Volume 16, Number 1 Summer 2022

Contents of KB Journal Volume 16, Issue 1 Summer 2022

A Survey of the Diverse Historical Uses of the Circumstantial Terms from Homer to Kenneth Burke and Beyond

Lawrence J. Prelli, University of New Hampshire
Floyd D. Anderson, State University of New York at Brockport


Abstract

In this essay, we survey the diverse historical uses and functions of the circumstantial terms during more than three millennia of western thought and culture. In so doing, we reveal the originality and innovativeness of Kenneth Burke’s use of the terms. Our survey also provides support for Burke’s contention that the terms are “transcendental” because they represent “the basic forms of thought.”

Introduction and Preview

“All arguments fall into two classes, those concerned with things and those concerned with persons. . . . [Of things], actions are the most nearly connected with persons. . . . In regard to every action the question arises Why or Where or When or How or By what means the action is performed.” Readers might attribute these remarks to Kenneth Burke elaborating his dramatistic pentad/hexad: act, scene, agent, agency, purpose, and attitude. That attribution, however, would be wrong. First-century Roman rhetorician Quintilian wrote those words when discussing what he called the “accidents” (or “circumstances”) of persons and of things (Institutio oratoria 5.10.23, 32). Commonly referred to as “circumstantial terms” or the peristaseis, the terms have a long and varied history extending from preliterate Greece to the twenty-first century.

Kenneth Burke has observed that “the resources of symbolism have always been the same” (“Counter-Gridlock” 370). The circumstantial terms, as we will show, are among the ubiquitous symbolic resources that have served diverse functions throughout historical times, places, cultures, occasions, agents, and usages. This essay surveys the myriad historical usages and functions of the circumstantial terms in western thought and culture. They have been used to invent, interpret, analyze, recollect, evaluate, explain, and attribute human motivations from the days of oral antiquity down to the present. This essay is the first detailed report and assessment of the terms’ influential role in shaping aspects of western thought and culture.

This survey of the terms’ manifold historical uses and functions reveals by contrast the originality of Burke’s pentad/hexad. Burke’s use of the terms is a striking departure from all previous uses. The predominant use of the terms for over three millennia was inventing ideas and arguments. Burke, by contrast, did not employ the terms for inventional purposes, nor did he apply them to actual, lived human experience. Instead, he employed them to analyze “talk about experience” (Grammar 317) and to interpret texts that are “already written” (“Questions and Answers” 332). Our analysis will show that Burke’s original and significant innovations in the conception and usage of the terms are, first, his correlation of them with philosophical schools of thought, and, second, his notion of pentadic ratios which reveal motivations locked within texts. Our survey of the terms’ myriad functions and employments also demonstrates their ubiquity as symbolic resources and thus provides strong support for Burke’s contention that they “are ‘transcendental ... categories which human thought necessarily exemplifies” (Grammar 317). Our survey begins with the terms’ earliest manifestations in oral antiquity.

The Origins of the Terms in Pre-literate Greek Poetics

In Preface to Plato, Eric A. Havelock offers an account of the psychology of poetic performance and memorization in pre-literate Greece. According to Havelock, the poet engages his audience at the bodily level through performances that concert the rhythmic patterns of metrical speech, melody, and bodily movement (147–51). Through metrical speech, audiences acquire the “bodily reflexes” needed to remember the “verbal formulas” expressed (148–49). The repetitious rhythms of the lyre “make the undulations and ripples of the meter automatically recollectable,” Havelock tells us, “in order to free psychic energy for the recall of the words themselves” (150). Concerted movement of legs and feet as in a dance generate yet another “pattern of organized actions, the function of which is mnemonic” (150). “Here was a sort of drama of rhythmic doings in which all shared,” Havelock summarizes. “The bodily reflexes which were required, whether of larynx or of limbs, were themselves a form of action, of praxis” (167).

The contents of memorable poetic performances consist of actions, and actions involve “actors or agents” (171). “[T]he agents must be conspicuous and political people,” Havelock writes, because the performances put “great emphasis on public and private law” (171). There also are non-human actors. “[N]on-human phenomena” are framed metaphorically “as acts and decisions of especially conspicuous agents, namely gods” (171). Heroes and gods thus furnish the dramatis personae whose actions are told “in the context of … an episode, a little story or situation” (174). Multiple episodes are put into “a coherent succession” that comprises the “great story” of an oral culture, “grouped round several prominent agents who shall act and speak with some over-all consistency” (175). The many specific episodes exhibit memorable and coherent “patterns of public and private behavior” that, however “multiform and various,” can be “recollected and repeated” as needed within the encompassing story’s plot (175–76). Oral poets in pre-literate Greece clearly spoke in a “vocabulary of action” (177).

The speeches of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey illustrate use of that vocabulary. In Homeric Speech and the Origins of Rhetoric, Rachel Ahearn Knudsen argues that the speeches found in the Iliad are understandable as products of a technê written down centuries later in Aristotle’s Rhetoric (3–8).  Those speeches are also readable as the products of invention using the circumstantial terms. Consider the speeches exchanged in the Iliad’s “embassy to Achilles” episode (chapter 9).

In Agamemnon’s speech, Agamemnon (agent) is “willing to make amends” with Achilles (act) for his previous “act of blind folly” in dishonoring the hero whom Zeus loves and honors “to the point of crushing the Greeks” (purpose) (115–20). “Deluded I was” (manner), Agamemnon admits, “I for one cannot deny it” (115–16). He offers Achilles “limitless compensation” (means) (120) at “the moment he [Achilles] abandons his anger” (time) and “submits” to Agamemnon, the older man of higher rank (156–60). The speech thus elaborates the circumstances of agent, action, purpose, manner, means, and time.

Odysseus, Phoenix, and Ajax exhort Achilles to take up Agamemnon’s offer, but Achilles rejects each in turn. Odysseus’s opening entreaty illustrates. “We are staring disaster in the face,” he tells Achilles. “Unless you put on a show of force,” he states, “it is in the balance whether our ships will be saved or destroyed” (227–31). Odysseus thus depicts the desperate “scene” in terms of a temporary “balance” that only the agent Achilles could through his forceful action alter favorably. Odysseus describes the time and place of the momentous scene, stressing that Achilles will regret the “catastrophe” soon to befall the Greeks should he fail to act (232–52). But first, Odysseus tells Achilles, he must heed his father’s forgotten advice to “keep a firm grip on that proud spirit of yours,” “avoid destructive quarrels” and, “late as it is, now, yield” and “give up this heart-rending anger,” thereby calling for a change in Achilles’s disposition or manner (252–60). Odysseus then states Agamemnon’s offer, the purpose of the proposed action (262–300). “But if your loathing of Agamemnon, gifts and all, outweighs every other consideration,” Odysseus continues, “at least take pity on the Greeks in their camp” who “will honour you like a god” (300–05). Odysseus thus offers honor as an alternative purpose to receiving lavish gifts in return for action. Odysseus’s speech depicts the proposed action, the time and the place, the qualities and manner of the agent, and alternative reasons for acting.

Achilles replies with an account of Agamemnon's action that shows why Agamemnon’s entreaty will not “win me over” (316). Agamemnon (agent) “snatched my prize from my arms” (action) (343–45), and “cheated me and played me false” (how or manner) (373). He humiliated Achilles with malicious purpose, singling him out alone among all the leaders for such treatment. “I am the only one he has robbed,” Achilles complains, “the only one” (336–37). “I know him too well” (the agent), Achilles asserts, and will not “let him try his tricks on me again” (means) (345–46). Achilles thus accounts for his rift with Agamemnon by characterizing Agamemnon as agent, his action, his manner, his means, and his purpose.

Inventional and Philosophical Uses of the Terms in Ancient Athens

The circumstantial terms in the Homeric speeches are precursors to the “commonplaces” that were adopted as literacy increased. George Kennedy noted that in oral culture rhetorical techniques “were learned by listening and imitation” (5). Orators employed the “ancestors of the commonplaces of later oratory—the topics, the traditional examples, the maxims which he had heard and used before ….” (5) The commonplaces would later be used as though they were “arguments” that “support some position” (52–53). That usage exhibited their oral lineage. “The orators usually memorized their commonplaces,” Kennedy explains, “but, except for that feature, the construction of the speech resembled the composition of oral poetry out of themes and formulae” (53).

The circumstances are exhibited in the early fifth century sophists’ model speeches, offering a technê for exploring a range of possible oratorical options suitable to a type of situation. Gorgias’s “Defense of Palamedes” illustrates (84–93). Palamedes defends himself against Odysseus’s accusation that he plotted treason against the Greeks. His defense consists of several interrelated reasons: (1) he knew he did not do the deed; (2) he lacked the “capacity” to accomplish the deed; (3) he lacked “reason” to do the deed; (4) he is not the kind of person who would commit treason (see numbered divisions 5–21). Those reasons defend Palamedes from the charge of treason in terms of action, capacity, purpose, and person.

The “Defense of Palamedes” also provides evidence of knowing usage of the circumstantial terms as inventional resources. Palamedes insists that Odysseus do as he did and account for how he learned of Palamedes’s alleged treachery:

It is worthwhile learning what sort of a man it is who makes these allegations,
such as you are unworthy to make and I am unworthy to receive. Are you
attacking me on the basis of sure knowledge or of conjecture? If on the basis
of knowledge, you presumably know what you know either from seeing the
deed yourself, or from participating, or through learning the facts from
someone who participated. If, then, you saw yourself, tell the judges here the
manner, the place, the time—when, where, how you saw. If you participated, you
are liable to the same questions (22).

Palamedes appears to be checking off inventional prompts for questioning Odysseus’s accusation. And, of course, those who had read the speech are prepared to do the same when assessing their own speech occasions. Would the reader need to show in his own speech that the adversary is the “sort of man” who is unworthy of making the accusation and he himself is the type of man who is an unworthy recipient of the charge? Would the adversary need to explain when and where the act took place? Would the adversary need to account for the action that secured the knowledge upon which the accusation is based, including how he came by that knowledge and the manner in which he did so?

The terms and their corresponding questions are among the rhetorical commonplaces that would endure as inventional heuristics over centuries of rhetorical theorizing and practice: person (who?), act (what?), purpose (why?), place (where?), time (when?), capacity or instrument (by what means?), and manner (how?). Presumably, the terms are among the features of “the poetised mind” that classicist Kevin Robb maintains had “survived as the mind of Greece itself down to the activity of the Platonic Socrates, which is to say, the fourth century” (9). Important philosophical uses of the circumstances were initiated at about that time.

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics contains the first written exposition of the terms for the purpose of moral analysis and judgment. He uses them to distinguish voluntary and involuntary actions and emotions—a distinction he thought “indispensable” to moral judgment. “When these [emotions and actions] are voluntary we receive praise or blame,” Aristotle explains, “when involuntary, we are pardoned and sometimes even pitied” (1109b31–34). An agent’s acts are “involuntary” when done in “ignorance of the particulars which constitute the circumstances and the issues involved in the action” (1110b34–35). “It is on these that pity and pardon depend,” Aristotle writes, “for a person who acts in ignorance of a particular circumstance acts involuntarily” (1111a1–2). Aristotle explicitly identifies seven circumstances that persons must know to perform an act voluntarily (1111a3–8). Sloan’s translation offers a precise rendering: “[I]t is not a pointless endeavor to divide these circumstances by kind and number: (1) the who, (2) the what, (3) around what place or (4) in which time something happens, and sometimes (5) with what, such as an instrument, (6) for the sake of what, such as saving a life, and (7) the how, such as gently or violently” (239). Aristotle’s analytical method for distinguishing voluntary and involuntary actions thus consisted of the circumstances who, what, when, where, with what means, why, and how.

Aristotle also used the terms for purposes other than the moral analysis of actions. They are evident in his analysis of the six elements of tragic drama in his Poetics: “Fable or Plot, Characters, Diction, Thought, Spectacle, and Melody” (1450a9–10). Kenneth Burke took Aristotle’s summary of how those elements function to align plot with action, character with agent, thought with purpose, melody and diction—what Aristotle calls “the means of imitation”—with agency, and spectacle with “manner,” or “a kind of modality that we should want to class under scene, though Aristotle’s view of it as accessory would seem to make it rather a kind of scenic agency” (Grammar 231; cf. Poetics 1449b33–1450a14). Aristotle’s theory of four causes from his Metaphysics also poses questions that invite answers in circumstantial terms: “What is it?” (formal cause), “Out of what is it made?” (material cause), “By what agent?” (efficient cause), and “For what end?” (final cause) (Randall, 124). Using Aquinas’s account of Aristotle’s theory, Burke maintains that formal cause aligns with “act,” material cause with “scene,” efficient cause with “agent,” and final cause with “purpose” (Grammar 227–28; cf. Aquinas, “Circumstances of Human Acts”). He even argues that although Aristotle “omits agency as a fifth kind of cause” he still “clearly enough takes it into account” (228). For example, Aristotle includes “walking” among the means of pursuing the final cause, “desire for health” (228). The terms clearly are evident in Aristotle’s philosophical inquiries into moral reasoning, poetics, and metaphysics.

Inventional Uses of the Terms in Hellenistic and Roman Rhetoric

The second century BCE Greek rhetorician Hermagoras wrote about the terms as precepts of rhetorical invention. His work is known indirectly from Cicero’s De inventione, Quintilian’s Institutio oratoria, and Augustine’s De rhetorica (a work once thought pseudonymous but now attributed to Augustine) (Giomini, 7–31; Sloan 236n1). According to M. L. Clarke, Hermagoras was the only Hellenistic rhetorician who showed “originality or intellectual power” (7). He gave the theory of invention the “elaborate and systematic form that we find in the earliest Latin rhetorical treatises,” transforming rhetoric into “a serious intellectual discipline” (7).

Hermagoras’s inventional theory distinguishes two kinds of question:  general questions or “theses” and specific questions or “hypotheses.” Kennedy explains that theses are indefinite questions and hypotheses are definite questions “involving named persons and definite occasions” (305). According to Augustine, Hermagoras articulated a stasis doctrine for the analysis of issues (On Rhetoric 13–14). The “definite information” (13) called for when responding to conjectural issues are the peristases, or seven “circumstances of the act”: “who? what? when? where? why? how? by what means?” (12). As D. W. Robertson, Jr. put it, “no hypothetical question, or question involving particular persons and actions, can arise without reference to these circumstances, and no demonstration of such a question can be made without using them” (9).

In De inventione, Cicero reiterates the Hermagorean doctrine of invention, though quarreling with his treatment of both theses and hypotheses as rhetorical (1.8), as well as for purported errors in his handling of the qualitative stasis issue (1.12–14). The circumstantial terms are put to a wide range of inventional uses, including the generation of arguments useful for filling out the speech’s “confirmation” or “proof,” as well as its “refutation” (1.78; 2.11). Cicero inventories the “attributes of actions” and the “attributes of persons” as instruments for furnishing “a kind of raw material for general use from which all arguments are drawn” (1.34).

The “attributes of persons” include “name, nature, manner of life, fortune, habit, feeling, interests, purposes, achievements, accidents, speeches made” (1.34; also 1.35–36). The circumstances are arrayed under two of four headings for the “attributes of actions.” Under the heading of attributes “partly coherent with the action itself,” we find the “brief summary of the whole action comprising the sum of the matter” (such as “murder of parent”) and terms for “inquiry … as to the reason for this whole matter, i.e., by what means, and why, and for what purpose the act was done” (1.37). Under the heading of attributes “partly considered in connexion with the performance of it” (i.e., the action) are terms for “inquiry … about place, time, occasion, manner, and facilities” (1.38; also 39–41). “Occasion” appears on the list of circumstances because it adds the concept of opportunity to place by considering whether its features enabled the act’s performance (1.38) and to time related to the act’s performance in a “fixed and limited … period of time” (1.40). “Facilities” are “the conditions which make something easier to do, or without which it cannot be accomplished” (1.41) and, thus, are related to what others called “by what means.”

Cicero details use of the attributes for generating proofs in response to stasis issues, primarily for judicial rhetoric, though also applicable as needed for deliberative and demonstrative oratory (2.11–13). Controversies that turn on conjectural issues based on inference are engaged with arguments generated “from the cause of the action, from the character of the person involved, and from the nature of the act” (2.16). Inferences are generated from motive or cause (2.17–28), “from the person accused if the attributes of persons are carefully taken into account” (2.28–37), from attributes of the action itself (2.38), from attributes associated with the action’s performance (2.39–40), and from attributes of persons and of actions considered jointly (2.42–44). Careful scrutiny of the prosecutor’s and the defense’s narratives in view of the attributes can yield additional arguments for forensic proof, as shown in Cicero’s trenchant description of the inventional procedure involved:

The mind will more easily come upon “inventions” if one examines frequently and carefully one’s own narrative of the events and that of the opponent, and eliciting any clues that each part may afford, ponders why, with what intent and with what hope of success each thing was done; why it was done in this way rather than in that; why by this man rather than by that; why with no helper or why with this one; why no one knew about it, or why some one did, and why it was this one who did. (2.45)

“When the mind studies so attentively every part of the whole affair, then the topics … which are stored up will come forth of their own accord,” Cicero continues, “and then sometimes from one, sometimes from a combination of topics definite arguments will be produced, part of which will be classed as probable and part as irrefutable” (2.46).

Cicero insists that inartistic means of proving can also be examined with the attributes (2.47). “For the cause or motive of one who makes a statement under torture and the truth of what he says will be ascertained from the same attributes as other arguments,” Cicero maintains, “and the same is true of one who gives testimony, and even of rumour itself” (2.47). “[S]uspicion,” Cicero adds, “will have to be derived from investigation and testimony and some rumour in like manner as from the case and from the person and from the act” (2.46).

The circumstances are useful for generating materials for parts of speech other than confirmation and refutation. One such task is developing narratives with verisimilitude:

The narrative will be plausible if it seems to embody characteristics which are accustomed to appear in real life; if the proper qualities of the character are maintained, if reasons for their actions are plain, if there seems to have been ability to do the deed, if it can be shown that the time was opportune, the space sufficient and the place suitable for the events about to be narrated; if the story fits in with the nature of the actors in it, the habits of ordinary people and the beliefs of the audience. Verisimilitude can be secured by following these principles (1.29).

In addition to employing the circumstances for inventing narratives of events that “embody characteristics that are accustomed to appear in real life,” Cicero asserts that “all the attributes of persons and things can give occasion for any use of amplification that may be desired, or any method of arousing enmity…” (1.100). When surveying topics specific to invention of indignatio in a speech’s peroration, Cicero explains one in particular that draws “together all the circumstances, what was done during the performance of the deed and what followed it, accompanying the narration with reproaches and violent denunciations of each act, and by our language bring the action as vividly as possible before the eyes of the judge … so that a shameful act may seem as shameful as if he had himself been present and seen it in person” (1.104).

 The unknown author of the contemporaneous work, Rhetorica ad Herennium, employs several of the circumstances for similar inventional uses as did Cicero. Time, person, motive, and place are used to create plausible statements of fact or narratives. Plausibility is maximized “if account is strictly kept of the length of time, the standing of the persons involved, the motives in the planning, and the advantages offered by the scene of action, so as to obviate the argument in refutation that the time was too short, or that there was no motive, or that the place was unsuitable, or that the persons themselves could not have acted or been treated so” (1.16). In response to conjectural issues, the prosecutor establishes and the defense disestablishes “motive” while both clash over the accused’s “manner of life” to enhance the “probability” that the accused did or did not do the deed (2.3–5). “Signs” indicative of action are employed to confirm opportunity: “the Place, the Point of Time, the Duration of Time, the Occasion, the Hope of Success, the Hope of Escaping Detection” (2.6; 2.7). The same considerations apply when assessing the plausibility of witness testimony and of testimony under torture (2.10). As with Cicero, the author includes the circumstances among the “commonplaces” of amplification that are useful to “stir the hearers,” particularly in a speech’s conclusion (2.47). One commonplace would have the orator “examine sharply, incriminatingly, and precisely, everything that took place in the actual execution of the deed and all the circumstances that usually attend such an act, so that by the enumeration of the attendant circumstances the crime may seem to be taking place and the action to unfold before our eyes” (2.49).

In Institutio oratoria, the first century Roman rhetorician Quintilian also distinguished between theses and hypotheses or “causes” (3.5.5–8). He disagreed with Cicero’s view that rhetoric’s range is restricted to “definite” questions because “in every special question the general question is implicit, since the genus is logically prior to the species” (3.5.9–10.). “An indefinite question is always the more comprehensive,” Quintilian explains, “since it is from the indefinite question that the definite is derived” (3.5.8). For example, the definite question—“Should Cato marry?”—has the indefinite question—“Should a man marry?”—implicit within it (3.5.8). Quintilian also provides the most comprehensive discussion of stasis doctrine for the analysis of both general and special questions in ancient rhetorical theory (3.5.4–18 – 3.6.104). Still, he reiterated the received opinion that the “Greek peristasis or collection of circumstances” furnish the “matter” useful for addressing hypotheses, “causes,” or definite questions (3.5.18), such as “facts, persons, time, and the like” (3.5.7).

Quintilian discusses the circumstantial terms as “places” (loci) that are useful for inventing arguments (5.10.20–22). He divides them into the “accidents of persons” and the “accidents of things” (5.10.23). “Accidents of persons” include “birth,” “nationality” or “race,” “country,” “sex,” “age,” “education and training,” “bodily constitution,” “fortune,” “condition,” “natural disposition,” “occupation,” “ambitions,” “past life and previous utterances,” and “name” (5.10.24–31). “Accidents of things” include “causes, time, place, occasion, instruments, means and the like” (5.10.23). “In regard to every action,” Quintilian explains, “the question arises either Why or Where or When or How or By what means the action is performed” (5.10.32). Along with persons (Who) and actions (What), Quintilian altogether emphasizes the seven circumstances of the Greek peristasis theory.

Quintilian treats the circumstances as resources for discharging a variety of inventional tasks, including the construction of parts of speech. They are central to creating statements of fact or narratives in judicial speeches (4.2.11–16). Among various uses, prosecutors can employ the terms to create credible narratives that plausibly characterize an alleged wrongdoer’s motive and character, as well as the place and time in which the action was done (4.2.52–53), while the defense can characterize the defendant and alleged actions in ways that diminish the power of the prosecutor’s narrative and proofs (4.2.76–77). The terms can inform an orator’s tactical choices in composing the narratives, including decisions about their length, such as foregoing discussion of motive, or manner, or accomplices, or some other circumstance until engaging them in the proofs (4.2.48–49) or, more generally, shaping narratives as prelude to issuing arguments to meet conjectural issues (4.2.81).

The terms, of course, are also useful for inventing the arguments or proofs of the speech, as well as narratives (4.2.55). “Arguments are drawn,” Quintilian writes, “from persons, causes, place and time … from resources (under which we include instruments),” and “from manner” (5.10. 94).The attributes of persons and of things aid in generating arguments in response especially to conjectural issues, but also have uses for engaging definitional and qualitative questions, as well as questions of law (5.10.33–52). Finally, Quintilian also discusses how the terms can be employed to arouse the judges’ passions, particularly in the peroration of judicial speeches (6.1.14–18).

Douglas Estes shows that several other first century works exhibit the use of circumstances in composing narratives, particularly prologues. All seven “rhetorical peristaseis” are found explicitly in the Gospel of John’s prologue (203–04). The Gospel of Luke’s prologue also has seven, with “when” and “where” implied by Luke’s “first-person, eyewitness style” (202). So too does the prologue to Josephus’s The Jewish War, but with “when” and “where” implied by his “autobiographical point of view” (201). Chariton’s Chaereas and Callirhoe exhibits five (200). The later Hellenistic work, “book of Tobit,” exhibits four circumstances in its prologue, leaving two others for the reader to find in the subsequent work. “It is possible that the author … was aware of peristaseis theory,” Estes writes, “but it is more likely that the circumstances arose from the general expectations that come with narrative prose writing” (199). Nonetheless, Estes concludes that “what makes the book of Tobit interesting (given its place in the history of literature) is its clear leading with four of the seven circumstances” (199).

In the early fourth century CE the earliest available commentary on Cicero’s De inventione appeared, Marius Victorinus’s Explanationes in Ciceronis Rhetorica. Victorinus’s thorough and clarifying commentary that relates Cicero’s topical doctrine to the peristases would exert influence on late eleventh and twelfth centuries commentaries (Leff 35–36). According to Robertson Jr., in Victorinus’s account “the circumstances appear as questions”—quis (person), quid (action), cur (purpose), ubi (place), quando (time), quemadmodum (how), quibus adminiculis (faculties)—and he reiterated Cicero’s treatment of them as resources for making effective confirmation with emphasis on “attributes of the person or the action” (10–11).

Use of the circumstances for purposes of rhetorical invention continued long after Rome fell to the Goths in 410. Over the next thirteen centuries, rhetoricians distinguished general and specific questions, elucidated stasis doctrine, and elaborated circumstances as precepts of discovery, usually following how Cicero, Ad Herennium, or Quintilian described them. As we show in the next section, hermeneutical uses of the circumstances emerged alongside ongoing inventional uses during the early middle ages, beginning with Augustine.

Inventional and Hermeneutical Uses of the Terms in the Early Middle Ages

Augustine’s On Rhetoric follows the traditional theory of invention by distinguishing theses and hypotheses [5–6 (pp. 10–12)], reviewing the seven peristases [7–8 (12–13)], and elaborating stasis doctrine [9–10 (pp. 13–14). Roman rhetorician C. Chirius Fortunatianus’s c. 450 work, Artis Rhetoricae Libri Tres, always appeared before Augustine’s treatise in one volume, suggesting that he “somehow shared in the reflected glory of the most venerated Christian scholar” (Miller et al, 25). Fortunatianus recommended employing the seven terms to disclose errors and omissions made during testimony [Artis Rhetoricae Libri Tres, I, 4 (pp. 29–30)]. In On Christian Doctrine, Augustine makes a hermeneutic turn in the use of the Latin circumstantiae, shifting from their inventional usage as precepts for discovery of subject matter for arguments to employing them to reveal the meanings of biblical texts. That hermeneutic shift is evident in the third book dealing with the problem of interpreting ambiguous signs. Richard McKeon observes that the circumstances aided in reconciling contradictory literal interpretations of texts “by consideration of ‘who’ said it, ‘where, when, why, how, with what assistance” (On Christian Doctrine 3.12.19, quoted at 7). Both literal and figurative “senses” of textual signs could be clarified using the circumstances as interpretive aids (3.12.18–3.15.29; McKeon 7).

In the fourth book of his predominantly dialectical work, De topicis differentiis, early sixth century philosopher Boethius distinguishes dialectical theses and rhetorical hypotheses (1205C1–27), articulates stasis doctrine (1208C34–1209A4, 1209A26–1209D3), and rehearses the familiar “attributes of the person and the action” as peculiarly rhetorical topics in contrast with dialectical topics (1211C25–1214B18). Boethius also discusses the hypothesis-thesis distinction and stasis doctrine in “An Overview of the Structure of Rhetoric” and the circumstances in “An Examination of the Rhetorical Places.” Unlike previous commentators, Boethius did not place the circumstances under a particular part of speech; rather, he treated them as the method of rhetoric as a discipline (Copeland, 68–69).

In the early seventh century work, The Etymologies, Isidore of Seville discusses stasis doctrine [5.1–4 (pp. 83–85)], the thesis-hypothesis distinction [15.1–2 (p. 95)], and the utility of qualities of persons and of actions for creating the figure of ethopoeia, or an imagined speech suited to a person’s character [14.1–2 (p. 95)]. In his early ninth century dialogue, Rhetoric, Alcuin responds to Charlemagne’s queries about legal cases by enumerating the seven circumstances and their corresponding questions [6.104–117 (pp. 72–73)],  and the  “localities of controversies”—the four stases—with illustrations [7.118–157 (pp. 72–75)].

Rita Copeland shows that the circumstantiae were put to hermeneutical and inventional uses in the prologues of commentaries on biblical and secular texts—the accessus ad auctores or introduction to the author—during the Carolingian period. She explains these distinctive functions as follows:

The exegete can take possession of the text as a discursive totality in the way that the rhetor (or orator) can grasp the case as a circumstantial totality (the summation of attributes of the person and the act). Exegetical practices treats the text … as an action situated in particular historical circumstances.  In the Remigian prologue, the topical system of the circumstantiae functions as a kind of hermeneutical application: it allows the exegete to ‘invent’ arguments about the text—or ‘action’—which are appropriate to new conditions of interpretation or reception, just as the orator invents a speech that is suited to the particular conditions of time, place, and audience” (Copeland 70–71).

Copeland illustrates this use of the circumstances with prologues attributed to Remigius of Auxerre, whose commentaries were written during the latter half of the ninth and the first decade of the tenth centuries. Here is how Remigius employed the seven circumstances in an accessus to a commentary on Sedulius’s Carmen Paschale:

[W]ho produced it? Sedulius. What did he produce? A paschal song according to the Old and New Testaments. Why did he produce it? Because he noticed that there were few who had written poetry about the humanity and incarnation of the savior. In what way did he fashion it? In verse, not prose. When did he write it? In the time of the emperors Theodosius and Valentinian. Where did he write it? In Achaia. With what means did he write it? By means of those sources that he imitated. (qtd. in Copeland 66).

The materials these questions furnish enable commentators to contextualize their interpretive renderings in the prologue. In addition to inventional and hermeneutical functions, the circumstances acquired specialized theological applications during the high middle ages.

Inventional, Hermeneutical, Theological, and Mnemonic Uses of the Terms in the High Middle Ages

During the high middle ages, inventional usage of the terms continued in the works of Alan of the Isles’s Anticlaudianus, Vincent of Beauvais’s Speculum doctrinale, and Humbert de Romans’s De eruditione praedicatorum. In his late twelfth century work, Alan followed Cicero by discussing qualities of “arguments properly fitted to the persons involved” and “whatever changes the complexion of the deed, whatever place or time, occasion, cause, or circumstance exists…” (225). In his thirteenth century work, Vincent turned to Boethius for the thesis-hypothesis distinction and the seven circumstantial questions (Howell, Logic and Rhetoric 77–78). Humbert, Vincent’s contemporary, wrote a work for Dominican preachers that provided “materials for a hundred sermons suited to various kinds of persons and for another hundred suited to various occasions” (Robertson, Jr., 13). The preacher is thus well-equipped, as Robertson Jr. puts it, “to take into consideration the dominant circumstances of person and action that confront him” (13).

John of Garland, in the first chapter of his early thirteenth century work, Parisiana poetria, makes hermeneutic use of the five “species” of invention: “where, what, what kind, how, and why” [1.88–89 (p. 9)]. His treatment differs from that of Cicero or Boethius. “If the classical circumstances serve as topics to organize information about an action that exists or occurs outside the prospective text,” Copeland explains, “John’s use of them serves to organize the text itself’ (163). From that distinctive vantage, “the circumstances turn the text into a kind of action performed and the author into the performer of that action” (163). John thus uses the circumstances not “to describe an action performed which is the res or the case to be argued (e.g., what was done, where was it done, when, who did it); rather, he employs them “to describe the text that comes into being through invention” (163).

The terms had wide use in penitential literature. In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council of the Roman Catholic Church incorporated the seven circumstances into the 21st canon to assist clergymen in securing confessions so “that they might justly weigh the crimes confessed to them and administer suitable remedies” (Robertson, Jr., 6; Osborne, Jr., 150). As Thomas N. Tentler explains, a “complete” confession included not only disclosure of “all mortal sins, but also their ‘aggravating circumstances’” (116). They also appeared in summas for confessors, originating with the widely influential Raymond of Peñaforte’s Summa Confessorum, known as Raymundina (Tentler 31). Confessors were furnished with mnemonic verses to assist them in conducting confessions (Robertson, Jr., 7). The standard form presents the seven circumstances in this specific order:

Quis, quid, ubi, quibus auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando” (qtd. in Robertson Jr., 7). (Who, what, where, with what, why, how, when.)

Some verses substituted one or two different terms or added an eighth circumstance, such as the number of times or how often the sin was committed:

Quis, quid, ubi, per quos, quoties, cur, quomodo, quando” (qtd. in Robertson Jr., 7). (Who, what, where, by whom, how often, why, how, and when.)

The circumstances would continue to appear in penitential literature through the fifteenth century.

The recovery of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in the thirteenth century influenced how the terms were used in medieval philosophical theology (Jonsen and Toulmin 123). “The earliest medieval translation of the Nicomachean Ethics into Latin,” Jonsen and Toulmin explain, “introduced the word circumstantiae into the text and enumerated them as of eight kinds” (133). Thomas Aquinas was influenced by that work. In the first article to question 7 of the Summa Theologica he writes: “[W]hatever conditions are outside the substance of an act, and yet in some way touch the human act, are called circumstances” (Article 1). He insisted that theologians must attend to circumstances in the analysis and appraisal of human action (Article 2). “Touching an action” occurs in three ways:

It touches the act itself, either by way of measure, as “time” and “place”; or by qualifying the act as the “mode of acting.” It touches the effect when we consider “what” is done. It touches the cause of the act, as to the final cause, by the circumstance “why”; as to the material cause, or object, in the circumstance “about what”; as to the principal efficient cause, in the circumstance “who”; and as to the instrumental efficient cause, in the circumstance “by what aids” (Article 3).

We thus find Aquinas doing a causal analysis of Cicero’s circumstances with some slight modifications (Article 3). Cicero’s “occasion” is not used,  but an eighth circumstance is added from Aristotle’s Ethics, “about what” (Article 3); Jonsen and Toulmin render the terms “about which or on whom,” 133). Aquinas further qualifies the circumstances’ relationships to an act’s substance. “The circumstance ‘what’ must be distinguished from the ‘what’ that is the act’s matter,” Osborne explains, “and the circumstance of the end must be distinguished from the proximate end, which is the interior act’s object” (183). He continues, “With respect to the other circumstances, what is ordinarily a circumstance can be a condition of the object, such as a location in a church might be part of sacrilege’s object” (183).

The circumstantial terms were integral to thirteenth century theological disputations about moral and immoral action (Osborne 149–84). A central issue was whether an act could be considered good or bad based on its intent or end alone or whether other circumstantial features shaped its moral quality (Osborne 150–54, 182–84). Osborne observed that a new Latin term, “obiectum” or “the power of willing or choice” (152), became in some respects a circumstance itself in these disputations, enabling Aquinas to argue, for example, “that many acts are good on account of their object unless made bad by their circumstances” (170).

The circumstances informed the practice of casuistry during its “high” era from 1556–1656.  The casuists worked out the meanings of principles beginning with an example that few would disagree was a paradigmatic instance of violation, and then follow with a series of increasingly less obvious instances “that moved away from the paradigm by introducing various combinations of circumstances and motives that made the offense in question less apparent” (Jonsen and Toulmin, 252). Using the Fifth Commandment against killing for illustration, “it might be asked whether a judge was morally permitted to impose the death penalty; whether subjects may kill a tyrant; or whether self-defense extends to killing in defense of one’s family, one’s property, or one’s honor” (252). When casuists introduced “complicating circumstances to the paradigm cases,” Jonsen and Toulmin explain, they “drew on the traditional list of circumstances—‘who, what, where, when, why, how and by what means’” (253).

The circumstantial terms had a wide circulation in late-medieval culture due in large part to the influence of Aquinas and Raymond. Mnemonic verses assured their ready use for religious and educational purposes. Burke noted that the seven terms recited in the prescribed order—“quis? quid? ubi? quibus auxillis? cur? quo modo? quando?form a “hexameter line” (“Counter-Gridlock,” 366). This prescribed line is included in Aquinas’s discussion of the circumstances of moral action (Article 3). “If the terms are put in exactly that order,” Burke explains, “they make a line of verse in classical Latin prosody” (366). The verse’s hexametric structure and its alliteration function mnemonically in facilitating recollection of the terms. Jonsen and Toulmin, attributing that verse to “an unknown rhetorician” from “the early Middle Ages,” conclude that it “became the standard enumeration of circumstances in subsequent medieval discussions” (132; also Robertson, Jr., 13).

Dialectic and the Decline of Inventional Uses of the Terms in the Early Renaissance

The topics of dialectical logic are increasingly emphasized as the circumstances’s inventional usage declined during the late fifteenth through the early to mid-sixteenth century. Rodolphus Agricola’s De inventione dialectica libri tres (1479) and its “place-logic” is pivotal in initiating this shift, subordinating the terms “accident” and “circumstance” within “a more comprehensive classification of ‘topics’ or strategies of argument, including genus, species, similarities, differences, etc.” (Hutson 17–18). Dialectic became the source of the substance of all discourse, with rhetoric left bereft of any inventional function at all. “This implied spread of dialectic to cover all discourse,” Walter Ong observes, “is made fully explicit by Agricola in his assertion that ‘there are no places of invention proper to rhetoric’” (Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue 101). “Cicero, Quintilian, and Boethius, who treat places in rhetoric, are all wrong on this point we are told,” Ong asserted negatively (101–02). Agricola thus “decreed” the “Renaissance divorce in the chronologically uneasy union of rhetoric and dialectic” by assigning the loci exclusively to dialectic, a divorce “which will carry through Ramism” (102).

Petrus Ramus followed Agricola in assigning invention to dialectic rather than rhetoric (Howell 149). He and his followers formed a tradition in which dialectic furnished the method of generating thought and rhetoric was left with the expressive tasks of style and delivery (Howell 146–72). “Ramist rhetoric is concerned with expression, with communication, with speaking,” Ong points out. “But it is a rhetoric which has renounced any possibility of invention within the speaker-auditor framework; it protests in principle if not in actuality, that invention is restricted to a dialectical world where there is no voice but only a kind of vision” (288). Ramus’s dialectical topics are illustrated by the fourteen places or “arguments” in his 1543 Training in Dialectic (Ong, 183). In the absence of rhetorical invention, the circumstances gave way to those abstract places. Still a few sixteenth century rhetoricians continued to find the circumstances useful in “giving voice” to an increasingly “dialectical world” as evidenced by three rhetoric handbooks.

One of those works is Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus’s textbook De copia (1512), which Lorna Hutson calls “the most popular compositional textbook for schoolboys of Shakespeare’s generation” (2). Erasmus thought that the terms are applicable to a variety of inventional tasks in the construction of speeches. In the second book of that work entitled, “Abundance of Subject Matter,” he discusses the peristases—“the circumstances peculiar to the case”—as the eighth of eleven methods for generating materials for a speech (Copia 591). He divides them into those “partly of non-personal and external details”—“contributing events, place, opportunity, instrument, time, method”—and those “partly of personal details”—“race, country, sex, age, education and training, physical state, material circumstances, place in society, type of personality, occupation, previous conduct, motivation, intention, reputation” (591). He forgoes offering examples because use of circumstances “pervades the whole speech” and has relevance for other methods of expansion, including "amplification or building up, and extenuation or toning down … vividness … also confirmation and credibility” (591–92). Erasmus revisits Quintilian’s treatment of the accidents of persons and of things as resources for accumulating proofs about the “likely, possible, and not impossible” (605). Appropriate use of circumstances, marks the “true orator.” “[J]ust as one can recognize the trained athlete or musician even when he is not concentrating particularly,” Erasmus writes, “so one can perceive the true orator anywhere in the speech by the way details of this sort are aptly added to the mixture in the appropriate place” (592).

The second book is Leonard Cox’s The Arte or Crafte of Rhetoryke (c. 1530), the first book on rhetoric printed in English, that is addressed to “yonge begynners” (Cox, 87) who lacked thorough training in Greek and Latin (Carpenter, “Introduction,” 27–28). The book largely follows fellow humanist Philippi Melanchton’s treatment of invention in Institutiones rhetoricae (1521), supplemented with examples drawn from Cicero’s speeches, among other sources (Carpenter, “Introduction,” 29–31). Cox’s Arte emphasizes the circumstances as useful for constructing the parts of speech for demonstrative, deliberative, and judicial oratory, leading Howell to note that Cox, not unlike Cicero, had thereby treated “the most important aspect of the rhetorical doctrine of arrangement without having to take it up directly” (93).

We thus find Cox discussing the circumstances as resources for generating materials for preambles generally (52) and demonstrative (viz., place, time, occasion, person) (62), deliberative (67), and judicial preambles specifically, with the last centered on the nature of the cause (71–72). So, too, with creating demonstrative narratives praising persons from attributes discovered during review of their lives and actions (e.g., offices, dispositions, fortune, and the like) (55–57), and with judicial narratives employing person, place, time, purpose, and occasion (72–73). The speech “confirmation”—the first of two parts (along with the “confutation”) that together comprise a speech’s “contention”—is fashioned for speeches praising actions from considering “what was done /who dyd it / whan / where it was done / amonge whom / by whofe help” (63–64): for praising “things,” such as “religion” or “matrimony,” from the circumstances generally (66); for establishing an action’s utility in deliberative speeches from considering the “circumstances of the cause,” including time, place, means, helps or impediments, and others (70–71); and for supporting accusations from consideration of the qualities of persons and the circumstances of the cause in judicial speaking (71, 75–79).

The third book is Thomas Wilson’s Arte of Rhetorique (1553), the most influential treatment of rhetoric printed in English during the English Renaissance. Wilson’s Arte, which went through eight editions, covers invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery (Derrick, “Critical Introduction,” lxiii–lxix). The work is comparable to Cicero’s and Quintilian’s treatment of the circumstances in its scope and detail. Wilson casts the seven circumstances as questions:

i.
Who did the deede.

ii.
What was doen.

iii.
Where it was doen.

iv.
What helpe had he to it.

v.
Wherefore he did it.

vi.
How he did it.

vii.
At what tyme he did it. (Arte 54.17–25)

He follows those questions with a felicitous verse containing eight terms:

Who, what, and where, by what helpe, and by whose:
Why, how and when, do many thynges disclose. (Arte 55.1–3).

His work overall offers orators a nuanced and strategically astute perspective for using the circumstances as inventional resources.

 “When we firste enter upon any matter,” Wilson writes, “it is wisdome to consider the tyme, the place, the man for whome we speake, the man against whom we speake, the matter whereof we speake, and the judges before whom we speake …” (36.18–23). The terms are widely applicable for inventional purposes. All “definite” questions require that the orator address such circumstances as person, time, and place (23.14–17). “These places helpe wonderfully, to set out any matter,” Wilson maintains, “and to amplifie it to the uttermost, not onely in praisyng, or dispraisyng, but also in all other causes where any advisement is to bee used” (55.4–7). The terms should always be employed strategically, not slavishly. “Yet this one thynge is to be learned, that it shall not bee necessarie, to use theim altogether,” he advises, “but rather as tyme and place shall best require” (55.7–11). Orators, then, should adjust their use of the terms to the constraints of their speaking situation.

The circumstances can be employed to invent “any parte of the Oration” (55.11). Wilson explicitly discusses their use for constructing introductions (210.8–11) and narrations (223.2–8; 224.4–8), with specific attention to judicial (224.18–225.5) and sermonic (227.1–6) narratives. Wilson draws from Cox’s Arte in his discussion of the demonstrative praising of persons, actions, and things (Derrick, lxxxv). He revisits the attributes of the praised person’s life (Wilson, 44.3–25) and employs the seven circumstances in praising actions with an extensive illustration of their use in generating materials for praising King David for the act of killing Goliath (54.14–64.6). Further, Wilson discusses the utility of circumstances for a hypothetical instance of advising a friend about the profitability of studying the law (91.17–92.22) and for making conjectures in a hypothetical trial of a soldier charged with murder (192.13–199.20). “Confirmation in matters of judgment,” in particular, partly turn on arguments generated from places related to persons (he lists eleven of them) (233.25–234.16), and partly on arguments about the alleged action generated from such terms as act, time, place, manner, and opportunity (234.21–235.6).

The circumstances have stylistic uses. They are central to enacting “amplification by conjectures” (263.8–16), illustrating their use “to prove by conjectures a murder committed” by compiling the accused’s attributes and circumstances together to solidify suspicions (263.16–265.3). The terms are also employed to generate vivid descriptions (356.18–20).Wilson elaborates this usage of the terms by listing and discussing eight questions he attributes to Quintilian (270.1–271.21). He further explains their use in “movyng affections” (269.4) by discussing how to vividly depict an evil actor and action. “The report must be suche and the offence made so hainouse, that the like hath not been seene heretofore,” he elaborates, “and al the circumstances must thus be heaped together” (269.7–9). Despite the merits of Wilson’s delineation of the precepts of classical Greek and Roman rhetoricians, his book’s popularity was short-lived (Derrick xci). As Ramism tightened its hold on pedagogy there was no place for rhetorical invention.

Dramaturgical Uses in Shakespeare’s England

The circumstantial terms had a profound inventional influence on the development of Elizabethan dramaturgy. Hutson accounted for the achievements of the “imagined dramatic world” of the latter half of sixteenth century English theatre in terms “of the compositional techniques of inventing arguments out of topics of circumstance” rather than of “innovations in theatrical mimesis—of staging or of bodies in performance” (171). The circumstances are employed to invent the arguments that actors delivered in their speeches, engaging with the audience’s “imagining of extramimetic elements as part of the play’s fabula—the times, places, and events that are merely implicit” (15). Audiences are thereby positioned “to infer psychology and imagine dramatic time and space” based on those invented “circumstantial arguments” (15). Hutson elaborates:

We . . . need to be able to think of Shakespeare and other dramatists reading chronicle histories and novelle with a mind to transforming their temporally and spatially expansive narratives into probable or provable arguments on the circumstantial topics of time and place. It is these arguments that enable audiences and readers to infer the exterior circumstances of time and place, as well as the inner circumstantial topic of causa or motive/purpose. Arguments enable audiences imaginatively to “conceive” the play’s temporality and shifts of location as believable and probable because they infer them in relation to the subjectivities—the motives and desires—of dramatis personae (42).

For Hutson, the circumstances are among “the techniques by which a complex sequence of events is persuasively invented and communicated, both within the fiction (between the dramatis personae) and to the audience or spectators” (5). Without inventional use of the circumstances, then, dramatists would be unable to shape how their audiences would imaginatively engage with the play unfolding before them.

Hutson analyzes several of Shakespeare’s plays, disclosing in detail the use of terms in Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, and MacBeth, among others. For example, the topic “quando?” is featured in her analysis of scenes from Romeo and Juliet. The Watch discovering the two lovers’ dead bodies illustrates:

Watch. The ground is bloudie, search around the churchyard.
Go, some of you, who ere you find attach.
Pitiful sight, heere lies the Countie slain,
And Juliet, bleeding, warme, and newlie dead:
Who here hath laine these two daies buried …
We see the ground whereon these woes do lye,
But the true ground of all these piteous woes
We cannot without circumstance descry (Qtd. in Hutson, 55–56)

Hutson agrees with commentaries that this scene shows that Shakespeare had technical knowledge about investigating conjectural issues using the circumstantial terms, presumably drawn from Ad Herennium (56). But she adds that that interpretation does not go far enough. Shakespeare’s pun “discriminates between the visible ‘bloudie’ ground (blood being a sign) and the ‘true ground’ which cannot be seen without circumstance” (56). “If we need ‘circumstance’ to see the ground in the sense of descrying motive or cause,” Hutson elaborates, “this alerts us to the way in which circumstances, in Renaissance compositional theory, are forms of enquiry that themselves constitute the rhetorical probability and imaginative visible reality of the motive or cause” (Hutson 56–57). We thus learn that Shakespeare is not merely showing “an enquiry into circumstances as the objective facts of the case; it is, rather, that questions of circumstance, particularly the circumstance of Time, themselves shape and render imaginable the narrative and explanatory ground (as ‘character’, as ‘motivation’) of the ‘piteous woes’ we witness in Romeo and Juliet” (57). Other chapters contain analyses that feature “opportunity” in Lucrece and in King Lear, “where?” and “how?” in Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Maid’s Tragedy, and “why?” or “motive” in Macbeth.

Vico’s Inventional Uses of the Terms

After the influence of Ramism and its emphasis on dialectic, the seventeenth century would turn to an entirely non-discursive logic exemplified by Rene Descartes’s Discourse on Method (1637) and Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole’s The Port-Royal Logic  (1662) (Howell 342–63). Rhetorical invention and the terms were further diminished. “Techniques of expression will still be taught,” Ong writes, “but all the while a curious subconscious hostility to speech in all its forms will eat away at the post-Ramus age…. Only after the Hegelian rehabilitation of the notion of dialogue and the later discrediting of the Newtonian universe would this hostility begin effectively to wane” (291).

The use of circumstantial terms and other topics declined from the late sixteenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries. One notable exception is eighteenth century rhetorician Giambattista Vico. Vico argues for the pedagogical use of topics rather than Cartesian logic in On the Study Methods of Our Time. Topics also play a central role in his “poetic logic,” as elucidated in The New Science. However, it is in his early work, The Art of Rhetoric (Institutiones oratoria), that we again encounter circumstantial terms among the topics.

In The Art of Rhetoric, Vico follows Cicero’s distinction between general and special topics. General loci are not treated as exclusive to philosophical disputation, nor are special topics exclusive to oratory. Evidently, just as orators needed topics such as “genus” and “species,” so too did dialecticians need such loci as “the agent,” “purpose,” and “collateral circumstances (verba adiuncta) of either thing or person in place or in time.” The peristases are fully incorporated in Vico’s survey of motive, possibility, and signs, three special loci for addressing conjectural issues in judicial oratory (58). Vico, like Cicero and Quintilian, also thought the circumstances useful for invention of narratives as well as of arguments. “A narration will be verisimilar if all of the circumstances of the fact are organized in a believable manner so that they agree with persons, things, times, places, motives, and events,” Vico writes. “[I]f the circumstances are fittingly consistent with the nature of things, with the characters of men, and common sense, so that the facts as they are presented will appear as they must have naturally happened,” Vico explains, the narrative will achieve verisimilitude (77). Vico did not stand alone in using the circumstances as resources of invention, as we shall see in the next section.

Inventional, Investigative, and Mnemonic Uses in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

The Ramist and Port Royalist conceptions of rhetoric were taught in American colleges prior to approximately 1750. Thereafter students were also taught classical-rhetorical doctrines (Thomas 193–210). "Although Quintilian and Aristotle still remained comparative strangers,” Thomas writes, “Cicero’s De oratore obtained wide circulation" (201–02). Cicero's speeches, rhetorical works and other writings were required in the curricula of nearly every American college," reports James M. Farrell ("Classical Rhetoric at Salem” 41).Such being the case, one would expect to encounter uses of the circumstantial terms in late 18th and 19th century oratory. In analyses of courtroom orations by two American orators, John Adams (“Pro Militibus Oratorio” 243) and Daniel Webster (“Classical Rhetoric as Salem” 52), and Irish lawyer John Philpot Curran ("Classical Rhetoric in the Legal Speeches of John Philpot Curran" 396), Farrell found that all three orators did employ the Ciceronian rendering of the circumstantial terms in their courtroom pleadings. Given the emphasis on classical education at the time, it seems unlikely that these uses of the terms are singular; rather, use of the terms in oratory of the period,  forensic or otherwise, was widespread. 

In the late nineteenth century, clergyman William Cleaver Wilkinson articulated a method of biblical study based upon earlier oratorical uses of the circumstantial terms that he called the “three Ws”: What? Why? What of it? Fellow clergyman Henry Clay Trumbull, a leader in the Sunday-School movement, gave an account of Wilkinson’s work in his book on Sunday-School instruction. Trumbull writes: “‘What? Why? What of it?’ is a plan of study of alliterative methods for the teacher, emphasized by Professor W.C. Wilkinson, not as original with himself, but as of venerable authority. ‘It is, in fact,’ he says, ‘an almost immemorial orator's analysis. First, the facts; next, the proof of the facts; then the consequences of the facts’” (120).  Trumbull further elaborates:

This analysis has often been expanded into one known as "The Five W's:""When? Where? Whom? What? Why?" Hereby attention is called, in the study of any lesson: to the date of its incidents; to their place or locality; to the person speaking or spoken to, or to the persons introduced, in the narrative; to the incidents or statements of the text; and, finally, to the applications and uses of the lesson teachings (120).

Trumbull thought that these questions were insufficient as a “guide to fitting and successful study” (121). They can point out “various directions of research” in lesson planning, but “one difficulty with them all is, that while they seem to give limitations, they really open up fields which are limitless” (121). The result of applying such questions as “Where,” “When,” and “Whom” would exhaust the inquirer long before it exhausted the Biblical subject under study for the planned lesson (121). “Suppose, for example, that … the ‘Whom’ included … Job,—how much longer than Methuselah would the man have to live before he reached the bottom of that lesson?” (121–22).

Nineteenth century orators and clergymen were not alone in turning to the “question words” as instruments of investigation and discovery. The “5Ws plus H” became commonplace in late nineteenth and early twentieth century journalism. Rudyard Kipling, a journalist as well as a literary figure, articulated that schema. In his Just So Stories the tale, “The Elephant’s Child,” was accompanied by a poem that begins as follows:

I KEEP six honest serving-men
   (They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When  
  And How and Where and Who.

I send them over land and sea,
   I send them east and west;

But after they have worked for me,
   I give them all a rest. (79)

Joseph Pulitzer’s “new journalism” probably exerted the most influence on making the 5Ws plus H a commonplace of journalistic composition, especially with respect to writing ledes. That schema provides a mnemonic for securing accuracy—the facts—for news stories. Novelist and journalist Theodore Dreiser wrote about the day he sought work as a reporter for Pulitzer’s New York World: “I looked about the great room … and saw pasted on the walls at intervals printed cards which read: Accuracy, Accuracy, Accuracy! Who? What? Where? When? How? The Facts—The Color—The Facts! I knew what those signs meant,” he continues, “the proper order for beginning a newspaper story” (Dreiser 467). These questions, which were taught in high school journalism courses as well as in the newly emerging university departments of journalism, became common practice in news writing. Although Frank Mott, writing in 1942, thought that they were outdated and waning (“Trends” 65), the 5Ws plus H are still employed in media news reporting today. In fact, a widely used contemporary journalism textbook, James Glen Stoval’s Journalism: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How, not only features the terms in its title but contains a chapter instructing students on their use in contemporary newswriting.

Theoretical Uses in the Twentieth Century

The philosophical school of pragmatism emerged in the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a school that featured action rather than ideas or things as the focal source of human meaning. That philosophical movement would influence early twentieth century social theorizing in its formulation of social action as a central conceptual construct (Duncan, Symbols and Social Theory 200–07). Talcott Parson’s work exemplifies this emphasis.

Parsons argued that the “action frame of reference” is central to sociological explanation (Structure of Social Action 731–37). The core of that explanatory schema is the “unit act” (Structure 43). “Just as the units of a mechanical system in the classical sense, particles, can be defined only in terms of their properties, mass, velocity, location in space, direction of motion, etc.,” Parsons writes, “so the units of action systems also have certain basic properties without which it is not possible to conceive of the unit as ‘existing’” (Structure 43). Properties logically related to the “unit act” include: (1) “agent” or “actor”; (2) the purpose or the “end” in view; (3) the “situation” in which the act occurs, which includes “conditions of action” that the actor “cannot alter, or prevent from being altered, in conformity with his end,” and situational features that the actor can alter and control as “means” for securing the end; and (4) “a normative orientation of action” involved in the “choice of alternative means to the end” (Structure 44; also 732–33). He writes of the normative dimension: “Within the area of control of the actor, the means employed cannot, in general, be conceived either as chosen at random or as dependent exclusively on the conditions of action, but must in some sense be subject to the influence of an independent, determinate selective factor, a knowledge of which is necessary to the understanding of the concrete course of action. What is essential to the concept of action is that there should be a normative orientation, not that this should be of any particular type” (Structure 44–45). Parsons adds that “the time category is basic to the scheme” (Structure 45). Altogether, then, Parsons articulates a logically integrated framework of individually necessary and collectively sufficient terms for explaining and understanding “all change and process in the action field” (Structure 733).

Harold D. Lasswell designated constituents of political and communicative processes in circumstantial terms. Politics, in contrast with government or the state, consists of responses to questions implied by the title of his book: Politics: Who Gets What, When, How. This perspective, Lasswell contends, “underlies the working attitude of practicing politicians” (7). “One skill of the politician,” Lasswell explains, “is calculating probable changes in influence and the influential” (7). His book purportedly details the “methods of the influential” (symbols, violence, goods, practices) that “elites” employ for acquiring “consequences for the influential” (27), such as the most “deference,” “income,” and “safety” relative to the uninfluential “mass” (13). In “The Structure and Function of Communication in Society,” Lasswell defines “the act of communication” in circumstantial terms:

Who
Says What
In Which Channel
To Whom
With What Effect? (37)

“Who” relates to “factors that initiate and guide” communicative action, “Says what” relates to the action’s content, “Channels” are the media through which the message is conveyed, “To whom” designates the “persons reached by the media,” and the “impact upon audiences” is its “effect” (37). Lasswell accords a distinct area of scientific study to each of these five features of communicative action: respectively, control analysis,  content analysis, media analysis, audience analysis, and effects analysis (37).

Richard Braddock adds two additional features: “for WHAT PURPOSE” and “under WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES” (“An Extension of the ‘Lasswell Formula’” 88). Braddock thus stresses, respectively, end or aim and time or setting. He also maintains that Lasswell’s five “considerations are interrelated” and could not be assigned to “distinct fields of study” (88). With these amendments, the “process” or the “act” of communication answered seven questions: Who? What? To whom? What circumstances (time and setting)? What medium? What purpose? What effect? (88).

Kenneth Burke’s Original and Innovative Uses of the Circumstantial Terms

Kenneth Burke’s “original formula,” “the formula” that served as “the basis of the pentad (hexad),” was “the mediaeval Latin hexameter: quis (who), quid (what), ubi (where), quibus auxiliis (by what means), cur (why), quo modo (how) and quando (when)” (“Counter-Gridlock” 366; also “Questions and Answers About the Pentad” 332, and “Afterword” 393–94). Thomas Aquinas seems to have been the only other influence on Burke’s formulation of the terms. Burke’s writings show no acquaintance with the inventional uses of the terms by Greco-Roman and later rhetoricians. Nor was he acquainted with Aristotle's salient discussion of the terms: "I could have cited, if I had known it, a related passage in Nicomachean Ethics" (“Questions and Answers 332). Burke, however, transformed the Latin hexameter into a universal grammar of human motives. As we will show, Burke’s dramatism, with its notion of pentadic ratios and its correlation of philosophical schools of thought with pentadic terms, represents probably the single greatest innovation in the long history of the circumstantial terms.

Burke made original use of the circumstantial terms, envisioning them as critical resources for disclosing human motivations in linguistic texts. “Any complete statement about motives,” Burke states, “will offer some kind of answers to these five questions: what was done (act), when or where it was done (scene), who did it (agent), how he did it (agency), and why (purpose)” (Grammar xv). Burke described the terms as “the basic forms of thought” that “are exemplified in the attributing of motives” in “accordance with the nature of the world” as all persons “necessarily experience it” (Grammar xv). Burke’s understanding of the terms, however, represents a striking departure from the traditional view in that he considered circumstances not as features of “real” or situated experience but rather as designating “the necessary forms of talk about experience” (Grammar 317). Some have misunderstood Burke, thinking that he used the terms, as rhetoricians historically have, to analyze “real” persons and contexts in generating arguments for discourse. But Burke did not use the terms that way. He limited their use to “talk about” experience and he did not apply them to actual situated experience. Burke described his “concern” as “primarily with the analysis of language rather than the analysis of ‘reality’” (Grammar 317). Burke thus transformed the terms into critical instruments useful in analyzing existing texts, at the same time ignoring their traditional usage in creating texts. Previous uses of the terms for generative purposes and Burke’s intended use for critically engaging texts are miles apart. “My job,” Burke writes, “was not to help a writer decide what he might say to produce a text. It was to help a critic perceive what was going on in a text that was already written” (“Questions and Answers” 332). In a 1980 interview, Burke further elaborated on his use of the terms: “The theory of my pentad (or hexad) tells me what kinds of questions to ask of a work and by inspecting the work I enable it to give me the answers” (“Counter-Gridlock” 364). Burke’s exclusive use of the terms for engaging texts represents a departure from the traditional generative uses of the terms. In fact, the only other person included in our survey who limited the terms exclusively to the analysis of texts, as Burke does, was the thirteenth century philologist John of Garland.

Although Burke did not himself use the terms to create texts he did see such usage as legitimate. This can be seen in his discussion of William Irmscher’s book, The Holt Guide to English, which Burke describes as “a handbook of rhetoric, language, and literature” (“Questions and Answers” 330). The book discusses Burke’s pentad and recommends its use for inventional purposes in composing essays. Burke opines that Irmscher has made “good use” of “some terms I worked with in my Grammar of Motives” (“Questions and Answers” 330). “My relation to the terms differs somewhat from their role in the Irmscher handbook, yet there would be nothing invidious in the distinction,” Burke says, “Both uses have their place” (“Questions and Answers” 330). Irmscher’s  inventional use of the terms and Burke’s endorsement of it inspired proposals that the terms also be used in composing  speeches: “Dramatism, with its pentad and its notion of pentadic ratios, constitutes both a powerful and an elegant heuristic for generating motivational arguments for suasory discourse” (Kneupper and Anderson, “Uniting Wisdom and Eloquence” 323 and Kneupper, “Dramatistic Invention” 130–36).

The originality of Burke’s use of the terms in dramatism is further shown by his correlation of them with distinct philosophical nomenclatures (Grammar xvi–xvii). This is one of the most innovative uses of the terms in their long history, converting them into a dialectical instrument for placement and sorting of ideologies and systems of thought. “Dramatistically,” Burke writes, “the different philosophic schools are to be distinguished by the fact that each school features a different one of the five terms, in developing a vocabulary designed to allow this one term full expression (as regards its resources and its temptations) with the other terms being comparatively slighted or being placed in the perspective of the featured term” (Grammar 127). When act is featured, the philosophical terminology is realism; with scene, it is materialism; with agent, idealism; with agency, pragmatism; and when purpose is featured, the terminology is mysticism (Grammar 128). Burke breaks the “symmetry” of these correlations by adding nominalism and rationalism. Nominalism “applies to all the other six schools insofar as each of them can have either a collectivistic or an individualistic (‘nominalist’) emphasis” (Grammar 129). Rationalism applies across them all “in the sense that it is the perfection, or logical conclusion, or reductio ad absurdum of the philosophic métier” (Grammar 129). Overall, according to Burke, the terms taken alone and in their abstract grammatical interrelations could be considered analogically “as principles” and “the various philosophies as casuistries which apply these principles to temporal situations” (Grammar xvi).

Burke maintains that “a Grammar of motives” is concerned “with the terms alone, in their purely internal relationships,” “their possibilities of transformation, their range of permutations and combinations” (Grammar xvi). This concern exhibits another innovative use of the terms, namely, the pentadic ratios which enable the naming of “forms necessarily exemplified in the imputing of human motives” (Grammar 402). Because of their interrelationships and because they never stand alone in human interactions, pentadic ratios form a range of different word pairs, correlations, analogies or ratios. The concept of ratio is important because motives cannot be imputed without them. Single terms cannot impute motives. Burke initially distinguished ten ratios: “scene-act, scene-agent, scene agency, scene-purpose, act-purpose, act-agent, act-agency, agent-purpose, agent-agency, and agency-purpose” (15). These ten are reversible, increasing the number to twenty. In the 1969 edition of Grammar, Burke added attitude as a sixth term, converting the pentad into a hexad (Grammar 443–44), yielding five “attitudinal” ratios, also reversible, yielding an overall total of thirty ratios. However they are variously manifested, whether in written texts or in other symbolic forms, the ratios altogether encompass the full range of formal possibilities for motivations; they are “necessary,” linguistic forms and are thus ubiquitous in human thought, motivation and action. Burke describes his method of criticism as “synoptic” in “that it offers a system of placement, and should enable us, by the systematic manipulation of the terms, to ‘generate’ or ‘anticipate’ the various classes of motivational theory” (Grammar xxii–xxiii). Relationships disclosed among terms are universal because “all statements that assign motives can be shown to arise out of them and to terminate in them” (Grammar xvi).

Burke was long conflicted over whether or not five terms were sufficient to encompass the full range of human motives or if a sixth term, attitude, was also needed.  In his initial formulation of the pentad, Burke conflated quibus auxiliis (by what means) with quo modo (how), combining them under a single term, agency (Grammar 443). In the section of Grammar entitled “‘Incipient’ and ‘Delayed’ Action” he made attitudinal considerations “implicit” in act and agent, negating any need for a hexad (Grammar 235–47; also see Anderson and Althouse, “Five Fingers or Six” paras 16–20). “What I did in making it a hexad,” Burke explained, “was to make a difference between” “how” and “by what means.” “It really is an improvement,” Burke contended. “‘How’ is your attitude, and ‘by what means’ is your instrument” (“Counter-Gridlock,” 367). Burke confided to an interviewer in 1980 that his initial decision to use five rather than six terms had been influenced by personal rather than theoretical considerations. “I cheated in a way when I worked with it as a pentad, and I always think I did it as a pentad because I only had five children (“Counter-Gridlock,” 366). The interview tellingly continued:

KB: If I’d had six …
FG: If you’d had nine!
KB: Oh God! Eaneads . . . “ (“Counter-Gridlock,” 366).

Discernable from this jocular exchange is the implication that the pentad could not only have been a hexad but also a septad or even an eanead. Unbeknownst to Burke and his interlocutor is that there is substantial precedent for a septad in the classical peristases, and even for an octad in Aquinas’s and Thomas Wilson’s renderings of the terms. The pentad/hexad can be theorized to accommodate any number of terms. Whether pentad or hexad, Burke never wavered from his original position that the terms in their various combinations and interconnections can disclose the “forms of talk about experience” as they are manifested in linguistic texts.

Burke-Inspired Uses of the Terms

Cognitive psychologist Jerome S. Bruner also made use of the circumstantial terms in developing his concept of “Trouble with a capital T,” a concept especially useful to narrative psychologists. Bruner was influenced by Burke’s Grammar of Motives as well as by discussions he and Burke had “typically while sipping coffee somewhere”  (“RE: Trouble with a capital T”). Burke’s Grammar stresses consistency between the terms of paired pentadic ratios, but Bruner, a psychologist accustomed to dealing with “troubled” people, was inclined to identify the incongruous relationships (mismatches, imbalances) between the terms that were causing the Trouble (Bruner, Making Stories, 110n1; Althouse and Anderson, “‘Trouble with a Capital T ,’’’paras 2, 11, 24). Bruner contends that the presumed consistency between terms is grounded in cultural beliefs, norms and expectations, the violation of which, in the form of incongruous or mismatched terms, leads to “Trouble” (Bruner, “Narrative Construction of Reality,” 16; Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, 20–21). “Story structure is composed minimally of the pentad of an Agent, an Action, a Goal, a Setting, an Instrument—and Trouble,” says Bruner. “Trouble is what drives the drama, and it is generated by a mismatch between two or more of the five constituents of Burke’s pentad” (Bruner, “Life as Narrative,” 697). Trouble “can be a misfit between Agent and Action, Goal and Setting, any of the five elements of the pentad,” Bruner maintains (Making Stories, 34). He did not see Trouble as a separate pentadic term but rather as a relationship between the existing terms when they are paired in ratios (Althouse and Anderson, “‘Trouble with a Capital T’”, para. 12). Trouble requires redress, and when redress is not possible, the unresolved Trouble could become the new norm. For the narrative psychologist, locating the Trouble in a client's story is an essential step in devising a program of therapeutic treatment.

An increasingly common usage of the terms in the last half of the twentieth century was made by rhetorical critics. The earliest attempts to employ Burke’s pentad for critical purposes were disappointing, but later pentadic criticism showed more sophistication and was frequently insightful and thought provoking. A list of exemplary pentadic critiques would include the following: Ling’s pentadic analysis of Edward Kennedy’s 1969 speech regarding his involvement in the Chappaquiddick drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne (Ling); Brummett’s use of the terms to explicate discourses about gay rights (Brummett); Blankenship, Fine and Davis’s pentadic analysis of Ronald Reagan’s debate performance in the 1980 presidential primary election (Blankenship et. al.); Birdsell’s utilization of the terms in critiquing Ronald Reagan’s address on Lebanon and Grenada (Birdsell); Kelley’s use of the terms to explain the narrow election defeat of Idaho Congressman George Hansen despite the fact that he faced four felony charges for financial wrongdoing (Kelley); Bello’s employment of pentadic ratios to clarify the “political correctness” confrontation in higher education (Bello); Brown’s use of the terms both to define feminist rhetoric and to critique a text (Brown); Althouse, Gable and Hughes’ use of the pentad plus Bruner’s Trouble to analyze “recovery narratives” of people who stutter (Althouse et. al.); and Fisher’s use of the terms to discover the motivations underlying a murder-suicide (Fisher).

Early in the twenty first century, an extension of Burke’s pentad, pentadic cartography, was developed by Floyd D. Anderson and Lawrence J. Prelli. According to Anderson and Prelli, advanced industrial civilization is so pervaded with a technological rationality that it fosters a closed universe of thought and discourse that stifles and silences all other points of view (“Pentadic Cartography” 73).The task of the pentadic cartographer is to open the universe of discourse to alternate, competing perspectives. Several other authors have employed pentadic cartography. Beck employed pentadic cartography plus Bruner’s Trouble to analyze the narratives of mothers who had experienced birth traumas (“Mapping Birth Trauma Narratives”). More recently she analyzed the narratives of women suffering from postpartum psychosis (“Mapping Postpartum Psychosis Narratives”). Meisenbach, Remke, Buzzanell and Liu employed pentadic cartography to map women’s maternity leave discourse (Meisenbach et al). DePalma, Ringer and Webber mapped speeches by Sharon Crowley and Barack Obama and discovered that although both individuals intended to open the universe of discourse, they both unintentionally closed it (DePalma et al). Althouse, Prelli and Anderson mapped Lee Strobel’s book about intelligent design and discovered that, unlike science, which is grounded in scene, intelligent design is grounded in the opinions of human agents (“Mapping the Rhetoric of Intelligent Design"). Althouse mapped discourse generated by an adult Bible study group who had studied and discussed Lee Strobel’s book. He found that their understanding of ID closed the universe of discourse to perspectives other than idealism (“Charting the Idealism of Intelligent Design”). McClure mapped media coverage of the 1993 Great Flood of the Mississippi and discovered that media accounts of the disaster closed the universe of discourse around a single, preferred perspective (McClure). Bates examined two potential mappings of a speech by Michael Levitt, a pragmatic agency-purpose map and an idealistic agent-act map, and he assessed both for their ability to open the universe of discourse (“Mapping US Humanitarian Aid”). In a second study, Bates examined two competing maps of a speech by Kathleen Sibellius outlining a new strategy for global health (“Mapping International Health”). Li and McKerrow identified two potential mappings of Xi Jinping’s Keynote speech to the Belt and Road Forum and demonstrated that the speech was an attempt to enhance the influence of China’s discourse (Li and McKerrow).

Most pentadic critics have used the terms the way Burke used them, to interpret and critique existing texts which “talk” about experience. A few, however, have misunderstood Burke and have used the terms the way rhetoricians have traditionally used them, to interpret and critique actual, lived experiences. Pentadic cartography, by contrast, was specifically designed to interpret and critique existing texts. However, once pentadic maps have revealed the existence of hegemonic perspectives that close the universe of discourse, it becomes the task of the cartographer/critic to invent counter-statements that attempt to reopen the closed universe of discourse. So, pentadic cartography employs the terms both for criticism and for invention.

Conclusions

Our historical survey shows that the circumstantial terms are among those “resources of symbolism” that Burke maintained “have always been the same” (Counter-Statement 370). The terms are not tied to any specific historical time, place, culture, occasion, agent, or usage. Rather, they have been generative of a myriad of historically specific uses and functions. The ubiquity of the terms for nearly three millennia provides strong support for Burke’s contention that they are “transcendental” terms that represent “the basic forms of thought” which accord  “with the nature of the world” as all people “necessarily experience it” (Grammar xv, 317).

Our survey enabled us to more fully appreciate the originality of Burke’s dramatistic pentad/hexad by setting it against previous uses and functions of the circumstantial terms. Virtually all previous rhetoricians have used the terms for inventional purposes, using them to analyze people and situations in the “real” world. Burke’s pentad/hexad is a departure from that tradition. For Burke the terms are concerned not with actual existence. For him the terms designate only “the necessary forms of talk” about experience. He employs them exclusively for criticism, the critical engagement of linguistic texts. However, as we have shown, Burke did recognize the utility of the terms for generative purposes.

Although Burke’s pentad/hexad departs from tradition, it also represents one of the most original and innovative uses in the long history of the terms. Burke’s equation of the pentadic terms with philosophical schools of thought provides a powerful heuristic for sorting out, charting, and placing discrete systems of thought. Equally innovative is Burke’s notion of pentadic ratios for disclosing motives embedded in language.

Finally, our survey of the terms in their varied uses also provides convincing historical support for Burke’s contention that “the dramatistic screen” is sanctioned by a “collective revelation of long standing” (“Terministic Screens” 53–54). That the collective revelation is continuous and ongoing is evidenced by a recently designed framework for teaching critical thinking in secondary schools called “The Ultimate Cheatsheet for Critical Thinking” (Wabisabi Learning). That framework consists of the terms who, what, when, where, why, and how, each of which serves as a prompt for several critical questions. This recent novel use of the terms suggests the possibility of other similar new uses. Our survey of the terms’ varied historical uses and functions further underscores Burke’s observation that they are transcendental because they are “the basic forms of thought” (Grammar 317).

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

Jeremy Cox
The University of Texas Permian Basin

Abstract

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

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

Burke and the Transvaluation of Values

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trained Incapacities and (Im)Piety

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

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

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

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

Perspective by Incongruity, or the Method of Making Gargoyles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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