).

Burke’s and Lyotard’s Inverted Paradigms

Burke, too, comments briefly on this passage (158-9) in which he sees an exemplary mode of logological thinking, showing analogies between the secular and sacred realms: “In particular, logology would lay much store by Augustine’s chapter xv, in the “firmament of authority,” since it forms a perfect terministic bridge linking ideas of sky, Scriptures and ecclesiastical leadership” (159). In fact, Burke does not say much about this passage, contrary to Lyotard’s lengthy reflections on the writing of the creator, the mystical letters left for humans to decipher. Burke, on the other hand, twice emphasizes that this “the-world-is-a-book”-allegory legitimizes the church offering the authoritative exegesis of the obscure signs (158,159), something that Lyotard only briefly hints at. This, I believe, shows a major difference between these two readings of the Confessions. Burke is more interested in the social-hierarchical implications of the negativity of language than Lyotard (in this text, at least). They are both radical in their insistence upon the emptiness of origins, but whereas Lyotard deconstructs the notions of subject, form, narration, Burke is focused on the sociological implications, the links between subject and society, and his reading is also an ideological critique. Biesecker in her book takes up this suggestion and develops a critical logology combining Burke and Habermas’ philosophy of communication, a surprising combination at first sight, but the comparison of Burke with Lyotard’s reading also brings out this “sociological” aspect of logology.

Burke’s ideological critique reveals the power structures built into theological language. He is radical in his philosophy of the negative, stressing the missing referents even of God-terms, but he stops at a certain limit: that of the subject and the narrative forms it is built upon. Burke’s reading points to the circularity of the Confessions and clusters of terms that he sees as “families” summing up ideas, “another variant of the subtle and elusive relation between logical and temporal terminologies” (159-160). But the subject is basically intact and ready to act in the hierarchies of society, obeying the “Thou-shalt-nots.” Moreover this subject is male. Burke does not unfold the gendered metaphors, in the way Lyotard does, thus missing some radical transgressions in Augustine’s text (see also Freccero 58). Burke sees that the “I” of the Confessions relegates the feminine to an allegorical level, sacrificing sex and women in order to obtain closeness to the divine Beauty, but he does not see the paradoxical transformation of this subject into a “feminine” receiver of the divine, a topos in Christian mysticism.

Burke and Lyotard’s inverted paradigms, the reading of theology as a philosophy of language or aesthetics, are based on the idea that negativity in language is a human condition. Burke, however, still adheres to a metaphysics of presence, allowing for the mystical union between symbol and thing. His logology is partly based on metaphysical opposites, most important being-appearance lying behind the distinction between logical structures and sequential narratives. At the same time, his reading points out the breaks and contradictions inherent in this way of thinking. Lyotard is more consequent, taking the notion of negativity to its extreme, seeing the differentiating process in every sentence. Each phrase has its diffèrend, a central notion to Lyotard’s thinking, its own perspective formed by history and interests, making it difficult to communicate across language games. A central problem in Lyotard’s linguistic theory is whether or how it is possible to shift between different language games, or phrase regimes. His “inverted paradigm” does not try to translate theology into linguistics but demonstrates the fissure of the split subject writing a poem that becomes the witness of an event beyond representation.

I am not saying that Lyotard’s reading is better than Burke’s but pointing out that Burke does not carry through his Negativity-project to its logical conclusions (which might be a cul-de-sac). Apart from the romantic opposition between being and appearance, the potentially dualistic opposition motion-act still haunts Burke and this is a remnant of a traditional philosophy of the subject.4 Burke, for sure, has his reasons for not deconstructing the subject, as it is the social, acting subject that lies at his heart. The future that already is presence is a threat to humankind, according to Burke. He seeks the transgression of functional language and the abuses of it in a world threatened by technology – this is his last warning in the section on Augustine in The Rhetoric of Religion. Hence the two readings of the Confessions should be valued on their own terms, Burke for having shown the narrative forms allowing humans to think and act, Lyotard for demonstrating the radical aesthetics of Augustine’s confessive writing.


1. Rueckert (1963) is still a good presentation of Burke’ move from dramatism to logology. Wess (1996, chapter 8) is a thorough study of this development.

2. Burke did discuss his own dichotomy critically in several texts, e.g. in the chapter “What are signs of what? (A Theory of “Entitlements),” where Burke turns the picture upside down, suggesting that things are signs of words. The idea is that the ‘word as sign of thing’ is the common sense theory (that he ascribes to Augustine) that one should qualify by admitting for the possibility that language sums up “complex nonverbal” situations, thus letting “things become the material exemplars of the values which the tribal idiom has placed upon them” (LSA 361). Se Wess (op.cit.) for further references. Carter (1992) sees Burke as a structuralist, but a structuralist with his own philosophy of a language.

3. Helms offers a brief introduction to Lyotard’s treatment of the relation between negativity and the unconscious (125-6). Burke grapples with the same question in “Mind, Body and the Unconscious” (LSA 63-80) resulting in the famous “five dogs.”

4. Burke’s humanism has been pointed out by many scholars, e.g. Scott-Coe (2004) who points to Burke’s lingering between a traditional humanism and a radical constructivism. Burke in fact nuances this distinction between act and motion by defining action as “motion-plus” (“Mind, Body, and the Unconscious,” LSA, p. 67), hence offering a pair of opposites in Jakobson’s sense (marked-unmarked) instead of a contradictory opposition. Another take on Burke’s act-motion distinction is offered by Biesecker (1997) who emphasizes that humans move and act, that we are mixtures of mechanical bodily function and the nervous system underlying conscious thinking. This is in fact a much more interesting interpretation which brings out an affinity with psychoanalysis, for example Lacan’s the “real,” the unknown to the subject, in contrast to the imaginary and the symbolic (see Thomas 1993 for a structural relation between Burke and Lacan). Debra Hawhee (2009) also has brought this aspect of Burke’s interest in human biology to the fore. In “Theology and logology” (1979), Burke suggests (admits?) that action-motion is a dualism. Still, critics have pointed to a certain “positivism” in Burke’s own thinking. Thomas Carmichael emphasizes that Burke is not at all clear when it comes to the referential functions of language: “This question of the relation between the verbal and nonverbal rests, too, at the heart of every effort to discuss Burke and his relationship to contemporary theory and is the focus of most prior discussions of the epistemological and ontological in Burke” (2001:149).

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Burke, Perelman, and the Transmission of Values: The Beatitudes as Epideictic Topoi

Stan A. Lindsay, Florida State University


Perelman rediscovered the values aspect of epideictic: It “strengthens the disposition toward action by increasing adherence to the values it lauds.” Burke's entelechy claims that humans unconsciously act upon themselves in accordance with the implicit value systems of the entelechies with which they identify. The two are here merged in a genre study of the gospels.


Kenneth Burke began his shorter articles in Philosophy of Literary Form with the article “Literature as Equipment for Living.” Burke was, of course, pointing in that article to the “rhetorical” element in literature. But, which rhetorical element? Aristotle offered three genres of rhetoric: judicial, deliberative, and epideictic. Literature may offer some small direction for deliberative rhetorical purposes, but it is hard to see how literature as equipment for living is used extensively at all in judicial rhetoric. Judicial rhetoric, as the rhetoric of the court, is interested in factual matters—what actually happened—not scenarios that one might find in literature. Literature as equipment for living, however, may be used extensively primarily in epideictic rhetoric. Burke even notes in the PLF article that what he was doing was “sociological criticism of literature” (293). Sociological emphasis pertains neither to Judicial nor to Deliberative rhetoric. Chaim Perelman rediscovered the values aspect of epideictic oratory, two millennia after Aristotle wrote his Rhetoric. While Perelman thought that classical rhetoric missed the point of epideictic rhetoric, my journey toward the appreciation of the epideictic genre argues that Perelman was wrong. I discovered the values element in classical rhetoric while I was a student of classical rhetoric—well before I became acquainted with Perelman’s work. I will return to Burke and Perelman later, as I sketch out those steps of my journey that brought me to an appreciation of Burke and Perelman and the transmission of values. As an example of how Burke, Perelman, and Classical Rhetoric figured in the development of my epideictic perspective, I consider the New Testament gospels as a text, and more precisely, the Beatitudes of Matthew and Luke.

Step One: Gospels and Rabbinic Literature

My journey began in 1973, while a master’s student of Rabbinic Hebrew at Indiana University under Henry Fischel. In particular, I found the parallels between the New Testament Gospels and Rabbinic Literature to be very informative. For example, the Gospel of Matthew 5:32 presents a teaching on divorce that allows for divorce only in the case of fornication: “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, except for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced commits adultery.” Again, Matthew 19:9 states: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Rabbinic Literature supplies the context for the issue. The Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli), tractate Gittin, 90a states: “The House of Shammai held that a man may only divorce his wife for a serious transgression, but the House of Hillel allowed divorce for even trivial offenses, such as burning a meal.” The House of Hillel (Bet Hillel) and the House of Shammai (Bet Shammai) were two schools of Rabbinic/Pharisaic thought. Matthew presents Jesus as siding with Bet Shammai in the debate. A great deal of what follows the Beatitudes in Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount relies heavily on the assumption that Matthew’s audience already knows the context of the issues addressed—from Rabbinic tradition. The sermon comments included by Matthew are extremely short and pithy, using the formula: “You have heard it said . . . but I say unto you.” Matthew just assumes that his audience has heard the contextual discussion (“You have heard it said . . .”). In this sense, Matthew’s Gospel differs from Luke’s Gospel. Luke frequently explains arcane Rabbinic issues for his audience. As I will suggest in Step Two of my journey, Luke’s audience appears to be more attuned to Greco-Roman culture and less attuned to Rabbinic culture. From a cultural standpoint, it is not difficult to see that Matthew and Luke are operating in slightly different cultural milieus. That Matthew addresses an audience that holds an appreciation for the Rabbinic oral tradition actually argues for a strong value of accuracy in oral transmission as it applies to Matthew’s audience. The Rabbinic oral tradition that was eventually written down, more than one hundred years after it was taught, as the Talmud and Mishnah is exceptional in its historical and textual accuracy. This careful referencing of the Rabbinic oral tradition in Matthew is an argument for the value of historicity and accuracy held by the audience of, at least, Matthew’s account.

The early observation of the cultural difference between Matthew’s and Luke’s audiences was a beginning for my interest in the rhetorical aspects of the gospels. Devotees of Perelman might say that my “universal audience” has long been rather small. It consists of those who know classical and contemporary rhetorical criticism, plus biblical studies and rabbinic studies. Although my master’s was in Hebrew language and literature, largely due to Fischel’s intercultural (Greek-Roman-Jewish-Christian) approach, I also pursued PhD coursework in Comparative Literature at Indiana University. I prepared a doctoral dissertation prospectus in which I sought to determine the literary genre of the New Testament gospels. I reasoned that, if we understood the category to which the gospels belonged, we would have a better perspective for interpreting what they were attempting to accomplish. Although I knew nothing, at this point in my career, of Kenneth Burke, I later would appreciate the fact that Burke would classify genre studies as studies in conventional form and alert us to the notion that form is the arousing and fulfilling of expectation. So, what expectation does or did the “gospel” form arouse and fulfill? The view that the gospel is an entirely unique genre exists, but it seemed likely that it, at least, had literary antecedents. I considered the genres of Romance, Novella, and (a then newly “discovered” genre put forth by Moses Hadas, Morton Smith, and Howard Clark Kee) Aretalogy. These “literary” genres, however, lacked something of the real-life experience sense that those reading the gospels surely encountered. One may read a romance, novella, or aretalogy without risking one’s life or social standing due to the nature of the subject matter. I sensed a definite need for a satisfactory genre classification for the gospels that would direct the audience’s expectations. I first sought that genre classification among contemporary literary genres.

Step Two: Gospels and Hellenistic Biography

Not being convinced of the close relationship between any of the above-mentioned genres and the New Testament gospels, I considered Hellenistic biography—as exemplified by Plutarch’s Lives—as a possible antecedent. The biographical genre holds some definite parallels—especially, I think, to the Gospel of Luke. In 1978, under the tutelage of Vernon Robbins, of the departments of Speech Communication, Classics, and Religious Studies at the University of Illinois (prior to his move to Emory University), I compared and contrasted the Gospel of Luke with Plutarch’s Life of Alexander. Here are some of the parallels:

  1. Plutarch delimits the type of writing he is attempting: “[W]e do not give the actions in full detail and with scrupulous exactness but rather a short summary since we are not writing histories but lives.” Luke likewise delimits: “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us, even as they delivered them to us . . . it seemed good to me . . . to write to you in order . . . so that you might know the certainty concerning the things wherein you were instructed” (Luke 1.1–4).
  2. Both authors supply genealogies for their subjects—Alexander back to Hercules, Jesus back to Adam and God.
  3. Both authors supply miraculous birth stories for their subjects.
  4. Both authors suggest Divine parentage for their subjects.
  5. Both authors present their subjects as boy geniuses. Plutarch tells of Persian ambassadors who arrived in the absence of Alexander’s father(?) Philip. Alexander impressed them with his solid sense. “He asked them no childish questions.” Luke is the only gospel writer who provides an account of the twelve-year-old Jesus visiting the temple in Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph had lost track of him, but found him sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions. The doctors of the Law were amazed at his answers (Luke 2.41–50).

For reasons, many of which are discussed in Charles H. Talbert’s What is a Gospel? The Genre of the Canonical Gospels, I conclude that the Gospels are not to be categorized as biographies. Plutarch took, at least, the appearance of an objective perspective regarding the issue of whether or not Alexander the Great was divinely parented; the Gospel of Luke exhibits no such objective perspective. Rather, the author brazenly argues for the divine heredity of the book’s hero, Jesus. Hence, there remain differences between the gospel form and the Hellenistic biography. Literary genre studies, while not exactly a dead end, did not appear to be completely satisfactory for understanding the gospel genre. Hence, my search for satisfactory genre comparisons began to turn from literary genres to rhetorical genres.

Under Vernon Robbins, I became exposed to the Form Criticism (Formgeschichte), Redaction Criticism (Redaktionsgeschichte), and Rhetorical Criticism of the Gospels. Form Criticism began to point me in the direction of smaller conventional forms from oral tradition. I will return to these concepts/approaches, shortly, but at this stage, Form Criticism opened up the relationship between gospels genre studies and rhetorical genres. Aristotle’s Rhetoric, with its discussion of paradigms, would prove to be quite enlightening as these smaller forms are used in his three rhetorical genres. The gospels extensively employ the “paradigm” form. I was beginning to find a satisfactory track.

Step Three: Gospels and Epideictic Oratory

Under John Bateman, of the Department of Classics at Illinois, I studied Hellenistic Rhetoric. I became particularly intrigued with the rhetorical genre of epideictic. It occurred to me that epideictic and biography were very closely related—the primary differences being that epideictic appeared to be the more explicitly persuasive of the two, that epideictic was more of an oral genre, and that epideictic more closely related to the everyday experiences of the audience. I wondered aloud to Bateman if the gospel genre were a close relative of epideictic. Bateman—not much of a religious believer—laughed. His view of epideictic was that it was a genre not to be taken seriously. It was merely a demonstration of the persuasive skills of the rhetor. For the Classicist Bateman, classifying the gospels as epideictic reduces them to a joke.

Indeed, sophistic encomia, such as Gorgias’ In Praise of Helen, tend to support Bateman’s view. Yet, such sophistic encomia were chronologically prior to Aristotle’s Rhetoric with its epideictic genre. Nevertheless, even English translations of Aristototle’s Rhetoric may have contributed to Bateman’s view, describing the auditor of epideictic as a "spectator,” as opposed to a “judge” in Deliberative and Judicial rhetorical genres. In Rhetoric I.3.ii, the “spectator” appears to be primarily concerned with the rhetor’s skill. The Greek term that George Kennedy translates as “spectator,” however is the term theoros. It is built on the root from which we have the English words “theory” and “theorist.” Aristotle’s very definition of rhetoric uses the same root, usually translated “to see:” “the capacity to see [theoresai] in any case the available means of persuasion” (On Rhetoric I.2.i). Viewing the audience of epideictic as a “theorist” rather than as a “spectator” sheds an entirely new light on epideictic. Later, I would be impressed with Kenneth Burke’s view of Aristotle's rhetoric as explicit: “Here's what to say if you want to smear a man . . . to build him up . . . and so on” (Dramatism and Development 27). In my opinion, the nature of epideictic as a transmitter of values is, by contrast, implicit (perhaps, even that which might require more of a “theorist” than a “judge” to decipher).

Aristotle’s Rhetoric comes from the fourth century BC. A much closer contemporary to the gospels—the Hellenistic Rhetorica ad Herennium, written in the century preceding the gospels—clearly seems to take the epideictic genre seriously. Years later, I was pleased to learn that Chaim Perelman had rediscovered serious epideictic at least two decades before I became interested in it. If the gospels are actually a form of epideictic, one might expect the gospel writers to rely heavily on the value system that was presently (as opposed to the past/Judicial or future/Deliberative) operative in the culture to which they were appealing. By praising or blaming certain individuals in the paradigms they chose to present, they were, in Perelman’s words, “strengthen[ing] the disposition toward action by increasing adherence [of the audience or culture to whom it was directed] to the values it lauds” (50).

Step Four: Connecting Epideictic Oratory with Formgeschichte

Aristotle, in On Rhetoric II.20.ii, admits both historically-based stories and fictions as his two species of paradigms, useful for inductive reasoning. I was struck by the fact that Martin Dibelius, in his ground-breaking work on Formgeschichte, From Tradition to Gospel, emphasizes “paradigms” as the first major type of form he sees in the gospels. He sees the various forms—paradigms, tales, legends, analogies, and the passion story—as the building blocks with which the gospel writers constructed their gospels. He also sees that these various smaller forms were probably transmitted throughout the church in sermon illustrations. He makes a comment on the historicity of these transmissions: “Because the eyewitnesses could control and correct, a relative trustworthiness of the Paradigms is guaranteed” (62). Years later, I would recognize this comment of Dibelius as a statement of what Kenneth Burke calls recalcitrance. Stan A. Lindsay, in Psychotic Entelechy: The Dangers of Spiritual Gifts Theology, explains: “Burke sees recalcitrance as not only something to be overcome but also as a method of overcoming, of correcting. Burke notes that recalcitrance ‘refers to the factors that substantiate a statement, the factors that incite a statement, and the factors that correct a statement’ (Attitudes Toward History 47). He suggests that ‘communicative problems and procedures’ may be ‘corrected by the principle of recalcitrance’ (PC lix).” Dibelius effectively refocused Gospel studies to the study of an oral medium, rather than written literature.

Aristotle’s comments concerning paradigms, however, apply to all three genres of rhetoric, and I think fictions would be more appropriately applied in the Deliberative genre. A political advisor, for example, might, using Deliberative rhetoric, warn his candidate not to use untruths to smear his opponent: “Remember what happened to the boy who cried ‘Wolf’!” Certainly, Judicial rhetoric emphasizes narratives that are arguably historically-based, and the entire point of epideictic in praising and blaming is that the narratives are presumably historically-based. Aristotle discusses the two general modes of persuasion. The “example” or “paradigm” is the basis of inductive reasoning. The “enthymeme” is the basis of deductive reasoning. This article is less concerned with deductive reasoning than it is with inductive reasoning. In terms of “paradigms,” there are two types—historical and invented. Since both historical and invented examples serve to persuade, we may expect both epideictic oratory and literature (whether historically-based or purely fictitious) to be persuasive. What then do both epideictic oratory and literature persuade? They subconsciously persuade auditors and readers to internalize the values they represent. Also, entelechially, they supply “cow paths” to follow in similar situations.

The minor form paradigm figures in a major way in the analysis of Martin Dibelius. In his work, he seeks to “explain the origin of the tradition about Jesus, and . . . to make clear the intention and real interest of the earliest tradition” (Preface). While calling Formgeschichte the “criticism of literary form” (1), he concludes that “[o]nly two or three of [early Christian literary] documents approximate to the literary standards of Philo and Josephus. . . . Without a doubt these are unliterary writings” (2). My conclusion is also that the gospels were not intended to be literary works; they were intended to be rhetorical works. Aristotle’s emphasis on the role of the paradigm in rhetorical genres, therefore, is particularly enlightening. Since Burke suggests that form is the arousing and fulfilling of expectations, the realization that the gospels are a rhetorical form, rather than a literary form, supplies an important expectation: The gospels were not intended to be classical literature, that might touch audiences in different ways throughout the ages; they were intended to be rhetorical works that were directed towards specific audiences, in specific cultures, at specific points in time. To interpret the gospels, one needs to consider them, as Burke puts it, neither as art for art’s sake (Counter-Statement 16), nor as art for the artist’s sake, but as art for the audience’s sake (Dramatism and Development 16). What is the psychology of the audience? What are the values of the audience? What are the specific, timely needs of the audience? In my analysis of the gospels, later in this article, I contend that the audience of Luke’s gospel holds as a much higher value than does the audience of Matthew’s gospel the virtue of being voluntarily poor. One might, therefore, speculate that Luke’s audience found itself in a much more severe situation of (voluntary?) poverty than did Matthew’s audience. One might wonder if Luke’s audience has already begun to become more “dispossessed” of their property, as Christians, than Matthew’s audience was. Perhaps, a persecution of Christians had begun against Luke’s audience. One might envision a situation similar to the Jews of Anatevka in Fiddler on the Roof, in which Christians were forced out of town, forced to leave their homes and lands behind. One might wonder if the Most Excellent Theophilus, to whom the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles was addressed, may have originally been a rather wealthy official who lost a great deal of his property by converting to Christianity. This type of audience scenario might account for a difference in emphasis between Matthew’s gospel and Luke’s gospel. Of course, these are only speculations; the values system at work in Luke’s gospel may be demonstrated by objective citation.

Step Five: Epideictic Topoi and the Rhetorica ad Herennium

My professors at the University of Illinois, Ruth Anne Clarke and Jesse Delia, comment: “Since the Classical period, rhetoricians have taught topoi, or commonplaces—general strategic approaches to be adapted to specific communicative needs” (195). The epideictic topoi of a given rhetorical handbook, for example, would provide a tool for an orator of the milieu in which the handbook is valid in order to persuade an audience from that milieu to either praise or blame the individual who was the subject of the epideictic speech. The topoi serve as indicators of the level of virtue of a person, according to the values the audience accepts.

In the Hellenistic Greek milieu, the Rhetorica Ad Herennium provides an interesting list of epideictic topoi. Topoi may vary greatly from age to age and from culture to culture, but the Ad Herennium epideictic topoi are at least indicative of what Burke means when he links topics/ topoi with values. The Ad Herennium divides the topoi of epideictic oratory into three categories: external circumstances, physical attributes, and qualities of character. The topoi that the Ad Herennium (III.10) lists under the heading of external circumstances are: a) Descent, b) Education, c) Wealth, d) Kinds of Power, e) Titles to fame, f) Citizenship, g) Friendships (3.10). Further elaboration is probably unnecessary. In the list of topoi are revealed the sort of values that were held in esteem in this milieu.

These topoi work quite well when judging the virtues of Alexander the Great as presented by Plutarch. The values indicated in the Ad Herennium are clearly reflected in Plutarch. In terms of Alexander’s descent, the issue is whether he is the son of Philip or of the god Apollo. His education in the Greek schools is unquestioned. His wealth, power, fame, and citizenship are given. However, some important differences in values may be noted when attempting to utilize the Hellenistic topoi of the Ad Herennium to examine the virtues of Jesus of Nazareth in the gospel accounts. Although both works (Plutarch and the Gospels) are produced in roughly the same age, they differ in cultures. The Gospels provide virtually no physical attributes of Jesus whatsoever. There is no clue concerning his height, weight, relative handsomeness, color or length of hair, etc. Whatever exceptional physical feats he accomplishes (walking on water, healing, calming storms) are attributed in no way to his physical attributes. Hence, an entire major category of topoi is missing. Certainly, other topoi such as “wealth” and “citizenship” which were important for Plutarch's primary audience are unimportant or even anathematized in the Gospels. Quite obviously, an alternative value system/symbol system/epideictic topoi system is at work in the Gospels, despite the fact that the Ad Herennium is from roughly the same age as the New Testament. I began to realize that, when Aristotle suggests that epideictic rhetoric deals with the “present,” that term “present” can refer to not only time limitations, but also cultural limitations. The gospels and the Ad Herennium shared proximity in time, but certainly not in culture. Likewise, Matthew and Luke shared much closer proximity in both time and culture, but there were still distinct difference between Matthew’s and Luke’s cultures.

This sense of “presence” is not what Perelman means by his use of the term “presence,” but it is, perhaps, more significant than Perelman’s term, as the term is applied to the understanding of epideictic. For Perelman, presence is “the displaying of certain elements on which the speaker wishes to center attention in order that they may occupy the foreground of the hearer’s consciousness” (142). Conversely, an Aristotelian understanding of “presence,” might convey the concept of the exact set of temporality and cultural values at any specific point in time and place and culture in history. Luke’s audience may be separated only slightly from Matthew’s in culture, time, and place, but the “present” or “presence” of Luke’s audience may be vastly different in some respects.

Step Six: Chaim Perelman’s Epideictic and Universal Audience

Yet one more University of Illinois professor, John Patton—my major professor, who moved to Tulane University before I could complete a dissertation under him—introduced me to the works of Kenneth Burke, suggesting to me that Burke’s perspective could supply many of the answers I sought. Since all of the members of my committee at Illinois were either moving away to other universities or retiring, I would eventually begin my PhD program anew, from scratch, at Purdue University, under the tutelage of the Burkean Don M. Burks. But, before I took my program to Purdue, I flirted with doing a PhD under Wilhelm Wuellner, at the Graduate Theological Union and the University of California Berkeley. Wuellner pointed me in the direction of Chaim Perelman. Perelman's observations regarding the connection between epideictic oratory and values are not difficult to grasp. He states, “since argumentation aims at securing the adherence of those to whom it is addressed, it is, in its entirety, relative to the audience to be influenced” (New Rhetoric, 19) and “Epideictic oratory has significance and importance for argumentation because it strengthens the disposition toward action by increasing adherence to the values it lauds” (50). Epideictic implicitly contains those “starting points” of Perelman’s argumentation—those facts, truths, and presumptions—that each specific culture unconsciously admits. By supplying concrete examples of the values of a culture in the life being praised, epideictic supplies “presence” and “amplitude.”

Burke has consubstantiality/communion with Perelman. Both epideictic and entelechial perspectives may be used. Perelman’s primary contribution to my journey was his work with epideictic and audience analysis. Since, as I noted earlier, the gospels appeared to me to be written to somewhat divergent audiences, and since the Rhetorica ad Herennium, though written in approximately the same historical period, was clearly divergent in cultural assumptions from the gospel accounts, I posited that the key to determining the values system that is being transmitted through epideictic rhetoric is the determination of the epideictic topoi that are functioning in the culture. Perelman’s concept of a universal audience—a mental concept that the speaker constructs—is comprised of all reasonable and competent people (14), “those whom the speaker wishes to influence by his argumentation” (19). The universal audience for epideictic must include the members of the culture whose adherence to the values presented the epideictic speaker wishes to accomplish. Since Matthew and Luke constructed mental concepts of their audience—those competent and reasonable people they wished to influence—they, no doubt, used their knowledge of those audiences in the audiences’ “present” time and situation. They spoke to what Lloyd Bitzer called the “exigences” faced by the audiences, those “imperfection(s) marked by urgency,” those defects, obstacles, things waiting to be done, things other than they should be (6). The rhetorical situations of Matthew’s and Luke’s audiences differ, and each author’s skill in addressing the values that pertain to the exigencies of their specific universal audiences will determine their success in praising and blaming.

Step Seven: Kenneth Burke’s Methodology

While Perelman points us in the right direction, he does not offer a methodology for locating the cultural values as useful as does Kenneth Burke. Kenneth Burke’s methodology is especially useful in elucidating the values one finds in a given piece of epideictic oratory. Burke's concept of entelechy as a process of development in which the telos or goal of the individual is implicit throughout the process is more difficult to grasp, however. Burke uses the Aristotelian biological entelechy of a seed, growing to maturity, and then makes human symbolic extensions. Essentially, Burke claims that humans unconsciously act upon themselves (in a manner analogous to the seed growing to maturity) in accordance with the implicit value systems of the entelechies/stories with which they identify. Both Perelman’s and Burke’s approaches supply metarhetorics explaining how values are transmitted implicitly to the audience. While epideictic utilizes primarily historical persons and events, entelechy is present in both historically-based stories and in fictions. The song made famous by Burke’s grandson Harry Chapin, “Cat’s in the Cradle,” points simultaneously to both types of entelechy. The song’s narrator speaks/sings of his child who arrived just the other day, that child’s gradual maturing (during which process the child assimilated implicitly the value system of his father), and the father’s epiphany at retirement that, to his dismay, his boy had grown up just like him. While this type of entelechy can be seen in countless historical situations—the proverbial acorn does not fall far from the oak—we actually realize that Harry Chapin is not speaking/singing autobiographically. He is speaking/ singing literature. Burke’s concept of entelechy encompasses both historically-based stories and fictions.

Clause Two of Kenneth Burke's definition of the human—inventor of and moralized by the negative—introduces the existence of “polar” terms such as “true-false, order-disorder, cosmos-chaos, success-failure, peace-war” (Language as Symbolic Action 11), etc. Burke observes that certain clusters of terms automatically exclude certain other clusters of terms. These clusters of terms at times can be violated so as to produce a perspective by incongruity. But, usually, these clusters can be studied for the purpose of understanding the peculiar symbol system of a given author (or, more specifically, a given author within a given work) to find out which terms s/he automatically associates with which other terms. For Burke, “a book is a replica of the human mind” (Dramatism and Development 20). He would qualify the comparison by adding that “in a book,” the “vast assortment of ‘equations’” is “finished, whereas in life there is always the possibility of new situations which will to some degree modify such alignments” (Dramatism and Development 20). The mind is in a state of constant modification. Note, however, that for Burke, “Any work is a set of interrelated terms with corresponding ‘equations,’ sometimes explicit, but more often implicit” (Dramatism and Development 20). Such clusters of “implicit or explicit ‘equations’” form a “structure of terms, or symbol-system” (The Philosophy of Literary Form viii).

The associational nature of these equations, according to Burke, make them similar to what “contemporary social scientists call ‘values’ or what in Aristotle's Rhetoric are called ‘topics’” (The Philosophy of Literary Form ix). Otherwise put, the inductive procedure to which Burke adheres is capable of providing not only enlightenment regarding the specific text under consideration, but also of revealing a picture of the scenic background in which the literary act takes place (since Burke considers the scene to be the ideological background in which the act occurs, and values considerations are ideological). So, how is Burke's method to be used to become enlightened concerning the values and associations of New Testament authors? In charting the specific symbol system of a given author, Burke's method requires “objective citation:”

    Now, the work of every writer contains a set of implicit equations. [S/h]e uses “associational clusters.” And you may, by examining his[/her] work, find “what goes with what” in these clusters—what kinds of acts and images and personalities and situations go with his[/her] notions of heroism, villainy, consolation, despair, etc. And though [s/]he be perfectly conscious of the act of writing, conscious of selecting a certain kind of imagery to reinforce a certain kind of mood, etc., [s/]he cannot possibly be conscious of the interrelationships among all these equations. Afterwards, by inspecting his[/her] work “statistically,” we or [s/]he may disclose by objective citation the structure of motivation operating here. There is no need to “supply” motives. (The Philosophy of Literary Form 20)

Burke includes the proviso, “by objective citation,” and his elaboration, “There is no need to ‘supply’ motives,” as an answer to and protection against his method being “characterized as ‘intuitive’ and ‘idiosyncratic,’ epithets that make (him) squirm” (The Philosophy of Literary Form 68).

Burke would begin his search for “equational clusters” by watching “for the dramatic alignment. What is vs. what” (The Philosophy of Literary Form 69). Another way of considering this first step is as a search for polarities. When Burke says that he might “sloganize [his] theory . . . by treating the terms ‘dramatic’ and ‘dialectical’ as synonymous” (The Philosophy of Literary Form xx), he implies that there are “two quite different but equally justifiable positions . . . in [his] approach” (Language as Symbolic Action 54):

    There is a gloomy route of this sort: If action is to be our key term, then drama; for drama is the culminative form of action (this is a variant of the “perfection” principle . . .). But if drama, then conflict. And if conflict, then victimage. Dramatism is always on the edge of this vexing problem, that comes to a culmination in tragedy, the song of the scapegoat.
    There is also a happy route, along the lines of a Platonic dialectic. . . . [T]his happier route . . . states the problem in the accents of an ideal solution. (Language as Symbolic Action 54–55)

Whether Burke's method is called “dramatic” or “dialectical,” the implicit antithetical nature of Burke's method may be noted. In drama, the antithetical hero and villain are present. Burke can speak of “the ‘villain’ that makes the total drama go” (Attitudes Toward History 343). In Platonic dialectic, something similar to the “opposite banks of a stream” is present. The antithetical nature of the “opposite banks” may be transcended by the “reality” of the whole stream. It is not necessary in dialectic to disprove one bank of the stream, in order that the opposite bank may be true. Still, in both the “dramatic” and the “dialectic” separate “bins” (Attitudes Toward History 135) are present. Polarities are present. The question, “What is vs. what?” is present.

Step Eight: Applying Burke and Perelman to the Beatitudes

The present article is not the first to identify the Beatitudes as rhetoric. Charles H. Talbert in Reading the Sermon on the Mount states of George A. Kennedy that he sees the beatitudes of Matthew as the Prooemium to Jesus’ sermon (23). According to Aristotle, III.14.ii, “The prooemia of epideictic speeches are drawn from praise or blame. . . . Gorgias praises . . . ‘You are worthy the admiration of many, O men of Greece.’” L. John Topol states in Children of a Compassionate God: A Theological Exegesis of Luke 6:20–49: “The beatitude has the social function of promoting those values and behaviors which the community holds dear (Hamm, Beatitudes 12). “The beatitude . . . functions as a kind of epideictic rhetoric” (62). Yet, to my knowledge, this article may be the first to identify the beatitudes as epideictic topoi. Aristotle, Book I, Chapter 9 discusses epideictic rhetoric. In verse 34 of that Book and Chapter, Aristotle identifies the blessing/ makarismos as a type of epideictic. The Greek word makarios is precisely the term used in the Beatitudes. The values=epideictic topoi of the Gospel According to Matthew are fairly well explicated in Matthew’s Beatitudes (New International Version, Matthew 5.3–12):

  1. “Blessed are the poor in spirit. . . .” This beatitude is backed up by stories such as the rich young man whom Jesus commanded to sell everything he had and give the money to the poor (Matthew 19.16–24). It stands in direct contrast to the ad Herennium topos of wealth.
  2. “Blessed are those who mourn . . . .” This beatitude is backed up by stories such as Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26.36–46).
  3. “Blessed are the meek . . . .” This beatitude is backed up by stories such as the Palm Sunday entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem, riding on a donkey (Matthew 21.1–11). It stands in direct contrast to the ad Herennium topos of power.
  4. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness . . . .” This beatitude is backed up by stories such as the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14.13–21). It stands again in contrast to the ad Herennium topos of wealth.
  5. “Blessed are the merciful . . . .” This beatitude is backed up by stories such as the many healings performed by Jesus (Matthew 8.14–17).
  6. “Blessed are the pure in heart . . . .” This beatitude is backed up by Jesus’ seeming literary allusion to wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7.15) and by the label hypocrite which he applies to his opponents (Matthew 23.13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29).
  7. “Blessed are the peacemakers . . . .” This beatitude is backed up by Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies (Matthew 5.43–48).
  8. “Blessed are those who are persecuted . . . .” This beatitude is backed up by stories such as the passion of Christ.

These are just a few of the explicit epideictic topoi to be found in Matthew. Many more implicit topoi are present. The religious phenomenon known by the slogan WWJD (What would Jesus do?) is evidence of both the epideictic and the entelechial nature of the gospels. There is not space in this article to examine all of the beatitudes, but, since two of the beatitudes seem to stand in direct opposition to the ad Herennium topos of wealth—“Blessed are the poor” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst”—it is informative to check the wealth-related paradigms of Matthew and Luke (the only two gospel writers who include a list of beatitudes).

We must apply Burke’s methodological instruction requiring “objective citation.” Before checking the paradigms we note the difference in the phraseology used by Matthew and Luke. Whereas, Luke states flatly “Blessed are ye poor” (6.20), Matthew seems to pull his punches: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (5.3). Whereas, Luke states flatly “Blessed are ye that hunger now” (6.20), Matthew seems to pull his punches: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness” (5.3). Does Matthew’s audience/culture not hold the same value towards poverty as Luke’s audience/culture? Bear in mind that no matter how Jesus originally may have phrased such beatitudes, they would have been uttered in Aramaic or Hebrew. Matthew and Luke, on the other hand, are writing in Greek. Therefore, the interpretation of Jesus’ sayings could be emphasized differently in different cultures. This could be a translation issue. Luke, however, seems intent on clarifying that his value of voluntary poverty should be taken literally—not reinterpreted as being poor “in spirit.” He supplements his list of beatitudes with woes: “Woe unto you that are rich! For you have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full now! For you shall hunger” (Luke 6.24–25).

Luke’s cultural value as it regards money/wealth appears to be more severe than Matthew’s cultural value. Luke is the only writer (albeit, in his companion work, Acts of the Apostles) who reports that the early Christians in Jerusalem “sold their property and their belongings and distributed them to all as anyone might have need” (Acts 2.45). He presents Peter and John as having neither silver nor gold (Acts 3.6). He praises Barnabas who owned a field, sold it, and brought the proceeds to deposit at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4.36–37). He condemns Ananias and his wife Sapphira for attempting to fake this act of poverty. They sold a field and secretly kept back some of the profits, but they reported to the apostles that they had given all. They were both struck down dead (Acts 5.1–11).

Of course, since Matthew did not, as Luke did, write an account of the early church after Jesus’ death, the paradigms of Acts can only be used to account for Luke’s culture’s value system. We may, however, compare and contrast the paradigms in the two gospel accounts to note the comparative emphasis placed on voluntary poverty.

  1. In an account that only appears in Luke, Jesus’ mother Mary, during her pregnancy, remarks about her own “low estate” (Luke 1.48) and how God has “exalted them of low degree . . . has filled the hungry . . . [and] has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1.52–53).
  2. Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus is the only one that mentions that he was “wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger”—details that suggest poverty —at his birth (Luke 2.7). By contrast, Matthew is the only gospel that mentions “wise men from the east . . . opening their treasures . . . [and] offering unto him gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2.2–11).
  3. Luke’s account of Jesus’ baby dedication, with Mary and Joseph offering up “a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons” (Luke 2.25) indicates that Mary and Joseph’s offering was of the variety offered by the poor.
  4. Luke is the only one who chooses to include the money-themed account of John the Baptist’s advice to his audience when, after being converted, they asked what they must do: “He that has two coats, give to him who has none; and he that has food, do likewise . . . publicans . . .extort no more than that which is appointed to you . . . soldiers . . . do not exact anything wrongfully and be content with your wages” (Luke 3.11–14).
  5. Luke is the only evangelist to record Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth in which he says he is anointed to “preach good tidings to the poor” (Luke 4.18).
  6. Both Matthew and Luke record Jesus’ admonition to love your enemies, but Luke adds the embellishment: “[F]rom him who takes away your cloak withhold not your coat also. Give to everyone that asks of you and of him that takes away your goods, ask not to have them back” (Luke 6.29–30).
  7. Only Luke records the paradigm of a man who disputed with his brother over their inheritance. Jesus responds that he is not a judge or divider over people and follows up with the parable of a rich man who decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. Jesus condemns him: tonight his life will be required of him (Luke 12.13–20).
  8. Only Luke records two parables on stewardship. In the parable of the steward who forgave many debts that were owed to his “rich” boss who was firing him, his boss commended him because he had done wisely. In the parable of the rich man and the poor beggar Lazarus, both die and the rich man finds himself in torment while the poor man is relaxing in Abraham’s bosom. Abraham tells the rich man: “Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus received evil things; but now here he is comforted and you are in anguish” (Luke 16.1–26).
  9. A very significant paradigm, the story of the rich young man, appears in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew 19.16–20.16, Mark 10.17–31, and Luke 18.18–30). In this paradigm, the rich man asks what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep all the commandments. He responds that he has kept them since he was a child. Mark and Luke have Jesus responding: “One thing you lack . . .” (Mark 10.21 and Luke 18.22). Matthew rephrases: The man asks, “What do I lack yet? Jesus says to him, ‘If you would be perfect . . .’” (Matthew 19.21). Then all three accounts tell the man to “sell all that you have and give to the poor, and . . . come, follow me.” This difficult requirement astonishes all of the disciples. The only hint that Matthew may have pulled his punches on this paradigm is that he has Jesus tell the man, “If you would be perfect, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and . . . come, follow me.” Perhaps, Matthew is setting up an ideal value for his audience, but implicitly recommending, at least, that they be “poor in spirit.”
  10. Luke alone records the paradigm of Zacchaeus the publican, who though rich, tells Jesus, “Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have wrongfully exacted anything of any man, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19.1–9).
  11. Only Luke and Mark record the story of the Widow’s mites. Jesus comments, “This poor widow cast in more than the all; for all these did of their plenty cast in, but she of her want did cast in all the living that she had” (Luke 21.1–4).
  12. Only in Matthew is the kingdom of heaven likened to a man finding hidden treasure and to a man finding a pearl of great price (Matthew 13.34–46).

The sheer volume of paradigmatic amplification presented by Luke, as compared to Matthew, suggests that epideictically-speaking, Luke’s culture held the notion of voluntarily giving away one’s wealth to be a much higher value than did Matthew’s culture, even though both cultures saw the topos of wealth in an opposite sense from that presented in the Rhetorica ad Herennium. Matthew’s cultural value as it pertains to poverty and giving may be connected to the words “in spirit” that he includes with the beatitude: Blessed are the poor in spirit. Burke recommends that we ask, “What is vs. what?” Matthew appears to set up his Christian culture’s antagonists as the Pharisees. In Matthew’s gospel, it is clear that the Pharisees do give alms, so it is difficult to criticize their giving, but Matthew’s culture questions the motive for their apparent liberality:

    1. While both Matthew and Luke have John the Baptist, preaching and calling people in his audience “the offspring of vipers,” only Matthew identifies these antagonists as “Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 3.7).
    2. Matthew also has Jesus calling the Pharisees “the offspring of vipers” and comparing a good man who “out of his own good treasure brings forth good things” with an evil man who “out of his evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matthew 12.34–36).
    3. Only Matthew criticizes the “hypocrites” for doing “their righteousness before men, to be seen of them.” He recommends giving alms—but in secret (Matthew 6.1–4). Likewise, he recommends praying in secret—not on the street corners.

    Form criticism (Formgeschichte), according to Dan O. Via, Jr. in the foreword to Norman Perrin’s What is Redaction Criticism, “has concerned itself largely with investigating the individual units—stories and sayings—in the synoptic gospels. Redaction criticism . . . grew out of form criticism, and . . . investigates how smaller units—both simple and composite—from the oral tradition or from written sources were put together . . . . Its goals are to understand why the items from the tradition were modified and connected as they were, to identify the theological motifs that were at work, and to elucidate the theological point of view which is expressed in and through the composition” (vi–vii). But Redaction criticism would be more of an Art-for-the-Artist’s sake approach. What I am proposing with this article is an essentially new approach—an Art-for-the-Audience’s sake approach. It could be termed “epideictic criticism.” The examples of epideictic rhetoric I have cited here appear to be less concerned with the theological perspective of the author than they are with the values system of the audience. Therefore, epideictic criticism is not the same as redaction criticism.

    To view the gospels as epideictic, as Perelman says, “strengthens the disposition toward action by increasing adherence to the values it lauds” (50). Aristotle instructs: “[In epideictic] one should also use many kinds of amplification, for example if the subject [of praise] is the only one or the first or one of a few or the one who has most done something . . . these things are honorable” (I.9.38). Therefore, when Matthew amplifies the proposed behavior pattern for the rich young man—“If you would be perfect, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and . . . come, follow me” (Matthew 19.21), he increases the audience’s disposition toward action by increasing its adherence to that value. Matthew can then reinforce this adherence by offering Peter’s example: “Lo, we have left all, and followed you” (Matthew 19.27). Then Jesus responds with amplification and laudation for all who have left things and people to follow him (Matthew 19.28–30). Sonja K. Foss, et al., in discussing Perelman, note: “Amplitude in argumentation can be accomplished by adding new evidence to lines of arguments, increasing the range of kinds of argumentative techniques employed, and adding redundancy. In many cases, increasing the amplitude of arguments increases their strength” (105). The redundancy of Luke in exhibiting paradigms of people giving all that they have would almost certainly increase his audience’s adherence to the value of voluntary poverty. The epideictic approach to the gospels differs from much of the current emphasis in rhetorical criticism of the gospels in that it views the gospels from the perspective of a culture (or subculture) whose values are already somewhat established (and seeks to reinforce them) rather than from the perspective of an author who wishes to present new rhetorical argumentation.

    The cluster-agon method of Kenneth Burke assists the researcher in determining not only the values and symbol-system of the author of a given gospel, but also (since the Greek formulations of the paradigms in the gospels are largely the product of early Christian culture) the values and symbol system of something like Perelman’s “universal audience” of a specific gospel.

    After determining the epideictic topoi (as this study does, using the values listed in the Beatitudes), this method begins by identifying the protagonists and antagonists in the story. In Matthew, there seem to be strong indications of an agon between the “the pure in heart” (a beatitude that is not reported in Luke, and terminology that might be used to interpret the meaning of those who are poor “in spirit”) and those whose hearts are disingenuous (hypocrites, Pharisees, those who may appear to be liberal but who are only doing it for selfish, cynical reasons).

    Next, the method would trace the terms that are associated with the protagonists and antagonists by using Burke’s statistical method of equations, where each term—such as “rich,” “poor,” “viper,” “hypocrite,” “Pharisee,” “give,” “low,” “hungry,” “fool,” “forgive,” “good,” “evil,” “perfect,” “all,” “treasure,” “price,” and “alms”—can be placed in either the protagonist bin or the antagonist bin (or the situation in which it has, in the past, been in one bin but is now changing to the other—Burke’s “arrow” notation). The method would also note those terms that seem to be equated with or opposed to those terms, to determine what values are being expressed. This step is actually easier in gospels studies and biblical studies than it is in the analysis of many other types of literature or rhetoric. Elaborate, analytical Bible concordances in English and Greek exist, which make the tracing of terms in biblical literature comparatively easy, while other literature requires detailed analytical work just to form connections between terms in the literary work. As one who has engaged in concordance work in Burkean studies, I find such tasks to be monumental. For a more thorough account of Burke’s entelechial statistical method of elucidating values and symbol systems, the reader is referred to Chapter 6 (“The Entelechial Statistical Method”) in Stan A. Lindsay’s Implicit Rhetoric: Kenneth Burke’s Extension of Aristotle’s Concept of Entelechy.

    Finally, it should be emphasized that epideictic rhetoric is highly entelechial. Lindsay’s Implicit Rhetoric (9–10) observes three levels at which implicit persuasion, or entelechy, operates: Level One is the model that the reader may follow. Paradigms supply such entelechies, if they are paradigms that are placed in the protagonist bin. Level Two is the anti-model, the reactionary level. Lindsay writes: “Not all entelechies are followed. Some are reacted to” (9). Paradigms supply such entelechies, if they are paradigms that are placed in the antagonist bin. Level Three is the literary level. Since literature, to a greater extent than rhetoric, is subject to different perspectives that may produce various and sundry identifications and applications, the “actual attitude . . . engendered by the [literature] might be quite different. It depends, as Burke indicates, upon the situation of the audience member and how s/he identifies with the characters in the” story (10). As Burke suggests, humans unconsciously act upon themselves in accordance with the implicit value systems of the entelechies/stories with which they identify. Hence, values are transmitted.

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    Clarke, Ruth Anne and Jesse G. Delia. "Topoi and Rhetorical Competence," Quarterly Journal of Speech 65 (1979): 195–215. Print.

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

    —. Psychotic Entelechy: The Dangers of Spiritual Gifts Theology. Lanham, MD: UP of America, 1998. Print.

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    Symbolic Action and Dialogic Social Interaction in Burke's and the Bakhtin School's Sociological Approaches to Poetry

    Don Bialostosky, University of Pittsburgh


    Burke and the Bakhtin School both proposed sociological approaches to poetry. Both start from an unsituated word for which they construe a situation. For Burke, the poet responds dramatistically to the scene of writing; for the Bakhtin School, the poem's speaker responds enthymematically to assumed social values and understandings.

    Scholars have noted similarities between Burke and Bakhtin since Holquist and Clarke's 1986 biography of Bakhtin, and there is good reason to think of them together. Margaret Zulick posted an online chronology that reminds us that they were born two years apart in the last decade of the nineteenth century and that they led engaged intellectual lives through more than half a century in the wake of the Russian revolution.  In 2004 she published the only extended essay that treats them together, a discussion of their views of ethics and aesthetics.  Though their lives were radically divergent, both pursued lifelong intellectual inquiries and wrote voluminously over decades without the support or the constraint of conventional academic degrees, disciplines, or careers. Both developed their ideas in dialogue with friends and colleagues. Burke's dialogues are richly chronicled by Selzer and George; Bakhtin's are so intricate that he has been both credited and discredited with authoring texts published under colleagues' names so that it is now common to meld them in a Bakhtin School.  Both the Bakhtin School and Burke wrote in response to major movements in the thought of the twentieth century, Marxism and Freudianism in particular, and to other major philosophers—Plato, Aristotle, and Kant figure for both of them.  For both, literary texts were crucial points of reference in inquiries that ranged well beyond the disciplinary boundaries of literary criticism.  

    Both wrote what they represented as sociological approaches to poetry, Marxism-inflected responses to the formalisms and Freudianisms of their divergent situations (Voloshinov 93ff; Burke, Philosophy, 102, 284, 293, 303).  Neither, however, has become the titular guiding light of a school of poetic criticism.  Burke's account of poetry, as a recent essay has shown, is a footnote to the New Criticism that "went the way of the footnote, sliding almost unobtrusively from the margins of the page to the edges of history," though this essay brings it back to the main text and the historical center (Vrijders 537).  Poetry in Bakhtin's account has been taken by all but a few critics as nothing more than a reductively diminished foil to the novel, though a few, myself included, have seen promising loopholes through which a dialogic sociological poetics might emerge (See Wesling).  One may reasonably wonder why it is worth comparing their thoughts on this topic now.    

    As Vrijders' article makes evident, the New Criticism and its footnotes remain salient topics of historical inquiry, but they are also at least in the U. S. continuing influences on how students in the schools and colleges are taught to read poetry.  Burke's account of poetry as symbolic action articulates a practice familiar in pedagogical reductions as symbol-hunting (see, for recent evidence, Scholes); it has also received influential theoretical elaboration in Fredric Jameson's first level of interpretation as "symbolic act" in his Political Unconscious, which, though it acknowledges Burke, overshadows him with Marx (76-81).  The Bakhtin School, most frequently brought by critics to the study of the novel, has not yet had its day as a poetic theory or pedagogy, but I believe it can offer a defensible and teachable alternative to the New Criticism and its footnotes—a sociological poetics that also accounts for poetry's formal features and enables a rich close reading of social interactions in poems.  Burke's claim that his poetics is also "sociological" and also takes those formal features into account prompts a Bakhtinian like me to engage with his version of the sociological, for perhaps the central Bakhtinian insight is that

    No living word relates to its object in a singular way: between the word and its object, between the word and the speaking subject, there exists an elastic environment of other, alien words about the same object, the same theme, and this is an environment that it is often difficult to penetrate.  It is precisely in the process of living interaction with specific environment that the word may be individualized and given stylistic shape. ("Discourse" 276)  

    In this case, I will sharpen the profile of the Bakhtin School's sociological poetics by comparing it with Burke's and at the same time bring out some of the distinctive features of Burke's poetics.  Burke's approach, we will see, focuses on reading the poet's response to the situation in which he writes, while the Bakhtin School follows the unfolding social interactions of the participants in the implied situation represented in the poem.

    This comparison could be traced through many texts in both oeuvres, but I will confine my inquiry here to a smaller set in which it is opened and elaborated.  Valentin Voloshinov, a close collaborator of Bakhtin's, introduced an explicitly Marxist sociological poetics in response to Russian formalism and to psychological criticism in his 1926 article "Discourse in Life and Discourse in Art," an essay published in English translation as an appendix to, but that originally preceded the publication of, Voloshinov's Freudianism: A Critical Sketch.  Nearly thirty years later Bakhtin wrote an essay translated as "The Problem of Speech Genres," which, though not called "sociological" or Marxist, repeats key points from Voloshinov's essay and connects the language of literature with everyday language of social interaction.  Burke posited a sociological criticism in his 1938 essay "Literature as Equipment for Living," in a journal "closely identified," Selzer and George tell us, with" the League of American Writers" a year before he spoke at the third American Writer's Congress (199); Burke invoked the epithet "sociological" again to name his approach in the long title essay that opened The Philosophy of Literary Form in 1941, in which he also republished "Literature as Equipment for Living."  In the "The Philosophy of Literary Form" the neo-Aristotelians, with whom Burke included the New Critics, play the formalist part that focuses on the internal structure of the poem to the exclusion of its situation.

    Any sociological approach to poetry will offer some way to relate the words of the poem to some understanding of its situation.  Both Burke and Voloshinov open their arguments with the case of an unsituated word and then build their argument by constructing the word's situation.  Burke begins "The Philosophy of Literary Form" writing: "Let us suppose that I ask you: 'What did the man say?' And that you answer: 'He said "yes."'  You still do not know what the man said.  You would not know unless you knew more about the situation, and about the remarks that preceded his answer" (1).  Voloshinov opens his account of discourse in life in this way: "Two people are sitting in a room.  They are both silent.  Then one of them says "Well!" The other does not respond.  For us, as outsiders, this entire 'conversation' is utterly incomprehensible.  Taken in isolation, the utterance 'Well!' is empty and unintelligible" (99).

    Burke never fills in a specific situation for the "yes" but immediately posits that "Critical and imaginative works are answers to questions posed by the situation in which they arose.  They are not merely answers, they are strategic answers, stylized answers.  For there is a difference in style or strategy, if one says 'yes' in tonalities that imply 'thank God' or in tonalities that imply 'alas!'  So I should propose an initial working distinction between 'strategies' and 'situations,' whereby we think of poetry . . . as the adopting of various strategies for the encompassing of situations" (1).   He is moving fast here, and there is already a lot to unpack, but I want to note that Burke presumes the "yes" to be a relieved or disappointed answer to a question, a response to a prior utterance of a particular kind, and not a fist-pumping celebratory evaluation of victory or an affirmative orgasmic outburst.  And he takes the tonal variations he imagines as indicative of strategies or styles without yet saying what the difference might be, what ends the strategies might be directed toward or what persons or decorums the styles might bespeak.  As the argument develops, we will learn that the focus is on an individual speaker revealing through recurrent stylistic patterns unconscious strategies that respond to a prior situation or conscious strategies that aim to affect a future situation.

    Voloshinov explicates his "Well!" as already "expressively intoned" with "indignation and reproach moderated by a certain amount of humor" (9).  Even with this determinate tone, however, the situation of its utterance still remains indeterminate, and he goes on at some length to narrate a story that fills in its requisite unspoken shared determinants in the "extraverbal context" that make the utterance intelligible.  He identifies three factors: "(1) the common spatial purview of the interlocutors . . . , (2) the interlocutors' common knowledge and understanding of the situation, and (3) their common evaluation of that situation."  In this case "both interlocutors looked up at the window and saw that it had begun to snow; both knew that it was already May and that it was high time for spring to come; finally, both were sick and tired of the protracted winter" (99).  The focus here is on the shared natural and social conditions necessary for an evaluative utterance to make an intelligible common evaluation of a present situation for its speaker and listener.

    Burke goes on in Philosophy of Literary Form to articulate the factors in the situation of a poem dramatically as the situating of an act.  Anticipating the dramatism of Grammar of Motives, he considers "literary acts as placed upon a scene" (xviii) and "poetry, or any verbal act . . . as symbolic action" (8).  Later he sums up, "We have drama and the scene of the drama.  The drama is enacted against a background. . . . The description of scene is the role of the physical sciences; the description of drama is the role of the social sciences. . . . There is an interaction between scene and role.  Hence dramatic criticism takes us into areas that involve the act as 'response' to the scene . . .[and] the acts of other persons become part of the scenic background for any individual person's act" (114-15).  Again a lot to unpack here, but a question arises for me regarding how scenes peopled with "the acts of other persons" remain the scenic object of the physical sciences when they would appear to have become socialized and, as Burke's first remarks about words answering earlier words would suggest, dialogized.  In drama, the other actors on a stage are not merely part of the scene but part of the action and verbal interaction, but Burke's incorporation of them into scene appears to objectify them or at least to put them on a different plane from the primary actor whose motives he attends to.  Burke addresses this difficulty by "equating 'dramatic' with 'dialectic'" so that a text responding strategically to a situation must be considered "as the answer or rejoinder to assertions current in the situation in which it arose" (109), but this dialectical addendum still radically limits the kinds of prior utterances to assertions and the kinds of responses to answers or rejoinders.  Burke's account of situation in these terms becomes not just dramatic but philosophical, concerned with claims and counter-claims and the movement of discussion toward the next level of claims.

    Voloshinov articulates the situation of the poem enthymematically rather than dramatically not as an act of a single agent but as an utterance in verbal interaction between a speaker and a listener.  He writes, "the extraverbal situation is far from being merely the external cause of an utterance—it does not operate on the utterance from outside, as if it were a mechanical force"—a formulation with which Burke would agree.  "Rather," he goes on, "the situation enters into the utterance as an essential constitutive part of the structure of its import.  Consequently a behavioral utterance as a meaningful whole is comprised of two parts: (1) the part realized or actualized in words and (2) the assumed part.  On this basis, the behavioral utterance can be likened to the enthymeme [a form of syllogism one of whose premises is not expressed but assumed]" (100).  The situation is partly explicit in the utterance and partly taken for granted by participants in it.  He goes on to say that the assumed part is socially shared, different for intimates and contemporaries than for people separated by time, social position, and way of life.  Something like Burke's "scene" recurs in Voloshinov's assumed "shared spatial purview," but this formulation makes it not the background against which an observer sees Burke's actor but the world on which the interlocutors themselves look out and notice the same thing.  The rest of Voloshinov's assumed situation, the unspoken common knowledge and common evaluation of it, are part of the interlocutors' shared social experience, going without saying and informing the terse utterance that brings them together in a way that "resolves the situation, bringing it to and evaluative conclusion" and joins them as "co-participants who know, understand, and evaluate the situation in like manner" (100). 

    Poems as utterances double the communication situation of everyday discourse by adding the situation of the representing poet to the situation of speaker represented in the poem.  At the latter level poems inscribe utterances between a speaker and a listener in a situation they share with one another.  As scripts made by the poet representing those utterances, however, rather than immediately spoken and heard utterances they cannot "rely on objects and events in the immediate milieu as things 'understood' [by readers] without making the slightest allusion to them in the verbal part of the utterance. . . . Much that could remain outside the utterance in life must find verbal representation"(106) or remain ambiguous to the reader of a poem.  Nor can the reader be presumed to share knowledge and evaluations that the speaker could share with his or her immediate interlocutor.  Footnotes and critical inquiry become necessary where in everyday utterances a nod of shared understanding might have been sufficient.  Finally, the speaker's evaluative intonation is perhaps the most important element that is lost when the spoken utterance becomes a written script.  In spoken communication intonation prompts the listener to share the evaluations of the topic or the hero—the person or personified thing it represents; in poetic texts the evaluation must be communicated by choice of words, the manner of the utterance's unfolding, and the rhythm and formal elements of the versification.  Texts are silent, and their intonation and indeed their meaning must be actively co-created by the reader from textual features.

    The reader's role differs from Burke's to Voloshinov's models. Postulating that poems are strategic acts of poets in scenic situations Burke focuses on the poet as strategic agent whose poem enacts his or her strategy; this orientation makes reading the poem the occasion to infer what that poet-agent is unconsciously (when the poem is read as dream or wish) or consciously (when it is read as "prayer" or communicative act) trying to do and why.  Poems for Burke are occasions to discover  "the motivation, or situation, of the poetic strategy" (78) for "situation is but another word for motives" (20).  This is a discovery reserved for the psychologically oriented critic who is in a position after the completion of the work to observe the patterns of interrelation and image the poet "could not have been conscious of" (20) in writing or for the rhetorical/dialectical critic to read formal and stylistic features of the work as designed toward convincing the reader of its claim. 

    These strategies become "equipment for living" valuable to readers as well as poets insofar as the situations that motivate them are "typical, recurrent situations" (293), the sort of situations Burke says sociological criticism aims to name and codify (301).  Proverbs, the type of utterance Burke turns to in both essays, are prepackaged, memorable responses to recurrent situations to which they may be repeatedly applied.  They 'have a word for" social situations that frequently recur (293), fulfilling the terms of the critical approach he calls the "chart."  Poems, Burke speculates, might be thought of as "complex variants and recombinations of such material as we find in proverbs" (3), strategies for encompassing and addressing more complex but still recurring situations such as those we call tragic and comic.  The Burkean sociological critic reads poems to discover and explicate the situations they respond to and the strategies of their writer's responses to them; the members of the audience, since the play is still the paradigm here, may simply enjoy going through a performance of feelings and attitudes, devised by the poet, to prepare for or get over such situations in the course of their lives.  Poems can strengthen us to face and relieve us from having faced recurrent situations of love, loss, guilt, and other existential emotions without our critical awareness of their patterns or functions or genres.

    Claiming that poems are textual scenarios of verbal social interactions of represented participants that condense and depend upon unarticulated social evaluations, Voloshinov imagines a reader who attempts to bring the poetic text to life as an utterance by discovering signs from which to co-create its evaluative tone and follow the unfolding social relations of its speaker, listener, and topic or hero.  Because the lyric poem is his model instead of Burke's drama, actors have not already realized these tones and relations of participants on stage, and the words on the page guide the competent contemplator's co-creation of them.  "Every instance of intonation," Voloshinov writes, "is oriented in two directions: with respect to the listener as ally or witness and with respect to the object of the utterance as the third, living participant whom the intonation scolds or caresses, denigrates or magnifies.  This double orientation is what determines all aspects of intonation and makes it intelligible" (104-5)Further, "The author, hero, and listener . . . are to be understood not as entities outside the artistic event, he goes on, "but only as entities in the very perception of an artistic work, entities that are essential constitutive factors of the work.  They are the living forces that determine the form and style" (109).  These intrinsic participants are, as Bakhtin would later put it, "on a common plane" ("Discourse" 291), not like the acts of Burke's persons other than the agent, part of the "scenic background" (115) of that primary agent. 

    Indeed, Burke's model of motivational variables—terms of the pentad are already incipient in these essays--focuses on that single agent and gives no formal place to the other actors whom the primary actor answers and addresses.  Burke is clearly alert to dialogic interactions, even in his opening anecdote of the "yes" conditioned by "the remarks that preceded his answer" (1), but neither here nor in the pentad does he add a precedent speaker or an addressee to his dramatistic terms.  His inquiry into motives reads the poem for the psychology of the poet or the strategies of the poet-rhetor, the actor whose strategic act, unconscious or conscious, is the poem, while Voloshinov's inquiry co-creates the text of the poem as an unfolding social interaction among its represented speaker, listener, and hero.

    Voloshinov's model of the internal participants in the poetic utterance includes the addressee and the topic/hero but, like Burke's model, lacks the speaker to whose prior utterance the speaker of the poem responds.  The utterance he starts from, the "Well!" is seemingly unprovoked by a previous remark. It is, as he notes, an utterance with "no immediate verbal context" (102).  Bakhtin's essay on speech genres adds this fourth participant to Voloshinov's trio of them by calling attention to the "dialogic overtones," signs in the language of the poem (and other kinds of utterances) that reflect "others' utterances and others' individual words."   These overtones appear not only in the insertion of "others' utterances and others' individual words" into another's utterances but also in "many half-concealed and completely concealed words of others" and in gestures toward unspecified prior utterances such as apology or self-correction or argumentative defense (92).    

    Quotation of and answers to the words of others not only indicate the speaker's relations with the prior utterances of others but also introduce parts of the textual utterance that "are analogous . . . to relations among rejoinders in a dialogue" though contained within the unfolding utterance of one speaker.  They are among "the various transformed primary genres" that Bakhtin says "play out the various forms of primary speech communication" in "secondary genres of complex communication" like literary works (98). In such genres, "within the boundaries of his own utterance the speaker (or writer) raises questions, answers them himself, raises objections to his own ideas, responds to his own objections, and so on.  But these phenomena are nothing other than a conventional playing out of speech communication and primary speech genres" (72).

    Bakhtin's claim that complex secondary genres are composed of simpler primary genres, such as the question, the rejoinder, the apology, the assertion, the giving of directions, the greeting, the farewell, the invitation, the request, the boast, the command, or the anecdote is comparable to Burke's hypothesis that "complex and sophisticated works of art [could be] legitimately considered somewhat as 'proverbs writ large'" (296).  Both Bakhtin and Burke start from discursive models of what Burke calls "typical recurrent situations" (293) to propose general theories of complex poetic utterances.  The differences in their models are revealing.  Burke's proverbs articulate responses to typical social situations or relations that recur across a variety of settings, such as consoling, foretelling, getting your own back, giving in, or anticipating.  They sound like memorable and reusable utterances that enact the functions of Bakhtin's primary speech genres.  Burke projects that more complex works would similarly address themselves to such functions in more complex and more difficult to name situations.  Poems for him work like proverbs, and Burke invites critics to discover the patterns of relations that reveal the strategies they too symbolically enact.  For Burke; "Sociological classification . . . would derive its relevance from the fact that it should apply both to works of art and to social situations outside of art" (303).

    Bakhtin, by contrast, sees primary speech genres of everyday situations as the elements from which complex secondary genres are composed, but he does not propose that literary genres perform primary functions.  They are secondary speech genres that may incorporate or imitate both primary, everyday genres and secondary genres from other spheres of communication—military, commercial, scientific, technical, or rhetorical.   They share with all complete utterances the common property that they are shaped to enable the possibility of some kind of response, but the response is specific to their being a "literary-artistic event," not an event in "everyday life."  Transfer of genres and styles from discourse in life into literary discourse "alters the way a style sounds . . . but also violates and renews the given genre."  Utterances from life incorporated into poems "lose their immediate relation to actual reality and to the real utterances of others" and "retain their significance only on the plane of the [poem's] content" (62) 

    The sociological poetics of Bakhtin and Voloshinov thus treats discourse in poetry as derived from but not reducible to discourse in life.  They call attention to the origin of poetic language in the genres of other social spheres of communication but insist upon poetry's transformation of those genres and redeployment of them to aesthetic ends.  Burke's sociological poetics, on the other hand, treats poetic works as coded and complex versions of everyday language, reducible to motives similar to those in simpler proverbial versions of discourse in life.  Bakhtin and Voloshinov treat the poem as an enthymeme that depends for its intelligibility on the reader's sharing or reconstructing its unspoken premises and tones.  They invite co-creation of the intimate and hierarchical social relations among the implied participants in the poetic utterance, the speaker, listener, hero, and precedent speaker.  Burke, by contrast, focuses attention on the poem as the poet's dramatic act in a scene.  He invites the critic to discover from patterned relations of terms in the poem the poet's psychological motives and unconscious strategic response to the scene of his symbolic act or his deliberate rhetorical communicative strategies.  

    Burke scholars are familiar with Burke's demonstration of how he would read a poem in his essay "Symbolic Action in a Poem by Keats," and I will not try to summarize it in a journal aimed at them.  Burke's reading, as Vrijders rightly says, "offers highly divergent ways of entry for the aspiring critic, including biographical, psychoanalytical, and especially historical, none of which can be excluded in advance from the domain of critical scrutiny" (545).  What I will note is that the poem is especially well-chosen to illustrate the dialectical side of Burke's dramatic reading, ending as it does in lines that can be taken as a thesis that he can read as transcending opposing terms found earlier in the poem.  Burke's final review of his reading, too long to quote in full here, outlines a series of transcendences and movements from lower to higher levels.  These sentences in the penultimate paragraph will suffice:

     The transcendent scene is the level at which the earthly laws of contradiction no longer prevail.  Hence, in the terms of this scene, he can proclaim the unity of truth and beauty (of science and art), a proclamation which he needs to make precisely because here was the basic split responsible for the romantic agitation (in both poetic and philosophic idealism). ("Symbolic Action"462)

    The biographical, psychoanalytical, and historical readings repeat this dialectical pattern in transcending different opposing terms that bespeak the poet's thoughts in response to his bodily condition and to the ideological contradictions of his time.

    I will offer a Bakhtin-School reading in contrast, though the poem poses some challenges for such a reading.   It focuses on the relation of its speaker to the personified hero-urn and the figures on the urn but shows no evidence of a listener outside that relationship to whom the speaker addresses himself, and the only prior speaker it evokes is the urn itself, imagined as an "historian/ Who canst thus express a flowery tale" that the speaker asks to be told.  And even the hero-urn itself is a work of art whose relation to the speaker we may not readily think of as a social relation.

    But we need only think for a moment to realize that our encounters with works of art are socially organized interactions of persons with what are taken to be the works of other persons made to invite and reward our attention.  The places we encounter such works, and the attitudes with which we approach them are social through and through.  Works of ancient provenance like Keats' urn enjoy in his society and ours hierarchical superiority to their observers and require extra effort to recover the unspoken shared understandings and values that made them intelligible to their original communities.

    I have said that, according to the Bakhtin School, poems too are silent texts that call for co-creative reanimation to make them sound, but they usually at least name their participants and their interactions with words that provide clues to the situation they address.  Keats' urn offers visible figures with no words to situate them.  His speaker's first address to it relates it to quietness and silence as bride and foster-child but still attributes to it the capacity to express a tale.   He immediately turns to inquire into who the characters in the tale are and which of many classical stories it might be narrating. 

    There is of course no answer, and the second stanza responds to the sight of silent pipes and timbrels by declaring their silent melodies preferable to actual melodies addressed "to the sensual ear."  The poet-speaker suspends his inquiry into the tale being represented to comment through this stanza and the next on the suspended animation of the figures on the urn, repeatedly contrasting their permanence with losses experienced in the world of time and sensation.  "Comment" is too mild a word, however.  Repeated adverbs, "never, never, " "For ever . . . For ever . . . For ever, "and adjectives "happy, happy. . . happy . . . happy. . . happy, happy," bespeak intensities of response on the speaker's part (and show no effort at artful variation on the poet's part that would distract us from the speaker's intensities) that call out for a tonal reading.  The figures on the urn have what the speaker of the poem seems intensely to lack--enduring youth and love, unflagging desire, and immunity from death.  But the speaker's repetitious modifiers seem to celebrate their having what he doesn't have rather than to begrudge their having it. As Keats' speaker in "Ode to a Nightingale" declares, "Tis not through envy of thy happy lot/ But being too happy in thine happiness."  But this identification with the unchanging happy figures on the urn sharpens the contrast with the final lines of the stanza in which he starkly and unflinchingly articulates the painfulness of "breathing human passion."

    The speaker's emotional response to this scene here reaches its low point, and the poet has him turn to another scene on the urn whose sacrificial piety and solemnity seem like a response to the recognition of human mortality and unfulfilled desire that ends the preceding stanza.  The speaker again inquires about the identity the figures and the town from which they have come and again receives no answer. He evaluates the town, this time with the single adjective "desolate," a far cry from the multiple happies of the stanza before. 

    In the final stanza the speaker turns from attending to the depicted scenes to look at the urn itself, this time not as a potential narrator associated with silence but as a "silent form," shaped marble "overwrought" with human and natural forms.  The difference between anticipating a "flowery tale" and a "leaf-fringed legend" at the outset and clearly seeing "forest branches and the trodden weed" at the end bespeaks a cooler eye.  He recognizes, I think, that the urn has prompted him to (teased him out of) the thoughts uttered in the previous stanzas and has the capacity to do that not just for him but for "us"--poets perhaps in the first instance, whom he referred to in first person plural ("our rhyme") in the first stanza, or perhaps all humans, with whose plight he contrasted the suspended lives of the figures on the urn and to whom he turns again at the end of the stanza. 

    His final evaluation of the urn seems ambivalent, for he finds it cold but also imagines it as a "friend to man" that will endure beyond the sufferings of the present generation and will finally speak not the tale he had originally hoped for from it but the now famous enigmatic, chiasmatic utterance: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."  He finally imagines the object which has not answered any of his earlier questions saying something that might be taken as a response to them: "My beauty says all I have to say, and that should satisfy you and every other mortal."  The form of the utterance is of course universal, not the urn's answering the speaker's intimate second person direct addresses in its own first person but declaring impersonally its status and the status of every other beautiful thing as fully sufficient in itself and not calling, as Keats put it in a letter, for any "irritable reaching after fact and reason."  If I were to turn to one source outside the poem in Keats' writing, it would be to the letter on "negative capability" that glosses that phrase with the one I have quoted.  The passage ends, "with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration" (Complete Poetical Works 277).

    The Bakhtin-School reading I have invented has followed the unfolding interaction of Keats' speaker with the urn and with his own questions and responses, bringing out the ways "within the boundaries of his own utterance the speaker (and writer) raises questions, answers them himself, raises objections to his own ideas, responds to his own objections, and so on" ("Speech Genres" 72).  Attention to these social interactions and to the participants involved in them is entirely missing from Burke's reading though he declares that "our primary concern is to follow the transformations of the poem itself" ("Symbolic Action" 451).  His attention to the poet's acts in the scene of writing and to the transformations of terms he selects from the poem invents multiple motivated accounts of the poem none of which follow the speaker's utterance and the place those terms have in it. Like the historicist readers who have followed in his footsteps, with and without recognition of his precedence, Burke makes the language of the poem echo, translate, and amplify the language of the scenes that surround it; like the psychoanalytic readers who have taken inspiration as he did from Freud and his followers, Burke makes the language of the poem bespeak struggles within the poet-agent.  What he does not do that a Bakhtin School reading might teach us to do is attend to the language of the poem as the uttered response of the speaker to prior speakers, listeners, topic-heroes, and his/her own unfolding utterance, to attend to the poem itself as a scenario of social interaction that points to a social world of understandings and values beyond itself as it plays out the social interaction of the participants within. 

    I hope in this essay that I have met Burke's criterion for demonstrating an alternative perspective to his dramatic one by making an "explicit proclamation [of a Bakhtin School perspective] and illustrating . . . its scope [and merits] by concrete application . . . to poetic materials" (Literary Form 124).  In publishing that claim here, I submit it to an audience likely to put it to the test.

    Works Cited

    Bakhtin, Mikhail M.  "Discourse in the Novel."  The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin.  Trans Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist.  Ed. Michael Holquist.  Austin: U of Texas P, 1981. 259-422. Print.

    —.  "The Problem of Speech Genres."  Speech Genres and Other Late Essays.  Trans. Vern W. McGee.  Ed. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist.  Austin: U of Texas P, 1986. 60-102.  Print.

    Burke, Kenneth. The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. Berkeley: U of California P, 1973. Print.

    —. "Symbolic Action in a Poem by Keats." A Grammar of Motives and a Rhetoric of Motives. Cleveland and New York: World Publishing, 1962. 447-63. Print.

    George, Anne E. and Jack Selzer.  Kenneth Burke in the 1930s.  Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2007. Print.

    Holquist, Michael, and Katerina Clark.   Mikhail Bakhtin.  Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard, UP, 1984. Print.

    Jameson, Fredric. The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1981. Print.

    Keats, John. The Complete Poetical Works and Letters of John Keats. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1899. Print.

    Selzer, Jack.  Kenneth Burke in Greenwich Village: Conversing with the Moderns, 1915-1931. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1996. Print.

    Scholes, Robert. "Reading Poetry." In The Crafty Reader. New Haven, Yale U P, 2001. 1-75. Print.

    Voloshinov, V. N.  "Discourse in Life and Discourse in Art."Freudianism: A Critical Sketch.  Trans. I. R. Titunik.  Ed. I. R. Titunik and Neal H. Bruss. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1987.  93-116. Print.

    Vrijders, Dries.  "History, Poetry, and the Footnote: Cleanth Brooks and Kenneth Burke on Keats's 'Ode on a Grecian Urn.'" New Literary History 42 (2011): 537-52. Print.

    Wesling, Donald. Bakhtin and the Social Moorings of Poetry. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 2003. Print.

    Zulick, Margaret.  "Kenneth Burke and Mikhail Bakhtin: A Common Chronology." n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2015

    —. "The Dialogue of Ethics and Aesthetics in Kenneth Burke and Mikhail Bakhtin."The Ethos of Rhetoric.  Ed. Michael J. Hyde and Calvin O. Schrag. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2004. 20-33. Print.

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    A McKeonist Understanding of Kenneth Burke’s Rhetorical Realism in Particular and Constructivism in General

    Robert Wess, Oregon State University


    Readers of KB Journal likely know Richard McKeon mainly through his essays on rhetoric and his relationship to Kenneth Burke. But McKeon was first and foremost a philosopher who came to rhetoric in mid-career, so that his work is a philosophical path to and defense of rhetoric. This path, moreover, precisely because of its philosophical depth, offers insight into why "the linguistic turn," which began sooner than is commonly thought today, culminated in "the rhetorical turn" that informs constructivist theorizing in general and that is perhaps best  exemplified by Burke's "rhetorical realism" in particular.

    The main inspiration for this essay is the appearance of Richard McKeon’s name among the new rhetoricians linked to Burke in the “Call for Papers” for the Ghent conference on Burke, Rhetoric as Equipment for Living, a milestone in Burke studies. McKeon influenced me more than any of my other teachers at the University of Chicago. He is the principal reason I began studying Burke seriously, and throughout my career, I have been engaged in a McKeonist understanding of Burke. This understanding, furthermore, is inextricably intertwined with a McKeonist view of developments described in this “Call”:

    The second half of the twentieth century has witnessed a number of different but related turns. . . . All these turns recognize the importance of signs and symbols in our interpretations of reality and more specifically the cultural construction of meaning through both language and narrative.

    This notion of “construction” seems to have emerged as the principal fruit of a generation of language‑centered theorizing. McKeon’s capacious philosophical pluralism encompasses both constructivism in general and Burke’s rhetorical realism in particular.

    "Rhetorical realism" is a term I have used elsewhere to identify what distinguishes Burke’s rhetorical theorizing (Wess). One example of this distinctiveness is Burke’s statement, “Whenever we call something a metaphor, we mean it literally” (Brock et al. 27). Burke says this during his debate in the early 1980s with Bernard L. Brock and other Burke scholars, an episode that is famous in the history of Burke scholarship. This debate centered in the issue of whether in his dramatism Burke should be understood as speaking literally or metaphorically. Burke sided with the literal, and while I was not at this debate it is my understanding that in doing so Burke stood alone as the Burke scholars sided with metaphor—a case of scholars telling an author how to understand himself, but perhaps not really as odd as it might sound initially.

    In any case, in subsequent decades Burke scholars have returned to this issue, and these scholars have generally sided with Burke. A notable example is Clark Rountree’s “Revisiting the Controversy over Dramatism as Literal,” which appeared in KB Journal in 2010. Among its strengths, this essay includes an account of what Burke meant to communication scholars in the 1960s and 1970s that explains their reaction to Burke’s insistence that dramatism is literal. Miming their emotions, Rountree exclaims, "Burke was a breath o f fresh air. . . . He warned us about terministic screens. . . . How could the one who helped show us the light turn around and insist that his own view wasn’t merely perspectival, but ontological and literal?"

    I do not propose to return to the details of this debate, but instead to let the Burke statement stand as a “representative anecdote” for his rhetorical realism, which combines theorizing the constructive powers of language with the recognition of language as a reality in its own right, a reality that is not itself a construct, so cannot be understood in constructive terms. This reasoning, as we shall see, informs Burke’s defense of his statement.

    A McKeonist understanding of constructivism in general and Burke’s rhetorical realism in particular is virtually equivalent to understanding the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric in McKeon’s work. What gives this relationship special interest in McKeon’s case is that McKeon was a philosopher first, foremost, and always. Rhetoric is something he turns to but for philosophical reasons. His example is thus simultaneously a philosophical defense of and path to rhetoric. Burke, by contrast, seems to have started with rhetoric. Even in his twenties, during the 1920s, when he concerned himself principally with art and aesthetics, he defined artistic form as a relation of the art work to its audience, as in “Psychology and Form,” for example, which was first published in 1925 and later reprinted in Counter-Statement, where his “Lexicon Rhetoricae” appears. This reliance on rhetoric is all the more remarkable when one considers that modernism was in its heyday in the 1920s and that one of modernism’s maxims was “True Art Ignores the Audience” (Booth 89).

    McKeon’s philosophic path to rhetoric reveals the distinctive explanatory power of his theorizing of rhetoric, but important contributions to the sparse scholarship on McKeon—Charles W. Wegener’s and George Kimball Plochmann’s—see not a path but a detour. A McKeon student in the 1940s, Wegener remembers a McKeon preoccupied with “logical and methodological questions and their close relation to metaphysics,” adding, "[O]ne of the persistent items in the student scuttlebutt which always surrounded him was that he had in mind to write—and perhaps had already written in part—a history of logic" (104).

    Wegener notes that in the 1930s McKeon frequently taught

    a course called “metaphysics and method,” and while that title disappeared from his repertory in the period with which I am here concerned, it would not be a bad title for some of the logical courses, except that it would more accurately reflect the trend of his teaching were it reversed to method and metaphysics. (104)

    Wegener writes this over a decade after McKeon’s death, and even in retrospect he wonders, given the McKeon he knew in the classroom, why McKeon turned to rhetoric, as he asks, “Did [McKeon] follow where the argument led? If so, what is the argument?” (109).

    Wegener leaves his questions unanswered, but he implies that he thinks the answer to the first question is “no,” which erases the second question altogether. For he explicitly leaves explaining McKeon’s rhetorical turn to “historians and biographers” (109), which would seem to put the explanation outside the domain of philosophical argument. With respect to history, Wegener does note that McKeon’s turn coincides with a widespread growth in the prominence of rhetoric in the last half of the twentieth century (109). Nothing comparable appears with respect to biography, although earlier in his essay Wegener does add an endnote contrasting McKeon’s pluralism to the pluralism “his friend Kenneth Burke was developing” in the 1940s from a rhetorical standpoint (106n2, 246). While this suggests a possible influence in McKeon’s biography, Wegener does not make a point of it.

    By contrast to Wegener, my answer is “yes”; it is precisely the “argument” that led McKeon to rhetoric that I aim to outline. McKeon’s friendship with Burke is probably relevant but not decisive. Burke no doubt drew on rhetoric in his many conversations with McKeon, but they became friends as teenagers, before 1920, while McKeon’s turn to rhetoric does not come until mid-century.1 For McKeon to turn to rhetoric, there needed to be a path in the development of his philosophy that led to it.

    The McKeon counterpart to Burke’s early commitment to rhetoric is a commitment to philosophical pluralism. McKeon is a pluralist not in the soft sense of toleration for multiple viewpoints but in the hard sense of seeing the nature of things as fundamentally ambiguous, so that there is no one way to disentangle this ambiguity. He indicates that early in his career he became intrigued by two ideas that anticipated his pluralistic philosophizing: “there is a sense in which truth, though one, has no single expression and a sense in which truth, though changeless, is rendered false in the uses to which it is put” (“Philosopher Meditates” 49). He indicates that these ideas ran counter to his convictions at the time but looking back at them thirty years later, he realizes that they proved to be seminal for him. The development of McKeon’s pluralism, then, is where one must look to find the argument that led to his rhetorical turn.

    From a bird’s eye view, this development has two main stages, with the second occurring around mid‑century when a historical semantics emerges to create a division between philosophical and historical semantics. In this division, philosophical semantics focuses on philosophical issues that cut across historical periods, while historical semantics identifies subject matters relative to different historical periods. The issues that cut across historical periods take different forms depending on the subject matter of different periods.

    The most detailed account of the development of McKeon’s pluralism appears in George Kimball Plochmann’s Richard McKeon: A Study. Plochmann’s account is irreplaceable insofar as it draws on classroom experience and interplay between what McKeon did in class and in publications. Plochmann first took a class from McKeon at Columbia University in 1934, when McKeon turned 34; then, after McKeon moved to the University of Chicago, he followed him there in 1936 (2,5). He also returned to Chicago after WWII for additional work with McKeon in the late 1940s (11).

    Plochmann recounts that McKeon’s earliest pluralistic scheme “was reminiscent of Coleridge’s famous remark that everyone is born a Platonist or an Aristotelian (46). In a course at Columbia, McKeon would put “Plato” and “Aristotle” on the blackboard, then list under these names terms contrary to one another to identify pluralistic options. One essay evidencing this pluralistic scheme (primitive compared to McKeon’s mature pluralism) is “Literary Criticism and the Concept of Imitation in Antiquity,” published in Modern Philology in 1936, then reprinted in Critics and Criticism: Ancient and Modern, the principal volume of what came to be known as the “Chicago School” of literary criticism. Analogous to his classroom practice, McKeon analyzes in this article the different meanings “imitation” has for Plato (149‑59) and Aristotle (160‑68). After these sections, McKeon goes on,

    The word [imitation] was used in still other senses by other writers in antiquity, but considerations of method are not so important in the fashions of their usage, and the systematic implications are not so subtle. None of the writers on literature employed the dialectical method of Plato in any but a highly attenuated and faltering manner. Their definitions are literal like those of Aristotle, but in their writings the term “imitation” does not appear in a context of subject matters distributed in various scientific disciplines. Rather, the meanings in which they use the term are derived for the most part from the meanings which it assumed in Plato’s dialogues, usually degraded and rendered static or, what amounts to the same thing, in a meaning which “imitation” might have had if Aristotle had used it in some other work than the Poetics, as, for example, the Rhetoric. (168)

    McKeon thus sees in descendents of Aristotle and Plato degradations of  Aristotle’s and Plato’s methods and meanings. He finds examples of these degradations among rhetoricians in antiquity and groups them together: “A third variant to the meanings of Plato and Aristotle may therefore be said to derive from the tradition of writers on rhetoric” (168). Rhetoric is thus marginal in McKeon’s earliest pluralism.

    McKeon quickly began moving toward the complexity of his mature pluralism, substituting for the individuals Plato and Aristotle two pluralistic categories: “holoscopic” (Plato) and “meroscopic” (Aristotle) (Plochmann 47). These terms identify a problem of philosophical first principles common to all philosophies: view from the whole (holoscopic) or view from the part (meroscopic). Later, Democritus became the illustration of meroscopic principles and Aristotle was moved to a position between meroscopic and holoscopic (Plochmann 49). While there is a sense in which this part/whole issue appears in its purest form in metaphysical periods, like Plato and Aristotle’s, it reappears in other periods in modified forms.

    As McKeon’s pluralism developed, other pluralistic options appeared, leading to what became philosophic semantics. The evolution of this semantics is Plochmann’s principal concern. The key essay in Plochmann’s account is “Philosophic Semantics and Philosophic Inquiry,” which McKeon delivered as a lecture in 1966 at Southern Illinois University, where Plochmann taught (Plochmann 68). McKeon never published this lecture in his lifetime, but it became legendary among his students as he used mimeographed copies of it in classes, with its fourfold of fourfolds (“Philosophic Semantics” 218.) 

    The philosophical argument leading to McKeon’s rhetorical turn, however, is to be found not in philosophical semantics but in the emergence of historical semantics. Some material relevant to this emergence appears in Plochmann, but very little compared to his extensive attention to philosophical semantics. Plochmann’s response to McKeon’s rhetorical turn, furthermore, is similar to Wegener’s insofar as he does not see the turn as a direction “where the argument led”—that is, a direction where the development of McKeon’s pluralism led him. Rather, he sees the turn prompted by something external to argument. In Wegener’s case, the external is history and biography. In Plochmann’s, it is historical, albeit not the historic revival of rhetoric but instead the formation of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). McKeon’s involvement with UNESCO began in the late 1940s, and continued for many years after in essays directly related to UNESCO projects and, more broadly, to issues arising from UNESCO’s aim to foster international dialogue. Plochmann alludes to this work in observing,

    In the late 1960s and 1970s he [McKeon] turned his attention more and more to the uses of rhetoric, which he now called an architectonic art. This may have been owing to his realization that one must use all available means of persuasion if one hopes to win hostile persons or states over to a search for common understanding, peace, and world unity. Not that McKeon grew disillusioned with philosophy; he merely approached it from another side. (151)

    But if one looks at McKeon’s “A Philosophy for UNESCO,” one sees that it is his pluralism that is ideally suited to fostering international dialogue. His pluralism, one suspects, must have been a key reason for his involvement with UNESCO in the first place. Concern with “world unity” is more a reason to develop pluralism than to approach philosophy from “another side,” as Plochmann suggests in seeming to envision McKeon becoming an Aristotelian rhetor using “all available means of persuasion.”2

    Material in Plochmann relevant to historical semantics appears when he describes McKeon’s classroom experiments with pluralistic options based on subject matters: 

    Things, thoughts, words
    Thoughts, words, things
    Words, things, thoughts 

    In these options, the term on the left is dominant and the two to the right are subordinate. This classroom experimentation begins a few years before McKeon’s essay on G. E. Moore, first published in 1942, which Plochmann cites as published evidence of the skepticism about the option in which words are dominant that McKeon expressed in class (80). There is no indication in Plochmann’s account that history was a consideration in McKeon’s discussion of these options. It would appear, rather, that at this point McKeon was responding to the fact that many philosophers at that time, including Moore, were focusing on language in what came to be known as “the linguistic turn.” The classroom experimentation is evidence that McKeon was looking for ways to incorporate this turn to language in a pluralistic schematism, while his skepticism seems to indicate some doubt about the viability of language, as distinct from thing and thought, as a basis for philosophy. On this point, he would later change his mind.

    At the same time, history was far from foreign to McKeon’s thought insofar as a number of his early essays are concerned with developing a philosophical conception of intellectual history. Notably, he contrasted Plato’s and Aristotle’s conceptions of intellectual history in a 1940 essay, “Plato and Aristotle as Historians: A Study of Method in the History of Ideas.” McKeon spent his 1934-1935 year at the University of Chicago as a visiting professor in the Department of History, before joining the faculty permanently in 1935 with appointments in the Departments of Greek and Philosophy (Levine 92). In this early historical work, McKeon challenged a “conception of intellectual history as the simple record of the development of a body of knowledge by more or less adequate investigations of a constant subject matter” (“Rhetoric” 124).3 This conception assumes unchanging subject matters on one side and thinkers on the other side developing over time better reproductions of these subject matters in their representations of them. This assumption came to be widely questioned in the wake of Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which demonstrates that science proceeds not by accumulating more and more knowledge of an unchanging subject matter but by paradigm shifts that change the subject matter (Kuhn 4-5). McKeon’s early pluralistic interest in changes in subject matter came to its ultimate fruition in his historical semantics. Along the way, in a 1951 essay, he stated succinctly the conception of science that later appears in Kuhn (“Philosophy and Method” 184).

    The “linguistic turn” phrase identifies a change in subject matter whose origins appear no longer to be common knowledge. In a 2013 article, Eileen Joy refers to Derrida as “one of the architects of the `linguistic turn’” (28), when in fact it was already underway when Derrida was born in 1930. McKeon’s historical semantics informs his mature understanding of this historic change in subject matter, which also explains his turn to rhetoric.

    No doubt this phrase became commonplace with the help of Richard Rorty’s collection of essays, The Linguistic Turn: Recent Essays in Philosophical Method, which appeared in 1967, then reappeared in a new edition in 1992, with “Recent” deleted from the subtitle. Rorty attributes the coinage of the phrase to Gustav Bergmann (9). In an essay Rorty includes in his collection, Bergmann indicates that the “turn” begins with the emergence of logical positivism (63), or logical empiricism.4 As Bergmann puts it, “They [logical positivists] all accept the linguistic turn Wittgenstein initiated in the Tractatus” (63), which appeared in 1921, then in English translation in 1922. Rorty’s Linguistic Turn collection, then, was a contribution to the analytic tradition that the logical empiricists launched, so much so that the glut of books on this tradition by the 1960s made it difficult for Rorty to find a publisher for the collection (Gross 178).

    The reason the term “linguistic turn” is applicable to logical positivists is that they made language the subject matter of philosophy. What distinguishes their work from later developments in this focus on language, stretching across many decades, is that they thought philosophy’s job was to align the language of philosophy with empirical science. The language of philosophy, in other words, needed to be not politically but scientifically correct. Moritz Schlick—the figure around whom the Vienna Circle formed in the 1920s to launch logical positivism (Ayer 3)—lays out this philosophical project in simple terms in an essay Rorty puts first in his volume, after his own lengthy introduction:

    Thus the fate of all “philosophical problems” is this: Some of them will disappear by being shown to be mistakes and misunderstandings of our language and the others will be found to be ordinary scientific questions in disguise. These remarks, I think, determine the whole future of philosophy. (51)

    This is philosophy as therapy, that is, philosophy conceived as curing philosophy of mistaken uses of language that led it astray in the past and turning philosophy in the direction of scientific correctness going forward. The dismissal of much earlier philosophy that such therapy involved is completely foreign to McKeon. Looking at the past differently, McKeon also came to look differently at language becoming the subject matter of philosophy. As a result, as we shall see, his work suggests why rhetoric, not scientific correctness, is the logical culmination of philosophy’s turn to language. Rorty himself, after breaking with the analytic tradition, later remarked, first “the linguistic turn,” then “the rhetorical turn,” as Herbert W. Simons records in his Rhetorical Turn (vii). Today, there may be a tendency to conflate the “linguistic” with the later “rhetorical” turn.  

    Subsequent to Plochmann’s classroom example, McKeon added “action” to “word.” In a 1959 essay, he outlined in detail how philosophizing could proceed from three standpoints: thing, thought, or language and action. With respect to language and action, the problem of principle centers in the issue of whether (a) words are fundamentally acts, or (b) acts instantiate fundamental verbal rules (“Principles and Consequences” 395). One can see the (a) option in Burke and speech act theory and the (b) option in structuralism and poststructuralism. The notion of the “linguistic turn” encompasses both.    

    These three philosophical standpoints appear in McKeon’s historical semantics as cycles in the history of philosophy. An excellent introduction to these cycles appears in the work of  Walter Watson, who compiles a lengthy list of texts where one can find McKeon using thing, thought, word, and act—which Watson calls McKeon’s “master topic”—to map “three‑stage cycles in the history of philosophy” (“McKeon” 16n29, 234‑35). These cycles are a pluralism of philosophical subject matters, that is, subject matters that are the changing (historical shifts of subject matter) changeless source (recurrent cycles) of philosophical first principles. Watson indicates that if one puts together all the cycles McKeon identifies in various texts, one finds five altogether in the history of Western thought (Architectonics 11), with the last cycle beginning in the seventeenth century (a metaphysical period) then turning to thought, most prominently in Kant (an epistemological period), then turning to the “linguistic turn” in our time, possibly best characterized as a rhetorical period when one considers that the great revival rhetoric enjoyed in the closing decades of the twentieth century is likely to be seen as among the important rhetorical periods in the long history of rhetoric. Earlier rhetorical periods McKeon cites most often as analogous to our own are the Renaissance and Rome in the time of Cicero (e.g., “Uses of Rhetoric” 205). 

    Watson’s list is a significant indicator of the timing of the emergence of historical semantics. Almost all of McKeon’s discussions of these cycles come after mid‑century. Only two examples appear before 1950, the first in 1943, and arguably they are not worked out as well as the later examples, including examples I witnessed in classes, where McKeon would often review the most recent cycle, beginning in the seventeenth century, to identify the distinctiveness of the intellectual situation in the 1960s. What Watson calls McKeon’s “master topic,” then, arrives late, but when it arrives it becomes the “master.” The same is true of McKeon’s rhetorical turn. There is a connection.

    Before turning to it, one needs to note that any review of a cycle almost automatically raises the question “what next?” McKeon typically leaves that question hanging unanswered, but in a 1967 course called “The Philosophy of Communications and the Arts,” in the context of a review of the most recent cycle, he answered it, predicting that the next revolution in philosophy 

    shall proceed again to a choice between parts and wholes and to the establishment of principles in a new metaphysics. I want to confess that I am subversive in intention. But this course is not a revolutionary one. It is not aimed at the philosophy of the future. It is a simple introduction to philosophy as it is practiced today, rendered a little novel and difficult by exposure to its basis in rhetoric and communication. (“Experience”)

    While this remark links the philosophy of the day to rhetoric, it also points to a different future, which suggests that McKeon saw his turn to rhetoric as suited for his time, not for all time. The remark is also notable in 2013 because there are currently signs that this 1967 prediction is coming true. There is a new philosophical movement that takes its name from a 2007 workshop entitled “Speculative Realism,” held at Goldsmiths, University of London.5 In varying ways, speculative realists advocate a turn to what McKeon’s historical semantics identifies as “thing.” Of these realists, Graham Harman is probably now the most widely known. His variant of speculative realism, “object‑oriented ontology” (OOO), is sometimes confused with speculative realism as a whole. Anyone who follows this movement will see new names popping up the way they did in the theory revolution in the US in the 1970s. What will come of this emergent philosophical movement remains to be seen. But its emergence does add some credibility to McKeon’s prediction, making it something to keep in mind going forward.

    The connection between McKeon’s historical semantics and his rhetorical turn is where one finds the “yes” answer to Wegener’s question, “Did [McKeon] follow where the argument led?” This connection appears clearly in “The Methods of Rhetoric and Philosophy: Invention and Judgment,” published in 1966, where in the first paragraph McKeon introduces the subject matter of the “linguistic turn,” then in the second paragraph argues that rhetoric provides the method needed to philosophize about this subject matter. 

    The first paragraph recounts revolutions in the history of philosophy, ending with McKeon turning himself into the mouthpiece for the twentieth‑century’s revolution, using his “master topic” to do so:

    Since it is absurd to seek to base meanings on alleged characteristics of being or on supposed forms of thought, inquiry into what men say and what they do may be used to provide clarification and test of what they say they think and of what they think is the case. Things and thoughts are in the significances and applications of language and in the consequences and circumstances of action. (97)

    This formulation contrasts sharply with McKeon’s Moore essay, mentioned earlier. Contrasts with this 1942 essay reveal the difference historical semantics makes. While much of this essay is about Moore’s focus on language, there is nothing about how this focus is an example of the twentieth‑century’s revolutionary turn to language and action. Instead, as Plochmann indicates, the essay registers skepticism about the value of this focus. This critical bent in the essay is somewhat anomalous insofar as McKeon’s usual pluralistic practice is to put the figures he discusses in different places, all credible, in some pluralistic schema. Plochmann recalls a McKeon anecdote that encapsulates McKeon charitable reading practice. When reading Kant, McKeon once remarked, "Do not worry at first whether space and time are really subjective forms in the mind, but worry instead about what Kant means when he says they are (205n4)."  In other words, rather than jump to the conclusion that an author is right or wrong, read charitably enough to take time to work out an author’s meanings, even if that entails entertaining assumptions that seem far‑fetched. While McKeon’s Moore essay is laced with critical remarks, McKeon is still charitable enough not to argue that Moore is flatly wrong. Instead, his essay moves to a conclusion where McKeon underlines Moore’s separation of thing, thought, and word. McKeon accepts Moore’s separation of these three. His criticism is that Moore fails to find productive connections among them: "[Moore’s] entire philosophy is devoted, once the separation of the three has been ensured, to a vain effort to find legitimate connections between things, thoughts, and statements (478)." This “vain effort” claim is supported by a motif, running through the preceding pages, that states in varying ways that Moore’s work does not add up to much. (455–56, 457, 459, 460).  After the emergence of historical semantics, by contrast, McKeon sees that the twentieth‑century’s turn to language can add up to a great deal.

    But for this to happen, the second paragraph argues, one must turn to rhetoric. Having briefly sketched “revolutions in the first decades of the twentieth century” that inaugurated the turn to language and action, McKeon goes on,

    The vast and difficult task undertaken in these revolutions lacked instrumentalities needed to carry it out successfully, because no art of rhetoric had been formed adequate to the possibilities of communication or to the contents or ends to which communication might be adapted. (97)

    McKeon’s philosophizing of rhetoric is a rhetorical turn that takes a step beyond not only the therapeutic philosophy at the beginnings of “the linguistic turn” but also the later constructivism that rejected scientific correctness in favor of deconstructive exposure of constructs everywhere, prompting some, as Joy illustrates, to mistakenly think that Derrida’s deconstruction launched this “turn.” The now commonplace constructivist argument takes as its premise that words are mediations: one does not have direct access to a thing, which in turn guides one’s use of words to represent it; instead, words are mediations that construct things linguistically, not in their full materiality, as if language were godlike, but in their meaning, as in the example of sexually differentiated bodies mediated through gendered meanings. To claim these bodies inform these meanings is to essentialize. The constructivist counterargument exposes such essentializing as a construct forged in history.

    McKeon’s step beyond both centers on the premise in this reasoning. The constructivist argument that words mediate shows how words do this mediating, this verbal mediating being the premise that grounds the inferences in the argument. What tends to go unnoticed is that this argument’s insistence that this mediating actually happens testifies to the sense in which verbal mediating is a mode of existence. As an existent, it is a thing, different from other things, but nonetheless a thing. In a 1960 essay, “Being, Existence, and That Which Is,” delivered as the Presidential Address at a meeting of the Metaphysical Society of America, McKeon explicitly called for a broadening of our notions of what things can be “to include things we say and things we seek” (254).     

    A similar recognition appears in Burke. In “What are the Signs of What?” he puts words in four categories: natural, verbal, sociopolitical, and supernatural, then adds, “Though there are many differences among them with regard to their referents, all four are equally real so far as their nature as sheer words is concerned” (374). Burke goes on, 

    And of all situations having to do with language, the only time when something can be discussed wholly in terms of itself, is when we are using words about words. Insofar as nonverbal things are discussed in terms of words (or symbols generally), they are necessarily discussed in terms of what they are not. (375; see also Grammar 58)

    All of us have no doubt lost count of our encounters with words about words. For decades, few things have been more common than words (a book on one’s desk) that claim to explain what words do, what they cannot do, and so on (the book’s subject matter).

    Books on one’s desk telling one about words, moreover, are the result of a thing being accessed directly, this thing being verbal existents that are distinct from the books that claim to represent them correctly. This result is unique in a constructivist world; such access occurs nowhere else. These existents inform the constructive process, but they themselves are not constructs. In the notable case of Derrida, the key existent is “differance,” which is the immanent formal cause of verbal meanings. Perhaps unwittingly, Derrida underlines the sense in which “differance” is a distinct existent when he insists, “Differance is neither a word nor a concept” (130). From the standpoint of McKeon’s “Principles and Consequences,” discussed earlier, “differance” is a rule of rules, prior to acts.

    While words are secondary to things and thoughts in some senses, as well as in much philosophy in previous centuries, there is also a sense in which words are not only existents, but also the primary existents, the one and only gateway to everything else. These primary existents are a reality in their own right and as such, they are a philosophical subject matter, as McKeon’s historical semantics recognizes. Attending to this reality, one can go beyond the negativity of therapy and deconstruction to philosophizing constructively the reality of a rhetorical world. Instead of viewing verbal mediating as something requiring therapeutic attention or deconstructive exposure, one can view it as a reality, indeed, a primary reality, and then inquire into what is needed to philosophize this reality.

    In his subtitle to “The Methods of Rhetoric and Philosophy,” McKeon suggests that key components to such constructive philosophizing appear in “invention” and “judgment.” To indicate the philosophical significance “judgment” acquires, he first reviews Aristotle’s four fundamental questions, especially the “why” question of ultimate first principle. He then considers the rhetorical revision of these questions, wherein the answer to “why” appears in “judgment,” which occurs in the context of “individual persons and determinate times, places, and circumstances” (101). A related passage appears in McKeon’s 1970 essay, “Philosophy of Communications and the Arts”:

    Rhetoric is an art of invention and disposition: it is an art of communication between a speaker and his audience, and it is therefore an art of construction of the subject‑matter of communication, that is, of anything whatever that can be an object of attention. What is, is established by the convictions and agreements of men. (317)

    Here the “judgment” function appears in “convictions and agreements.” One can conceive this function appearing in other forms. The specific form is less important than its general function of establishing “what is,” which in a rhetorical world consists of verbal existents.

    Philosophizing rhetoric, one explains what comes into existence by of means of what words can do. Instead of looking, say, to nature for foundational causes of existents, one looks to human “judgment” for the foundational cause of verbal existents and their uses in forming constructs. The structure of a philosophical ultimate principle reappears but in a different form, centering on human “judgment” rather than a cause independent of humans, because humans are the ultimate cause of the emergence and dissolution of constructs. Different views of just how this “judgment” works, and even what to call it, shape philosophical controversy at the level of first principle. As a reality, a rhetorical world is limited when compared to an encompassing metaphysical reality that explains everything. Compared to such an encompassing reality, rhetorical reality is small, a bubble in a cosmos. But in the “linguistic turn,” rhetorical reality is as big as it gets.

    “Invention” is at the beginning of the process that ends in “judgment.” It is “judgment” that seals the deal, giving a thing brought into existence by means of words the stability it needs to be an existent, a “what is,” at least for a time, before it is displaced by another “what is” in the context of a different “judgment.” Invention” is the beginning and is unlimited except in one respect. No “invention” can preclude future inventions (“Methods” 100). What words bring into existence is determined by “judgments,” which are alterable. Agreements today may tomorrow no longer be agreements. Existence in rhetorical reality is always open to new existents, so that any representation of this rhetorical reality must be open to the new to represent it accurately. A claim that a particular “what is” is true for all time is false.

    This McKeonist standpoint clarifies the sense in which Burke’s pentad represents rhetorical reality. The philosophical significance of the pentad is aided by Burke’s applications of it in “The Philosophic Schools” (Grammar 125-320), but its applications are not limited to philosophies. The important point is that the pentad is consistent with the principle that, because of the variability of “judgment,” no “invention” can preclude future inventions. In rhetorical reality, “what is” is “invented” and can change with changes in “judgment.” What is unchanging are the principles of rhetorical reality that limit “invention” and empower “judgment” in these ways. Rhetorical reality is a world always open to the new. To represent it accurately, one’s representation must incorporate a principle of openness, as in the pentad, which is open forever to new uses.

    Further illustration appears in possible philosophical debate centering on the issue of open-endedness. For example, one could pit the pentad against Burke’s theory of terministic screens, which argues that terminologies are “selections” from reality so that they are both “reflections” and “deflections” (“Terministic” 45). Because there is always “deflection,” a terminology always leaves open the possibility of a future terminology attending to what it looks past. Is this theory more open-ended than the pentad? Possibly, but one could counter that this openness is achieved by moving to a higher level of abstraction that looks past the concreteness of scene, agent, act, agency, and purpose. My purpose is not to settle this hypothetical debate between two Burke texts, but to use such a possible debate to illustrate the fashion in which debate about reality in a rhetorical world properly centers on the issue of the open‑ended that McKeon pinpoints in the principle that no “invention” can preclude future invention.

    It is true that forms such as Burke’s pentad and the trio of selection, reflection, and deflection are forms presented as eternal truths. But they are rhetorical variants of eternal truths. For the truth claimed to be eternal is the truth that guarantees openness to new possibilities. For openness to be possible, some things must be permanent.

    Returning to Burke’s claim that “whenever we call something a metaphor, we mean it literally,” it helps to return to the earlier point that philosophizing rhetoric explains what comes into existence by means of what words can do. Words as existents have discernible characteristics that determine what they can and cannot do. It is on the level of such characteristics that Burke supports his claim. Here is the key passage: 

    there is a difference between “horsepower” as referring to a horse, as referring to a car, and as referring to an orator’s diction. One could say that any word applied to a horse’s characteristics is but an arbitrary (fictive) title. But the mere fact that all linguistic entitlement is necessarily a mode of abbreviation when applied to any situation, the details of which are necessarily unique, shouldn’t require us to treat a word like “horsepower” as the same kind of (if you will) “metaphor” when applied to a horse as when applied to an orator’s diction. (Brock et al. 28)

    The characteristic isolated here is that “linguistic entitlement” is “necessarily a mode of abbreviation.” For a word as existent to function, it must be applicable to multiple situations that differ in their details. Imagine a horse in multiple situations: at a racetrack, grazing, in a barn, etc. For “horse” to function, it must be applicable to all these situations. If one demanded a unique word to match the uniqueness of each unique situation one would have racetrack‑horse, barn‑horse, grazing‑horse, etc. In other words, one would quickly have too many words for words to function. A word depends for its existence on “abbreviation.” This is part of what is essential to this kind of existent. 

    Consequently, there is a sense in which a word such as “horse” identifies a similarity in situations that are differ in their details, so that one could use this characteristic to argue that every word is a metaphor. But even at this level, one would be giving a literal account of words and how they work to explain the sense in which a word is metaphoric.

    Furthermore, to turn to Burke’s main contention, such an argument simply rephrases the issue because it leaves one with the need to distinguish two kinds of metaphor: the first would be the similarity cutting across the racetrack-horse, barn-horse, and grazing-horse to produce “horse”; the second would cut across the difference between a horse and an orator’s diction. Without such a distinction, one would be arguing in effect that there is no difference between these two kinds of difference. But even if one decided to do without this distinction, Burke could counter by arguing that only a literal account of words as existents can explain exactly what was not being distinguished. At every point, one gets to the level of words as existents that McKeon identifies as the subject matter properly treated with rhetorical methods. Inferences based on these existents always refer to them literally. In a rhetorical world, words as existents are things and these are the things to which one has direct access, without mediation.  

    The proper conclusion of this McKeonist understanding is a reminder that McKeon turned to rhetoric for his time, not for all time. If the recent emergence of the speculative realists is a harbinger of the new metaphysics that McKeon envisioned, then we are at the dawn of a new metaphysical age. Such an age would need a reconfiguration of rhetoric, not its abandonment. For rhetoric does account for a portion of reality. It is properly contained, not eliminated, by metaphysics. A step toward such a reconfiguration would be a precise charting of the contours of rhetorical reality. This charting could take the form of a historical narrative in which the extraordinary revival of rhetoric in the closing decades of the twentieth century is seen as the telos of the “linguistic turn” that began early in the century. For this charting, one needs to turn away from therapeutic dictates and deconstructive exposures to McKeon’s philosophizing of rhetorical reality.


    1. Jack Selzer’s authoritative chronology indicates that early in 1917, a few months before turning 20, Burke entered Columbia University and began taking a ferry to classes with McKeon (186), who was three years younger. McKeon was born in 1900; Burke, in 1897. It is not altogether clear but Douglas Mitchell, one of McKeon’s many dedicated students, seems to imply that McKeon’s commitment to rhetoric coincides with the beginning of his friendship with Burke during their student days at Columbia University (396). That is not supported by the evidence, but in any case it is a minor point in what is otherwise a review-essay filled with valuable insights into a number of McKeon’s essays.

    2. An important work of scholarship that remains to be written would combine a detailed historical study of the formation of UNESCO with an in‑depth analysis of McKeon’s work relevant to it. A glimpse of what a chapter of such a book might look like appears in Erik Doxtader’s “The Rhetorical Question of Human Rights—A Preface,” which draws extensively on a large number of McKeon essays that address UNESCO concerns in varying ways.

    3. This quotation comes from McKeon’s 1942 essay, “Rhetoric in the Middle Ages.” The 1942 McKeon is the McKeon both Wegener and Plochmann worked with closely and distinguished from the later rhetorical McKeon. The “rhetoric” in the title of this essay should not be mistaken as a sign of a turn to rhetoric. As the quotation indicates, this essay theorizes a conception of intellectual history and applies this conception to the subject matter of rhetoric in the middle ages. 

    4. In The Age of Analysis: 20th Century Philosophers, Morton White indicates that the “marriage of the empirical and logical traditions was first solemnized by the name `Logical Positivism’ in order to indicate the two families united, but this was later changed to `Logical Empiricism’ when it was realized how bad the odor of the word `positivism’ was for those who associated it with the narrowness of Auguste Comte” (204). Bergmann nonetheless uses “logical positivism,” explaining, “The very name, logical positivist, is by now unwelcome to some, though it is still and quite reasonably applied to all, particularly from the outside” (63).

    5. Four philosophers participated in this workshop: Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harman, and Quentin Meillassoux. Harman subsequently published a book on Meillassoux (Quentin Meillassoux: Philosophy in the Making, 2011). Meillassoux’s After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency (published in French in 2006 and in Brassier’s English translation in 2008) played an important role in the emergence of the movement. For a convenient summary, see Harman’s “The Current State of Speculative Realism.”

    Works Cited

    Ayer, A. J., ed. Logical Positivism. New York: Free P, 1959. Print.

    Bergmann, Gustav. “Logical Positivism, Language, and the Reconstruction of Metaphysics (in part).” Rorty 63-71. Print.

    Booth, Wayne. The Rhetoric of Fiction. 2nd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1983. Print. 

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    Toward A Dramatistic Ethics

    Kevin McClure and Julia Skwar, University of Rhode Island


    This essay presents an initial response to the challenge that scholars begin to flesh-out the possibilities for a Dramatistic ethics. In turn we consider the status of ethics after the poststructural and linguistic turns and explore the potential in Burke's work as a response to the impasse that these turns have created for ethics. Next, we argue that a Dramatistic ethics begin as a mode of inquiry and advance pentadic analysis as a holistic framework for continuing ethical scholarship. Last, we provide a synoptic pentadic analysis of five ethical theories as suggestive points of critical entry.


    The field of ethics has been particularly challenged by the linguistic and poststructural turns in the humanities and the social sciences.  Among the troubling challenges of poststructural thought for ethics are the decentering of the subject as the locus of meaning and action and the subversion of the metaphysical grounds of traditional ethical theories.  For some, the upshot of these challenges has led to a certain ethical malaise that involves the loss of shared moral standards and notions of the good, and a search for new grounds upon which to construct ethical theories. For others, the demise of ethics is viewed as a liberation that presents an opportunity for a variety of critical unmaskings.1

    While Burkean scholars have long noted the centrality of ethics in Dramatism, both Smith and Crusius (The Question of) opine that scholars have collectively missed the potential in Burke’s work to develop a Dramatistic ethics and challenge Burkean scholars to begin to flesh-out the possibilities of a Dramatistic ethics. This essay presents a tentative response to these challenges by considering the possibilities that Dramatism offers in reconfiguring the field of ethics.  We begin with a review of the status of ethics after the linguistic and poststructural turns. Next, we consider the contribution that Dramatism offers theoretically to the contemporary conversation on ethics, including both the affinities and disparities of Burke’s thought with that of poststructuralism.  Building on that discussion, we argue that an initial Dramatistic ethics begins as a mode of inquiry. In an effort to further this initiative, we advance the pentad as a particularly apt critical method for engaging the ethical. A synoptic pentadic analysis that charts representative ethical thought follows.  The pentadic synopsis is intended to be suggestive of potential points of entry for a Dramatistic ethics of inquiry and to provoke alternative starting points.  Finally, we argue that dramatism invites a shift in the contemporary conversation on ethics toward a discussion of ethics as equipment for living that transcends both modernity’s universalizing impulses and poststructuralism’s deconstructive desires.

    The Status of Ethics

    A number of scholars have noted that by mid twentieth century Burke was already working through many of the problems posed by poststructuralism.2 While there are many challenges to a variety of disciplines, the two most problematic poststructural tenants for ethics are the rejection of ethics as a meta-discourse concerned with the search for a universal concept of the good, and the displacement of the autonomous Cartesian subject.3 

    Burke is, in many ways, in-hand with poststructuralism regarding the problems associated with the poststructural distrust of the study of ethics as a meta-discourse concerned with finding the ethics.  However, perhaps because Burke spent 70 years working through a similar position of skepticism towards claims of truth, he moved beyond the strict detached relativism such a posture implies or, in its extreme, the Derridean silence it encourages. Crusius hints at this in his essay on the possibility of a Burkean ethics when he notes that a Burkean ethics will be both a “practical” ethics and simultaneously an “ethics of resistance” (The Question of).  Put another way, a Burkean ethics will encompass a poststructural skepticism in the spirit of its resistance against truth, certainty, and absolutism but it will also be a pragmatic ethics—as equipment for living.  Any endeavor to develop a Burkean ethics must recognize that Burke’s thought is skeptical but not “just” skeptical, in the sense that “just” skepticism or doubt interferes with praxis (Crusius, The Conversation After 29).  Burke’s move beyond skepticism underscores how a Dramatistic ethics is inclusive of poststructural thought.

    Burke began in Counter-Statement with a skepticism that looks similar to Lyotard’s “incredulity toward metanarratives.”4 At this point in his career Burke noted that his work was situated toward using art and aesthetics as a counterpoint to the technologic and scientistic ideology of capitalism. To this end, the themes running through his earlier work encourage “doubt . . . [in] . . . certainties” and “ . . . advocat[ing] nothing, . . . but a return to inconclusiveness” (91).  He was wary of the “deceptive allurement of tradition” (105) and was using literature and art as a means to combat “the practical, the industrial, the mechanized [which are] so firmly entrenched” (113).  At this juncture we find a Burke who at his core values skepticism and aesthetics as a means for counteracting the hegemonic and ideological values of Western society – a Burke that is simpatico with current poststructural thought.

    As Crusius points out, something happened to Burke’s ridged skepticism in the period between Counter-Statement and Attitudes Toward History (The Conversation After 31-32), and we contend that something really happened when Burke arrived at Dramatism in A Grammar of Motives.5 As Crusius notes, Burke mid-career “discards antinomian skepticism because he comes to see it as unlivable and ineffectual” in the sense that rigid skepticism is deconstructive and builds nothing – it denies the possibility of claims to truth that merit even temporary allegiance (The Conversation After 32). It is with the development of Dramatism that Burke gets ahead of current lines of thought.  By A Grammar of Motives, Burke makes the turn away from an inflexible skepticism and an unequivocal rejection of “Truth” toward the assertion that getting closer to “Truth” is possible (and not invaluable) if all perspectives on a given subject are viewed in concert: “insofar as one can encompass . . . opposition, seeing [a] situation anew in terms of it, one has dialectically arrived thus roundabout at knowledge” (367).

    This dialectical treatment of perspectives is at the heart of Burke’s development of Dramatism and its corresponding pentadic method of analysis set out in A Grammar of Motives.  Burkean thought responds to the poststructural challenge of incredulity toward “Truth,” in its many forms, with a mode of inquiry that is contemplative and reflexive, yet active and engaged. Burke’s Dramatism offers a mode of inquiry that the study of ethics presently needs, since Dramatism is focused on human action, and “action implies the ethical, the human personality” (Burke, LASA 11).          

    In Burke’s treatment of Dramatism the notion of ethics is critical – it is in the constant unraveling of human motives, the attempting-to-understand more perspectives in order to find the “strategic spots at which ambiguities necessarily arise” and it is in those ambiguities that human being can hope to get closer to the good (GM xviii).  Part of the good for Burke is to “understand our symbol-driving motivations better and through increased understanding achieve greater self-control” (Crusius, The Conversation After 3). Surely, Burke would not imagine replacing traditional ethics with yet another inflexible and stringent system. Rather, as Smith notes, Burke offers “a basic position toward ethics” instead (173), a position that finds value in critiquing and unraveling the motivations of traditional ethical theories without discarding any of them.

    Dramatism also encompasses Burke’s view of reality, or his ontology, which is a pragmatic one based on the definition of human being as a “symbol-using, symbol-making, and symbol-misusing animal” (On Symbols 60). There are instances in Burke’s writing when he describes Dramatism as literal:

    . . . man [/woman] is defined literally as an animal characterized by his [/her] special aptitude for ‘symbolic action,’ which is itself a literal term . . . And from there on, drama is employed, not as a metaphor  but as a fixed form that helps us discover what the implications of the terms “act” and “person” really are. Once we choose a generalized term for what people do, it is certainly . . .  literal to say that “people act.” (CS 448)

    And in other instances, he concedes that, like any other system, it need not be taken as absolute:

    I should make it clear [on Dramatism]: I am not pronouncing on the metaphysics of this . . . maybe we are but things in motion. I don’t have to haggle about that possibility. I need but point out that, whether or not we are just things in motion, we think of one another . . . as persons. And the difference between a thing and a person is that the one merely moves where the other acts. For the sake of the argument, I’m even willing to grant that the distinction between things moving and persons acting is but an illusion. All I would claim is that, illusion or not, the human race cannot possibly get along with itself on the basis of any other intuition. (LASA 53)

    This is Burke’s distinct kind of ontology, it does not resemble traditional monistic ontologies in which the concept of reality or Being is understood as uniform, knowable and immutable.  Rather Burke’s Dramatistic ontology folds back in on itself, it uncoils language as language recoils back into it. Burke understands that human beings are bodies that use language, and are used by language. It is a pragmatic ontology that is grounded in the embodied use of language, which is to say that it can “move through language to a position on language, and in that sense beyond language” (Williams 217).  And, because ethics is tied up in symbol-use, this is the kind of ontology that allows ethics to exist and to be critiqued. Understood against the assertion that there is no ontological substructure, no basis for reality, and thus there exist no coherent subjects, Burke’s ontology affirms a foundation of reality (we are bodies that learn language) from which a coherent, albeit still linguistically-constructed, subject can exist – and one that can act ethically.

    Dramatism can also work through the second challenge that poststructuralism poses for ethics: the decentering of a freely acting and autonomous subject. The self or subject that poststructuralism deconstructs is the Cartesian, sovereign, unitary subject, who is conscious, rational, and detached. After poststructuralism’s deconstruction of this subject, it is effectively “‘decentered’: no longer an agent of action in the world, but a function through which impersonal forces [texts] pass and intersect” (Waugh 5). People are constituted and conditioned by language, which is always situated, and which reproduces certain social structures that inscribe difference.  The poststructural move to decenter the Cartesian subject is one that often aims to respect Others. Yet, instead of creating space for both the self and the Other to exist, the deconstruction of the subject is a “death” of the self and the Other. In claiming that subjects are nothing more than the intersection of external textual forces —as Nelson explains, “the autonomy of language . . . belongs to language, not to those who use it” (169) —the ability of subjects to act (ethically or not) of their own will is thus wholly displaced. 

    Burke’s Dramatistic view of language centers on action, and “action implies the ethical, the human personality” (LASA 11).  Language affords subjects (or, Burke’s word, agents) with the ability to act, and “[t]o say that action is motivated is to say that one is not (entirely) a victim of circumstances, but that one must make a choice” (GM 250). Action and choice are inextricably tied to judgments of good and bad, or right and wrong— for “when one talks of the will, one is necessarily in the field of the moral” (PC 136). Burke’s theory of Dramatism, in which the act contains ethical choice, is thus dependent on a subjective, conscious agent (Hassett 181). In order to understand how Burke allows for an ethical agent that has the ability to act and choose, while still accounting for the linguistically-constructed nature of agents, we look to his notion of language as embodied action.

    For many poststructuralists there is “nothing outside the text” (Derrida 158). While Derrida’s declaration is not necessarily representative of all forms of poststructural thought, all too often poststructuralists follow Derrida and insist that there isnothing beyond texts, discourses, or the play of language or “nothing beyond the fetishes of the commodity – [in poststructuralism there are] no bodies” (McNally 6). Human experience is but the play of language and text, and the subject is but an illusion of determining discourses.

    For Burke it does not follow that we are only language or that we are wholly controlled by it. We are symbol-using animals grounded in a realm of non-symbolic motion. As animals we are a part of that non-symbolic realm; as symbol-users, we separate ourselves from it. Utterances are spoken by and through a non-symbolic body, and it is this interplay of our linguistic abilities in the context of our bodies, or “central nervous systems” that makes us individual agents.

    By learning language the human body, a composite creature, combines the realms of non-symbolic motion and symbolic action. The body thus provides a principle of individuation that is grounded in the centrality of the nervous system. But this separateness as a physiological organism is “transcended” by the peculiar collective social nature of human symbol systems. (cited in Blankenship, Pivotal Terms 147)

    For Burke individual bodies can never disappear into a hyper-reality of texts. As Crusius points out, “the poststructural contention that an individual (a unique identity) cannot result from impersonal and universal forces must be an error” (The Conversation After 40). While the subject is certainly linguistically constructed, in Burke we are also in constant dialectical tension with the nonverbal realm.  It is this tension and the very human ability to separate ourselves from our sheer animalness through symbol use – through the negative — that creates or affords human agency. In The Rhetoric of Religion, Burke plays out a conversation between the Lord (TL) and Satan (S) about TL’s creation of humans, wherein Burke dramatically describes the uniquely human ability to choose or “deviate”:

    TL . . . When I introduce words into my Creation, I shall really have let something loose. . . In dealing with ideas one at a time (or, as they will put it, discursively) they can do many things which can’t be done when, like us, all ideas are seen at once, and thus necessarily corrected by one another.
    S . . . I see it! . . . By their symbolocity, they will be able to deviate! . . . and to that extent that will really be free . . . by the dramatistic nature of their terminology, they are in a sense ‘forced to be free,’ since they will think of themselves as persons, and the idea of personality implies the idea of action, and the ideas of both freedom and necessity are intrinsic to the idea of an act. (282-83)

    While words can be acted onto us, the very nature of our ability to use words allows us to deviate from those words—recalcitrance.  Put another way, while we are “symbol-used” we are also “symbol-using” and thus able to make choices. Burke’s understanding of human language implies an active agent who is both empowered through language and limited by it.

    In this way Burke allows for the possibility of the ethical whereas poststructuralism does not. Yet it should be underscored that Burke acknowledges that individual agents are also linguistically constructed by social and institutional forces. Sharing this notion with poststructuralism is one reason why Dramatism so adequately responds to that important insight. Indeed, for Burke “the so-called ‘I’ is . . . a unique combination of partially conflicting ‘corporate we’s’” (PC 264).  Burke’s agent is no bourgeois individual, unitary and fixed, rather she is an amalgamation of social and corporate forces acting on the agent and the agent’s particular embodied response to those forces in her own skin. Burke’s self is “polyvocal, both an inner dialogue of voices and a potential for dialogue with other individuals whose identity is also both collective and unique” (Crusius 41).

    It is clear that Burke’s thought can help us move through the challenges poststructuralism poses for the study of ethics. As a scholar who for decades was working through many of the same problems that we are now dealing with, it seems as if Burke, while he recognizes many of the same basic “problems” of language and reason, provides a way through these challenges. In Burke’s pragmatic ontology, a critical dialogue about ethics can be grounded in a reality that understands language as metaphorical and thus always skeptical of “Truth” but not frozen in inaction and silence. In Burke’s view of language there exists an agent/a body—that can and does act, and that can resist becoming nothing but automata in a complex system of symbols at play. Burke’s view of language “privileges the human subject, not truth or knowledge” (Williams 217), and in doing so provides for the possibility of the ethical, although in a new and discounted form.

    In the next section we shift our concerns from the theoretical grounds in Dramatism that provide the basis for constructing an ethics and toward suggestive points of entry for a Dramatistic ethics of inquiry. We do so by advancing the pentad as a particularly apt critical method for engaging the ethical and by employing the pentad in a synoptic analysis of representative ethical theories as an initial act of inquiry.  Given the brevity of a journal article and the expanse of a project on a Dramatistic ethics, our preliminary foray using the pentad as a meta-theoretical critical method provides a rich basis from which a number of critical departures can be generated.

    The Pentad as a Meta-Theoretical Method6

    Indeed a Dramatistic ethics that responds to poststructuralism will have to begin as a mode of inquiry. To this end, the study of ethics can benefit from what sociologist Zhao calls meta-study, or second-order analysis of the ethical theories and critiques within the discipline itself.  Zhao goes on to describe meta-study as the “remapping of . . . a changing discipline . . . if primary study is a long journey to an unfamiliar place, then meta-study involves frequent pauses for rest, identifying directions, revising travel plans, or even having second thoughts on the final destination” (381).

    Overington notes that Burke’s pentad provides an ideal meta-methodological framework for studying “explanatory discourses” about human action, or theories about human action (133). In the pluralized dialectic operationalized via the pentad, Burke sought to displace the totalizing and authoritative privileging of any particular rhetorical construction or version of reality by seeking out “counter-statements” and “corrective rationalizations” to the dominant orientations.  Thus, any complete or well-rounded treatment of a subject needs to include the full panoply of discourses, representations, and orientations detailed in Burke’s discussion of the pentadic ratios because no one perspective is capable of being fully correct.  In symbolic action wo/men “seek vocabularies that will be faithful reflections of reality. To this end, they must develop vocabularies that are selections of reality. And, any selection of reality must . . . function as a deflection of reality” (GM 59). What is said is in dialectical tension with what is left out. For Burke, any chosen or selected terminology “necessarily directs the attention into some channels rather than others” (LASA 45), and the choice to direct attention to a particular channel is a motivated act. In order to tease out the motivations inherent in symbolic acts, Burke codifies them in the pentad, a five-pronged pattern that is apparent in “any rounded statement” about reality:

    In any rounded statement about motives, you must have some word that names the act (names what took place in thought or deed), and another that names the scene (the background of the act, the situation in which it occurred); also, you must indicate what person or kind of person (agent) performed the act, what instruments he used (agency) and the purpose. (GM xv)

    Burke points out that even the “primary philosophical languages . . . are to be distinguished by the fact that each school features a different one of the five terms” (127): realism is tied to act, materialism is tied to scene, idealism to agent, pragmatism to agency, and mysticism to purpose. While any statement about reality will be grounded in one of these philosophies or terms, many statements favor one term or a ratio of two terms over all others (i.e., scene-agent or agent-purpose). Pentadic analysis allows critics to ferret out the motives of symbolic acts (and tie these motives to a philosophic school or modes of thought). With “the pentad as a generating principle,” Burke contends that:

    . . . we may extricate ourselves from these intricacies [of motive], by discovering the kinds of assertion which the different schools would exemplify in a hypothetical state of purity. Once this approach is established, problems are much less likely to conceal the underlying design of assertion, or may even serve to assist in the characterizing of a given philosophic work. (131)

    While expressions of motives through “terministic screens” are unavoidable, Burke maintains that there are some uses of terminologies that are more representative of reality than others. Terminologies that feature one term or ratio as the “perspective of perspectives” and that suppress other terms or ratios in the pentad are less representative of reality, since any “rounded” or full statement features all five terms (PLF 89).  That is, terminologies arrive closer to reality as they move toward greater inclusiveness of all five terms by providing a greater circumference of perspectives.  In this way the pentad is an ideal method for “asses[ing] the degree to which discourse is open (or closed) to a range of reality orientations” (Anderson and Prelli 88). Because the pentad makes no authoritative claims “in the form of some final synthesis culminating in the truth” it shares an attitude with poststructuralism that reaches superior ends by approaching discourse from a multi-perspective position (73).

    Poststructuralist discourses normally feature the agency of language as a “perspective of perspectives” and hence are more “closed” in their nature. Whereas Burke’s pentad, by way of the ratios borne of five perspectives, is a pluralized dialectic that:

    . . . avoids a totalizing metaphysics insofar as no particular discourse is viewed as authoritative; rather, it is a ‘dialogue of many voices’ in both agreement and disagreement . . . In this sense, Burke’s pluralized dialectic seeks to cultivate openness to many perspectives with each perspective correcting the other. (McClure and Cabral 76)

    Thus pentadic analysis is a particularly apt methodology for moving beyond incredulity toward conceptions of “the Good” and toward a better understanding what might be good in any particular case.

    In what follows, then, we employ the pentad synoptically to chart an overview of representative ethical theories. In turn we consider Kantian ethics, classical utilitarianism, Marxist ethics, Aristotle’s virtue ethics, and Nietzsche’s individualist ethics. A pentadic meta-critique of ethical theories will make more apparent the extent to which those theories can be seen as orientations in a dialogue of many voices that constitute conceptions of the good.  While the depth and scope of our analysis is limited, it is suggestive of analyzes that could be conducted on the panoply of ethical theories with much greater depth. The analysis, then, functions as a representative heuristic that invites further inquiry and counter-statements. As we progress through the analysis a dominant term or ratio(s) is ferreted out of each theory illuminating the perspective by which each is motivated. Moving through a pentadic analysis of ethical positions allows for a fuller understanding of each perspective on ethics and offers a productive approach for moving forward with a Dramatistic ethics as a mode of inquiry.

    Pentadic Analysis

    Burke makes it clear that because morality is contained within the act, all ethical theories feature the act.  In A Grammar of Motives, while discussing the philosophical schools, he notes that “so far as our dramatistic terminology is concerned . . . the ethical requires the systematic featuring of act” (210). In his critique of Kantian duty theory Burke observes that “[E]thics builds its terminology around the problem of action” (LASA 436).  Thus, in the following analysis the act is the pentadic grounding on which all theories of traditional ethics are formulated; act as a term, then, will not be explicitly discussed, as it is the central term of any pentadic view of ethics. Accordingly, our pentadic overview of five ethical theories seeks to identify each theory’s featured ratio as motive grounding in the act of theorizing. While each theory features a distinct ratio, traditional and modern theories of ethics, especially those premised on the Cartesian subject, tend to consistently feature agent as a prominent perspective; therefore, it is also noteworthy that each of the following theories places the agent in either a primary or secondary position in its featured ratio. Put simply, these theories vary insofar as how they position the ethical subject or agent in relation to acts.

    Aristotle’s virtue ethics, as it is explained in his Nicomachean Ethics, is grounded in an understanding of human agents as beings capable of developing characteristics– virtues—that lead to the agent engaging in ethical action. For Aristotle, the human good is viewed as “a soul in accordance with virtue” (Rosenstand 424). In order to become virtuous, people must engage in habitual practices that encourage development of the virtues early in life. These virtues are further developed later in life by participating in social practices that require virtue intrinsically. For Aristotle, then, ethical knowledge is not just rational knowledge accessible by studying texts. Rather ethical knowledge is gained through the agent’s active participation in civic practices that experientially encourage the development of culturally virtuous characteristics that improve society: “we learn by doing, for example, people become builders by building and lyre players by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts” (Chappell 78). Aristotle believed that acting virtuously not only moves society closer to perfection, but that human beings should strive to be virtuous or ethical because it leads to “human flourishing.” Pentadically, then, Aristotle’s virtue ethics features an agent-purpose ratio, wherein the agent, capable of virtue, develops virtuous characteristics in society in order to fulfill his or her purpose or end—flourishing or happiness.

    Unlike Aristotle’s ethics, which recognizes that ethical choices made by virtuous people may vary according to the situation, Immanuel Kant’s deontology asserts that there exists one fundamental principle of morality on which all other moral duties are based—the categorical imperative: “Act only accordingly to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become universal law” (Kant 421). An action is thus conceived as ethical on the basis of its universal application. Johnson describes the means by which a rational agent arrives at the judgment of a course of action as moral or not moral.  First, formulate a maxim that enshrines your reason for acting as you propose. Second, recast that maxim as a universal law of nature governing all rational agents in these circumstances. Third, consider whether your maxim is even conceivable in a world governed by this law of nature. If it is, then, fourth, ask yourself whether you would, or could, rationally act on your maxim in such a world. If you can, then your action is morally permissible. From this brief explanation of Kantian ethics, the pentadic ratio can be charted. The goal or purpose of Kant’s ethics–establishing a rational universalization of moral maxims–necessarily deemphasizes the scenic nature of ethical matters while featuring the purpose of universalizing. While purpose is the dominant term, the agent is featured secondarily, creating a purpose-agent ratio. The agent is a rational subject able to decide whether or not a certain course of action is ethical based on the universal application of reason.

    Conversely, classical utilitarianism, an ethical framework popularized by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, views actions as right or ethical in terms of the utility of the consequences it produces (Irwin 364-66).  In utilitarian ethics, “the ultimate value is happiness or pleasure . . . what is good is pleasurable, and what is bad is painful . . . hedonism (pleasure seeking) is the basis for [utilitarian] moral theory” (Rosenstand 216). As a normative and consequentialist theory, utilitarianism mathematically calculates the likely consequences of human actions by numerically ascribing conceptions of intensity, duration, certainty, remoteness, fecundity, purity, and calculating the extent to which an act will produce pleasure or pain. As long as an action is likely to produce more pleasure than pain for the individual or the community, it is deemed as right action. Utilitarianism thus seeks to end the accumulation of misery by compensating for it with pleasure. Many of these calculations are aimed at eliminating “bad” laws that were a concern in the early nineteenth century: if a law causes more misery than pleasure, it should be eliminated. Thus, utilitarianism posits that moral value of an action should be determined instrumentally.

    The ethical act, while implied in any theory of ethics, plays a relatively insignificant role in utilitarian ethics. Act is featured insofar as utilitarianism attempts to calculate good acts, but the act is seen as relative to the ends it produces by way of mathematical calculation. Thus, agency, understood here as the means by which ethical action is achieved, suggests that agency is the featured term. The agent is presented as calculating and autonomous, and important to the extent that it is the agent’s rationality that determines or calculates ethical actions. Agent is subsumed beneath agency or instrumentality. Thus, utilitarianism is understood as an explanation of good action that features agency (as instrumental) as the dominant term, with the rational agent as secondary. Agency-agent is the likely dominant ratio here.

    Marxist ethics, however, is largely a critique of the naive “bourgeois mentality” of Bentham’s ethics (Wood 147). Marx holds that an ideal or ethical society is one in which all human agents are endowed with the right to live sustainably, not necessarily pleasurably. For Marx, “to receive according to need, and to give according to ability” (Rosenstand 323) is the basic foundation for a good and ethical life. Based on a critique of the capitalist state, Marxism equates value or justness with material needs being met by social systems (i.e., governments) so that people might engage in meaningful work without suffering and struggling in a system of labor that values profitability over the sustainability of human life (Wood). Marx asserts that the oppressed social classes must rise up against oppressive governments and create this more just social system.

    Agents for Marx are important; in order for the ideal social system to exist, agents, willing to improve their own situations, are assumed. But the character of agents in Marxism are derived from human consciousness across historical periods by the material conditions of the prevailing time. Burke calls the Marxist treatment of conditions (scene) as “dazzlingly concrete” (GM 200). Human consciousness, goodness, and contentedness are products of the material conditions of agents. Thus, Marxism can be said to feature scene in relationship with the agent, resulting in the featuring of a scene-agent ratio. The agent is grounded and controlled by the capitalist scene, which is also the ground for agents creating a more just society.

    Friedrich Nietzsche expressed similar concerns with modern society. It is difficult to locate a secure launching point for an analysis of Nietzschean ethics. Because Nietzsche contends that “the voluntary is absolutely lacking, everything is instinct” (251), his ethical philosophy does not square with traditional ethical theories that center on a conception of agents as rational and autonomous. While Nietzsche’s concept of the “will to power” values an agent who strives to master his or her environment, he also recognizes that  the agent “continually encounters similar efforts on the part of other [wills] and ends by coming to an arrangement (‘union’) with those of them that are sufficiently related to it: thus they conspire together for power” (340).  We can find an ethics, though, in the characteristics Nietzsche believes constitute an excellent person, which centers on agents who disengage from public life, who pursue a creative project in solitude, and who deal with others only instrumentally. He encourages “gifted” agents or Ubermensch (such as himself) to “reject the herd mentality of the majority [so that] the individual can reach an authentic set of values for himself” (Rosenstand 480). While there is a stark contrast here to Aristotle’s virtue ethics, there are also underlying similarities in that both thinkers put forth the idea that the potential for goodness lies in the character of an agent. For Nietzsche the ideal agent is one who can resist power and affirm his or her own life unconditionally (his concept of a “Dionysian” life) and go beyond good and evil in a state of nature. Nietzsche’s novel brand of virtue ethics, then, heavily features the agent–but the agent is limited to one that is aloof, solitary, creative and standing alone and in a natural state; goodness is not transcendental, tied to any religion or mystic scheme, but occurring in the agent. Here, the dominant ratio is likely agent-scene, with the scene conceived as the location where human beings are apart from society in a return to a state of nature.

    We believe that the synoptic pentadic mapping of these five ethical theories’ ratios offers a good starting point for a conversation about ethical scholarship in general. Ethics can no longer prescribe unilateral, monistic frameworks for ethical action. The postmodern critique is valuable insofar as it demonstrates that monistic/modernist theories cannot work in a globalized, diverse, linguistically-constructed and constrained world. Instead of discarding theories though, Burke would have those theories act in dialogue with each other, “in co-operative competition,” creating a dialectic that when “properly developed can lead to views transcending the limitations of each” (CS 188). The aim here is to find what reality orientations (the ratios) of theories of ethics so that we might better understand them singularly and, more importantly, in relationship to one another.

    Each of these five theories position the agent as either primary or secondary in their controlling ratios: Aristotle’s virtue ethics features an agent-purpose ratio wherein agents develop themselves to reach the teleos of human being—a good life; Kant features a purpose-agent ratio wherein the goal or purpose of universalizability limits the agent’s ability to make ethical choices; utilitarianism features an agency-agent role where the process of means-end calculation serves as the agency by which rational agents decide on ethicality; Marxism features a scene-agent ratio, where the scenic conditions of bourgeois capitalist society are the grounds on which a better life must be forged by agents;  and Nietzsche articulates a radical brand of virtue ethics featuring an agent-scene ratio, where the agent, separate from society in a scene of nature, forges his or her own good life.  Poststructuralism, however, challenges the featuring of the agent by doing away with the agent all together, arguing that the agent is wholly constructed by the agency of language (as is ethics itself). This killing off of the agent, though, is also problematic.

    Yet, the pushback on the part of poststructural thought is grounded in a valuable critique of monism; any approach toward ethics must avoid a unilateral foundation. It is argued here that Burke’s approach—a dialogue of many voices, a perspectivism that is pluralistic while it avoids relativism—offers a position that goes beyond an absolute denial of the agent. In applying Burke’s method of pentadic analysis to ethical theories, the critic avoids any claim to absolute ethical “Truth,” while striving to open closed discourses by pointing out the terministic screens by which ethical discourses are formed. In viewing all ethical frameworks pentadically, a Burkean approach will find ways in which some of these theories are more apt as frameworks for application in any particular case than others. A pentadic approach will also help ethics as a field of study find points of ambiguity in its theories, allowing opportunities for correcting or amending theories that tend toward totalization. A Dramatistic ethics as inquiry offers a constructive avenue after the deconstruction of modern ethical theories. 


    This essay presents a tentative response to the challenge that scholars begin to flesh-out the possibilities for a Dramatistic ethics.  In turn we considered the status of ethics in the context of poststructuralism and explored the potential in Burke’s work as a response to the impasse that poststructuralism has created for ethics. Next, we argued that a Dramatistic ethics begin as a mode of inquiry and advanced pentadic analysis as a holistic framework for continuing ethical philosophy and for beginning to flesh-out the possibilities for a Dramatistic ethics of inquiry. Lastly, we provided a brief synoptic pentadic analysis of five ethical theories as suggestive points of critical entry. The challenge of constructing a Dramatistic ethics is broad and deep, so we see this study as a preliminary and tentative response to that challenge.  While the depth and scope of our analysis is limited, it is intended to be suggestive of analyzes that could be conducted on the panoply of ethical theories. Thus, our analysis also functions as a representative heuristic that invites further inquiry and counter-statements.

    Future research might expand the inquiry on the theories pentadically considered here or explore more contemporary theories of ethics such as Emanuel Levinas. Alternatively, in response to the meta-study offered here, future research might focus instead on a pentadic analysis of social-ethical problems. In any case, the utility for Burke’s theory of Dramatism and his method of pentadic analysis for ethical studies is clear.


    1. Among these are: Albrecht; Chappell; Cornell; MacIntyre, After Virtue and “The Claims”; Madison and Fairbairn; Mason; Racevskis; and Vattimo.
    2. See Brock; Crusius, The Conversation After; Bentz and Kenny; Wess, Kenneth Burke; Hassett; and Southwell.
    3. For examples see Arenson; Bauman; Comas; Cornell; Hoffmann and Hornung; Jarvis; MacIntyre, After Virtue and “The Claims”; and Madison and Fairbairn.
    4. Lyotard essentially defined the postmodern condition as an “incredulity” toward the definitive narratives of modernity. Burke shared this insight and it informed his construction of Dramatism. See Crusius, The Conversation After 62-63; Weiser; and Wess, Kenneth Burke 62-63.
    5. For an excellent analysis of the shift in Burke’s thought leading up to A Grammar of Motives, see Weiser.
    6. There are numerous exemplary critical studies that employ and discuss Burke’s pentad, among these are: Anderson and Prelli; Birdsell; Blankenship, Murphy, and Rossenwasser; Blankenship, Fine, and Davis; Brummett; Conrad; Fergusson; Fisher; Hamlin and Nichols; King; Ling; Overington; Signorile; Tonn, Endress, and Diamond; and Wess, “Pentadic Terms.”

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    Attitudes as Equipment for Living

    Waldemar Petermann, Lund University, Sweden


    This article explores Burke’s concept of attitude through an overview of its use in his writings, connecting it to the concept of literature as equipment for living, using the comic frame and research into the practical impact of attitudes in rhetorical situations, in order to better understand both concepts.

    Attitudes as Equipment for Living

    In his article “Literature as Equipment for Living,” found in The Philosophy of Literary Form, Kenneth Burke proposed that literature can be used as what he calls “equipment for living,” as tools for dealing with encountered situations (Philosophy 293-304). Here he used proverbs as models for equipment for living and described them as “strategies for dealing with situations” (Philosophy 296). He also suggested that these strategies can be seen as attitudes. In the discussion of which term to use, Burke made clear that the process of using literature as equipment for living should neither be seen as completely conscious, nor as especially methodical (Philosophy 297). If literature is equipment for living and functions like proverbs, proverbs that are strategies for dealing with situations, and strategies are attitudes, then clearly attitudes are equipment for living. While attitude features a lot in Burke’s writing and often in a very central place in his theory of symbolic action, it is hard to get a clear picture of the concept as it is treated rather differently in different works. And since attitude is poorly understood, so is the meaning and implication of attitudes as equipment for living. The connection between attitude and equipment for living can, however, be of help when exploring the attitude. Equipment for living can serve as a focus when reconciling or synthesizing the different descriptions of attitude provided by Burke’s works and different readings of them.

    Scholars have proposed rather dissimilar explanations for what attitude is supposed to be in Burke’s writings: Sarah E. Mahan Hays & Roger C. Aden see attitude as something almost wholly cognitive in nature (35), Debra Hawhee, in her Moving Bodies, criticizes them for over-emphasizing A Grammar of Motives and views attitude as something very much grounded in the body (108), while Stephen Bygrave, in his reading of Burke’s 1978 article “(Nonsymbolic) Motion / (Symbolic) Action” finds the meaning of attitude “so extended as to designate any kind of response to a stimulus” leading to an attitude that loses its “distinctiveness.” (87). Depending on scholar attitude can evidently be of the mind, of the body or occupy some sort of amorphous, indistinctive middle ground.

    It his perhaps tempting to view these differences as a result of scholars reading different works of Burke’s substantial production, however it does seem to be a bit more complicated. While, as mentioned, Hawhee does criticize Mahan-Hays & Aden for over-emphasizing A Grammar of Motives when constructing their version of a Burkean attitude, it is indeed a question of emphasis since Mahan-Hays & Aden do delve into the earlier works – e.g. The Philosophy of Literary Form (34-36). And when Bygrave charges attitude with indistinctiveness, he does so in a chapter spanning about half a century of Burke’s works (77-106).

    Taking a closer look at Burke’s use of the term attitude, it turns out that its meaning and place in his theory of symbolic action can be dealt into three periods: the early period containing Permanence and Change, Attitudes toward History and The Philosophy of Literary Form, the intermediate centering around A Grammar of Motives and the late period containing the developments after Grammar, including an addition to a 1962 edition of the same work, later articles and forewords to earlier volumes as well as some of his letters.

    In the early period, and more specifically in the two companion volumes Permanence and Change and Attitudes toward History, Burke often used attitude as a word meaning “mood” or “state of mind” , as Ann George & Jack Selzer notes (257). Burke did, however, make clear in Attitudes toward History that there is a difference between attitude and mood. While moods can be changed without any trouble at all, attitudes, especially if they have become “rationalized,” demand conflict in order to be changed (Attitudes 184). In terms of attitudes as equipment for living, this is interesting. It suggests that considered as a tool, an attitude should be chosen with care as it cannot necessary always be discarded with ease. As evidenced by “Literature as equipment for living,” cultural texts can be seen as strategies for dealing with situations – keeping in mind that attitude is another term for strategy. As Michael Denning notes in The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century,the center of Burke’s theory of symbolic action in early works, is a quite flexible view on strategy—attitude—and situation (438-439).

    Attitude is, however, not quite as unambiguously just a state of mind or an abstract strategy for handling a class of situations. From time to time a more basic physical connection emerges in Burke’s early works. In the conclusion of Attitudes toward History, attitude and bodily action are described as counterparts, which makes an interpretation of bodily act as manifested attitude possible. However, the order of Burke’s description goes in the other direction: acts of grasping are counterparts to attitudes of grasping, but the “predacious” body, “the original economic plant,” may require acts of grasping. Were attitudes purely mental things, and acts just physical manifestations of these, the body would not require anything in relation to attitude, but instead just act in accord with the dictates of attitude. Evidently, there is the possibility of an important bodily dimension of attitude. A specific bodily act is tightly tied to a specific attitude. Burke here used the metaphor of dancing to describe the expression of an attitude—you dance the act to a corresponding attitude (Attitudes 339).

    Burke makes heavy use of Paget and his discussion of words as physical acts in Attitudes toward History, and as Hawhee notes, Burke went quite far in his interpretation of Paget (115). To further reinforce the bodily connection of attitude, Burke criticized Richards in The Philosophy of Literary Form as being “too sparse in realistic content” (Philosophy 9). Richards’ view on attitude, which can be found in his Principles of Literary Criticism from 1924, differs from Burke’s in that it is completely abstract and entirely of the mind (98-103). With the physical—behavioristic—side of the attitude, Burke also introduced the possibility of multiple conflicting manifestations of attitude in the same subject, at the same time. In The Philosophy of Literary Form, he told the story of a man, who during a visit to the dentist tries to dance a calm attitude – and does so – but is betrayed by the attitude his body dances in form of thickening saliva. His calm is a “social façade” and his sticky saliva the dancing of his “true” attitude, but nevertheless, both are danced (Philosophy 11). The body performing to the tune of the mind. Of course, here, the body has its own idea and performs a second dance to a second tune. This plurality of attitudes opens up for Burke’s later concept of identification and it may therefore not be surprising that he, as Hawhee observes, wrote about identification for the first time when discussing Paget’s ideas of words as physical acts. At least in this early version, identification is as much a bodily construct as it is a part of the psychological and social realm (116-117).

    All taken together, the early Burkean concept of attitude and its relation to symbolic analysis is rather complex. Attitude clearly has a both mental and bodily dimensions. On the one hand, attitude is central in symbolic analysis as one member in the attitude-situation pair. On the other hand, the body-oriented attitude with its behavioristic touch paves the way for persuasion in the form of identification. As part of the attitude-situation pair, the concept of attitude as equipment for living seems straight forward and well in line with the description in “Literature as Equipment for Living,” but the bodily dimension is not as easy to reconcile with it. The nature of the connection between the physiological and mental part of attitude is not quite clear and especially the idea of the primacy of the body makes it unclear how that part of attitude can work as equipment for living.

    During the early 1940s something happens to Burke’s view on attitude and its relation to symbolic analysis. If his earlier works sometimes showed a lack of properly worked out and presented methodology—something which rendered him a bit of critique according to George & Selzer (158-161)—he set out to change that radically in A Grammar of Motives. Here  he chose to motivate his choice of terms, the pentad, by demonstrating that they led to a working methodology (Grammar 92). The place of the earlier pervasive attitude in the new pentadic model is explained in the first chapter, where it is declared a part of the agent (Grammar 20). Attitude has been subsumed by the pentad.
    A Grammar of Motives deals with attitude here and there, but attitude is here described as an incipient, or delayed, act. This view of attitude is heavily influenced by I A Richards’ thoughts on the matter in his Principles of Literary Criticism, that is referenced, but in contrast to Burke’s marking of distance to Richards’ very abstract view in The Philosophy of Literary Form, such is not forthcoming, here. Burke points out that there is an inherent ambiguity to attitude as an incipient act, in that it may be either the substitute for an act or the first step towards an act (Grammar 235-236). This view puts attitude in an interesting position between action and non-action. Furthermore attitude as delayed action has an interesting connection to motion and the body, as Burke thinks that the delayed action, the mental attitude, must have a bodily posture and so be supported by motions (Grammar 242). While this is interesting, the bodily connection of attitude is not especially prevalent and Paget, a strong influence for the earlier Burke, is entirely absent. Attitude is here something more of the mind than the body.

    The lack of Pagetan influence in the section on attitude in A Grammar of Motives does, however, not mean that it lacks information on the role attitude plays in Dramatism as a whole. From George Herbert Meade, Burke takes the notion of distinction between action and motion and then places attitude in the middle. Motion is an act of the body, action an act of the mind and attitude connects the two. The action is a motion with a will or intent and what separates an act from another might be nothing more than the attitude toward that motion. (Grammar 237) As Burke explains later in the Grammar: “Two men, performing the same motions side by side, might be said to be performing different acts, in proportion as they differed in their attitudes toward their work” (Grammar 276). This relation of motion and action is, as Hawhee observes, of utmost importance to the ambiguous and changeable relations between the terms of the pentad (123).

    As it turns out, attitude also performs an important function for rhetoric and persuasion in Burke’s intermediate period. In A Grammar of Motives, when discussing the ambiguity of attitude as incipient act, he claimed that rhetoric can induce action by making listeners adopt appropriate attitudes—advertising being one of his examples (Grammar 236). Burke returned to the concept in A Rhetoric of Motives, where he wrote that “rhetorical language is inducement to action (or attitude, attitude being an incipient act)” (Rhetoric 42) and “often we could with more accuracy speak of persuasion ‘to attitude,’ rather than persuasion to out-and-out action” (Rhetoric 50). Attitude is evidently an important target for persuasion.

    Taken together, then, the attitude of the intermediate period has been subsumed into the pentad and lies in the realm of the mind too a much higher degree than in the earlier period. Attitude does, however, perform a central function as a connective between action and motion and is an important target for persuasion. That attitude fulfils an important function for rhetoric by being a target for persuasion, is interesting and speaks to the relevance of considering it as an equipment for living. Furthermore, while Burke made the attitude more mental in nature, the conception of it as connective between action and motion opens up possibilities for explaining how the earlier more physiological parts of the attitude fits with the concept of equipment for living. As a connective of action and motion, the intentional and non-intentional, the attitude can potentially form a bridge between its earlier parts of mental strategy and bodily manifestation. Since the attitude—especially the bodily dimension—is so diminished here, however, it is just a potentiality.

    The new nature of the attitude as a thing almost wholly of the mind that was established in A Grammar of Motives and upheld in A Rhetoric of Motives would, as it turns out, not last long. In a 1952 article in Quarterly Journal of Speech, ”A Dramatistic View of the Origin of Language,” just two years after the publishing of the latter volume, Burke wrote that “Dramatistically, we watch always for ways in which bodily attitudes can affect the development of linguistic expression.” and then adds a parenthetical comment on Paget (“A Dramatistic View” 254).

    The bodily aspect of the attitude is back and so is Paget. It may be a small comment, but as Hawhee remarks, Burke’s interest in the Pagetan side of the attitude would persist for a long time, even if it not always obviously so (124).

    The subsumption of the attitude into the pentad would not last either. In the 1962 Meridian paperback version of A Grammar of Motives and A Rhetoric of Motives, Burke added a comment where he declared that he “sometimes” added attitude to the other terms of the pentad (Grammar 443). While the comment is short, there is evidence that Burke put quite some thought into it. As evidenced by letters to from the editor of the volume, Aaron Asher, Burke had intended to include a lengthy postscript, but due to printing technicalities, the editor was not keen on adding any pages. Burke then instead decided to add comments that could be inserted in the volume without requiring any additional pages (Letters to and from Aaron Asher). Regardless, with the comment, attitude is brought up on the same level as the other pentad terms.
    In the 1983 afterword, “In Retrospective Prospect,” to a new edition of Attitudes toward History, Burke had the opportunity to comment his earlier pervasive attitude. Far from reducing the importance of attitude, he instead choose to explain important features of the volume in terms of attitude. He emphasized the importance of the bureaucratization of the imaginative, a perspective by incongruity carrying the meaning that the institutionalization of an idea turns it into something else, effectively destroying it, and equates it with history of the attitude (Attitudes 413).

    In comparison with the early and intermediate periods, the late attitude forms something of a synthesis: the attitude is elevated to the pentad, forming an hexad with all its practical implication, it is an important connective between action and motion, it is clearly of both body and mind and is an important target for persuasion. This synthesis also allows for attitude to be that bridge between mental strategy and bodily manifestation that had to remain a potentiality in the intermediate period. As a connective between action and motion, attitude takes a central place in the theory of Dramatism and as a part of the hexed pentad, it is an important part of its methodology. Together, this makes attitude a potentially very useful equipment for living.

    Considering the above review of attitude in Burke’s works, the theoretical use of attitude within his theoretical framework should not be considered strange. The range of possible uses is impressive. Attitude has been used successfully in such a fashion in rhetorical analysis, e.g. Clarke Rountree’s analysis of Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s rhetoric (33-48). Attitude as a part of regular hexadic analysis, interesting as it is, however, is not the end of it. The nature of attitude as a connective between action and motion, the conscious and the below-conscious, suggests a usefulness beyond that. Judging by its place in the dramatistic theory, attitude seems to be well suited to analyse fully and partly unconscious expressions. The interaction of attitude and persuasion is bidirectional. You can persuade toward an attitude but attitude also forms a basis for the possibility of persuasion. Expressing an attitude may help persuade by way of identification, but adopting that attitude also opens up for new persuasion of the adopter. This is analogous to the problematization of text and context that exploded in the 20th century history of ideas, where Derrida can serve as an example. Seen from this perspective, attitude has possible connections to concepts such as Pierre Bourdieu's habitus, habitual structures that governs and are governed by our actions, and Judith Butler's ideas on the performativity of identity. Indeed, Dana Anderson, in his article ”Questioning the Motives of Habituated Action: Burke and Bourdieu on Practice,” connects a Burke to Bourdieu, influenced by Butler's reading of the latter, and argues that practice can be interpreted as a sort of attitude-act ratio in order to better capture the nature of practice that according to him is both physiological and symbolic (255-274). This opens up for attitude to be used as an immediate analytical tool when examining situations that contain instances of practice, but also for the individual to better be able to influence the own behaviour in such situations by way of considering and adapting attitudes. Together with the earlier mentioned observation that the change of attitudes may require conflict, this can also provide an explanation for the difficulty of breaking a pattern of conflict.

    However, attitude can be used to a more immediately practical gain. In Brigitte Mral’s “Attitude matters' – Attitydyttringar som retoriska medel,” she performs an analysis of manifestations of attitude in discussions on nuclear waste disposal. Mral draws from Michael Billig's take on latitudes of attitude as well as Burke’s concept of attitude and makes an important distinction between attitude and its expressions. Here it becomes clear that displayed attitude (of the wrong kind) can actively hinder identification (28-29). Reconnecting this to the concept of literature—or attitudes—as equipment for living potentially results in a useful rhetorical tool. From an analytical point of view, the article shows that attitude can successfully be used as the focus of rhetorical analysis when trying to understand and explain the outcome of a discussion. In terms of attitudes as equipment for living it also indicates that by choosing an appropriate attitude, you adopt a strategy suitable to the situation.

    Attitudes in Burke’s writing clearly possess an impressive range. Attitude can be a strategy for dealing with a particular situation. When Burke describes attitude as connected to “quo modo,” manner, in the 1962 addition to A Grammar of Motives, this is precisely what he is describing (Grammar 443). The manner in which you perform something is in a sense a strategy for dealing with the particular situation at hand. In “Literature as Equipment for Living,” proverbs are manifestations of attitudes generalized to a category of situations. In congruence with Burke’s earlier mentioned equating of bureaucratization of the imaginative with a history of attitudes, “The Curve of History” in Attitudes toward History (Attitudes111-175) can be seen as a history of such generalized attitudes—albeit on a larger scale. At the end of that part of the volume, in “Comic Correctives” (166-175), attitudes are in a way considered on a meta-level, as attitudes toward attitude. As Ross Wolin points out in his The Rhetorical Imagination of Kenneth Burke, Burke wanted to create a perspective on perspective taking (95), and the comic frame—the comic corrective—is precisely such a perspective on perspectives, or an attitude of attitudes, which is what Burke names it in his 1955 introduction to Attitudes toward History (3rd page of “Introduction”). The comic frame is, as George & Selzer point out, the guiding principle of Burke’s (early) symbolic analysis. It is the embodiment of a synthesizing attitude – a comic attitude (161). In bringing together two ideas, two perspectives, the comic frame proscribes an accepting synthesis between the two and thereby creates an idea on top of the others, a perspective containing both of the starting ideas. While this attitude of attitudes can form a perspective by incongruity, it is also a guideline for what to do with a perspective by incongruity. It is in that sense definitely an equipment for living. Through this attitude of attitudes Burke provides a strategy for dealing with situations where ideas clash.

    Altogether the attitude displays an impressive range of uses. It can be a strategy for dealing with a particular situation, a generalized strategy for dealing with a category of situations and it can be a strategy for dealing with strategies. Seen from a theoretical perspective, a benefit of considering attitudes as equipment for living is that it clearly connects the concept of equipment for living with Burke’s Dramatism in several ways due to its nature both as central to the theory and as part of the methodology. Seen in another way, thinking of attitudes as equipment for living may be helpful both for understanding the concept of attitude and the concept of equipment for living. On the one hand, attitudes as equipment for living suggests that attitudes are practically used as just that—keeping it from being just a necessary theoretical concept or a point of analysis. On the other hand it can help clarify the process of applying something as equipment for living. When discussing this process in The Philosophy of Literary Form,  Burke comments that his choice of the word “strategy” for the process is somewhat problematic as it suggests an “overly conscious procedure,” but that the alternative, “method,” is at least as problematic as it suggests an “overly methodical” one (Philosophy 297). The attitude fits this concept perfectly. As connective between action and motion, it lies partly—but not fully—in the realm of the conscious and as a part of the hexed pentad it is part of a method, but not a method in itself.

    Attitude is an important and fascinating part of Burke’s theories, but as equipment for living it becomes directly usable in innumerable situations. Moreover, as well as being equipment for dealing with situations on different levels—be it hammering with diligence, generally meeting people with friendliness or striving for the synthesizing of meeting attitudes through the comic corrective—it also drives home the point that there are more benefits to an adopted strategy than what the adopter thinks of directly. By adopting a friendly attitude, for example, the adopter will in all probability exhibit a range of behaviours that it identifies with being friendly. And this without needing to plan or even consciously think of all these behaviours. Attitudes can so be seen as shortcuts to the (hopefully) successful handling of rhetorical situations. In this sense, attitudes as equipment for living become powerful tools for handling our everyday rhetorical lives.

    Works Cited

    Asher, Aaron. Letter to Kenneth Burke. 22 May 1961. MS. Burke Archives. Penn State, State College.

    Anderson, Dana. ”Questioning the Motives of Habituated Action: Burke and Bourdieu on Practice.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 37.3 (2004): 255-274. Print.

    Burke, Kenneth. Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose. 1935. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984. Print.

    —. Attitudes toward History. 1937. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984. Print.

    —. Letter to Aaron Asher. 18 May 1961. MS. Burke Archives. Penn State, State College.

    —. Letter to Aaron Asher. 20 January 1962. MS. Burke Archives. Penn State, State College.

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

    —. ”A Dramatistic View of the Origin of Language.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 38.3 (1952): 251-264. Print.

    —. A Rhetoric of Motives. 1959. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

    —. The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. 1941 Berkeley: U of California P, 1973. Print.

    Bygrave, Stephen. Kenneth Burke: Rhetoric and Ideology, New York: Routledge, 1993. Print.

    Denning, Michael. The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century. London and New York: Verso, 1998. Print.

    George, Ann & Selzer, Jack. Kenneth Burke in the 1930s. Columbia: U of South Carolina P., 2007. Print.

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

    Mahan-Hays, Sarah E. & Aden, Roger C. “Kenneth Burke’s ”Attitude” at the Crossroads of Rhetorical and Cultural Studies: A Proposal and Case Study Illustration.” Western Journal of Communication 67.1 (2003): 32-55. Print.

    Mral, Brigitte. “'Attitude matters' – Attitydyttringar som retoriska medel.” Rhetorica Scandinavica 56 (2011): 6-30. Print.

    Richards, I. A. Principles of Literary Criticism. London: Routledge, 2001. Print.

    Rountree, Clarke. ”Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s Calvinist Rhetoric of Election: Constituting an Elect.” Journal of Communication and Religion 17.2 (1994): 33-48. Print.

    Wolin, Ross. The Rhetorical Imagination of Kenneth Burke. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2001. Print.

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    Burke's New Body? The Problem of Virtual Material, and Motive, in Object Oriented Philosophy

    Steven B. Katz, Clemson University


    Distinguishing between Object Oriented Philosophy and Actor-Network Theory this essay applies Burkean theory to question whether in the former Objects as actants can have agency if not motive. Burkean concepts of pentadic ratios, entelechy, Spinoza’s method, intrinsic/extrinsic, symbolic of the body, and catharsis are used to rhetorically analyze claims of Object Oriented Philosophy.

    Burke's New Body?

    Cosmetics, prosthetics, cybernetics, social medias, actor-network theories, digitalities, virtual realities, electracies, online literati, object-oriented ontologies. In the first two decades of the twentieth-first century alone, philosophies that attempt to shift the focus and privilege the study of (meta)physical systems of objects in the world over traditional human-centric philosophies have quickly emerged in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities (see Dolphijn and Der Tuin), including the field of rhetoric (see Rickert; Barnett; Rivers, "Circumnavigation"). To varying degrees, these new philosophies, loosely collected under the nomer New Materialisms, seem to be in a process of sublimating if not supplanting and replacing the physical human body as the (only) source of motivated agency, intelligence, audience, and language, the traditional subjects of most rhetorical study from the ancient Greeks and Hebrews until now. (The Hebrew tradition of rhetoric is generally not regarded as distinct from the Greco-Roman classical rhetorical tradition, or from the Judeo-Christian rhetorics. For a discussion not unrelated to OOP, see Katz, "Socrates as Rabbi.")

    In what we can see as (at least) two movements within New Materialisms, Object Oriented Philosophy (OOP) tends to focus more on the Objects themselves as solipsistic entities (Harman, Speculative; Tool-Being; Bryant; Morton, passim), whereas Actor-Network Theory (ANT) tends to focus on objects in 'equal' and different interactions with one another (Latour, Reassembling; Rivers, "Rhetorical Theory"; Bennett). Latour distinguishes himself from the extremes of OOP by his focus on the different 'social' configurations of objects in the world (most recently in/as "modes of existence"), rather than the transcendental withdrawal of Objects from the world in OOP, and has pushed back somewhat against this more 'extreme' philosophy—even as he co-edits a press with Harman (Latour, Harman, and Erdélyi; cf. Harman, Prince; Latour, Modes of Existence).

    In this short essay, the latter 'relationlists' will be less of a consideration; their social stripes, much like rhetoric's, are quite visible, as they manifest themselves in movements of New Materialism (e.g., see Coole and Frost). Because it does not focus on relations as much as Being, Object Oriented Philosophy (OOP) is the most philosophical and therefore least rhetorical of new materialisms (see Rivers, "Rhetorical Theory"; cf. Barnett), and will be the primary focus of this essay. (Henceforth, I will capitalize "Objects" throughout this essay not only to distinguish my use of the term to refer the entities under discussion vs. the more general sense of the word "objects," but also to suggest the Idealistic quality of the term in Object Oriented philosophies, vs. the more socially interactive nature of objects in Actor-Network Theory.)

    This essay joins an already ongoing discussion of how these emergent philosophical movements might square with key Burkean concepts of rhetorics and poetics (e.g., see Rickert, esp. 159-90) that in the end still appear to remain recalcitrantly rooted in the human body and language as the source of agency and meaning, and thus in a stubborn distinction between motion and agency, object and body, world and language (see Hawhee; Rickert). But rather than ask how new materialism might apply to and clarify Burke's work on the relation of bodies/rhetoric to language/objects, which has been a new thrust in Burkean studies, this paper asks: can Burke's work begin to help us comprehend the implications of new materialisms, in particular, OOP, for rhetorics, poetics, and even ethics in the twenty-first century? In the language of OOP, Objects are "actants." That is, Objects don't merely behave according to sheer mechanical causation or motion, but rather are characterized as having agency and purpose. From Burke's more humanistic rhetorical perspective, if Objects have agency and purpose, would they be considered to possess motives? Inversely, if humans are Objects/objects in the world, what are some of the rhetorical and moral implications from a Burkean perspective? By necessity this essay will limit its brief exploration to one branch of new materialism, OOP, and barely scratch that. But we will begin to peel back some key rhetorical (t)issues by examining in fine-grained detail salient and sometimes underexplored parts of Burke's corpus: not only his obviously pertinent discussions of substance, materiality, and agency, but also his discussion of entelechy and mimesis in Medieval and Romantic poetics; his pentadic reading of Spinoza's in relation to motion and determinism vs. agency and free will; a book review in which Burke addresses the problem of machine and human consciousness growing out of the physical body; and coacle movements—and/as catharsis—as the basis of a symbolic of substance, motives.


    This is the reaction I got when describing OOP to a disbeliever, as if Western philosophy had put its big metaphysical foot right into poo. But (deriving much from the work of Heidegger, who I cannot much discuss here because of space constraints [see Harman, Tool-Being; cf. Rickert]), in many ways OOP is not only elegant but also quickly coming to constitute what Harman calls "speculative realism" (Harman, Speculative). OOP began in the 1970s as Object Oriented Programming, morphing into Object Oriented Ontology (as if keeping up with the reality it was creating), and now is newly (re)minted by Graham Harman, Levi Bryant, and Timothy Morton, among others. Dubbed "the Speculative Turn," as opposed to "the now tired tiresome 'Linguistic Turn,' a phenomenological of subjectivity [that has] become….infested with linguistic marks," Object Oriented Philosophy (OOP) is a counterforce in continental philosophy "[a]gainst the reduction of philosophy to an analysis of texts or of the structure of consciousness" (Bryant et al. 4).

    As Bryant et al. continue in The Speculative Turn, "Deleuze was a pioneer in this field, including in his co-authored works with Fèlix Guatarri [who] set forth an ontological vision of an asubjective realm of becoming, with the subject and thought being only a final, residual product of these primary ontological movements" (4). In the historical introduction to what is an apologia for posthumanism, critiquing everything before, Bryant et al. state:

    Humanity remains at the centre of these works, and reality appears in philosophy only as the correlate of human thought. In this respect phenomenology, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction, and postmodernism have all been perfect examples of the anti-realist trend in continental philosophy. Without deriding the significant contributions of these philosophies, something is clearly amiss in these trends. In the face of the looming ecological catastrophe, and the increasing infiltration of technology into the everyday world (including our own bodies), it is not clear that the anti-realist position is equipped to face up to these developments…. By contrast with the repetitive continental focus on texts, discourse social practices, and human finitude, the new breed of thinker is turning once again to reality itself. (3)

    Unfortunate metaphors aside here to describe the philosophical effect of prior work, including that of the Jewish Derrida, Bryant et al. rightly claim that OOP is at the intersection of a new realism. Critiquing Heidegger's concept of Zuhandenheit—"ready to hand," by which Heidegger understands our relation to nature as means-ends, consciousness as Enframing, and nature itself as "Standing Reserve" for human need and use, in Toward a Speculative Realism Graham Harman comments: "[T]he theory of equipment is not an account of human practical comportment, but an ontology of entities or objects themselves"; Harman thus uses "the word 'objects' interchangeably with 'beings' or 'entities', despite Heidegger's own restriction of the term 'object'; to the pejorative sense of 'mere correlate of a representation'" (46). To summarize Harman's position briefly, OOP holds the following tenets: that all Objects, even inanimate objects, are "actants" in social networks; that humans, as Objects, are ontologically co-equal—at best (see Bryant's Democracy of Objects); that humans become aware of Objects only as they emerge in consciousness when we need them and/or when they malfunction as we use them; and that empirical knowledge and control of the Objects themselves remain, in their infinitudes of relations, beyond us.

    Among some new object oriented philosophers, there is a feeling that the fields of philosophy, rhetoric, social sciences, should recognize and move beyond its historically human-centric position to consider the reality and realm of Objects. Speaking of Latour's three "purifications" in We Have Never Been Modern—"naturalization, "socialization," and "deconstruction"—Harman states: "[S]cience deals neither with reality nor power nor rhetoric, but with all of these insofar as they belong to a network of animate and inanimate actors…"; quoting Latour, Harman continues: "'Rhetoric, textual strategies, writing, staging, semiotics—all these are really at stake, but in a new form that has a simultaneous impact on the nature of things and on the social context, while it is not reducible to one or the other'" (Harman, Speculative 77).

    Thus, Objects, properties as the only known entities, appear to be not merely at the mercy of the sheer mechanical motion of things, but also possess the self-determination of beings that exist equally and electrate in the new ontological frames of material, social, and digital matrices and networks. Indeed, as a philosophy of rhetoric, OOP can be understood to ontologically underlie both cybernetic and 'virtual' theories of meaning and agency. Once understood as the natural result of subjective, material, and physical bodies (with all the ambiguities of "substance," which Burke etymologically explicates in the Grammar of Motives), meaning and agency are now considered the effect of super-objective post-human Objects (seemingly without any of the rhetorical ambiguity of substance at all). OOP will be seen to appear to presuppose, if not will itself, to become the ontological ground of some contemporary developments in philosophy, science, and technology. Within a rising maelstrom of quantum and genetic modification, communication technologies, and artificial intelligences, OOP, and new materialism generally, can be understood going forward as the ontological basis not only of rhetorics of new media and digital experience (Bay and Rickert), but also of physics (Barad; cf. Rickert 281-84, 303n.5), synthetic biology (see Thacker; Coole and Frost), and non-sentient life forms (Morton, Realist Magic).

    Society is treated as the domain of all that pertains to the human in the form of freedom, agency, meaning, signs, and so on, while nature is treated at the domain of brute causality and mechanism without agency. As a distinction, the concept of society thus encourages us to focus on content and agency, ignoring the role that nonhuman actors or objects play in collectives involving human beings. Within the distinction pertaining to nature, nature is treated as already gathered and unified and we are encouraged to focus on causality and mechanism alone. (Bryant 270-271; cf. Latour, Politics; Assembling; Bennett; Davis)


    For Bryant, Harman, Morton, and other Object Oriented philosophers, both human and nonhuman actors, or objects, are "actants"—material entities that don't merely behave according to sheer mechanical causation or motion postulated and presumed by Newtonian science; they also 'act', are not entirely predictable, and possess their own purpose within a system of relations that are not wholly or even mostly known to us. The realm of unknowable and infinite realm of Objects is a "flat ontology" (Bryant 245-290). Perhaps the pressing issue is that Objects are not only actants along with humans, but also are becoming the more important focal point of philosophy and rhetoric in a 'posthuman', digital age. And these Objects include machines: "[W]hen Deleuze and Guattari refer to machines," says Bryant, "I see no reason not to treat these machines as objects. In short, a collective is an entanglement of human and nonhuman actors" (270). As Katherine Hayles' states in How We Became Post-Human, a study of cybernetics, literature, and society:

    The contemporary pressure toward dematerialization, understood as an epistemic shift toward pattern/randomness and away from presence/absence, affects human and textual bodies on two levels at once, as a change in the body (the material substrate) and as a change in the message (the codes of representation). The connectivity between these changes is, as they say in the computer industry, massively parallel and highly interdigitated. (29)

    Of particular concern in this essay on Kenneth Burke, then, is the "new consciousness" of electronic being in relation to agency, to which both OOP and ANT lead if not bring us. At the time of this writing, new algorithms, e-life forms, viruses, procreate and proliferate, are continuously forming in, from, and around media (think smart phones and computers), e-mersing, e-merging, mixing, and replacing bodies (think telepresence and screens), morphing, generating, and instantly publishing new versions of themselves (think Facebook, Twitter), all through a new reality of media, social networks, satellites, and clouds. If we can imagine such a thing, are these virtual bodies real outside of ANT, OOP's Speculative Reality, and other ecologies of New Materialism? (Are they real virtual bodies? Are they virtually real?) Quoting Delanda, who is citing Deleuze, Harman states: "'The virtual is not opposed to the real but to the actual. The virtual is full real insofar as it is virtual…. Indeed, the virtual must be defined as strictly as part of the real object—as though the object had one part of itself in the virtual into which it is plunged as though into an objective dimension'" (in Speculative 175; cf. Bryant 105-106). More importantly, whether they are "real" or not, and even whether they possess sentience yet, if Objects as actants possess agency, do they possess intention? Motive? Free will? If not, what kind of (un)real bodies are these? And what about their philosophical relation to human bodies, our bodies, half flesh, half media prosthetic?


    The Objects and ontologies of OOP are not ones Kenneth Burke specifically anticipated in his theory of Dramatism. (Nor do these continental ontologies acknowledge this American "philosopher," where until the first conference on Kenneth Burke in Europe at the University of Ghent, Belgium, from whence the essays of this special edition of the KB Journal come, Burke had only a marginal presence.) Can Burke's work, particularly his pentad of motives (Grammar of Motives) or any of the many analyses derived from it, such as entelechy and mimesis in poetics, and his analysis of Spinoza, help us account for or at least better understand these "new" Objects, which are presented as both actants and environment (agents and scenes, whether virtual and real), in which human and nonhuman activities, operations, and interactions exist and conceal themselves?

    We will start with the basic premise that OO Objects, like other virtual entities, are all created, supplemented, enhanced, and supported not only by science and technology, but also by rhetorics and poetics. Because the Objects of OOP are presented to us as a vision of a future realism in its infancy (e.g., Bryant et al. 7), we can and will treat them as we would any rhetorical, poetic or philosophical objects—without diminishing their ontological potency by ignoring their persuasive power. That is, we will treat them as metaphors, which transcendental, postmodern, and posthumanist philosophers (Nietzsche; Derrida; Ulmer, Teletheory, respectively) have argued underlie philosophical forms of knowledge.

    Where in the pentadic ratio would Burke locate the "actant" Object? As Act? Agent? Agency? Scene? Even Purpose? In accordance with OOP, the actant Object might occupy any/all of these. We will see that this ubiquity is important. For now, we will place the Object in the agent/scene ratio, where the Object can be seen to either shift between the active actant and the environment, or to totally fill both sides of the ratio simultaneously, even overflowing the equation and so overwhelming the ratio, space. Thus, scientifically, the Object (as object in environment) is either seen as an existing thing subject to mechanical causality, or dramatistically, the Object becomes in its totality its own entire and only motive (if it has one). This pentadic view of the Object is in keeping with OOP as articulated here. (The issue of mechanical or scientific causality vs. motivated or embodied agency also can be understood to animate much of the corpus of Burke's work.)

    But we will see through Burke's own analyses that this dramatistic proposition is much too simplistic and unsatisfactory to reveal motive. Would Burke regard Objects as having "motive," as understood in the humanistic rhetorical tradition from which Burke emerges? To the exclusion of human will, as presented by Object Oriented philosophers? How might physical or virtual Objects act with agency but not have motive?—an important question as we create new biological and mechanical life forms. (Will there come a time when it can be said that Objects possess free will? What will the ethics of those life forms be?) Or, despite the supposed protestations of Object Oriented Philosophy, does the Object qua rhetoric represent what Burke might call "scientism"—with the focus and force mechanically relayed as material power alone? We will apply Burke's distinction and discussion of agent/scene, which also indicts act, agency, and purpose and so engages the entire pentad of motives, to help us understand not only the nature of Objects as the new Forms of Actors/Environments (or as objects/mechanistic causality) that are emerging and merging in "speculative realism" as a new empiricism. Through our pentadic analysis we will 'begin to arrive' at the ethical relationship of the Object/object to the human bot, and some implications for OOP, human agency, and the valuation of rhetorical self-determination in a posthumanistic world.


    In A Grammar of Motives, Burke discusses at length in various places the problem of substance as it relates to issues of causality and will: mechanical action vs. agency, determinism vs. freewill. Dramatistically, the issue is discovering motive in thought, matter, and motion, specifically that of the human/body. Even scene embodies the paradox of substance (Grammar 21-24); in a discussion of the pentadic method, Burke sums up the issue this way: "In behavioristic metaphysics (behaviorists would call it No Metaphysics) you radically truncate the possibilities of drama by eliminating action, reducing action to sheer motion" (Grammar 10). Therefore the comprehension of motion with a motive must connect act or agency or agent to purpose, rather than simply to scene, to give the agent freewill.

    We get a hint of the implications of the actant as operant in the scene/agent ratio in Burke's discussion of entelechy—of teleology or purpose—in dramatic stereotypes in the Middle Ages, based on one of Aristotle's Four Causes, the last of which, Final Cause, finds the agent 'by nature' teleologically bound up with its own purpose. (For the sake of metaphorical analogy, and in keeping with a dramatistic analysis, I will suggest that we can and should also look at the actant Objects in OOP as "characters," which is sometimes how Object Oriented philosophers seem to discuss or advocate for those Objects.) For the first problem of action vs. motive in the scene/agent ratio becomes the problem in drama of entelechy vs. its absence. In his essay "A Dramatistic View of 'Imitation'," Burke argues that beginning in the Middle Ages, the translation of mimesis as "imitation" no longer completely captured the philosophical dimensions of Aristotle's concept of mimesis; for Burke, the translation was too scientific, too representationally "statistical," to be "particularlistically," and thus morally, accurate. Even more, in such translations, the stress was on the "scenic" element of the pentad—the spectacle, according to Burke, which for Aristotle was the lowest of six parts of tragedy ("Dramatistic" 6-7). Burke adds that what is missing from the concept of imitation from the Middle Ages is Aristotle's notion of entelechy, "the idea that a given kind of being fully 'actualizes' itself by living up to the potentialities natural to its kind" ("Dramatistic" 8).

    Indeed, "'entelechy' is essentially Dramatistic, a term for action, in contrast with the great Renaissance inquiries into motion" ("Dramatistic" 7). The more mechanical version of mimesis that Burke in "A Dramatistic View of 'Imitation'" locates as motion in the Middle Ages is perhaps a phenomenon that would become increasingly magnified not only with the scientific discoveries of the sixteenth century, the Newtonian revolution of the seventeenth, and the rise of industrial societies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but also with the development and propagation of cybernetics in the 1950s, the world wide web in the 1970s and 80s, digital and social medias in the 1990s, and increasingly articulate avatars in highly well-animated environments in the first decades of the twenty-first century and beyond. The problem in medieval drama, for Burke, is the difference between scientistic and entelechal notions of imitation (i.e., causality and motion).

    For Burke, the scientistic conception of imitation that emerged in the Middle Ages resulted in a set of deviations from Aristotle's conception of entelechy. For Aristotle, the potential to be realized in the human being is rationality (Burke, "Dramatistic" 8). In medieval and Renaissance poetry, "[t]he didactic emphasis (the Renaissance stress upon 'instruction' as an important element of poetry" [10]), and "the use of stock characters and stock situations" (11)—all of which ends in "moral pragmatism"—is scientistic, even "to a faulty analysis of poetic excellence" (12). In short, the characters became too rigid, socially, morally and emotionally, too much like allegorical categories in a chemical formula. Could this also describe the Objects as actants in OOP? Commenting on literary criticism, "Critics would suggest that the writer appealed by purely naturalistic imitation," says Burke, "after several centuries during which 'nature' came progressively to be equated with the processes of technology" (13). More than mere anthropomorphism, is this what Object Oriented philosophers do with actants?

    Of course, the answers are not this stable, and perhaps even wrong. Just as the stuff of the scientific study of nature, its categories of apprehension, and its apparatuses of entelechy and detection, increasingly became the substance of nature, so too in rhetoric and poetry such models became the reality that defined mimesis. Both the arts of rhetoric and poetry during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance demonstrated this degeneration from degraded genus to type that Burke discusses. As Burke suggests, "low canons of rhetoric would spontaneously lead mercenary playwrights into this path since one must appeal through an audience's sense of the 'natural,' and a convention can become 'natural' in this sense" (11). Thus the typical becomes the natural, Burke suggests, which then can be tested scientifically against particulars, such as the characteristics of an audience: this is the new "bond" between "'imitation' and the 'universal'" as an "idealization." Hence, Kenneth Burke's comment about Coleridge, that "an obscuring of the distinction between imitation and copy results…from the use of Aristotle's term without reference to the theory of the 'entelechy' that was an integral part of it" ("Dramatistic" 7) perhaps can be understood to apply only to the functioning of the 'secondary imagination' and the 'fancy,' to the definitiveness of forms as objects of synthesis or mimesis, and not to the 'primary imagination'. In short, it is clear that just as in Medieval plays, a character, or in science, the empirical object, can become an ideological sign or social symbol for any analogue (cf. Harman, Speculative 16). But a reading of any of the philosophical texts of OOP (ironically) reveals that the Objects as actants are not simply stereotypes of "objects."

    Kenneth Burke's assertions concerning the lessening role of entelechy and the increasing role of mechanism in mimesis (as well as any corresponding ethic of causation as an entelechy of "natural law") merely suggests, then, that the Object as an actant in OOP may be a problem of telos. Since OOP itself postulates that we only know the Object via our "stance" or "attitude" toward it (my use of Burkean terms to suggest the ambiguity of "substance" in the first place, and the unarticulated pentadic motive [attitude] in the second [cf. Hawhee]), it is actually impossible (and apparently not necessary) to know the teleology or whole reality of an Object, human or no (e.g., see Bryant 105-106; cf. Turing; Simon). This goes much further than early Latour, for example, for whom normal scientific "fact" was a closed black box into which all the history, theories, examples, experiments, apparatuses, arguments, assumptions, and uncertainties have been stuffed, and by consensus, shut (e.g. Latour, Laboratory Life; Science in Action).

    In addition, since teleology itself is its own teleology, a kind of "natural determinism" that can be understood in its strong form to actually preclude freewill (the ability to become something else), our discussion thus far merely implies that OOP is a debased version of a philosophy of Final Cause, one that is perhaps more closely related to Material Cause (substance), Formal Cause (form), or in 'worst case' scenarios, Efficient Cause (its 'trigger,' or origin), than Final Cause, which is the most purposeful (see Aristotle, Physics). While OOP is more "action-oriented" and less "motivated," this in and of itself does not negate agency, although it lessens that component of rhetorical motive within it. Therefore, to say that Burke would regard OOP as a new scientism, never mind a transcendental empiricism that also would compete with Dramatistism, is merely to acknowledge possible positional relations of philosophical and rhetorical elements within and without the Object, which for Object Oriented Philosophers is central to "understanding" the unknowable interior (what used to be called 'essence'?), as well as the only partially knowable exterior of Objects (see Harman, Speculative; Bryant 106-108).


    This distinction between "interior" and "exterior," or to use Burke's terms in the Grammar, "intrinsic" and "extrinsic," also may be important in comprehending the metaphysical empiricism of some kind of "speculative realism"—not only as new materialism, which the collectives of philosophy and media theory seem to embrace to interface and bring the virtually real into physically being (see Ulmer, Avatar xv), but also as transcendental idealism that they ethically may rebuke but that nevertheless motivates them and their movement (I am thinking of Heidegger here). Of course, Burke has explored the phenomenon of intrinsic and extrinsic too in a Grammar of Motives, in his detailed analysis of the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza. A necessarily quick examination of Burke's discussion of Spinoza, into whose geometric labyrinths many philosophies, including OOP, can trace some of their tangled roots (see Bryant et al.), would help us determine what kind of "bodies" the Objects of OOP are, and the implications for humans who already inhabit their virtual media worlds—whether in textual stasis, the subatomic topoi of random affect, or "flash reason" in an age of diffused electracy (Ulmer, Avatar xvi)—and the rhetorical and ethical prospects for talking about and interacting with post-human objects we meet on and off line everyday.

    In his close reading and cross-ranging treatment in The Grammar of Rhetoric, Burke exposes in Spinoza's work every pentadic swell, great and small, every ratio swing in Baruch's book, shifting with constantly active and moving motive, sentence by sentence, right to the cliff-hanging edge of reasoning, affect, and materialism. Burke begins with the problem of a "naturalistic ethics" in which "God equals Nature," or "action equals motion" (Grammar 137), where Spinoza's sheer geometric equation clearly seems to imply there is no room for human motive or freedom since God would fill all of space. (We noted the similar effect when Objects are both agent and scene in the agent/scene ratio.) For Burke, the ethical choices that remain are to submit to a religious absorption (or substantiation) into a transcendental deterministic value system, or to be left laying helplessly at the non-mercy of a brute, mechanistic empirical realm run by an ethics of causality and necessity (see Burke's analysis of Hobbes in the Grammar, 132-37).

    But to better comprehend the complexity of Spinoza's treatise, Burke asks us to shift the terms of "Nature" away from our "over-naturalist usage by thinking of 'Nature' also in the sense we have in mind when we speak of a person's or poem's nature" (Grammar 138). From a Dramatistic point of view, Burke says, we have the theological moment in history, when we seem to have a "narrowing of the circumference from a scene comprising both creation and creator to a scene comprising creation below" (Grammar 138), which could have been enacted by Spinoza. "Dramatistically," Burke implies, "this narrowing meant the shift from a poetic or moralistic vocabulary of action and passion to a scientific or mechanistic vocabulary of motion" (Grammar 138). But for Burke, this is at best ambiguous in Spinoza: "[B]y proclaiming the two circumferences to be identical in scope," Burke suggests, "Spinoza leaves you somewhat undecided whether he has naturalized God or deified Nature. The thought readily suggests why pantheism provides a perfect transition from theistic to naturalistic vocabularies of motives. And we also can see why materialists could claim Spinoza as one of their own, by stressing the Nature side of the equation…" (Grammar 138). (The less obvious ambiguity of the [in]decision—which appears to be lacking in OOP—is crucial for understanding the operation of the scene/agent ratio. For the separation provided by the slash equals human freedom.)

    But Burke is not done yet. The key turning point and term (Burke's "god-term") in Spinoza's ethics is not Nature, but Reason. Thus Burke begins a discussion of Spinoza's concept of "action and passion" (139), which unlike Hobbes' movement of motive by "strict reduction to motion," proceeds "formalistically and systematically with the whole structure of terms developed in accordance with such dramatistic logical" (Grammar 139). That is, Spinoza's geometry of ethics, in which "purpose retreats behind the concept of rational necessity," is ultimately motivated by Reason, which leaves purpose in his philosophy as a "terminology of action" (Grammar 139). Thus, Burke argues, "Spinoza's naturalism is primarily ethical in its stress" (Grammar 139). Further, for Burke, "Reason is as essentially dramatistic a term as Substance, the key word of the entire Spinozistic terminology" (Grammar 139). Without going into all the machinations, Burke argues that "'[C]ause' would contain connotations of action and freedom, while 'Caused' would contain the connotations of passivity and constraint" (Grammar 141). The result for Burke is that Spinoza's philosophy contains both an "active" and "passive" causality, in which God "caused," not "causes," and Nature is rhetorically stressed, thus leaving room in this partial and past determinism for agency (Grammar 140-41). "If we are but the partial cause of something, we are constrained or passive to the extent of this partiality," Burke explains (Grammar 141). Likewise, "intrinsic motivation" for Burke involves totality being delimited so that the part or individual can express if not contain the whole (Grammar 468). Thus, in Spinoza's world, unlike the Object world of OOP, God, universe, action, as scene, withdraw, making room for creation, agency, passion.

    Therefore, Book I Definition 7 of Spinoza's Ethics "gives us explicit justification for equating action with freedom and passion with necessity or determined things," which Burke points out is similar to Spinoza's disquisition on the affections in Book III of the Ethics (Grammar 141). Pointing out and pursuing the strong pragmatic, materialistic, and geometric form of Spinoza's reasoning, Burke arrives at what is most important for our inquiry here into OOP: that unlike OOP, Nature as a scene in Spinoza is only partially determined, even though it is also only partially knowable. "Just as Infinite Substance goes on forever, so every finite or determinate mode of Substance would forever persist in its nature if its existence were not terminated by the boundaries imposed on it by other determinate things" (Grammar 144).

    Geometries of Virtual Power

    In OOP, the opposite of the above seems to pertain to Objects, not only as scenes, but also as actants or agents: they too are only partially knowable (even when 'virtual', or human-made), but they seem to be largely determined intrinsically! As Bryant demonstrates:

    The virtual always belongs to a substance, not the reverse. Moreover, the virtual is always the potential harbored or carried by a discrete or individual being. In this regard, we must distinguish between the two halves of any object, substance, or difference engine. On the one hand, there is the actual side of the object consisting of qualities and extensities, while on the other hand, there is the virtual side of substances, consisting of potentialities or powers. (105)

    Thus, in OOP, at least this version, the Object, motivated intrinsically, would be the universal scene. It is the Object as scene, not as the actant, that is the source of agency for Objects in OOP. And the motive of that agency, even in OOP, would be relational. According to Bryant, for Deleuze, "the virtual is relational. These relations, however, are not relations between entities, but constitute the endo-structure of an object, its internal topology" (Bryant 105). We might remind ourselves that the internal structure of the Objects is unknowable (Simon). Indeed, so are at least some of the Objects themselves—or as Harman wrote, "whatever objects might turn out to be, which remains a mystery for now" (Speculative 115). "[I]t is entirely possible—if not common— Bryant adds, "for actually existing entities to remain in a state of virtuality such that they are fully real and existent in the world, fully concrete, without producing any qualities and extensities" (Bryant 105). These are Objects whose reality is totally out of reach of humans.

    In the Ethics, Burke concludes, Spinoza dramatistically has shown us the moral relationship and benefit of the physical to the human, but also perhaps the benefit of the human to the physical world—a world of realized and lived-in reason, ethics. It's not just that rhetoric as a phenomena of language compensates for division and helps us overcome mechanical causality by building with intent consubstantial bridges of relational action—not just identification vs. "function." More pentadically precise, compensation is the "purpose" the motions of rhetoric serve, and their natural or non-human objects use. Virtual Objects, on the other hand, are focused wholly on themselves. Like their teleology (in OOP), the relations of virtual Objects serve nothing but themselves, and neither want nor need nor know any relations with humans even as other-motivated objects. In short, Objects in OOP occupy the totality of space, just as Burke argues God does not for Spinoza. The Object is an amoral, indifferent, and overly determined virtual universe.

    Whose Body Is this Anyway?

    Where does the Object in OOP leave the human being? Within physical constraints and among numerous (and noumenal) Objects (according to Kant, noumenal objects are those independent of the mind). But for Burke, the existence and exercise of agency and free will belong to the physical human being as a symbol using entity and animal, as an agent of meaning and change. In Burke's analysis of Spinoza we've seen not only how scene may change to agent, but also how scene becomes agent, and what happens when it does. And the human body as object? It is cast among decidedly physical and thus rhetorical and poetic objects—unlike the metaphorical Objects of the virtual world—objects that we have struggled to define in an ever-indeterminate and meaningful structure that we have called daemon, soul, psyche; id, ego, mind; consciousness, individual, self; persona, personality, presence; social construction, agent, actant; robot, android, avatar; cyborg, clone, cloud. Burke ends his discussion of Spinoza by saying: "As for purpose: it is apparent that the endeavor towards self-preservation provides at least for a stimulus in the purely biological sense, and we shall see that the equating of self-preservation with action and the development of adequate ideas gives us purpose in the rational sense…" (Grammar 145).

    But even if human bodies are not Objects (or parts of other Objects) in OOP, we are still left with the question of how to account for dramatistic motive of the physical human body as a material scene. In "Thinking of the Body," as well as books reviews such as "More Dithyrambic than Athletic" (Equipment 351-55), Burke troubled about the entelechy of flesh. As he remarks in this 1967 review of Norman O. Brown's book, Love's Body,

    As regards the term 'body'…[t]he more one speculates upon the paradoxes of the term "substance," the more difficult becomes the task of isolating the 'individual'. We all merge into our environment, the circumference or scope of which can be extended to the farthest limits of 'nature' (and beyond, to the 'supernatural', if you are theologically minded). Even when considered close up, the identity of the 'self' or 'person' becomes part of a collective texture involving language, property, family, reputation, social roles, and so on—elements not reducible to the individual. The same is true of our physical nature. (Equipment 351-52)

    But Burke adds, "with one notable exception. Physiologically, the centrality of the nervous system is such that…I as a person may sympathetically identify myself with other people's pleasures and pains…." (Equipment 352).

    It's Personal

    These questions of object vs. body, cause vs. motive, were not just abstract or bizarre for Burke. Burke often referred to himself as "'a word man'" and his own poetry as a "'wordy human body,'" by which David Blakesley said Burke meant "a word-being. Who 'he' is—the cluster of physiological and motivational drives—is indistinguishable in the molten center of being but emergent in his distinguishable becoming" (xvii-xviii). But according to William Rueckert (Towards a Symbolic xviii-xix), one of Burke's students and close friends, Burke wrestled with the symbolic of the body, particularly the basic bodily functions, such as the "coacal motives," his whole life (see "Thinking of the Body"). Rueckert affirms that this struggle arrested the full development of Burke's projected third book, a Symbolic of Motives, in his rhetorical trilogy of the Grammar and the Rhetoric (of Motives). For as Burke knew and grappled with, the grotesqueness of the actual physical body entails some unpleasant attributes. As Bakhtin wrote in Rabelais: "[t]he main events in the life of the grotesque body, the acts of the bodily drama, take place in this sphere. Eating, drinking, defecation, and other elimination (sweating, blowing of the nose, sneezing), as well as copulation, pregnancy, dismemberment, swallowing up of other bodies—all these acts are performed on the confines of the body and the outer world, or on the confines of the old and new body" (317; see Hawhee, esp. Ch 7).

    Debra Hawhee asserts that Rueckert seemed to have resented this blockage, and the physical body that was the cause of it. As she demonstrates in a 'medical examination' of a "body biography" (Burke's personal letters during the attempted writing of the Symbolic of Motives), "[i]n the 1950's, Burke's own body was falling apart" (Hawhee 129). Indeed, there seems to be a correlation between the "mechanical breakdowns" of Burke's body, and the writing. In various essays contained in Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives, 1950-1955 (e.g., "Goethe"; "Mind, Body"; "Rhetoric and Poetics"; "Thinking of the Body"), Burke can be seen to struggle with how to understand and represent the "physical" as motive, as symbolic action, without falling into the trap of causality and mechanical force. Hawhee believes Burke does this in part through the concept of catharsis, discussed below. We now know that OOP will not help this effort—cannot provide a rhetorical metaphysic for human motivation (cf. Rickert, who argues for a rhetorical metaphysic that is not based on the human body at all, but rather the rhetorical interrelations of everything in the environment as "ambient"). But from Burke we have no full dramatistic treatment of bodily functions as motives in rhetoric and poetry (but cf. Hawhee 105-155, who does give us a treatment).


    This question of the body, too, can be related to Aristotle's theory of poetics—this time, to catharsis. But perhaps like Burke, we may discover that Aristotle's notion of catharsis was a wholly rational process (cf. Hawhee [136-146], who persuasively makes the case for a more physical conception catharsis in Aristotle than I do). In the essays for the Symbolic, and according to William Rueckert, subsequent unsuccessful revisions of them, Burke sought to counterbalance and supplement Aristotle's treatment of catharsis by taking into literary and rhetorical account bodily excretions and purging. For Hawhee, Burke, in his writings on the subject ("Catharsis"), finds some relief by considering catharsis as a crowd-polluted collective, and in the awful offal of ecology (141-147). As Rueckert discusses in his introduction to Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives, to Aristotle's non-physical notion of catharsis, Burke adds not only pity, fear, and pride to emotions purged in tragedy, but also "the whole concept of body thinking (the demonic trinity, the physiological counterparts of pity, fear and pride—the sexual, urinal, and fecal—to the cathartic process)" (xviii). In fact, says Rueckert:

    "Catharsis—the purgative, redemptive motive"—has been at the center of Burke's thinking about literature since The Philosophy of Literary Form, but what is added in "Poetics, Dramatistically Considered" is what Burke describes as his great 'breakthrough' in his thinking about his dramatistic poetics… Burke's insistence in that essay [is] that, to be complete, all cathartic experiences must also express the three major bodily motives, or Freud's cloacal motive, the whole realm of privacy. (xviii-xix )

    In this, Rueckert and Hawhee seem to agree (see Hawhee 146-147).

    While Burke's work on the body bogged down and at least in part defeated his attempt to complete the "trilogy," it also obviously points to the painful need Burke felt to try account for poetic catharsis as a physical as well as an abstract, rational process, and to situate symbolic motives in the material processes and conditions of the organic body itself. This may still be a problem for us, especially in light of OOP and the increasing dematerialization of the human body. As Nietzsche wrote in On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense, "Does nature not conceal most things from him—even concerning his own body—in order to confine and lock him within a proud, deceptive consciousness, aloof from the coils of the bowels…?" (6). It's so much nicer, easier, neater, cleaner, to consider and speculate on the symbolic of the Object as opposed to the symbolic of the body, the holic, the colic, the bawlic, the coacle, the cocoa in the middle of the warm we don't know. Perhaps more important than how to make meaning out of human mush are questions such as the morality of all that stuff.

    Genwarks and Netsomes?

    I agree that this short exposition is far too general, and not fair. For example, discussions of New Materialisms that emerge out of Bruno Latour's Actor-Network Theory, which I am sure we would all agree seems to account to a degree for the value that social-epistemic rhetorics can bring. And the idea that to survive and succeed in our communication and our daily actions we interpersonally interact with and require not only other human beings, but also things, lots of things, both visible and hidden, seems completely reasonable to me. And that these things play essential parts in our genwarks and netsomes (and the next level of our nature and being as bodies, our netquarks and genano technologies) will be acceptable as well. But Turing's test always strikes me as a bit of a "behaviorist" hoax. And now we have the Object's disappearing act. And we might be amazed at how far this can go. What was once metaphorical is now ontological. And in this ontological scheme, Objects in OOP…natural and technological… not only make up the environment, what Burke dubbed scene, but also facilitate a complete and contradictory transformation of all Burke's ratios, in which Objects are both agents/scene, with their own agency for "their own" purposes, both known and indeterminate, extrinsically and intrinsically, collapsing everything into total, all-encompassing metaphysical Scene.

    On the face of it (pun intended), this description of Objects in nature or technology is otherwise quite ordinary, a simple chain reaction, a feedback loop; any thermostat can tell you that! But the symbolic of it!! Given Turing, OOP would seem to exist solipsistic, to have a purpose if not a kind of consciousness of its own. (As Katherine Hayles explains in How We Became Posthuman, the thermostat, with its self-regulating mechanism, was only the first stage [in the first wave] of cybernetics in the fifties. I don't know what wave we're on now.) But accepted without the benefit of Burke's rhetoric, if the Objects in this ontology are taken as fact into which all questions of empiricism are stored, the Objects are metaphysically stacked. OOP does have potential uses in the physical world. I believe OOP can be seen as the epistemological basis of the virtual, the art-ificial (art-official—the opposite of Benjamin's riddance of "ritual" in art). I also intimate that OOP now provides an amoral ethical ground for genetic modification, social engineering, and synthetic biology itself. And it is also my prediction that OOP may constitute the nascent ontology of the independent, sentient, non-human life forms we are working so hard to create. According to our exposition, Objects as actants would seem to lack an "extrinsic" entelechy—or is it that we lack knowledge of their entelechy? Has the mechanical notion of purpose critiqued by Aristotle or Burke become the manifest, non-mimetic, teleological cause in OOP? Or are we imposing the whole Aristotelian philosophy of teleology—or Dramatism—or Object Oriented Philosophy—on Objects, which according to OOP primarily may be undiscoverable? (Would OOP exist if humans weren't here to think it?)

    It is perhaps significant that Bryant et al. state: "we must not conclude that collectives as such are composed of human and nonhuman actors," and goes on to point out that "planets and asteroids, and so on," can be considered collectives "without any human involvement whatsoever" (271). Is it a question of consciousness? Comparing human existence to the existence of Objects within contemporary European philosophy, Harman states: "[T]he difference between unconscious use and conscious awareness is insufficiently fundamental. Instead of a single privileged gap between human and world…there are actually trillions of gaps; or rather, an infinite number" (Speculative 115).


    Just as Latour, Bennett, and Davis, to respectively increasing degrees, open up for us social and ethical black boxes of nature based on a priori social and/or moral conditions of a rhetoric of relations, our inquiry into Burke's corpus opens up our relation with machines as well. After all, like our bodies, it is machines, Bryant and others state, that also provide Objects a home. In critiquing "mechanistic" notions of causality vs. motivism, Burke would say that when action is reduced to mere motion, humans become objects. Is the inverse true as well? Would Burke say that Objects in OOP, with their solipsistic teleology and relations, have motive, freewill as well? For Burke, this might be the "true test" of sentience in machines. As Burke writes in "Mind, Body, and the Unconscious," "The computer can't serve as our model (or 'Terministic screen'). For it is not an animal, but an artifact. And it can't truly be said to 'act.' Its operations are but a complex set of sheerly physical motions. Thus, we must if possible distinguish between the symbolic action of a person and the behavior of such a mere thing" (63).

    If in the posthuman Scene there are no absolute demarcations, no essential differences between bodily existence and object simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biology, causality and substance, we may now say: if Burke had a choice, we might know a little better what kind of ethical relationship with objects, humans, machines he would deem more rhetorical, and why (cf. Katz and Rhodes).

    Works Cited

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    —. Physics. Trans. R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye. Vol. 1, Barnes 315-446.

    —. Poetics. Trans. I. Bywater. Vol. 2, Barnes 2316-2340.

    Bakhtin, Mikhail Mikhaĭlovich (see also Vološinov, V. N.). Rabelais and His World. Trans. Hélène Iswolsky. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984. Print.

    Barad, Karen. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham: Duke UP, 2007. Print.

    Barnett, Scot. "Toward an Object-Oriented Rhetoric." Enculturation: A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture 7 (2010): n. pag. 7 April 2014. Web.

    Bay, Jennifer, and Thomas Rickert. "New Media and the Fourfold." JAC 28.1-2 (2008): 209-244. JSTOR. 7 April 2014. Web.

    Blakesley, David. "Introduction: Kenneth Burke—Word Man." Late Poems, 1968-1993: Attitudinizings Verse-wise, While Fending for One's Selph, and in a Style Somewhat Artificially Colloquial. Ed. Julie Whitaker and David Blakesley. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2005. xvii-xxvii. Print.

    Bryant, Levi. The Democracy of Objects. Open Humanities Press, 2011. Print.

    Bryant, Levi, Nick Srnicek, and Graham Harman, Eds. The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialisms and Realism. Melburn: Re.press, 2011. Print.

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    —. "A Dramatistic View of the Origin of Language and Postscripts on the Negative." Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley: U of California P, 1966. 419-79. Print

    —. "Catharsis—Second View." Centennial Review of Arts and Science 5 (Spring 1961): 107-32.

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

    —. "Goethe's Faust, Part I." Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives: 1950-1955. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2007. 283-310. Print.

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