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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Bruner's Development of Trouble

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

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

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

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

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

Looking For Trouble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trouble and Pentadic Ratios

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

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

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

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

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

Ontological Trouble and Epistemological Trouble

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

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


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

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

Works Cited

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