Volume 4, Issue 2, Spring 2008

The Spring 2008 issue of KB Journal features new essays by Samantha Senda-Cook ("Fahrenheit 9/11's Purpose-Driven Agents: A Multipentadic Approach to Political Entertainment"), Hans Lindquist ("Composing a Gourmet Experience: Using Kenneth Burke’s Theory of Rhetorical Form"), and Camille K. Lewis ("Publish and Perish?: My Fundamentalist Education from the Inside Out"); the newest contribution to the "Burke in the Fields series by Robert Wade Kenny ("The Glamour of Motives: Applications of Kenneth Burke within the Sociological Field"); and a parting essay, "The Future of Burke Studies," by KB Journal editors Mark Huglen and Clarke Rountree. In a new feature in our Reviews section, we introduce more than a dozen new Burke scholars in "Embarking on Burke: Profiles of New Scholars." Also in this issue, Maura J. Smyth reviews Christopher R. Darr's article “Civility as Rhetorical Enactment: The John Ashcroft ‘Debates’ and Burke’s Theory of Form"; and Candace Epps–Robertson reviews  Robert Glenn Howard's. “A Theory of Vernacular Rhetoric: The Case of the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ Online."

Fahrenheit 9/11's Purpose-Driven Agents: A Multipentadic Approach to Political Entertainment

Samantha Senda-Cook, University of Utah


Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, a financial success in the box office, stirred controversy and conversation among US American publics. Using Kenneth Burke’s pentad, the author demonstrates how Moore situated the act, agent, agency, scene, and purpose in the film’s two major narratives--that of George W. Bush and that of the poverty-stricken people of Flint, Michigan. By naming the dominant term in each pentad, the author argues that Moore relied on the same philosophical school identified by Burke, the mystic perspective, to highlight what Moore constructed as the motivations of the agents of these two pentads. This supported Moore’s thesis of identifying the United States as classist and underlies his attempt to compel audience members to challenge this system. Additionally, the author explores Moore’s use of perspective by incongruity with his employment of the film format and his juxtaposition of the two pentads. Finally, the author contends that scholars should attend to the complexities, as well as the effects, of political entertainment to better understand the strategies of this powerful genre. Key words: Kenneth Burke, pentad, Michael Moore, Fahrenheit 9/11, politics, entertainment, classism, perspective by incongruity.

USING A MICROPHONE AND A BLUE-COLLAR PERSONA, Michael Moore has raised eyebrows, voices, and boiling points; his overtly subjective documentary style of filmmaking caters to a generation immersed in audio/visual stimulation. In the summer 2004, Fahrenheit 9/11 stretched conceptions of politics and entertainment. From a rhetorical standpoint, the mixture of jokes, popular music, story telling, and documentation allowed Moore to involve audience members in ways that politics alone could not. Also, this film managed to criticize George W. Bush, then a presidential candidate, while skirting to Federal Election Commission (FEC) laws concerning political messages. That is not to say that people did not try to prohibit the film’s release since it was so close to the election. However, Moore used every attack as fuel to promote his movie, stating:

I want to thank all the right-wing organizations out there [that] tried to stop this movie either through harassment campaigns, going to the FEC to get our ads removed from television, or the things they said on television. All they have done is give[n] more publicity to the film (qtd. in Coorey & Cock, 2004).

This is one of several controversies that preceded the film. These controversies likely enabled Fahrenheit 9/11 to make a political statement, attract large audiences, and gross $21.8 million in the first weekend of its release (Bowles, 2004).

Besides the monetary impact of the documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 exemplifies the murky realm of political entertainment. Baym (2005) emphasized that productions that fall into the political entertainment category are not simply what Wilder (2005) called “infotainment,” which implies that both the information and the entertainment aspects lose quality in this format. Instead, “the languages of [news, politics, entertainment, and marketing] have lost their distinctiveness and are being melded into previously unimaginable combinations” (Baym, p. 262). Interrogating these new combinations is essential to understanding not only how audience members use political entertainment, but also the rhetorical strategies producers of it employ (Rockler, 2003).

Previous work has illuminated the rhetorical functions and audience effects of political entertainment. In addition to Fahrenheit 9/11, researchers have engaged The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The West Wing, and some Saturday Night Live sketches to determine the contributions such programs make to a complex political milieu. The shows tend to fall somewhere between fiction and nonfiction and include pop culture accoutrements, which makes them difficult to dismiss as entertainment and almost impossible to exclude as a political force. Scholars have taken up the task of addressing the so-called “fake news” of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (e.g., Baym, 2005; Baym, 2007; Borden & Tew, 2007; Jones, 2005; Love, 2007), the fiction of The West Wing (e.g., Holbert, Tschida, Dixon, Cherry, Steuber, & Airne, 2005; Parry-Giles & Parry-Giles, 2002), and the late night jesters of talk shows and Saturday Night Live (e.g., Hollander, 2005; Smith & Voth, 2002).

However, these studies do not provide a complete picture of how political entertainment works rhetorically. They have informed our knowledge of the effects of such programs as well as some of the rhetorical devices they have employed, but not the rhetorical function of constructing the motivations of others. In particular, this research has focused on political entertainment that fabricates all or some of its content. Although critics claimed that Fahrenheit 9/11 strayed from the truth, Moore did not present his work as fictional. He created a version of history. Therefore, while The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Saturday Night Live cast real politicians and real political situations in their productions, they do not claim to adhere to facts of any kind. As a result, examining the motives that Moore created for the “characters” in his film is important.

Rather than focusing on the effects or rhetoric of fictionalized representations, my analysis considers the strategies used by a rhetor who constructed the motivations of real people. Although many journalists speculated about the motives of Moore himself (e.g., Cheney, 2004; Hernandez, 2004; Moore, J., 2004; Nader, n.d.; Parry, 2004; Peterson, 2004), it is more interesting—and more attainable—to examine how Moore represented Bush’s motivations and thus challenged Bush’s characterizations of himself. Moore’s motivations are somewhat obvious. He wanted to end the second Bush’s presidency, as a number of scholars have explained (e.g., Briley, 2005; Holbert & Hansen, 2006; Lawrence, 2005; Levin, 2004; Wilshire, 2005), and respond to what he perceived to be weak journalism in the US, as Conway (2005) and Economou (2004) contended.

The rhetorical strategy of reconstructing Bush’s motives using political entertainment allowed Moore an opportunity to reshape audience interpretations of political turmoil. When rhetors cast the motivations of other people, they give audience members a lens through which they may examine those people. In other words, representing motives has a strong rhetorical function. Analyzing the depictions of motives of politicians and the public in political entertainment will help researchers understand how this effective rhetorical strategy is used to placate audiences, encourage them to laugh at monumental government mistakes, or incite them to challenge oppressive government structures. Thus, employing a tool like Burke’s pentad makes sense for analyzing different kinds of political entertainment.

Rhetorical scholarship is enhanced because the pentad offers a means of analyzing the nuances within the text that create constructions of others’ motivations. In this case, Moore presented two contrasting stories in order to illustrate not only the danger that accompanied the Bush administration and the flaws in the US socio-economic structure, but also to encourage audience members to confront these issues.

I argue that Moore’s version of history, Fahrenheit 9/11, offered two primary stories in order to emphasize the oppressive structure of the US class system. Burke’s pentad functions as a means of determining how Moore represented the motives of Bush and US soldiers in these stories. I answer Rountree’s (2001) call for multipentadic approaches to contemporary texts and use perspective by incongruity, another Burkean concept, to tease out the differences between the purpose-driven agents of these two pentads. Combining these theories provides another tool for political entertainment scholars to use. Examining the broader story lines of political entertainment with an eye for motive and juxtaposition complicates a burgeoning genre of information production.

In this essay, I provide an overview of the pentad and focus specifically on a multipentadic approach. Then, I proffer Fahrenheit 9/11 as a case study to demonstrate the potential impact that the pentad and perspective by incongruity can have on political entertainment analysis when used in conjunction. After I articulate two separate pentads within Moore’s film and discuss the dominant term, purpose, in those pentads, I return to the broader issue of political entertainment.

Pentad Interplay and Perspective by Incongruity

To begin, the pentad has been widely adopted by communication scholars and offers an effective means of critiquing rhetorical strategies. Burke’s (1952) concept of dramatism undergirds a pentadic approach to rhetorical analysis. This critical tool offers a means of investigating a rhetor’s strategic construction of motives—in this case, Moore’s constructions of Bush’s motives as well as the soldiers’ motives. Identifying the five elements of the pentad, the dominant term and ratios in rhetorical situations comprises the critical task, but recent applications of the pentad offer additional manifestations of this critical tool. Specifically, I am interested in multipentadic approaches that highlight the interplay between different constructions of motives in one text.

In determining how the rhetor attends to the five elements that comprise the pentad—act, agent, scene, agency, and purpose—and the relationships among these elements, the rhetor’s conceptualization of the motives for action become clear. Burke (1952) identified the five elements that comprise the pentad as: “act (names what took place, in thought or deed), scene (the background of the act, the situation in which it occurred), agent (the person or kind of person that performed the act), agency (what means or instruments he [sic] used), and purpose” (why the agent performed the act) (p. x). Some scholars have used Burke’s pentad as a means to further theory or invent ideas (e.g., Keith, 1979), but most scholars—and indeed Burke himself—argue that the pentad’s primary use lies in critical analysis (e.g., Abrams, 1981; Birdsell, 1987; Bizzell & Herzberg, 2001; Blankenship, Fine, & Davis, 1983; Burgchardt, 2005; Burke, 1978; Brummett, 1994; Foss, 2004; Fox, 2002; Hamlin & Nichols, 1973; Ling, 1970). Specifically, the pentad is necessary in order to make “rounded statements” about motives (Burke, 1952, p. x). Burke stated that the characterization of each element by a rhetor is a construction of the agent’s motives. This enables the rhetor to interpret a situation in a specific way and invite the audience to accept that interpretation. If the rhetor identifies her/himself as the agent, then (s)he has said something about her/his motives. However, if the rhetor chooses to exclude him/herself, as in Fahrenheit 9/11, then (s)he has said something about someone else’s motivations.

Although some pentadic analyses (e.g., Abrams, 1981) have simply identified the five elements in a rhetorical situation, a more complex endeavor involves identifying dominant terms and ratios as well as their corresponding philosophical schools. Burke (1952) claimed that ratios—relationships between pentadic elements—reveal the justifications and motivations that the rhetor supplies to the audience. Fox (2002) explained that the terms themselves do little to advance a critique; however, when shifted and coupled, they reveal what the rhetor stresses and thus what (s)he finds most important in a particular situation. This is the dominant term of the pentad, and it allows for further analysis of the text. Burke suggested that for each dominant term in a pentad, there is a corresponding philosophy. When the scene is emphasized, the rhetor subscribes to materialism; it is idealism when the rhetor features the agent and pragmatism when (s)he focuses on the agency; if the purpose is highlighted, then mysticism is the philosophical system; finally, when the act is stressed, realism is the philosophy. In addition to exposing the perspective of the rhetor, the terms also employ a structure that Rountree (1998) argued links our understandings of all of the terms together.

Likewise, the terms of one pentad affect how we conceptualize other pentads (Rountree, 2001). As such, multipentadic critiques can reveal complex rhetorical strategies that frame how audiences are encouraged to view information within the artifact as well as future situations. Identifying and comparing two pentads—or more—in a single text allows a rhetorician to see how they constrain and enable, undermine and support one another. In identifying two pentads in Senator Edward Kennedy’s speech, Ling (1970) demonstrated not only the insight gained by the dominant terms, but also that gained from a multipentadic approach. Birdsell (1987) countered this approach with a proposal that modifying the elements of the pentad and seeking a common root term “can help explain the interrelationships among various sets of motives” (275). Although this approach seems fruitful for investigating subtle shifts in a pentad, I contend that political entertainment benefits from a multipentadic approach oriented by perspective by incongruity. My research indicates that perspective by incongruity is a useful tool for analyzing media in general and political entertainment in particular. For example, Rockler (2002) explained how this theory can challenge students to overcome the assumption that because a TV program or film is entertaining, it should not be analyzed. As my critique shows, the combination of these two concepts—the pentad and perspective by incongruity—dissects Moore’s strategic constructions and exposes their differing yet complementary parts.

Fahrenheit 9/11 as a Case Study

Fahrenheit 9/11 contributed to an already turbulent political milieu in 2004 (Goodnight, 2005). As is popular with media criticism, scholars have articulated the effects that this film had on audiences’ political knowledge and partisan opinions (e.g., Goodnight, 2005; Stroud, 2005; Toplin, 2006). This focus on effects mirrors a common focus of political entertainment scholars in general (e.g., Hollander, 2005; Young, 2004) and so it makes sense that scholars would seek to understand how Fahrenheit 9/11 affected Republicans’ ambivalence (Holbert & Hansen, 2006), how it affected the political climate and personal sensibilities in 2004 (Toplin, 2006), how Fahrenheit 9/11 did not have the effect it should have because Bush was reelected (Wilshire, 2005), and how selective exposure altered the effects that the film had on audiences (Stroud, 2005). Although Holbert, Hansen, Mortensen, and Caplan (2007) analyzed the filmmaker’s influences, there is a lacuna of criticism that focus on Moore’s construction of characters’ motivations. After I briefly ground Fahrenheit 9/11 in the cultural climate, with regard to both politics and the film itself, I delineate the terms of the two salient pentads and suggest that Moore plays these against one another in order to emphasize the classist oppression in contemporary US American culture.

Grounding Fahrenheit 9/11

Bitzer (1968) suggested that an exigence, in part, generates a rhetorical situation to which a rhetor may feel the need to respond. Although Moore’s oeuvre demonstrates a commitment to challenging class issues, the exigence to which Fahrenheit 9/11 responded began in 2000 when it was clear that George H. W. Bush would be sworn into the office of the president. On January 28, 2003, Bush outlined the danger that would confront the United States (and the world) in the State of the Union address, and he began the war in Iraq. This was the focus of Fahrenheit 9/11. In the following months, the Bush administration pushed for offensive action in Iraq and the United Nations voted against a war (DeYoung & Pincus, 2003; Nichols, 2003; Tyler & Barringer, 2003; Weisman & Barringer, 2003). After nearly four months of speculative reports from Hans Blix and U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq, the president and his advisors made the decision to invade Iraq to find and destroy the weapons of mass destruction. Announcing that the time for diplomacy had passed on March 17, Bush declared that Hussein had two days to give up the illegal weapons (Burns, 2003; Bush, 2003b). On March 19, Bush announced that Saddam Hussein’s forty-eight hours had come to an end, and it was time to “disarm Iraq, free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger” (p. 329). People reacted to Bush’s announcement with varying degrees of concern and/or relief. The US people were at odds with one another, arguing over the legitimacy of the invasion (Clemetson, 2003; Deans, 2003; Sleeth, 2003). Almost a year later, Hussein was caught, but US American soldiers were still in Iraq (Gaurino, 2003). Among Democrats, an anybody-but-Bush mentality emerged and many candidates surfaced (Maggi, 2004; Whoriskey & Rein, 2004). Everyone who perceived a problem had an idea about how to solve it. Thus, Moore saw an opportunity to expose what he construed as Bush’s manipulation of the US American public and to publicize the faults of the US class system.

The estimated gross of Fahrenheit 9/11 in the US alone, nearly $120 million, was certainly a result of timing (Taibbi, 2004; Waxman, 2004). By releasing his film a few months before the presidential election, Moore generated sold-out shows across the United States. Additionally, the months leading up to the release proved that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Although Fahrenheit 9/11 was dogged by controversies that threatened to halt the release and played in only 868 theaters, the film was financially successful. Four major, nationally covered clashes emerged within a month and a half prior to the release of the film. Moore embraced these controversies because he believed that if people knew the truth, his version of the truth anyway, they would take the first steps toward solving the world’s problems. Although Moore’s solution would begin with ousting Bush, it would not end there.

Moore developed two primary tales in Fahrenheit 9/11: that of the upper class and their hunger for wealth, and that of the lower class and their dutiful service to the US government. Moore portrayed the act, agent, agency, scene, and purpose to suit his thesis and his perspective, emphasizing the purpose in each pentad. He edited the film in a way that expressed a stark contrast between the wealthy in Washington and poor in Flint, Michigan. This contrast was made more salient by the similarities between the pentads. In particular, the privileging of purpose in both and the overlapping scenes and acts represented not antithetical perspectives, but rather perspectives interplayed. Thus, he provided the audience with a perspective based on the incongruity of the two pentads as well as the presentation of evidence.

Although Moore is the creator of this artifact, I contend that his explicit involvement ended there. Just as an author of a history book does, Moore shifted the audience’s focus from himself, as storyteller, to the drama of the story itself. Therefore, I do not identify him as a part of either pentad. In seeking to deconstruct the persona that Bush (and the Bush administration) created for him/itself, Moore presented not just the mistakes the administration made, but, more importantly, the calculated efforts to pursue war.

Bush’s Pentad

The symbolic choices Moore made and the narrative structure he imposed indicates a mystic philosophical perspective for the first pentad. As the rhetor of this film, Moore offered many narratives within narratives and extensive possibilities for variations in the pentadic identifications; however, I focus on the two major story lines. Fahrenheit 9/11 encouraged the audience to see the four years prefacing the film as follows: The act (attacking Iraq) The scene (post-September 11, 2001) The agent (George W. Bush) The agency (the office of the United States President) The purpose (substantial financial gain and maintenance of power structures)

Act. Moore proffered many different acts that could be identified as the fault of Bush, but the most poignant act is that of attacking Iraq, and this reinforced Moore’s thesis. The other acts, such as dubious business dealings, irresponsible planning, and questionable appointments are either overshadowed by or encompassed within the war in Iraq. Instead of spending a great deal of time exploring the people hurt by these other acts, Moore used them to satirically critique Bush. By devoting such a large portion of the film to the people fighting in Iraq, Moore contrasted the people who make decisions (Bush and his aides) with the people who answer a patriotic call even with limited resources (people in Flint).

From a retaliation perspective, the attack against Iraq did not make sense (as I will explain). However, Moore suggested that the US public had no problem swallowing this because the environment cultivated by the government following the attacks of September 11 allowed the Bush administration to take advantage of pervasive fear.

Scene. According to Moore, creating an atmosphere steeped in panic diverted the attention of the US public from the specifics of a retaliation attack and toward the need for such an attack. Moore argued that the government kept people perpetually terrified and confused by administering nonspecific warnings. By including an interview with congressperson and psychologist Jim McDermott, Moore offered a professional opinion on the actions of the Bush administration during the months following the attacks of September 11. Moore also visually reinforced this memory of the atmosphere by presenting the terrorism alert scale (red = extreme, orange = high, etc.) while McDermott said that the government would raise and lower the levels without providing any specific information.

The filmmaker quoted a few unidentified people from a rural town to illustrate the level of uncertainty and alarm among private citizens: “Never trust nobody you don’t know and even if you do know them, you can’t really trust them then” (M. Moore, 2004). “Sometimes when I see certain people, I think, ‘Oh my goodness, could they be a terrorist?’” (M. Moore, 2004). Then, Moore quoted Tom Ridge, former Secretary of Homeland Security, to exemplify his point; Ridge cautioned, “every family in America should prepare itself for a terrorist attack” (M. Moore, 2004). Moore reinforced this notion by cutting to a commercial for a personal bomb shelter. By focusing on the government, Moore emphasized the administration’s explicit efforts to create a scene of fear rather than one of conciliation.

Agent.The film commenced by recounting the beginning of Bush’s presidency, after which Moore featured members of Bush’s administration (specifically Condolezza Rice, John Ashcroft, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfield, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, and Tom Ridge) preparing for television appearances. Moore also named James R. Bath, George H. W. Bush, Prince Bandar, and a variety of other people directly involved with the Carlyle Group and business relations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although this multitude of names is provided in Fahrenheit 9/11, one person rose above all others as the central figure. That person was George W. Bush. By establishing a connection between Bush and all the other people in relevant industry and politics, Moore illustrated the web of power that was at Bush’s disposal, attempting to convince the audience that this political Goliath was capable of anything.

From the start, Moore painted an unflattering portrayal of Bush. To begin, the director positioned Bush as a mere simpleton who should not have been in office at all, but progressed to illustrate the power of the Bush family and how Bush could have, but did not, prevent the terrorist attacks of September 11. Moore portrayed Bush’s incompetence and irresponsibility as a leader with a notorious quotation from Bush: “We have an old saying in Texas, ‘fool me once, shame on you . . . .fool me twice, [pause] you aren’t going to fool me again” (M. Moore, 2004). Here, Bush’s inability to articulate a common phrase was supposed to indicate the probability that Bush had other, more serious, faults. Although Moore emphasized Bush’s greed, ineptitude, and unethical connections, Bush would not be an agent capable of this kind of counter-productivity without a key, the key to the White House.

Agency. The primary means by which Bush was able to conduct such dubious activity was the power of the presidency. This office implied the trust of the US American people, and it delivered on that implication. Moore explained that the aforementioned fearful environment that allowed Bush to declare war on Iraq was created by the government, Bush’s government.

It was also Bush’s government that established a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, although no factual link existed. To illustrate this, Moore edited speeches of Rice, Cheney, Rumsfield, Powell, and Bush to emphasize with what frequency these people mentioned Iraq and Al Qaeda together. Finally, Moore included a quotation from Bush epitomizing his position; Bush stated, “I’m a war president; I make decisions, here in the Oval Office, with war on my mind” (M. Moore, 2004). By including this quote, Moore claimed that Bush and his administration did not exhaust all the means of negotiation preceding the war because from the start Bush wanted to get the United States into a conflict.

Sub-agencies also exist within this film. Some of the sub-agencies, Moore contended, provided the means by which Bush was elected. Moore indicated using interviews with Craig Unger, author of House of Bush, House of Saud, that two significant sources of power are the wealth of the Bush family and money from supporters in corporations and the business dealings with the Saudis; all of these function as powerful capital. The money from these elite sources enabled Bush in many ways. However, I assert that these agencies did not afford Bush the opportunity to serve his purpose by cultivating a sense of fear among US publics like the office of the president did. Furthermore, while this money served as a partial means to an end, more money was an end itself.

Purpose. Moore’s major argument was that attacking Iraq was illogical from even a purely reactionary perspective; attacking Afghanistan, where more Al Qaeda members resided, would make more sense. Moore stressed this point by including an interview with Richard Clarke, the head of counter-terrorism at the time. In this interview, Clarke explained the problems he encountered at the meeting he attended on September 12, 2001 to discuss a response strategy; he commented, “Well, Donald Rumsfield said, when we talked about bombing the Al Qaeda infrastructure in Afghanistan, he said there were no good targets in Afghanistan, let’s bomb Iraq. And we said that Iraq had nothing to do with this and that didn’t make much difference” on Rumsfield’s decision (qtd. in M. Moore, 2004). The rationale provided by Rumsfield, that “there were no good targets in Afghanistan,” was a poor excuse to bomb Iraq. This implied that some other motive for bombing Iraq must have existed.

In a voice-over, Moore explained that the US taxpayers pay Bush’s salary as president, a modest sum when compared to how much the Saudis have invested in companies like the Carlyle Group (on whose board George H. W. Bush sat), Halliburton (the company Dick Cheney ran before becoming the vice president), and Enron (the company that was run by Kenneth Lay, Bush’s most prominent financial supporter in his campaign). Moore estimated that the Saudis have invested $1.4 million over a period of thirty years. Therefore, when every other flight in the United States was grounded, twenty-four members of the Bin Laden family were allowed to leave the country on September 13, 2001. The filmmaker linked the investment amounts with the privileged flights when he commented that “$1.4 million doesn’t just buy a lot of flights out of the country, it buys a lot of love” (M. Moore, 2004). In other words, Moore insinuated that Bush’s loyalty does not lie with the people of the US because the Saudis have so much more to offer. For that reason, prominent members of the Bin Laden family were allowed to fly out of the country while average Arab-Americans were detained without charge or familial notification.

To accentuate his point further, Moore cited the investment money as the explanation of why Bush did not attack Saudi Arabia and why the Saudi Arabian embassy is the most heavily guarded one in Washington D.C. With Congressional support six weeks after September 11, a company called United Defense made a one-day profit of $237 million after the government awarded them a contract to supply the artillery for the war. United Defense is one of the companies that the Carlyle Group owns. At that time, George H. W. Bush as well as Shafe Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden’s half-brother, sat on the Carlyle Group’s board and both stood to gain substantial sums of money from this government contract as long as the war continued. By illuminating the connections between Bush and Bin Laden, Moore suggested that the president would rather pursue a large-scale war to ensure a constant flow of money for himself and his family than capture the primary criminal architect behind terrorist attacks.

Moore speculated that this greed was the purpose behind refraining from bombing Afghanistan. Many major corporations in the energy field wanted to build a pipeline that would go from the Caspian Sea through Afghanistan and transport natural gas. When the US invaded Afghanistan and appointed Hamed Karzai, who served as an advisor to Unocal, as an interim president, Unocal built the pipeline and both Halliburton and Enron benefited. Finally, Moore depicted these themes visually with maps of Afghanistan and a series of montages that humorously highlight the connections between people. For example, he superimposed the faces of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield, and Tony Blair over footage of old western characters. These montages offered a twofold purpose: first, they link all the right people together so that the audience will be able to recognize who exactly is involved and second, they provide a kind of mnemonic device so that the audience will remember what they have seen.

Ratios. In this pentad the dominant term as construed by Moore is the purpose—greed. This is contrary to the representation that Bush (2003) (as well as members of the Bush administration) maintained. Despite the power the president wields, he successfully used his addresses to Congress and the nation to privilege scene in his justification for beginning the war in Iraq (e.g., Bush, 2003a, 2003b, 2003c). Specifically, Bush adopted the materialistic perspective and positioned himself as without agency, making the war the only choice he had to respond to the scene. Tonn, Endress, and Diamond (1993) explained that agents who operate within the materialist philosophical school are “seriously constrained by scenic elements” (p. 166). However, in Moore’s telling, Bush is not seriously constrained, but rather compelled by a higher purpose to act. Scholars have critiqued instances of people in power assuming a materialist perspective in order to absolve themselves of wrongdoing. Ling (1970) and Birdsell (1987) both articulated instances in which the rhetor (Edward Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, respectively) adopted a materialist perspective and positioned himself as the victim of the scene in order to avoid blame. Moore challenged this strategy as Bush used it throughout his term.

It is clear that Moore explicitly countered Bush’s description of facts by depicting Bush as driven by a purpose rooted in greed. Therefore, within this pentad, Moore adopted the mystic philosophy, which is illustrated by emphases on Bush’s choice and Bush’s strategic construction of the post-September 11 scene. First, Moore explained how the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq in spite of the lack of rationale. By presenting the invasion as one option of many, Moore reinforced his point that a war in Iraq was Bush’s choice from the beginning. Furthermore, Moore emphasized the calculated choice that Bush made. In other words, in Moore’s depiction, Bush did not invade Iraq simply to demonstrate his power—or for any other agent-driven reason—but rather he chose Iraq for the potential gain in wealth for him and people like him. This defies the rationale supplied by Bush, which consistently pointed to the scene as the cause of the attacks. Second, Moore’s account emphasized how Bush created the scene after the attacks of September 11, 2001 to position an attack of retaliation as a logical act. In cultivating a sense of fear, Bush positioned the country as in need of a solution. Therefore, when he presented one, many of the citizens were ready to accept it. In deliberately confusing and terrifying citizens, Bush was able to control not only the scene, but also the future action that the government took—both functions of the agency, the office of the presidency. With this control, he was able to serve his purpose and accomplish his goal.

In addition to positioning wealth as the purpose behind Bush’s actions, Moore also depicted the Bush family’s wealth as means to gain the White House. In Fahrenheit 9/11, the Bush family’s political influence and wealth, not the votes of the public, facilitated Bush’s rise to power. Moore argued that Bush obtained the office of the president by manipulating the public. Indeed, he opened his film by detailing the dubious start of Bush’s presidency. Even after the troubling election results, Bush gained access to an office that would allow him to make lots of money. This, according to Moore, was the purpose of Bush’s actions. Moore advanced this theory by showing Bush catering to corporate elites and the linkages between the Bush family and the corporations that benefited from the attack on Iraq. Finally, Moore demonstrated that Bush was willing to go to any length to serve his purpose. As Foss (2004) explained, when purpose is the dominant term—as in Moore’s representation of Bush’s motivations—it takes precedence over everything else. Bush’s desire to maintain his wealth overpowered any sense of obligation to the public and soldiers.

This use of the mystic philosophical school framed Bush’s motivations as rooted in his privilege and others’ suffering. Interestingly, Moore adopted the mystic perspective in the second pentad as well. Moore juxtaposed these two pentads by featuring purpose as the dominant term for both, but illustrating that the purpose was not the same for these agents. Moreover, the director overlapped the act and the scene. Whereas the agents of the first pentad declared and cultivated these elements, the agents of the second pentad had to negotiate them. Therefore, although these stories mingle and meet, they end differently.

The Soldiers’ Pentad

Fahrenheit 9/11 provided multiple narratives interacting with one another simultaneously and overlapping to create layers of meaning. All of the stories in Fahrenheit 9/11 contributed to Moore’s thesis, which was that wealthy people with political power waged this war to further oppress poor people and maintain power structures. In highlighting this system and depicting the desperate scene in which soldiers’ families lived, Moore accentuated the power that a sense of duty can hold over people. As opposed to Bush’s pentad, Moore’s featuring of purpose in the soldiers’ case played out quite differently. I identify the features of the second pentad as follows: The act (joining the military) The scene (poverty-stricken Flint, Michigan in a time of war) The agents (poor people) The agency (Marine recruiters) The purpose (combination of patriotic duty and familial obligation)

Act. Moore shifted the focus in the film from Bush and other elites to the people on the ground. The tone of the film changed from mocking to disturbing when the audience was exposed to injured and dead people, explosions, and other bloody footage. To establish the act as joining the military—and not fighting a war or killing people—Moore showed the naïveté of some of the young soldiers and the chaos of the war situation. He depicted a facet of war not shown on military recruitment commercials; he attempted to characterize the killing as atrocious without condemning the people performing it. He did this by taking the audience back to where many of the soldiers come from—in a broad sense, places with high poverty and unemployment rates, but strong family values, places like Flint, Michigan. By resituating the narrative, Moore effectively invited the audience to empathize with people who lived in Flint and joined the military. This act made sense in this context.

Scene. Moore focused his construction of this scene on Flint, Michigan. The filmmaker emphasized the dilapidation of the area by including an interview in which one man explained the similarities between pictures of Iraq on TV and what he sees in Flint. Shots of decrepit houses along with interviews with groups of high school students who all knew someone in Iraq characterized the town. Connecting the lack of jobs in the area and the number of people who join the military supported Moore’s thesis. In addition to the outside scenes, Moore also included elements that communicated families’ commitments to the military. One mother in particular enumerated the members of her family in the military and was shown carefully hanging her American flag outside, a ritual she performed each morning. Interviews and footage like this contextualized the decisions to serve.

The agents from the first pentad (Bush and other elite members of society) deliberately exploit and maintain this type of scene by constructing a metaphysical scene of “a time of war.” Moore presented the Bush pentad first and framed the way the audience viewed the soldiers’ pentad. In doing so, Moore built his pentads so that they depended on one another. In Moore’s depiction, Bush exploited the scene of poverty in that he benefited from the social conditions that oppress other people and maintained it by perpetuating the myth that joining the military is part of some families’ patriotic duty. Therefore, Bush served his purpose by creating a higher purpose for those people who do not have many options to gain community respect. Moreover, Moore claimed that the construction of a metaphysical scene, that is the cultural mindset at the time, contributed to the sense of duty that families felt. He accomplished this by including people like Lila Lipscomb. Her son was killed in Iraq, and she symbolized “common people” in the film. Moore portrayed her as dedicated to the country despite her loss. In explaining her family as a military family, she characterized the metaphysical scene, which was in conversation with the Bush pentad. The members of her family and families like hers are the agents in this pentad.

Agents. Moore cast the people of this pentad as agents with power for a specific purpose. He interviewed the soldiers and their families in their homes where the audience could see the banality of their lives. This contrasted with the Bush pentad because Moore utilized archived footage to characterize the wealthy, powerful people of that story. Also, the interviews Moore conducted with senators, for example, were usually on the street. The interviewees’ desire to get away from Moore served to distance them from the audience as well. As a result, the audience was invited to identify with the families of Flint rather than political elites. Telling the individual service members’ stories played a lead role in this film and in this pentad.

During an interview with Abdul Henderson of the USMC, Moore highlighted the Marine’s experience of his tour in Iraq. Henderson addressed explicitly the classist nature of the war when he insisted adamantly that he would not go back to Iraq even if it meant breaking the law; he stated, “I will not let anyone send me back over there to kill other poor people” (M. Moore, 2004). In this quotation, Henderson positioned himself as a poor person, and implicitly claimed that the wealthy people made decisions about the war while the poor people carried out those decisions. Showing people taking a stand, as in this case, Moore sought to unmask the myth that perpetuates the glorification of military service. Uniquely, he cast impoverished people and took care to demonstrate their patriotism, but then showed their dissent from popular opinion as well. By utilizing such quotations from the soldiers, Moore included evidence from a source traditionally thought of as conservative and attempted to challenge the expectations of the audience and increase his credibility. Curiously, while the filmmaker relied on some of the soldiers to provide their perspectives, he also cast other soldiers as facilitators of the negative situation many citizens who live in poverty face.

Agency. The audience viewed Marine recruiters in Flint, at the mall, vying for the signatures of new people, countering any statement of refusal with a promotion of the financial and personal benefits the Marines can offer. The financial benefits are of particular interest. Here, Moore constructed the motives not only for the wealthy, Bush, and the poor, people of Flint, but also for the recruiters themselves. Moore noted the recruiters were not going to the upscale mall in town; these recruiters were deliberately targeting low-income people for military service. They used the financial benefits as leverage to boost membership and continued to make the military look good and the war appear just. Thus, the Marine recruiters served as a bridge between poverty-stricken residents and military careers. They also reminded the audience of the purpose emphasized in the Bush pentad. For Moore, the money the Marine recruiters offered echoed the motivations of Bush. However, the sum of the military signing bonus is just a pittance compared to the profits made by the investors in the Bush pentad.

Moore implicitly contended that this “pittance” made all the difference to these poor families in Flint. He emphasized the selectivity of the Marines’ actions by showing them concentrating on people who have little access to education and job opportunities. Although no one is forced to join the military, some people are more likely to volunteer when confronted with diminished choices. Furthermore, the Marine recruiters are portrayed as somewhat mindless pawns. Their enthusiasm for signing up new recruits appeared crass when juxtaposed against the death with which families must cope. However, the classist society that exalts militarism in which these recruiters live made their enthusiasm seem natural and the choice to join the military logical.

Purpose. Moore offered the lack of career opportunities as a reason for why more people in poverty join the military, but he also tied in the sense of duty these people feel. In the face of mounting debt, refusing to join the military might eliminate the opportunity to alleviate financial problems. From a practical perspective, fighting for the military seems to be a viable option when no other money is available. Moore illustrated this by connecting poverty and military service through interviews and footage. When people cannot afford to meet their basic needs, they must make a choice to survive and when joining the military will allow them to feed their families, they accept the signing bonus.

In addition to the financial need, people join the military to fulfill the traditions already in place. This country frames military service as the duty of heroes. The pervasive rhetoric in the United States lauds the service of military members, but does not necessarily follow through with financial support. Both the poverty and the sense of duty that people in these families encounter contribute to the desire to join the military. The filmmaker shows the lineage of military service with interviews in people’s houses. Frequently, they recall numerous family members who are serving, have served, will serve, and have died in the service of the United States. In this way, military service becomes a family tradition, and when family members are killed (or injured and unable to work) in the line of duty, the cycle persists.

Including soldiers’ stories showed that these folks had served their purpose by serving their country. This earned them the respect of their fellow community members and also allowed them to justifiably critique the war, by Moore’s reasoning. In the construction of their motives, Moore attempted to demonstrate the concern for doing-the-right-thing that these people felt. For them, in this time of war, joining the military and continuing a family tradition were the right things. In this way, Moore presented this guiding purpose as one nobler than that in Bush’s pentad. Furthermore, Moore implied that if the government was also doing-the-right-thing, these soldiers’ purpose would be fitting.

Ratios. I contend that this second pentad in conjunction with the first advanced Moore’s thesis, but also functioned with its focus on the specific element of purpose and the mystic school. Although trying to survive is certainly a clear purpose, Moore also offered another complex layer to this decision. He illustrated how military service tends to run in families in these communities. Even while Moore sharply criticized the government’s (Bush’s) position and role, he showed respect and admiration for the duty that soldiers perform.

In pairing purpose with act, it is apparent that Moore conceived of the act as a product of the purpose. He claimed that joining the military involved little choice for the people who did it; their position left them with few, if any, other options. Gaining success in these communities meant fulfilling a duty and fighting for the country. In fact, the purpose constituted the scene itself. These people were complacent with the scene because questioning it would imply dissent with the national government. The sense of duty people felt (the family structure and general push for patriotic actions, in this case) necessitated that family members participate and even facilitate the scene. When whole families fight in wars, the career options available become limited and access to education erodes. These conditions shape the people that live in them. Additionally, Moore demonstrated how the purpose of serving one’s country and family developed into community values, and thus controlled the agents. If a higher purpose was guiding the actions of a person, the agency—or means by which the act is done—matters little. However, Moore took care to illustrate how the agency adopted a form that would be respected and perhaps even deferred to in this community. The military recruiters thus became the means by which people began their service, the agency.

By featuring the purpose as the dominant term in this pentad, Moore accomplished two important tasks. First, he essentially excused the actions of the poor people in Flint (and all soldiers implicitly). This is particularly interesting because in the first pentad, focusing on the purpose does not excuse Bush, but rather reinforces the negativity surrounding this president. The nature of the purpose then is significant in Moore’s construction of the agents’ motives. While he viewed the war as wrong, he framed the action of joining the military as a product of unquestioned obedience to community and national values. However, he also showed people who had started to challenge this purpose and the new actions they took. This leads to the second task, which was to motivate the masses with a new purpose. In his juxtaposed critique of Bush and reverence for the soldiers, Moore strategically represented these motives as decidedly different with the goal of inciting audiences to demand a new government. He pointed out the classism that fueled the Bush presidency, but did not question the purpose that guides the poor people in Flint. Moore instead wanted to personalize the abuse of the people’s trust and then encourage them to redirect their loyalty to a better form of government, one that protects and values its citizens. That is why Moore was careful to focus on Bush and not on the broader governmental system.

Although Moore could have depicted the soldiers as victims, he did not. My analysis demonstrates the care Moore took in strategically placing the soldiers and their families as decision-makers. In other words, Moore worked to portray the citizens of Flint as a moral force against the corrupt elite. While they maintained their dedication to the country and the abstract ideals of the country (i.e., freedom, democracy, etc.), they recognized the faults of the governing body. Instead of condemning the soldiers for fighting the war or pitying them for their lack of choice, he encouraged audience members to look to them for inspiration. Such an elevation in status is unique particularly when coupled with Moore’s excusing them of wrong action. Although he illustrated that the agents of both pentads were guided by higher purposes, he did so in complementary and contrasting ways. Moore did not place this pentad in direct opposition to Bush’s pentad, but rather used each to strengthen the argument of the other.

Perspective by Incongruity

Burke’s (1954) concept of perspective by incongruity offers a unique insight into Moore’s framing of different people’s motivations in Fahrenheit 9/11. As my articulation of two salient pentads illustrates, Moore viewed the actors of each pentad as driven by their individual purposes, but depicted them with different complementing terms and thus constructed their motives as different; one had control to carry out a greedy purpose and the other was controlled by a noble yet misguided purpose. Although these pentads are each unique, they are not oppositional. Moore used this incongruous pairing of pentads along with two other acts of incongruity to call attention to the exigence he perceived.

Rhetors use perspective by incongruity to persuade and educate (Blankenship, Murphy, & Rosenwasser, 1974). Whedbee (2001) clarified, “‘Perspective by incongruity’ is a violation of our common sense assumptions about what properly ought to go with what, and it reveals hitherto unsuspected linkages and relationships which our customary language has ignored” (p. 48). When things do not seem to match, people gain a new perspective. Moore practiced perspective by incongruity in three ways to garner his audiences’ attention. First, Moore approached his subject from a humorous angle, which is not a customary strategy for those who discuss politics in general and the Iraq War in particular. As in political cartoons, which arguably could be considered an early print form of political entertainment, Moore utilized the opportunity for humor in the film format to catch his audience off guard. Shultz and Germeroth (1998) argued that much humor is based in contradiction and therefore using humor to make political claims—whether about disability or politics—employs perspective by incongruity. Bostdorff (1987) examined political cartoons using Burke’s perspective by incongruity for that precise reason. The seemingly contradictory mixture of humor and politics creates a powerful message.

Second, Moore relied on the assumptions people have about the government’s role in their lives; that is, they assume that the government will take care of them. United States citizens are supposed to trust the government and believe that the people who run the government have citizens’ best interests in mind, which is why the purpose of serving the government was not the issue that Moore addressed. Moore confronted these presumptions through what Burke (1989) would call “planned incongruity” (274). In showing footage of political leaders preparing to go on camera, Moore attempted to show the wizard behind the curtain. He challenged the audience to view those leaders as real people who are capable of making mistakes both small (e.g., using spit to smooth one’s hair) and large (e.g., going to war for the wrong reasons). While Bush used his cowboy image to cultivate a rough, down-to-business persona and show that he could be a victim of the scene, Moore exploited it to persuade the audience to see members of the Bush administration and Tony Blair as silly spaghetti western characters in full control of the scene itself in the interest of serving a higher purpose (money) at any cost (e.g., human lives).

Additionally, the hegemony of this culture encourages people to adopt an individualist mentality, meaning that if someone is in a bad financial situation, it is her/his own fault. Frequently, films and television programs, particularly news programs, highlight the crimes that poor people commit. Moore countered this common representation by showing the patriotism and sense of duty that the families in Flint had. In contrast, he aligned Bush and those close to him with financial contacts in the Middle East, emphasizing their problematic and unpatriotic interests. Defying audience expectations helped Moore engender two pentads that challenged suppositions of the groups they each featured as the agent, Bush and people in poverty.

Finally, by juxtaposing these two pentads, Moore confronted the audience again about commonly held assumptions that the United States is a country in which everyone has an equal chance to succeed. Moore’s careful construction of the motivations of two contrasting groups of people served to expose the class differences that exist in the US and inspire audiences to action that would yield a government that had concern for its citizens. Formulating others’ motivations to his own end, Moore showed that financial elites perpetuate and exploit class differences and the consequences those differences have for people in poverty. He also showed that ordinary people with a purpose have significant power that is meaningless when in the service of corrupt government officials. Since the purpose of the soldiers was predicated on trust of the government and faith in its ideals, their ability to make change was compromised. However, in holding on to those beliefs but challenging the oppressive structures, they could effect change, Moore argued. Therefore, he attempted to motivate his audience to demand a better, more honest government. After September 11, 2001, Bush—and members of his administration—lobbied for unification. Yet, as my analysis illustrates, Moore would contend that such unification is not possible because of class barriers. Furthermore, Bush, as Moore depicted him, desired a superficial unification to allow him to gloss over the classist nature of war and abuse the trust of the people.

Although the two pentads are decidedly different, they are not antithetical. By framing both with the mystic perspective, Moore contended implicitly that the purpose of an agent’s actions is immensely important. The audience sees this in both of the pentads. However, Moore also pairs the purpose with another term in each pentad to produce a dominant ratio. This strategy emphasized the incongruity of the pentads and made them appear antithetical. In Bush’s pentad, Moore privileged the purpose-agent ratio, and in the soldiers’ pentad, the audience saw the purpose-scene ratio. Although nothing about Bush in particular motivates him to want to go to war, Moore’s representation did stress the importance of Bush as a figurehead for the wealthy class. It was his family and access to the office of president as well as his corporate connections, specifically with energy production, that made him a necessary character. The purpose was the driving influence behind his actions in Moore’s construction.

In contrast, the scene and metaphysical scene of the soldiers’ pentad justified the soldiers’ purpose, and in turn, the purpose further perpetuated the scene and enabled the metaphysical scene. The poverty in Flint provided a rationale for joining the military as a means to gain community respect. Additionally, the metaphysical scene—the time of war—reinforced feelings of duty. The purpose, this sense of duty, allowed the scene, Flint in poverty, to continue because the people were not skilled or educated except in military matters. This familial obligation, the purpose, provided bodies to go to war, facilitating the time of war, the metaphysical scene. Thus, it is the incongruence of the dominant ratios that affords the interplay of pentads instead of a purely oppositional relationship.

Burke (1952) explained that the struggle for dominance between the agent and the scene is one of placing blame. In the case of the scene, it goes to the uncontrollable environment, and in the case of the agent, it goes to a human, capable of change and decision-making. With purpose dominating, the agent is in the service of the purpose and constructs reality with this purpose in mind. Contrarily, the scene remains partially uncontrolled by the agents, but is implicated or necessitated by the purpose of those agents. By this reasoning, the purpose drives the agent, of which the agent is aware, but it also drives the scene, of which the agent is unaware. This allows for the dual constraints of purpose and scene, both of which contribute to a particular sense of unity, that guides the agents’ choices.

These two purposes work together to keep some people in power and others out of it. Moore waited until very close to the end to come around to this point and supplied the audience with some answers to their questions by quoting George Orwell’s 1984, the novel that tells the frightening story of life under the rule of an omnipotent government. Moore spoke over panning shots of poverty-stricken Flint juxtaposed with shots of Bush and his administration:

It is not a matter of whether the war is not real or if it is. Victory is not possible, the war is not meant to be won; it is meant to be continuous. A hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This is the new version of the past and no different past can ever have existed. In principle, the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact. (M. Moore, 2004)

Moore inserted this quotation to illustrate the purpose of each of the pentads. The war financed Bush’s lifestyle because he and his family have money invested in companies that manufacture war machines. Furthermore, poor people volunteering for the military functioned as hierarchy insurance by keeping them in cyclical poverty. Their actions were the result of the pervasive value of patriotism, which produced a sense of a higher purpose. However, because of their service, they create a scene that is problematic for them financially. They sign up for the military as a means to honor their duty; then they are altered in the war (physically or mentally) and cannot work and ultimately produce children in the same situation. This cycle allows Bush and the rest of the ruling class to continue to rule.

After displaying the desolation in parts of Flint, Moore furthered his point by including quotations from many people who comment on the amount of money they expect to make in rebuilding Iraq and benefiting from the Iraqi oil reserves. Youssef Sleiman, a speaker from Iraq Initiative/Harris Corporation, at the Rebuilding Iraq conference declared, “the good news is, whatever the cost, the government will pay you,” in regard to the need for contracted services in Iraq (M. Moore, 2004). Moore featured Bush, the epitome of the wealthy, obviously dressed for a black-tie affair, telling an audience, “Some people call you ‘the elite,’ I call you ‘my base’” (M. Moore, 2004). These quotations invoked the more intentional, classist themes that Moore tried to emphasize.

Moore challenged his audience by using perspective by incongruity within the film and between the pentads. Devising two primary pentads and constructing the motives of others within these pentads gave audience members an opportunity to see the situation, and indeed the United States, as flawed and founded on false assumptions. Moore wanted to connect with the audience through humor and encourage them to question US values. Through the strategic construction of Bush’s and the soldiers’ motivations, Moore demonstrated not only the character of this film, but also the capabilities of political entertainment.


Political entertainment does more than merely inform or entertain, as Baym (2005) asserted. It depends on the combination of both of these to generate a more sophisticated strategy than either a purely informative or an entertaining program could do on its own. As more producers realize the potential of this genre, we can expect to see more programs like Comedy Central’s Lil’ Bush. Many of these programs appear to want to inform not only about political situations, but also about definitions of political savvy. In order to understand the jokes, the audience must understand current political situations. Political entertainment thus constructs the motivations of politicians in specific (sometimes humorous) ways to use perspective by incongruity to critique social institutions, ideologies, and, of course, people’s actions (and perceived motivations). In the same vein, political cartoons have a long history and have enjoyed success over the years (Editors of the Foreign Policy Association, 1975). Contemporary examples of political entertainment serve as an extension of these cartoons. What may have begun as single-panel comical critiques of politics has evolved to complex commentaries that come in a variety of forms. Therefore, studies of the effects of political entertainment, while productive for gauging the political media climate, do not contribute solely to understanding the appeals of political entertainment because such appeals are increasingly more complicated and rhetorically effective. The combination of pentadic analysis and perspective by incongruity works especially well for examples of political entertainment because they allow the critic to interrogate the nuanced relationships between representations of different groups of people in political entertainment. Research indicates that political entertainment is effective at least on a surface level (e.g., Holbert, 2005; Hollander, 2005; Young, 2004). Just as media programs, even if they are fictionalized or satirical characterizations, function to shape our perceptions of gender, race, and class, they also contribute to our understanding of political figures, political ideology, and political acts. In depicting politicians’ motives as well as the motives of the common people, like soldiers, creators of political entertainment frame the way we view future actions as well as current ones and act as powerful rhetorical tools. Indeed, Rountree (2001) calls for more work with pentadic analysis that enables critics to understand how such constructions influence readings of future constructions. Attending to these complex texts is a necessary step because political entertainment can function as activism, a society’s collective emotional release, a retaliation, or a troublesome (or valid yet alternative) source of information. Each of these functions would encourage an audience to engage in different behaviors. For example, Moore is goading his audiences to act toward governmental reform, but a more comical, less socially aware program may encourage complacency since audience members feel satisfied poking fun at incompetent government officials. Ignoring the representations of motivations in political entertainment texts eliminates researchers’ opportunity to understand the why of the effect political entertainment has on populations. A combination of the pentad and perspective by incongruity lends itself to more complete critiques of political entertainment that identify the textual elements comprising an effective piece of rhetoric.

Although Fox’s satirical program, The Half Hour News Hour, has decidedly oppositional (with respect to Moore’s film) political leanings, an analysis focused on perspective by incongruity would produce interesting results given that Fox is a news channel, not a comedy channel or an independent film production company. Examining the characterizations of the motivations of liberals from the conservative creators’ perspective would provide an interesting critique that could be contrasted with Moore’s representations. It would be worthwhile to consider the strategic elements employed to create a conservative answer to liberal efforts to discredit the government by means of comedy. The perspective by incongruity strategy on this show might function quite differently from The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, or Fahrenheit 9/11, yet the strategy itself might be a customary practice in political entertainment.

Moreover, the medium of the piece of political entertainment will certainly add to its overall meaning. That Moore chose a “documentary” as the form for his exposé is significant. Burke (1952) noted that “the concept of the ‘documentary’ as the historiographer’s ideal” is a problematic one because the rhetor may construe facts in many different ways (p. 282). Until Fahrenheit 9/11, many people would have considered the documentary the equivalent of a history book. The pentad, in this case in particular, assists in uncovering the perspective of the rhetor. Therefore, applying the pentad to a source typically considered unbiased has potential to challenge commonly held assumptions about such sources. The Half Hour News Hour again would produce a unique case study since it is featured on a news channel.

My analysis demonstrates that rhetors can create quite different situations and lenses for viewing these situations even when multiple pentads adopt the same philosophical approach. Moore represented this in his film by offering the audience a number of stories. The two I have analyzed here emphasize Moore’s construction of others’ motives as well as the classist dimensions of war, specifically the Iraq War. The filmmaker also encouraged audience members to act on their own behalf. By featuring two sets of people both guided by purposes, Moore offered two examples of how commitment to such purposes, even in the face of sacrifice, can lead to problematic circumstances. Moore achieved his agenda by confronting the assumptions of his audience using perspective by incongruity. I would extend the value of perspective by incongruity beyond Fahrenheit 9/11 to most political entertainment since comedy and contradiction undergird this unique amalgamation of information about politics and entertainment. Fahrenheit 9/11 effectively combined comedy and facts to weave a story that revealed Moore’s penchant for exposing classism in the United States.


*An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 77th Annual Western States Communication Association Convention on February 19, 2006. The ten minute presentation was part of a panel entitled "Representation and Politics" hosted by the Media Studies Interest Group. Additionally, the author would like to thank Carl Burgchardt, Brian Ott, Danielle Endres, Joseph Richards, Clarke Rountree, Sonja Foss and any anonymous reviewers for their guidance and sugggestions.

1.In the second publishing of A Grammar of Motive (1952), Burke added attitude to the pentad. This refers to the quality of the action, not just the purpose or the act itself. However, scholars continue to refer to the pentad and not the hexad (Rountree, 1998) and generally address the attitude of the rhetor in other pentadic elements.

2.The first hullabaloo started when Michael Eisner, CEO of the Walt Disney Co., announced in May that the corporation would not release the film Fahrenheit 9/11 “because of its incendiary tone and content” (qtd. in Waxman, 2004). It ended when Harvey and Bob Weinstein, two movie executives for Miramax, bought the film and released it through Lion’s Gate and IFC Films. On May 24, 2004, the second controversy surfaced when the Cannes Film Festival “end[ed] in controversy” because Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 won the Palme d’Or, or Golden Palm, the top prize of the festival (Stratton, 2004). By June 10, 2004, Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, had publicly expressed his discontent with Moore for not asking permission to adopt his title and change the numbers to 9/11 and spurred controversy number three. With no legal recourse, Moore’s “homage” title remained (Keck, 2004). Finally, shortly after the film’s release, Citizens United, a primarily Republican organization, filed a complaint with the FEC, claiming that, due to the highly political nature of the film, its television advertisements would incriminate Moore and the film’s distributors for using “corporate money to broadcast attack ads about a presidential candidate within 30 days of his party's national convention” (Getter, 2004). Moore countered the grievance with comedy: I am deeply concerned about whether or not the FEC will think I paid Citizens United to raise these issues regarding Fahrenheit 9/11. How else can you explain the millions of dollars of free publicity this right-wing group has given the movie? (Getter, 2004)

3. Establishing such a connection was important for the Bush administration to do because the government determined that Al Qaeda was responsible for the attacks of September 11. Without the link, attacking Iraq would seem illogical.

4. Unocal was contracted to build the pipeline to carry natural gas from the Caspian Sea to Afghanistan and Halliburton won the contract to drill.

5. This is a point that Moore also emphasized in his most recent film, Sicko (2007).


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"Fahrenheit 9/11's Purpose-Driven Agents: A Multipentadic Approach to Political Entertainment" by Samantha Senda-Cook is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0. Based on a work at www.kbjournal.org.

Composing a Gourmet Experience: Using Kenneth Burke’s Theory of Rhetorical Form

Hans Lindquist, Lund University (Sweden)


Kenneth Burke’s theory of rhetorical form has been applied to a variety of objects and areas. Beside analyses of texts, including Hamlet and Othello (Burke, Counter-Statement and Othello), it has been applied to the movie Jaws (Kimberling), the television miniseries Shogun (Kimberling), political debates on television (Conrad), newscasts (Gronbeck), and music (Bostdorff and Tompkins). These applications of Burke’s theory of rhetorical form have a focus on one or two of our senses, either sight and/or hearing. In this article I will demonstrate the relevance of Burke’s theory to an area which focuses on two other senses, taste and smell, although it includes all five senses: gourmet cooking or fine dining.

In this article I will first present Kenneth Burke’s theory of rhetorical form. Then I will demonstrate its relevance for understanding the creation of gourmet experiences by the Swedish chef Mathias Dahlgren. Dahlgren was the only Swedish gold medal-winner at the (unofficial) World Championship Bocuse d’Or, named after the French chef Paul Bocuse from Lyon. He has also been chosen “Chef of the chefs” four times during the last ten years. Mathias Dahlgren’s former restaurant Bon Lloc––which is Spanish for “good place”––was a top restaurant in Stockholm with a star in Guide Rouge for a decade. His new restaurant at Grand Hotel—the hotel where the Nobel Prize-winners stay—already is famous.

Kenneth Burke’s Theory of Rhetorical Form

Kenneth Burke’s theory of aesthetics and rhetorical form was first published in 1925 in two articles, “Psychology and Form” and “The Poetic Process,” which later became chapters in Counter-Statement. Burke defines literature as “written or spoken words” that can appeal to the audience either because of its information (content or subject-matter) or its form, or a combination of both(Counter-Statement 123). Burke did not want to separate form and information, only to emphasize form as a “Counter-Statement” to discussions about aesthetics that were so strongly influenced by science and journalism, “the movement of almost pure information” (Heath 62).

In some “literature” the information is, Burke writes, intrinsically interesting, as can be the case with backyard gossip and news (Counter-Statement 33). We might buy a newspaper so we can read the latest news about soccer’s World Cup, the trial of a celebrity or something else. But once we have read through it, the item loses its appeal and aesthetic value, much the same way as a detective story can be enthralling and entertaining, but when at the end we get to know who the murderer is we do not want to re-read it, at least not in order to find out who the murderer is, or how the murder was accomplished. According to Burke, the major devices for maintaining interest “most natural to the psychology of information (as it is applied to works of pure art) are surprise and suspenseeCounter-Statement 37; emphasis added). The latter, Burke writes, “is the concern over the possible outcome of some specific detail of plot rather than for general qualities. Thus, ‘Will A marry B or C?’ is suspense” (Counter-Statement 38).

Besides the interest in information and possible outcomes, literature can appeal because of its form, which Burke defines as “the creation of an appetite in the mind of the auditor, and the adequate satisfying of that appetite” (Counter-Statement 31). Thus, the focus is on the process of reading a text, which is a temporal, dialectical and rhetorical process, where the meaning is created. In order for the text to be appealing, the audience must have some experience which matches the text. Burke argues that literary forms, like crescendo and rhythm, correspond to human experiences outside the literary work of art. Even though no “crescendos” exist in nature, there are multiplicities of individual phenomena—the cycle of a storm, the ripening of crops, the sunrise and sunset, the spread of an epidemic, etc.—where growth is not a linear progression, but rather a fruition. Because of such natural processes, we can, according to Burke, “think” and experience a crescendo when reading a novel, watching a movie and seeing a theatrical play (Counter-Statement 45).

A person who has less experience and knowledge may need more obvious ramifications to be affected, whereas a person who has more experience and knowledge may find many such obvious ramifications too blunt. “Contrast talk between two experts with talk between an expert and a layman. In talking with a layman, the expert will necessarily stress some of the very points which he would be most likely to omit in talking with another expert” (Counter-Statement 173).

According to Burke the notion of “appetite” involves desires and expectations, which can be understood from other ways of defining the concept of form: “Form in literature is an arousing and fulfillment of desires. A work has form in so far as one part of it leads a reader to anticipate another part, to be gratified by the sequence” (Counter-Statement 124); “Form in literature is an arousing and fulfillment of expectations” (Counter-Statement 217).

Burke identified four types of form defined as four ways of arousing and satisfying appetites, desires and expectations: “progressive form (subdivided into syllogistic progression and qualitative progression), repetitive form, conventional form, and minor or incidental forms” (Counter-Statement 124). These forms, which are presented below, are interrelated and “necessarily overlap” (Counter-Statement 128).

Progressive form deals with development, for example, “the use of situations” which lead “the audience to anticipate or desire certain developments” rather than others (“Dramatic Form” 54). Syllogistic progression, the first variant, is “the form of a perfectly conducted argument, advancing step by step” (Counter-Statement 124). It is the form of a mystery story or love story, where everything falls together in the end. Burke calls it syllogistic because,

given certain things, certain things must follow, the premises forcing the conclusion. In so far as the audience, from its acquaintance with the premises, feels the rightness of the conclusion, the work is formal. The arrows of audience desire are turned in a certain direction, and the plot follows the direction of the arrows. (Counter-Statement 124)

Qualitative progression, the second type of progressive form, is subtler. Instead of one incident in the plot preparing the audience for other possible incidents (as when a murder “requires” revenge), the presence of one quality prepares the audience for the introduction of another quality (as when the calmness of one situation prepares the audience for the acts of violence that that will follow). “Such progressions are,” Burke writes, “qualitative rather than syllogistic as they lack the pronounced anticipatory nature of the syllogistic progression. We are prepared less to demand a certain qualitative progression than to recognize its rightness after the event. We are put into a state of mind which another state of mind can appropriately follow” (Counter-Statement 125).

Repetitive form, Burke explains, is “the consistent maintaining of a principle under new guises. It is restatement of the same thing in different ways. So far as each detail of Gulliver's life among the Lilliputians is a new exemplification of the discrepancy in size between Gulliver and the Lilliputians, Swift is using repetitive form” (Counter-Statement 125). Or if a character is a hero, each heroic act contributes to the idea of the character as a hero.

Conventional form, the last major type of form, constitutes “the appeal of form as form” and involves what Burke calls “categorical expectancy” (Counter-Statement 126). Any form or genre—may it be a Greek tragedy, a mystery story or a limerick—can become conventional, and be sought for itself. “That is, whereas the anticipations and gratifications of progressive and repetitive form arise during the process of reading, the expectations of conventional form may be anterior to the reading” (Counter-Statement 126-127). Categorical expectations and conventional form are, according to Burke, “the kinds of expectations which an audience brings to the theatre as an established institution” (“Dramatic Form” 55).

Minor or incidental forms come in many varieties. When analyzing a work, Burke explains, we may “find it bristling with minor or incidental forms—such as metaphor, paradox, disclosure, reversal, contraction, expansion.…—which can be discussed as formal events in themselves. Their effect partially depends upon their function in the whole, yet they manifest sufficient evidences of episodic distinctness to bear consideration apart from their context” (Counter-Statement 127). These forms may be looked upon as

minor divisions of the two major “forms,” unity and diversity. In any case, both unity and diversity will be found intermingling in any example of such forms. Contrast, for instance, is the use of elements which conflict in themselves but are both allied to a broader unity (as laughter on one page, tears on the next, but each involving an incident which furthers the growth of the plot). (Counter-Statement 46)

Rhythm is another important aspect of importance for the form of a literary work, just as it is for music: “A rhythm is a promise which the poet makes to the reader—and in proportion as the reader comes to rely upon this promise, he falls into a state of general surrender which makes him more likely to accept without resistance the rest of the poet's material” (Counter-Statement 140-141). However, rhythm can be explained within the different types of forms discussed above, namely, repetitive form, progressive form, minor forms like constancy and variation (Counter-Statement 130-135).

As noted above, the major devices of maintaining the reader’s interest in the information are surprise and suspense. Burke notes:

In the classic drama, where the psychology of form is emphasized, we have not surprise but disclosure (the surprise being a surprise not to the audience, but to the characters); and likewise suspense here is not based upon our ignorance of the forthcoming scenes.… It is the suspense of a rubber band which we see being tautened, we know that it will be snapped—there is thus no ignorance of the outcome; our satisfaction arises from our participation in the process, from the fact that the beginnings of the dialogue lead us to feel the logic of its close. (Counter-Statement 145)

The fifth stanza in a limerick, for example, is thus more a disclosure followed by affirmation rather than suspense followed by surprise—and that is why we can read a limerick over again, and still enjoy it.

Composing a Gourmet Experience

The chef and owner at the restaurant Bon Lloc and Grand Hotel, Mathias Dahlgren, has not read Kenneth Burke’s Counter-Statement. There are, however, many similarities between Dahlgren’s philosophy of gourmet cooking, as he presents it in his book Bon Lloc and Burke’s theory of aesthetic and rhetorical form. Bon Lloc is a cook book that includes both a philosophy of gourmet cooking and recipes. Dahlgren introduces his philosophy in the following way (all quotations in this section are my translations from Swedish):

My idea when composing a longer menu is that I will give the guest an experience as complete as possible of what the restaurant can offer. Composing a longer menu is like doing a jigsaw puzzle. One should not repeat oneself. It should be a variation of ingredients, involving, of course, elements of the season. There should be a spectrum of ingredients from different price ranges, varying techniques of cooking and forms of presentation. At the same time one should bear in mind that the different tastes ought to be intensified. And the size of the portions should be varied as well. No course should be grotesquely large and none awkwardly small. In order to demonstrate progress in the area of gastronomy some features of the menu should show signs of novelty. (Dahlgren 14-16)

Using the metaphor “Composing a longer menu is like doing a jigsaw puzzle,” Dahlgren starts by emphasising the importance of unity, that different courses in a long menu together should constitute an entity, “an experience as complete as possible.” Immediately thereafter he lays an emphasis on the importance of variation: “not repeat oneself,” “a variation of,” “a spectrum of,” “varying” and “novelty.” And as a principle for arranging the many courses he argues for the progressive form, “tastes ought to be intensified.” I will come back to the arrangement of the long menu, but first I will illustrate how the enjoyment of separate courses can be analyzed using Burke’s theory.

Mathias Dahlgren makes a distinction between “ladder of tastes” and “chain of tastes,” which is an example of Burke’s distinction between the two variants of progressive form, syllogistic progression and qualitative progression. A ladder of tastes means, according to Dahlgren, “going from mild flavors to intense flavors to the most intense. This way of thinking is useful when serving different kinds of cheese” (Dahlgren 25). In the same way as syllogistic progression, this proceeds step by step, that is, the flavor that follows “must” be stronger.

A chain of tastes is, in a way, the opposite to a ladder of tastes, according to Dahlgren: “A chain of tastes, to me, does not mean that everything ought to be sweeter and sweeter, saltier and saltier and saltier, more and more. Instead it means that one goes on and on” and that the “flavors are in harmony,” not more and more intense (Dahlgren 25). He gives the following illustration of this pattern: Mango tastes good with ginger Ginger tastes good with toffee Toffee tastes good with chocolate Chocolate tastes good with coffee Coffee tastes good with sweet sherry (Dahlgren 25)

By means of these six flavors and the relations between them, Dahlgren composes a course that consists of six different spoons, graphically presented in a row on a rectangular plate. Spoon 1: Thai-mango, natural and cut in cubes Spoon 2: Sabayon [a sauce made from whipped egg yolks and wine] with ginger Spoon 3: Dulche the leche [toffee with milk from South America] Spoon 4: Crème of chocolate Spoon 5: Syrup of coffee Spoon 6: PX Pedor Ximenz 1972 [sweet sherry from Spain] (Dahlgren 25)

This is an example of Burke’s qualitative progression; the presence of one quality (flavor) prepares the guests for the introduction of another quality (flavor). Furthermore, the guests are less likely to “demand” a certain flavor than to recognize its rightness after tasting another spoon. Moreover, the guests have no possibility—until tasting all six spoons—of realizing that this course, by itself, constituted a complete dessert including coffee and liqueur!

Dahlgren’s book also provides three illustrations of Burke’s repetitive form, where the same principle appears under different guises. One concept in Mathias Dahlgren’s philosophy, as well as in the world of gastronomy, that emphasizes the importance of repetition is reconstruction. Reconstruction means giving a new form to existing content. “The starting point is an existing dish…which is deconstructed into the basic ingredients and reconstructed with a new technique. The form of presentation should be different compared to the original, but the taste should be the same” (Dahlgren 22). At Bon Lloc, for example, the classic Croquet Monsieur ingredients are served basked in a gratin-dish for snails: “Changing the presentation can change the experience. When did you last eat a Croquet Monsieur with a teaspoon?” (Dahlgren 237). For a reconstruction to work, it depends on the guest’s being familiar with the original: “A fully successful reconstruction is dependent on the guests knowing the original and being able to relate to it and understand it” (Dahlgren 22). This notion is parallel to Burke’s point that, for a text to be appealing, the audience must have some prior experience with a text which matches its form.

Another example of repetitive form is found in the desserts. The sweet-salty chocolate-toffee wrapped up in greaseproof paper and the dulce de leche (with dark chocolate and sweetened milk) the guests are drinking from schnapps glasses, Dahlgren notes, are “exactly the same thing, but in different forms” (58).

A third and final illustration of the repetitive form, modified by qualitative progression, is that the guests do the same thing (eating) using different techniques: “eating the snacks with the fingers, drinking the soup, the main course with knife and fork, in between licking the iced-lollipop made of blood orange, and using a spoon at dessert” (Dahlgren 90).

In the same way as Burke sees unity and diversity as fundamental for aesthetic and artistic experiences, Mathias Dahlgren sees harmony and contrast as essential when composing gourmet experiences. When it comes to different senses of taste (saltiness, sweetness, acidity and bitterness) and the combination of food and wine, Dahlgren says: “Simply put, one can choose the principle of harmony or the principle of contrast. Fat food can be combined with a ‘fat’ wine, for instance a ‘buttery’ chardonnay that has matured in a barrel. When serving a creamy mushroom soup, a wine with much acidity would be suitable” (Dahlgren 110).

Rhythm is another essential principle when arranging a longer gourmet menu:

The rhythm of the meal is vital. … It is important to identify what the guest wants, if the guest wants a shorter or longer performance. That is something the waiter has to decide from the signals [s]he receives from the guest. The couple who have just fallen in love want it to go on for ever. But the group of businessmen, who have witnessed the performance over and over again, three times just this week, maybe want to cut the process short.” (Dahlgren 17

In order to create a good rhythm in a performance at Bon Lloc, be it long or short, and as a way of creating surprises, one treats the guests with “little pieces” having the size of a mouthful, for instance an “amuse bouche” before the first course. “We use these little pieces to create a good rhythm during the dinner. They are served before, during and after courses, partly as surprises, partly in order to make something happen at the table.... The little pieces are also time killers, giving the kitchen staff the minute extra they need for making the food perfect” (Dahlgren 22, 16). Experienced guests at gourmet restaurants, however, expect an “amuse bouche” before the first course, and in that sense it is a part of the conventional form of gourmet restaurants.

When composing a longer menu, the crescendo—a type of syllogistic progression—is crucial. “Metaphors from the world of music are very often used when talking about combinations of food and beverage; composing a course, the rhythm and amplification during the meal, and then (babaamm!!!) the main course as the showpiece of the play, that should make the taste buds burst into a crazy dance” (Dahlgren 108).

The crescendo is used in a review of Bon Lloc as well, and here the emphasis is on what happens after the climax, as one restaurant guide notes:

The sophistication reaches its turning point with a grilled pigeon, which has been brushed with ashes from leek seasoned with truffles, and presented on a bed of puy lentils and pine nuts, together with potato purée seasoned with foie gras. It is a crescendo in thrilling tastes, and you need help to land. A sorbet of apples is Dahlgren’s way of solving the problem, but maybe the senses are stunned because its taste is vapid and flat. However, an arroz con leche is heavenly mild and the sorbet of orange has exactly the acid one need. (Gourmet 199 Bord 60)

The sorbet of apples being “vapid and flat” while the sorbet of orange has “exactly the acid one needs” is an illustration of how a progression works—the taste of one course depends on and is related to the previous course.

Concluding Remarks

In this article I have shown the relevance of Kenneth Burke’s theory of rhetorical form for the artistic composition of a gourmet dinner—a composition that focuses on taste and smell rather than sight and/or hearing (though the metaphor “reading a gourmet experience,” of course, can be applied). Professor Inga-Britt Gustafsson of the Department of Restaurant and Culinary Art at Orebro University commented, upon reading an earlier draft of this essay, that such formal concerns reflect “precisely how our chefs reason when they create their menus.”


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Burke, Kenneth (2007), “Othello: An Essay to Illustrate a Method,” in Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives 1950-1955 (selected, arranged, and edited by William H. Rueckert), Parlor Press. West Lafayette, IN.

Conrad, Charles P. (1993), “Political Debates as Televisual Form”, Argumentation and Advocacy, vol. 30, Fall, pp. 62-76.

Dahlgren, Mathias (2003), Bon Lloc, Bokförlaget Prisma, Stockholm.

Gronbeck, Bruce E. (1997), “Tradition and Technology in Local Newscasts: The Social Psychology of Form,” The Sociological Quarterly, vol. 38, Spring, pp. 361-74.

Gourmet 199 bord 2004. Sveriges bästa restauranger 2004 [Sweden’s Best Restaurants 2004] Gourmet International Products, Stockholm.

Heath, Robert L. (1986), Realism and Relativism: A Perspective on Kenneth Burke, Mercer University press, Macon, Ga.

Kimberling, C. Ronald (1982), Kenneth Burke’s Dramatism and the Study of the Popular Arts. Bowling Green University Popular Press, Bowling Green, Ohio

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Publish and Perish?: My Fundamentalist Education from the Inside Out

Camille K. Lewis, Independent Scholar

Abstract: When I published my 2001 dissertation through Baylor University Press, I had no idea that my then-employer Bob Jones University would consider it a threat. They would tolerate the book Romancing the Difference: Kenneth Burke, Bob Jones University, and the Rhetoric of Religious Fundamentalism as long as I dropped the final chapter. In that chapter I argued that while Burke's Augustine and BJU privilege a tragic mortification of the flesh, Scripture can express a robust, comic alternative. Their final ultimatum nonetheless forced my hand, and that chapter, too menacing to be published within the BJU cloister, is now available publicly.

IMAGINE THAT YOU ENTER A PARLOR. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.1 Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form

Sometimes, nonetheless, “putting in your oar” is risky. You listen, brood, answer, argue, defend, and align following the rules you inferred from preceding discussions, only to be told, however courteously, to shut up or get out. That, in a nutshell, is my story of publishing Romancing the Difference: Kenneth Burke, Bob Jones University, and the Rhetoric of Religious Fundamentalism. But I’ll give you the longer version too.

In 1999 while I was a Ph.D. student in Communication and Culture at Indiana University, I heard an audio recording of my alma mater and then-employer Bob Jones University’s Faculty In-service. A little phrase stuck out in Dean of Students Jim Berg’s talk: “we want to make them want what we have.” I was scrambling to come up with a metaphor to describe religious sectarian rhetoric, and that phrase explained it all as hinging on desire, not reason or even faith. So the metaphor of sectarian romance grew from there, ending with my dissertation defense in 2001.

To summarize my argument, I took Burke’s notions of tragedy and comedy very seriously, imagined their practical possibilities, and, then offered an additional term, foreshadowed but unimagined in Burke, in the vocabulary of romance. From the Federalist Papers to contemporary political theory, liberal democracy has always looked askance at religious zealotry. Political theory and religious histories provide few new vocabularies to theorize the religious separatists as part of the public sphere. Crafting a new vocabulary is essential since restricting our vision of public discourse by excluding sectarians would hinder democracy’s goals. Limiting one voice, no matter how annoying, opens the possibility to contain other defiant views. As critical scholars, we must craft ways to stretch our frames of acceptance to include even the most annoying voices. And Kenneth Burke’s notions of tragedy and comedy productively offer a meta-narrative for understanding this impulse to expunge the undesirable and for creating a critical alternative.

Burke’s notions of tragedy and comedy persist throughout his writing. While tragedy reaches for a beautiful ideal, comedy lampoons the ideal. While tragedy feels guilty for falling short of perfection, comedy juggles the cultural books so that a loss is translated into a win. While tragedy blames a scapegoat for cultural sin, comedy finds that sin in every human being. The Other in tragedy is irreconcilably evil, but in comedy the Other is simply mistaken.

Burke opens the door for theorists to include the sectarian in their discourse, but his tragedy and comedy dichotomy fails to adequately describe the religious sectarian. They seem to stand outside his vocabulary, acting neither tragically nor comically. Unlike tragedy, they are not goaded by the cultural ideals but embody them. They do not tragically offer themselves up as a sacrifice for the culture’s purification, but they use themselves as an example for the culture to follow.

Thus, I am arguing for a third frame of acceptance—romance. When “cornered,” as Burke described, the sectarian separates from the dominant culture, and that separation forces an entirely new rhetoric. The separation is never complete or permanent. They leave but never too far so that they guarantee the dominant culture’s attention. Neither tragically purifying nor comically correcting, the sectarian unequivocally and unalterably woos its Other. When tragedy kills and comedy critiques, the suitor charms. The evil enemy, which the comic transforms into a mistaken adversary, becomes a Beloved in the romantic’s sight. The cultural ideal that goads the tragic and tickles the comic, personifies the romantic. Romantic sectarians identify not through victimage or criticism but through wooing— irresistible beauty coupled with its Other outside the dominant frame.

To prove my case, I chose to analyze the texts in Bob Jones University’s histories, their art collection, their community outreaches, and their response within Campaign 2000. In their remembering, collecting, helping, and defending, Bob Jones University fully talks within a romantic motive. By separating, they have removed themselves from the dominant tragic cycle, and in the process have lost opportunity for impious comedy. In forming that argument, I always knew that my criticism both described how fundamentalists interacted with the secular world and prescribed a better, more comic way for them to act. For fundamentalists, separation is the primary doctrine (though unstated in their creeds), and surgically removing sectarianism from their ideology is impossible. So I tried to imagine a more strategic, even impious separation.

In 2001, my leave of absence ended, and I returned to my full-time position on the BJU Rhetoric and Public Address faculty. As is typical, no one beyond my committee and perhaps my immediate family actually read the dissertation and, to my knowledge, no one on the BJU administration or faculty.

When Marty Medhurst posted a call for manuscripts under Baylor University’s Studies in Rhetoric and Religion in 2005, the opportunity was irresistible. Few BJU faculty members publish outside the BJU’s own press, and even fewer publish book-length manuscripts in peer-reviewed academic venues. In the five years since my dissertation defense, however, much had changed in the fundamentalist landscape. Hardly any conservative evangelicals, if any, described themselves as “fundamentalists” anymore. That label was gone from local Greenville, South Carolina pulpits and even the BJU chapel platform. Bob Jones III even called for a new moniker and proposed “biblical preservationists” (which gained little traction). Virtually none of my students wanted anything to do with the “doctrine of separation” that had defined this micro-culture of conservative evangelicals for almost a century. From my vantage point, something had changed, and I didn’t think I could publish my 2001 dissertation without exploring that rhetorical shift.

The texts I included in my original analysis had to be (1) public and (2) focused on the external constituency. But after the media firestorm of Campaign 2000, BJU was silent. Yes, of course, they still had the same history presentations as before, and the Museum and Gallery still displayed its “finest collection of sacred art outside of the Vatican.” But community outreaches did diminish and political involvement on a national scale was forsaken. What had happened?

In my search for a new text that was public and external, I came up with only one—When Trouble Comes by the Dean of Students Jim Berg, the same speaker that had initially inspired me. Published through Bob Jones University Press, Berg had written the little gift book to comfort the survivors of 9/11.

It’s a strange book—far from comforting, full of contradictions, and not at all the Berg I thought I knew. Ironically, no one outside the BJU enclave would find any resonance in the text whatsoever. It is not at all “attractive” and certainly not even as potentially “romantic” as other public BJU texts.

When in 2000 I first proposed critiquing BJU rhetoric to my dissertation advisor, Robert Ivie, he chuckled and said, “Well, that’s grabbing the tiger by the tail, isn’t it?” If Ivie was right—if I was indeed grabbing the BJU tiger by the tail with the dissertation—in this final chapter I was reaching past the tail and right for his ruff in critiquing Jim Berg. I had no idea the stir the still-in-the-rough-draft-stage chapter would cause. I naively assumed that BJU’s pursuit of accreditation would mean that the faculty would be encouraged to publish and participate in the Academy. I honestly believed that when my former student Stephen Jones took the presidency after his more rancorous father Bob Jones III resigned, the school was entering a “kinder and gentler” stage of fundamentalism.

I was wrong.

When rumors of the chapter moved up the organizational chart, I was “strongly encouraged” in October 2006 to “reconsider” any publication pursuits. Knowing that publishing would be good for all concerned, I ignored what seemed to be ambiguous threats, and that December I signed the contract with Baylor. By the next February, the threats were a little less ambiguous, and I asked my fellow Ph.D. in rhetoric and BJU Executive Vice-President Gary Weier to read the whole manuscript. That was as high up the organization’s ladder as I could plead, and Gary was more than moderately familiar with rhetorical criticism and with Kenneth Burke.

He offered some helpful feedback about the document as a whole. But he said in no uncertain terms that if the final chapter about When Trouble Comes were published, I would be fired. “We can’t have faculty members critiquing an administrator’s theology.” But I wasn’t critiquing his theology, I responded; I was critiquing his rhetoric. “No one will see the difference.” So there it was—publish and perish.

Baylor University Press graciously accommodated my worried request to drop that chapter. We cobbled together a new conclusion, and the book went ahead nearly identical to the original 2001 dissertation version. I thought that I was done with the scrutiny and the stress and that my position was no longer in jeopardy.

But once again, I was wrong. Expunging the chapter from publication wasn’t enough. After a long series of meetings and document exchanges, on July 13, 2007, both my husband and I received an ultimatum from President Stephen Jones and Vice-President Gary Weier: “If you cannot hold your [theological] position without openly promoting it in spoken or written communication to colleagues, students, or others at a distance from the University, we would have to come to a parting of ways.”

The directive gave us two choices: capitulation or termination. We chose to resign. To be silent would be anti-intellectual and unethical. And what follows here is the chapter that was evidently too threatening to be published while still within the Bob Jones University cloister.

If I were to use the theory of romantic separatist rhetoric to describe this forced resignation, I would say that I was the friend who dared to talk about the debutante’s beauty treatments. The henna rinses, the tummy tucks, the tattooed eyeliner—things that were not natural but were desperate attempts to prop up a fading beauty. It is in retreating from the public sphere that these sectarians sound the most tragic. They made themselves and their own most-committed apologists into scapegoats.

In all those caffeinated and animated graduate school conversations—those that most resemble the Burkean parlor—we junior scholars would each wrangle with the inside-versus-outside personas. In other words, is critique best accomplished while inside the court by whispering in the king’s ear or outside the palace by bellowing to the world at large? Is Christine de Pisan more effective than Laura Cereta? Did Martin Luther King, Jr. win the day or Malcolm X (or did Malcolm perhaps make Martin more palatable)? In sum, should we be more sagacious than prophetic?

I always privileged the quiet insider critique of the Sage. But I now realize that the prescription I attempted in my dissertation was too subtle for romantic fundamentalists caught up in their own beauty. From my perspective, there was no difference between my voice in the initial five chapters and in this expunged chapter to follow. While I wrote the first part while away from my BJU “home” and the last chapter while working alongside my then-fellow fundamentalists, the central message was the same: we have to do this better.

Yet these religious sectarians misheard my critical whispers as sweet-nothings. While I was trying to alert them to the decaying chips in their front teeth, they only heard me saying how beautiful their smile was. When I got more pointed and prophet-like in the last chapter, they did finally begin to understand; but rather than change or even retort, they told me to shut up or get out. I was the one ruining their beautiful image, they assumed, not realizing that their visage was already marred.

BJU has so resisted criticism from inside and out for so long that they simply perceive private rebukes as compliments and public critiques as embittered jealousy. Any change they make is only pretense. So afraid of being vulnerable, their frames of acceptance have hardened and are chipping away. I would never say that comedy is impossible in the fundamentalist micro-culture, but their best chance to participate in, critique, or woo the culture they fetishize will remain outside their rhetorical piety as long as their frame is so recalcitrant as to exclude even sympathetic critique.

Fundamentalism has so narrowed and “splintered” (to use Burke’s description of Protestantism) that it cannot endure. I had a front-row seat for the passing of the mantle to the next generation—my generation—and observed that the movement’s founders did not provide the rhetorical flexibility necessary for healthy growth. The very same peers that told us that BJU needed us because we were “different” were the ones who showed us the door. Yet the parlor conversation continues still, and now with an outsider's perspective, I can more clearly imagine a productive criticism for sectarian rhetoric and religion.

Chapter 6

Just Two Choices on the Shelf—Growing Grace or Killing Self

“Just two choices on the shelf—pleasing God and pleasing self.”2

Quoted in Jim Berg, Changed Into His Image

When the romantic is repeatedly thwarted and even publicly shunned, turning inward becomes natural. Grand galas, moonlight walks, and ambiguous flirtations no longer draw the attention. A new wardrobe, a change in hair color, teeth-whitening, and even plastic surgery are crucial. While the sectarian, like Burke’s euphemistic mystic, broods and retreats, the problem becomes not external, but fully internal. The scapegoat is now the self which must be completely and even extremely remodeled.

Much has changed at Bob Jones University since Campaign 2000. After years of resisting the external validation of accreditation, BJU is now accredited through the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. A new president and a new administration are at the helm. Now its students can apply for Title IV Federal Student Aid.

But the sectarian talk has changed too. BJU sounds less like a flirtatious romantic and more like an abandoned wallflower. While the presidential candidate that scorned them is now sounding and acting more like a Fundamentalist in his policies,3 these romantic sectarians sound less amorous. As a result, they leave the romantic rhetoric behind and internalize the tragedy. They take the conflict inward. They pull the carapace over their heads and makeover themselves.

Sometimes they step out from against the wall into the light when all seems friendly. After President George W. Bush’s second election, the still university president Bob Jones, III wrote a forthright and unembellished letter of congrats.4 He assumed a spiritual connection with the president. He identified with him as the same substance. “Because you seek the Lord daily, we who know the Lord will follow that kind of voice eagerly. . . . Nonetheless, we could not be more thankful that God has given you four more years to serve Him in the White House, never taking off your Christian faith and laying it aside as a man takes off a jacket, but living, speaking, and making decisions as one who knows the Bible to be eternally true.” Talking as if both are “insiders,” Jones hopes to make his loyalty and admiration as loud and as plain as any of the others. When it seems safe to join the chorus, the romantic might tip-toe out into plain view.

Yet assertive political involvement for these sectarians has been scarce since 2000. Their public discourse has turned more subtle and even more internal. The principal expression of sectarian romance has been a response to the national tragedy of September 11th. At that point, they ducked away from their wall to offer not just their condolences, and not a national rebuke,5 but a glimpse at their perfected selves. The gift book, When Trouble Comes, was dedicated to those who lost loved ones on 9/11 and was distributed among New York City rescue workers. In seeming to reach out to the hurting, its author and BJU Dean of Students, Jim Berg, subtly articulates the spurned romantic’s response after rejection. Coupled with Berg’s larger work written for sectarians, Changed Into His Image, we see a re-statement of the long-time expected sectarian response that looks less romantic and more simply tragic.

In Rhetoric of Religion, Kenneth Burke anticipates Berg’s tragedy when he reads Augustine’s Confessions and Genesis. But even Burke’s noble attempt to articulate comedy, as we have seen throughout this book, proves appetizing but not entirely satisfying. His precipice metaphor leaves us fearful. His “at the last moment” timing leaves us rushed. Other authors, Walter Wink and Jim Wallis, imagine a more robust comedy than Burke ever could, and their articulation of that frame of acceptance within Christianity could also resolve the untenable stress for the romantic sectarian. The purpose of this chapter is to identify and map the trajectory of mortification through Burke and Berg in order to theorize the most robust comedy for secularists and sectarians alike. I argue that the tragic mortification of the flesh that runs rampant from Burke’s Augustine through Berg is not endemic to Christianity, as Burke might say. Instead the Christian sacred Text can express a comic cultivation that is a more robust alternative. For both the sectarian and the rhetorical theorist, in resisting the unfit choice of a tragic mortification, they must choose a more comedic cultivation. Instead of killing the self, they must grow grace.

Tragedy as Mortification: Kenneth Burke and his Rhetoric of Religion

In religion, and specifically the Christian religion, Burke finds a robust rhetoric. He frames it as a representative anecdote of the most creative and the most persuasive and the most “rounded-out.” “Since the theological use of language is thorough, the close study of theology and its forms will provide us with good insight into the nature of language itself as a motive.”6 His purpose is to glean strategies for rhetoric from theology. That purpose is wholly secular, interdisciplinary, and practical.7 If theologians can so effectively explain the Infinite to the finite, then perhaps we who study words and wordlings can find some clues for creating our own well-rounded rhetoric.8So his study of theology is a kind of undergraduate requirement in foreign language: to better understand how we talk, we should study how others talk. He is looking, then, for “fruitful analogies between the two realms” of theology and logology.9

In comparing the notion of a “word” to “The Word” (Logos), Burke discovers a playful exchange between the natural world and the supernatural world, the secular and the sacred. Even the assumed material divide between the natural and supernatural is casuistic, at most, or even non-existent for Burke. Sounding as much like a Christian Scientist as ever, 10 Burke assumes that “the realm of symbolism can effect the sheer motions of a physical body, as manifested by a turn from health to grave illness on the part of a body swayed by symbolism. Similarly, ideas can buoy us up, hence the market for tracts on ‘the power of positive thinking.’”11 Words work, and, perhaps, natural words with spiritual underpinnings might even work better.

This borrowing is not simply linear or bottom-up; it can be circular or top-down. Since theologians must borrow words for the supernatural from the natural, rhetoricians “can borrow back the terms from the borrower, again secularizing to varying degrees the originally secular terms that had been given ‘supernatural’ connotations.”12

Even clothing carries this elastic symbolism. He cites that priestly garb were once purely secular attire that gradually developed into a simple religious ritual. “Thus, along with historical trends whereby religious modes become secularized, . . . there is also the contrary trend whereby symbols that begin secularly can gradually become ‘set apart’ through the development of a religious tradition. Accordingly, the relation between theology and logology should not be conceived simply as proceeding in one direction.”13 In other words, we can quilt our rhetoric forwards or backwards. No linguistic project is whole cloth; it is a piecing together of scraps or fragments from aged pajamas, worn dresses, and well-loved shirts. This quilting can proceed from scrap heap to finished project or back again.

So Burke wants to quilt and un-quilt and re-quilt with his words, admiring the religious pattern as his model. He begins with Augustine’s Confessions and Genesis and finds a tragic drama persisting throughout both and, thus, throughout Christianity and Western culture. From the natural world, Augustine lifts the term “death” and creates the notion of a spiritual death within theology. This “mortification” or self-death is fundamental to the drama that Burke interprets in Augustine: Augustine as a believer purifies himself through mortification in order to achieve salvation or oneness with God.

Like Christ, the archetypal sacrifice, Augustine must also sacrifice albeit continuously. “The principle of such mortification would be completely in the idea of Christ as perfect victim, whose sacrifice is curative absolutely quite as the nature of mortification is curative partially.”14 Christ is either an independent model to guide Augustine’s own sacrifice or, Burke elaborates, an “ambiguously middle term” between the human and the divine.15 Christ is one of many tools to connect the believer to the divine or an exemplar of real, final sacrifice.

Because Augustine’s own sacrifice is never complete, it must persist. The tragedy around mortification never ceases, so Augustine purges his sin daily by “the deliberate slaying of appetites and ambitions.”16 Even simple obedience, Burke concludes, is a kind of mortification. “Obedience says no to the self from within.”17 In actively subduing his compulsion for “the pleasurable things of this world,” Augustine maintains order and achieves God Himself.

Therefore, in tragedy, either we sacrifice homicidally or suicidally, either we scapegoat or mortify. 18 Sacrifice is implicit; whom we sacrifice varies. Homicide gets messy, but suicide may seem more tidy, private, and quiet though solipsistic. Burke, too, critiques mortification (death to self) as “weaker” and “more ‘philosophic’” than natural death. That is, mortification is more flexible and intangible. Homicide like natural death is too final, but mortification is ambiguous and ongoing.

However, both the conclusion of the tragic drama and its cast are ambiguous and imprecise. Notice the drama’s coherence. Augustine as agent is also Augustine as scene. The distinction between the two is perpetually muddled. At best, the agent is divided: between his soul and his body, between his spirit and his self, between the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. At worst, upon subduing the self, Augustine as agent is never confident that he is not actually indulging the self. Actual suicide is selfish; but ongoing mortification—abstracted suicide—is unselfish. He must be passive, but in mortifying he may not be sufficiently passive.

Thus within Augustine’s drama, Burke’s action-versus-motion dichotomy comes to the forefront. Augustine’s motion of mortification may be more the action of indulgence, but he is never sure. Rarely would Burke’s Augustine actively sacrifice. Instead, he moves by mortification. He subdues the self without physically killing the self. A resolution would dramatize Augustine as agent alone and never as scene. He could act and not merely move. He would act and be acted upon.

Moving from Augustine to Genesis, Burke continues to extrapolate from the internal and theological to the external and secular. Within his word game between self-death and natural death, Burke spirals his logologic to include external deaths in relationship to God and the Government. In both Augustine’s personal confessions and Genesis’s global story, Burke finds the same machinations of words and wordlings. The notion of Covenant for Burke broadens the death-cum-mortification to a kind of social death.

In Genesis, both Creation and Covenant imply an obligation to a sovereign divinity or an order, according to Burke, and as such the possibility of disorder.19 At Creation, we see the ideal socio-political order. 20 And in the Covenant, Burke discerns the makings of tragedy since a Covenant contains the “principles of both temptation (on the part of one who might break the Covenant) and ‘repayment’ (or ‘redemption’) insofar as the aggrieved party is willing to impose and accept a fine or forfeit.”21 With that ominous threat of external punishment, a Covenant controls and, thus, requires internal mortification.22

In reading Genesis 2:7’s “And the Lord God formed man [of] the dust of the ground,” Burke gets tickled at the imagery. From the dust humanity was created and back to the dust must it go for salvation. “Here would be an imagistic way of saying that man in his physical nature is essentially but earth, the sort of thing a body becomes when it decays; or that man is first of all but earth, as regards his place in the sheerly natural order.” As with rhetorical quilting forward and backward, so humanity may be created forward by God or backward by itself. We are all just scraps held together by mere thready words. The peril of “dust to dust” looms large although ambiguously.23

Maintaining our dust-threatened selves, like for Augustine, depends upon self-sacrifice. So important is the notion of mortification to the drama of redemptive sacrifice (and the success of the Covenant) that Burke is compelled to see how guilt turns to mortification, or how the notion of sin transforms into the penalty of death. Back and forth between the natural and the social, Burke continues his logological massage: “Then, instead of saying that ‘conscience-laden repression is like death,’ we turn the equation into a quasi-temporal sequence, saying that death ‘comes from’ sin.” Surely sin is one and the same with death.24 Gradually “the idea of natural death becomes infused with the idea of moral mortification, whereas you had begun by borrowing the idea of physical death as a term for naming the mental condition which seemed analogous to it.”25

Thus, the Covenant is the “Grand Rounding Out” where two opposing tensions are defined, addressed, and directed. With two poles, the frame of acceptance is strong enough to weather resistance.26 From Genesis, Burke identifies both king and servant (agent), both sovereignty and subjection (act), both reward and punishment (agency), all leading to atonement (purpose). What Augustine describes personally, Genesis describes for a nation. What Augustine enacts for himself and to himself, a Covenant executes for a people. Both strive for order, both presume a falling away, and both insist upon a kind of death in order to achieve unity.

Like Augustine’s ambiguous tragedy of mortification, Burke finds a similar muddling in Genesis’s distinction between “actual” sin (action) and “original” sin (motion). The former is wholly an individual’s, while the latter is simply the sin “in principle” that humanity “inherited” “from our ‘first’ ancestor in the male line, as the result of his ‘first’ disobedience to the ‘first’ thou-shalt-not imposed upon him by the first and foremost authority (to whom he was subject, but from whom he inherited dominion over all created things, including his woman).”27

This perpetual tension highlights the tragedy that guilt can only be “processed” and never “resolved.” To “resolve” it, Burke asserts, would be “the end of tragedy—that is to say, the end of the sacrificial principle, the end of ‘mortification’ in all its forms, including the comic.” 28Tragedy itself is in a kind of catch-22 in which its only resolution would be its demise.

Another irresolvable dilemma Burke finds in Genesis is the notion of grace. For Burke, grace seems to be the perpetual stone in our shoe that stops us from sin, the Iago to our Othello, the devil on the shoulder, the dark yin to the positive yang. While the “principle . . . of mortification first prevails, . . . the notion of ‘grace’ itself (as a way of goading the sluggish Imagination to the proper fears) is extended to include the idea that natural calamities are ‘acts of God,’ designed to warn or chasten.”29 So grace is the counter-agent in the drama that needles those in the covenant to maintain the covenant. It may be annoying like a gadfly, sinister like a villain, contrary like our conscience, or threatening like karma.

But later Burke sees grace as a badge of honor. He reads Genesis as saying that if you persevered, it was by God’s grace. If you languished, it was by a lack of God’s grace:

Any nonbeliever who was converted proved thereby that he had been granted the grace to believe, and thus to carry out the works that would merit his salvation, though the grace to believe was given him without his merit, and he could persevere only insofar as God, by turning towards him, gave him the grace to persevere in the ways of his faith. If he later became a backslider, this turn on his part would be evidence that God, before all time, had had the foreknowledge that at this stage the man would be left on his own, and so would end by ‘voluntarily’ enrolling himself among the reprobates, as God knew all along he would.30

Burke relishes the persuasive qualities to this quagmire. To quit is to prove God’s disfavor. To persist is to prove His grace! This idea “was perfectly designed to ‘encourage’ the believer into persevering, and thus into doing all within his power to silence doubts (which, by their nature as doubts, would be a sign that God was turning away from him).”31

The separatist, to Burke, is especially plumbed for mortification. Whether the Jewish remnant or the priesthood, those “special persons set apart” are “set apart for sacrifice.” Whether maintaining a relationship with God in spite of “backsliding” fellows or struggling to be “fit” for a calling, mortification or more governance is the name of the game.32 The best mortifiers, then, are the liminal ones. They are the most obedient, most subjected, most ready to be sacrificed. While Burke’s Augustine was never sure that he was truly purified by mortification, in the same way the covenanted are never sure that they are in the contract. Grace is either a counter-agent that taunts us away from certain death or a blue-ribbon prize that proves our unity with God.

When theorizing grace into logology, Burke imagines that grace “stands” with “free-will” “at the watershed between the slopes of ‘Order’ and ‘Disorder.’”33 Like Augustine’s Christ as the undistributed middle term, grace, too, negotiates between opposing realms. Both are ambiguously poised between two disparate realms. Both goad us toward our better selves. So rhetorically, grace is “in the ability of language to name things correctly for our purposes. But such accuracy of naming is sometimes ‘withheld’ from us by the nature of things, or by the complexity of the problem, etc.”34

But tragedy does not end between God and humanity. Burke continues his logological spiral and pushes the notion of Covenant to the socio-political realm. Just like the ecclesiastical vestments were borrowed from the secular and so could be loaned back to the secular, so the notion of natural death to spiritual mortification can be used for the socio-political realm.

Socio-political order leads to repression with accompanying biological effects that resemble death. Death is borrowed from the natural order; but its “feeling” or “meaning” is a response to the socio-political order. He connects back to the logological since we mortify in Governance not by a natural death, but by toil and subjection to Power.35 Mortification is in the theological realm what capital punishment is in the socio-political realm. Neither is totally redemptive, and that tenuous conclusion “completes the pattern of Order: the symmetry of the socio-political (cum verbal), the natural, and the supernatural.”36

In sum, Augustine is personal, Genesis is national, and the Government is political. While Augustine purifies through mortification, the Covenant controls through reward and punishment, and the Government rules through capital punishment. All three muddle the agent and scene. All three punish themselves—whether covenanted or citizen. And all three are unsure of their liberty through Christ, grace, or rhetoric, and so piously perpetuate tragedy.

And in all his efforts, Burke does little to make ongoing comedy a possibility. As this entire study has demonstrated, Burke’s enacting of comedy is unsatisfying, incomplete, and confusing. It is too temporary, too insecure, and too impractical. Burke insists that the salvation for tragedy is comedy, but he can only posit it as a brief, tenuous last-minute pivot away from certain doom. Just like The Merchant of Venice turns comedic (or Romeo and Juliet turns tragic), in the last dramatic moments so rhetorical tragedies turn comedic only briefly and only tentatively or “within the last few moments of the last act.”37

From Burke’s criticism and from secondary sources, his vision of the tragic is often painted as teetering on the edge of a “precipice.”38 This metaphor is frighteningly precarious. There is little chance to “dance,”39 “stretch,”40 or “play”41 this close to the edge. As this study of imagining the possibilities of comedy has illustrated, Burke leaves us wanting more than shadows in his vision of comedic solutions. What political change can a distracting mime on the steps of a museum perform? How can an antinomian artist push us more decidedly toward the good life? After cultural surgery, what life-long therapy can creative allopaths prescribe? And in their comedy act, what moral can impious jugglers teach? If a stone in the shoe is all that will keep us from certain doom, how practical can we be?

Comedy as Cultivation: Walter Wink and Jim Wallis as Correctives

Identifying and countering tragedy is not Burke’s project alone.42 Liberation theologian Walter Wink sounds very Burkean in his analysis of global tragedies, but his framing of the solution is much more comedic than even Burke imagined it could be. If Burke seeks a well-rounded rhetoric in theology, the most comic example might be from sources like Wink.

Wink accounts for Burke’s take on Scripture and calls it the “Spiritualist Worldview.” In this perspective, because all things spiritual are good and all things material are bad, the present world incarcerates spirits from their free, purely spiritual existence. Religion’s goal, then, is to liberate the spirit from the flesh. Gnosticism, Manichaeism, and Neo-Platonism all have roots in this spiritualist point of view. In sum, the spiritualist worldview is embodied in those religions “that place all the emphasis on getting to heaven when one leaves this ‘vale of tears.’”43 The spiritualist prays not for health or for progress, but only for release “from the cloying garment of flesh and restoration to the spiritual world of the Beyond.” Denying pleasure in all forms is typical as is an emphasis on citizenship in Heaven as superior to good citizenry on Earth.44 “I’ll Fly Away” is the spiritualist hymn. That Burke, who most sympathized with Christian Science, would find such spiritualist resonance with Augustine and then “discover” it in Genesis is, then, no surprise. Burke, too, is shaped by the “Spiritualist Worldview,” seeing the abstract and cerebral as more real than the material.

What Burke calls the inevitability of tragedy, Wink calls a myth—specifically “the Myth of Redemptive Violence.” Wink describes this story as “enshrin[ing] the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right.” The myth’s power, according to Wink, is in its transparency. It seems to be natural, unavoidable, sacred, and complete.45

While Burke locates the archetype for tragedy in Christianity, Wink finds it in earlier, mythological sources, specifically the Babylonian story of Tiamat and Marduk. Creation itself is brutal, order comes from disorder, and evil anticipates good. Violence is unquestioned, “a primordial fact.” The consequences are plain. Humanity is birthed from blood. Murder is our raison d’être. “Humanity is not the originator of evil, but merely finds evil already present and perpetuates it. Our origins are divine, to be sure, since we are made from a god, but from the blood of an assassinated god. We are the outcomes of deicide.”46

Because violence is inevitable and genetic, peace is impossible. Order can only come from the top-down. First-time obedience is the noblest practice, and maintaining order is religion’s highest virtue. “The tasks of humanity are to till the soil, to produce foods for sacrifice to the gods (represented by the king and the priestly caste), to build the sacred city of Babylon, and to fight, and, if necessary, die in the king’s wars.”47 Like Burke’s final pivot away from the precipice of victimage, Wink’s portrayal of this Myth puts the crisis and resolution, too, “at the last moment.”48 Just like Hitler who corrupted the best for the worst,49 so “the myth of redemptive violence thus uses the traditions, rites, customs, and symbols of Christianity to enhance both the power of a select wealthy minority and the goals of the nation narrowly defined.”50

Thus, in the Myth of Redemptive Violence, brutality is the means of maintaining order. Wink even calls it the “original religion of the status quo.” To be pious, in other words, we must be violent. Conquering is the highest value. Might makes right. Religion must reinforce hierarchies. “Peace through war; security through strength: these are the core convictions that arise from this ancient historical religion, and they form the solid bedrock on which the Domination System is founded in every society.”51

Even in the innocuous and ever-present cartoons, video games, and comic books, Wink finds the same story: the hero is indefatigable. He “suffers grievously and appears hopelessly doomed, until, miraculously, the hero breaks free, vanquishes the villain, and restores order until the next episode.”52 And a certain fulfillment in projecting our repressed emotions onto the story’s antagonist keeps us coming back for more. “The villain’s punishment provides catharsis; one forswears the villain’s ways and heaps condemnation on him in a guilt-free orgy of aggression. Salvation is found through identification with the hero.”53 Violence becomes satisfying, compelling, and amusing.54

Twentieth-century politics updated the ancient story. The Cold War was our own ongoing comic book drama of redemptive violence.55 “The Myth of Redemptive Violence is, in short, nationalism become absolute.” The Myth seems divine and sovereign. It pirates the rhetoric of Christianity and stiffens against change. God becomes provincial. Our politics become a fortress. Mercy gives way to triumph. “It is blasphemous. It is idolatrous. It is immensely popular.” 56

Wink’s Myth exactly parallels Burke’s tragedy. Both are founded on violence. Both crave order. Both have blameless heroes and purely evil villains with whom we can identify and divide. Both seem religious, natural, and inevitable. Both frustrate peace. Sadistic, systematic, pious, and jingoistic—both tragedies are uncannily familiar.

Though Burke and Wink are identifying the same compulsion in humanity, they each use widely divergent sources. Wink is clear that this Myth of Redemptive Violence is not from Scripture. Like Burke, he, too, reads the first chapters of Genesis. But unlike Burke, he sees the Creation story as “diametrically opposed” to the notion of redemptive violence. In Genesis, good creates good and exists prior to evil. Neither violence nor evil is in the equation. Instead humanity’s “free decisions” damage a good thing. 57

In the Old Testament, Wink finds the same scapegoating mechanism as Burke but identifies God with its victims, not the conquerors. And in the New Testament, “an entire collection of books written from the point of view of the victims” so that “the scapegoat mechanism is fully exposed and revoked.”58

That the ultimate Victim, Christ, is painstakingly portrayed as innocent, Wink argues, undercuts the scapegoating mechanism, rather than reinforces the cycle as Burke argues.59 But the early church, too overwhelmed at the revelation that scapegoating was always counterfeit, reified the tragedy rather than overturning it. Since God, in Paul’s epistles, is a tender parent and not a severe judge, “Christ’s sacrifice doesn’t appease us to God, it sets us free to run to God.”60 While the early church emphasized the God of wrath, Paul describes a God of mercy. The former’s divinity is violent and exacting; the latter is peaceful and merciful. Even the Mass itself is a continuous sacrifice—a re-crucifying of Christ—not a reminder of the end of sacrifice.61 So, to Wink, the Holy Writ offers a solution to tragedy, not its reification. Any rehearsing of tragedy is a human problem, not a divine mandate. Even Wink’s calling the same drama of tragedy, a “myth” distances it from naturalizing and underscores its merely created status.

And Wink’s resolution of the Myth of Redemptive Violence is quite familiar to Burkeans as well: “ownership of one’s own evil and acknowledgement of God in the enemy.”62 What Wink calls “Jesus’ Third Way,” Burkeans remember as comedy. Both laugh, juggle, amplify, and stretch. Both flip a coin and declare “heads I win, and tails you lose.” Both are distracting mimes, antinomian artists, creative allopaths, and impious jugglers. But what Burke imagines as temporary, Wink assumes is enduring. What Burke imagines as tenuous, Wink assumes is secure. What Burke can never really describe practically, Jim Wallis in God’s Politics: How the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It illustrates dynamically.

From the Sermon on the Mount, Wink articulates an ongoing Burkean comedy. Wink’s plan even uses the same comedic metaphors as Burke’s: “find a third way, a way that is neither submission nor assault, flight nor fight, a way that can secure your human dignity and begin to change the power equation, even now, before the revolution . . . break the cycle of humiliation with humor and even ridicule, exposing the injustice of the system.”63 We resist the restrictions in a “third” way—neither directly countering them nor revolutionizing them. We confuse, befuddle, and heckle.

In other words, when we confront evil, Wink urges, we must resist confronting it “on its own terms.” The Other cannot not determine our resistance. We must “transcend both passivity and violence by finding a third way, one that is at once assertive and yet nonviolent.” He cites Christ’s command that His followers “‘do not repay evil for evil.’”64 Creativity is the key. Improvisation is the rule of thumb. Anything to “keep the opponent off balance” is encouraged.65 This impiety stops the pious tragic cycle or what Wink calls the “outer spiral of retaliation.”66

Unlike Burke’s Augustine, salvation or oneness with God is not the goal in Wink’s drama since that occurred at redemption. Stopping evil is Wink’s goal. “Christians do not live nonviolently in order to be saved, or in order to live up to an absolute ethical norm, but because we want to end the Domination System. . . . It is the way God has chosen to overthrow evil in the world. And the same God who calls us to nonviolence gives us the power to carry it out.”67 While God is the goal in Augustine’s drama, the believer and God are co-agents in God’s ongoing work to end the Domination System. Neither the believer nor God Himself is passive. Wink’s view of prayer puts the believer fully in the driver’s seat with God.68

Wink’s strategy finds resonance not only with Burke, but also with our romantic sectarians. And by describing the “counter-agent” or antagonist as simply witless or lonely with our flaws evident in them too, Wink sounds quite romantic. “As we begin to acknowledge our own inner shadow, we become more tolerant of the shadow in others. As we begin to love the enemy within, we develop the compassion we need to love the enemy without.”69 “Love” is the key. Loving the Other is no different from loving the self. If God loves us, why would not God love the Other. Tragedy or the “Myth” poses the opposite question and leaves a menacing suspicion about our own parentage: if God is aggressive to the Other, why not us too?70 We can never be secure in the Myth. But knowing that our enemy is very much like ourselves, Wink asserts, makes us secure in our own standing. That God loves us and our Others allows us to act in confidence. There is no precipice or concern since a sovereign works alongside the believer in the drama.

This strategy of love from the Sermon on the Mount reveals God’s perfection. Being perfect like God is perfect means to love others as God does. We should be “embracing everyone.”71 When we come to terms with the things in our Others that needle us and drive us toward tragedy, when we “come to terms with our shadow,” we see ourselves in our enemies. We turn them into adversaries.72 And thus, “‘We have to love them into changing.’”73

If God can forgive, redeem, and transform me, I must also believe that God can work such wonders with anyone. Love of enemies is seeing one’s oppressors through the prism of the reign of God—not only as they now are but also what they can become: transformed by the power of God.74

“Separation” in order to purify has no place in Wink’s interpretation. He interprets Christ as saying that believers are defiled internally not externally. Cleanliness is not closer to godliness; loving the castaway is. “Rules of ritual purity” simply reinforce propriety and hierarchy. “Without purity regulations, there would be a crisis of distinctions in which everyone, and everything, was the same: women equal to men, outsiders equal to insiders, the sacred no different from the profane.”75

But Wink posits his actor as healthy and disease-resistant. The believer need not be inoculated against sinners. It is holiness that is communicable, not sinfulness! “The physician is not overcome by those who are ill, but rather overcomes their illness. . . . Holiness, he saw, was not something to be protected; rather it was God’s miraculous power of transformation. God’s holiness cannot be soiled; rather it is a cleansing and healing agent.”76 In sum, the believer need have no unsettling fear of disease or anxious worries about tumbling down the precipice. Since God works with the believer to foreground good through grace, the believer may confidently dance, stretch, and play.

Inspiring and conceiving is Wink’s goal; to see a Burkean/Winkian comedy in action, however, Jim Wallis satisfies the need in his latest call to action, God’s Politics: How the Right Gets it Wrong and Left Doesn’t Get It. He capitalizes on Lincoln’s urging Americans to “pray and worry earnestly whether we are on God’s side.”77 What Burke wishes and Wink theorizes Wallis constructs in contemporary politics. Wallis’s version of tragedy occurs when we assume that God is on our side, thus, creating the worst politics: “triumphalism, self-righteousness, bad theology, and, often, dangerous foreign policy.” That is, when we assume that God is doing our work we are the worst citizens. But asking if we our on God’s side—checking to see if we truly are working with God as Wink would frame it—engenders a modest comedy: “penitence and even repentance, humility, reflection, and even accountability.”78 In sum, Wallis wants to envision how contemporary Christians can enact Micah 6:8’s charge to “‘do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God.’”79

Wallis describes a politically impious position. He actively resists partisan politics, tired left-right divisions, or any conventional ideologies. “Faith must be free to challenge both right and left from a consistent moral ground.”80 Leaning neither right nor left, never voting always Republican or Democrat or Libertarian keeps the pundits, politicians, and critics hopping—a posture Wallis wants to encourage.

Wallis resists both religious and secular Fundamentalism’s recalcitrance. He takes everyone to task. The former is too theocratic, and the latter is too theophobic.81 The former uses God as a weapon, and the latter sees God as a bane. The former wants God not just public but required, and the latter wants God as only private. “Conventional wisdom suggests that the antidote to religious Fundamentalism is more secularism. But that is a very big mistake. The best response to bad religion is better religion, not secularism.”82 By taking religion more seriously than the religious Fundamentalists and by taking politics more seriously than the secular fundamentalists, Wallis’s readers can forge new strategies for real change.

Like Wink, he calls his alternative trans-partisanship, divine. Wink’s “Jesus’ Third Way” is Wallis’s God’s Politics. While Wink reads the political in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, Wallis relishes the ancient Hebrew prophets to the point of naming his politics “prophetic.”

Prophetic politics finds its center in fundamental “moral issues” such as children, diversity, family, community, citizenship, and ethics (others could be added such as nonviolence, tolerance, fairness, etc.) and tries to construct national directions to which many people across the political spectrum could agree. Our own ancient prophetic religious traditions could offer a way forward beyond our polarized and paralyzed national politics and be the foundation for a fourth political option to provide the new ideas politics always needs.83

That God’s Politics is politically ambiguous, antinomian, and liminal is a new framing. It is neither simply pro-life nor merely pro-marriage. Wallis is juggling the god-terms. He is quilting together sackcloth with oxford, horsehair with gabardine. His call to action is resonantly Burkean: “Change the wind, transform the debate, recast the discussion, alter the context in which political decisions are being made, and you will change the outcomes. Move the conversation around crucial issues to a whole new place, and you will open up possibilities for change never dreamed of before.”84 Changing, transforming, recasting, and altering the talk is doing real political work. Moving to new topoi stretches the frames of acceptance to creatively include previously unimaginable alternatives.

Believing in the same power that Wink and Wallis find in Holy Writ is not the point. In other words, their model is not for Christians alone. Like Burke, we can find a robust rhetoric in theology, and Wink’s theological comedy and Wallis’s political comedy do more than Burke theorized. We can quilt backwards like Burke originally proposed. We can take fat quarters from Wink’s tweed jacket and Wallis’s twill khakis and stitch them to pieces of Burke’s tie-dyed shirt. And because of Wink and Wallis, we can even quilt in the romantic’s taffeta gown. In other words, their talk can identify with the romantic sectarian as well. Wink does more than just distract us from tragic memorializing; he builds an Ebenezer,85 dynamically identifying divine help while moving along a journey. Wink does more than play a single tune to get the rats out of town; he composes an entire hymnology relishing the permanent hospitality in residing with God. Wink does more than offer an allopathic cure of opposites; he enjoys a persistent resistance to disease that makes him bold and confident. And Wallis does more than tinker with ideological boundaries; he plows entirely new plots of land and declares them God’s. Building, composing, enjoying, and plowing—this rhetoric of cultivation is enduringly comic. Rather than Augustine’s and even Burke’s tragic mortification as permanent, haunting, and inevitable, Wink and Wallis juggle the assumptions and describe a comedy that itself is productive—for the secular Other and the sectarian, for the scholar and the believer.

Religion as Mortification: Jim Berg’s Tragic Project

The need for foregrounding Wink and Wallis’s Christian romantic comedy is imperative for the reluctant romantic after Campaign 2000. Their articulation of a Burkean comedy as endemic to Christian theology is the rhetorical makeover needed for the romantic’s future. While these fundamentalists turn more introverted, scapegoating themselves and retreating from the public sphere, a comic drama of cultivation can aptly counter their tragic drama of mortification, while keeping their beauty intact.

After 9/11, while the nation was rallying to heal, the shrinking romantics tip-toed away from their wallflower pose to add their homage. Fundamentalist counselor and BJU Dean of Students, Jim Berg, published When Trouble Comes through the Bob Jones University Press and dedicated it to those who lost loved ones on 9/11. His home church also gathered and sent up teams to distribute the gift book among the New York City 9/11 rescue workers. So When Trouble Comes (WTC) is the most organized attempt at wooing the secular Other after the disappointment of Campaign 2000. Berg’s book, however, seems less a reaching-out than a searching-within. Rather than a quick primp in front of the mirror, Berg portrays a continuous and even extreme makeover to preserve God’s favor. WTC is more like Augustine’s mortification, and, in the end, Berg sounds very much like Burke.

Although the direct lineage of Jim Berg’s mortification drama can be traced back to the early Christians, uncovering its Anglo-American roots reveals all its genetic permutations. While Wink traces the “spiritualist worldview” back to the Gnostics and the early church and while Burke finds Augustine insisting on mortification for salvation, the contemporary instantiation of this spirit-versus-body battle is rooted deeply in contemporary Anglo-American evangelism.

Historian George Marsden traces this Gnoticism through Dwight L. Moody to a camp from the nineteenth century in Keswick, England. Moody visited there before his famous British revivals, and its expression of Christianity resonated with him and contributed to his success in the British revivals in 1873–1875. When Moody returned to the United Sates for his American revivals, he had already digested this Keswick doctrine and became its chief American importer. Contemporary examples of Keswick come from the motto “Let go and let God,” the song “Oh, to be Nothing,” the organization “Campus Crusade,” or the evangelistic plea for continuous consecrations, “the victorious life,” or “second blessings.”

Marsden explains the conflicted cobbling together that Keswick theology attempts. Keswickian proponents try to negotiate among a Calvinist “total depravity,” a Wesleyan “eradication” or “perfection,” and a Pentecostal “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” “As long as Christ dwelt in the heart a Christian could be free from committing any known sin. There was therefore no excuse for tolerating any known vice, appetite, or sinful habit.”86 Their popular metaphor is that the “sinful nature is like an uninflated balloon with a cart (the weight of sin) attached. Christ fills the balloon and the resulting buoyancy overcomes the natural gravity of our sin. While Christ fills our lives we do not have a tendency to sin, yet we still are liable to sin. Were we to let Christ out of our lives, sin would immediately take over.”87 While D. L. Moody popularized it, Cyrus Scofield (the dispensationalist author whose Bible notes Burke references to understand Genesis) and Henry A. Ironside documented Keswick theology. And Charles Trumball perpetuated the “let go and let God” motto. He elaborated that Christ would rule in us so long as we did not interfere. Objectors claim that “Christ was supposedly let in and out of peoples’ lives like steam or electricity turned on or off.”88

According to Marsden, Keswick works in the United States because the notion of “free will” is an “American dogma.”89 Keswick negotiates between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. He ends his chapter on Keswick history by addressing it as a dispensational compliment within the Bible institute movement. It softened the often hard edge of “more objective arguments” and “the harder edge of a cultural pessimism by focusing on individual success.”90

Such is the history, but M. James Sawyer lays out the Keswick theology.91 For the Keswickian, there are two types of Christian: carnal and normal. For the normal Christian, the self is dethroned, yielded, absent. Any hint of self-identity, however, is carnal. Sin, in the Keswickian perspective, is overwhelmingly powerful. And while it can never be eradicated, it must be continually thwarted. Full surrender is the only solution; anything less is willful rebellion. What this comes down to is complete capitulation of anything human or anything personal. The self is useless. It must have no rights, no personality, and no humanity.

Sawyer also points out the formulaic quality of the Keswick mindset. Keswick proponents often tout their “five simple steps to a successful Christian walk!” This simplicity is only possible with an eradication of any difficult feelings. For the Keswickian, a strong faith is proven by positive “feelings.” Negative or strong feelings demonstrate self-rule and are, thus, to be avoided at all cost.

Keswick criticism comes not just from historians and mainline theologians. A 2006 BJU Seminary graduate, Andrew Naselli, traces Keswick history and theology and argues that Keswick is at odds with “historic Protestant theology.”92 He identifies Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of the Dallas Theological Seminary, as the chief peddler of Keswick theology in contemporary America. Naselli concludes that Keswick resists both the Reformed and the Wesleyan views of sanctification: “The Wesleyan view embraces a complete, instantaneous eradication of the indwelling sin tendency or law, and the historic Protestant view embraces a gradual eradication or mortification never completed until glorification. Keswick rejects both of these views, however, regarding them as forms of sinless perfectionism.”93 Since Keswick insists that any gradual sanctification is impossible, it insists upon a continuous counter-action of the flesh. “The Keswick view incorrectly understands the flesh to be an equally powerful nature alongside the believer’s new nature: both natures are unchanging entities within the believer, and only one is in total control at any given moment.”94 Just like Burke’s Augustine, the Keswick drama is a war within the believer between good and evil. Indeed, Keswick theology stumbles into Pelagianism—that hard-working but heretical foil to the historic (not Burkean) Augustine’s grace:

Keswick theology affirms a monergistic view of sanctification, namely, God does all the work and the believer is passive—with one crucial condition: the believer must choose to let God work. This is why Keswick theology is simultaneously guilty of both quietism and Pelagianism. The Achilles heel of Keswick theology is the question, “Who is responsible for the believer’s subsequent sin: Christ or the believer?” No one would say the former; it must be the believer. Ironically, once the believer has surrendered himself completely to the indwelling Christ, he still has the inherent ability to un-surrender himself and take control back—an explanation that defies logic. Without such an explanation, however, the indwelling Christ would be responsible for the believer’s sin. Placing such ultimate control in the believer resembles both “Pelagianism” and “magic.”95

What Naselli labels as “defying logic,” Burke finds in his read of Augustine, Marsden finds in the hot air balloon metaphor, and Sawyer sees in Keswick’s subjective standards. Keswick teaching assumes a Gnostic kind of dualism—the good angel and the bad devil sitting on the shoulders of every believer, ready to duke it out for ultimate control. When the believer remains completely passive, then the “good” side may take over. But any sign of will is certain doom. Just like Burke’s take on Augustine’s mortification, there is a quagmire in Keswick. The self-control that Keswick demands is impossible if the self is as wholly evil as they describe. Like Augustine, in the drama of Keswick, believers are very much the actors, holding the reins, controlling the outcome as well as the scene upon which the battle takes place. God is nothing more than a goal to be reached, a badge to be worn. The Christian walk is a tightrope that we must constantly balance all our weight upon, a tragic precipice upon which we teeter. One little slip to the left or the right, one little glimpse down below, and we’re doomed.

Mapping out the historical descriptions and the theological critiques of Keswick doctrine make Berg all that much more familiar territory. When Trouble Comes unwittingly and precisely follows the Keswick model. The book describes itself as a “crisis checklist.”96 The “crisis” is perilous. Either we choose rightly and succeed, or we choose poorly and plummet into thorny danger. “If we respond wrongly to any of these crises, the situation can become even more complicated.”97 So Berg follows Sawyer’s description of Keswick’s simple formulas. For Berg, following the straightforward “checklist” guarantees “joy.”98 The drama Berg presents is familiar: the believer purges the self through mortification in order to achieve unity with God. Berg hones this down by centering around four “truths”: “The greatest danger is always the flesh.”99 “The gospel is always the answer.”100 “God’s glory is always the goal.”101 “God Himself is always enough.”102

If “the greatest danger is always the flesh,”103 then simply being human is always the problem. Any whiff of personality or individuality is distracting. No “anger, bitterness, fear, or anxiety,” can be present. Maintaining this otherworldly beauty is rigorous. “It’s going to be tough,”104 Berg reminds us, because being human is so natural. Like Sawyer points out in Keswick, for Berg, simply being human is troublesome.

If “the gospel is always the answer,”105 then entrance into the romantic fold is really the toughest hurdle. “Once you are a child of God, your greatest crisis is over. . . . If God knows how to rescue you from your greatest crisis, He certainly knows how to deliver you from any other crisis of life”106 (emphasis his). Pre-salvation, then, Berg puts God as the agent in the drama; post-salvation, however, Berg presents the believer as the agent alone. “The gospel reveals man’s responsibility. . . . Man’s responsibilities after salvation are first to turn from his sinful bent to trust himself to make life work. Self-centeredness is at the root of his problem. He must confess his mutiny against God and ask forgiveness.”107 Like Burke’s Augustine, salvation is God’s work (thus reducing salvation to nothing more than “fire insurance”). The subsequent living as a Christian, however, is the believer’s sole domain. This switch, far from empowering, only delivers guilt as Burke so thoroughly describes.

If “God’s glory is always the goal,”108 then God has clearly moved from the primary agent in salvation to being the purpose in the mortification drama. Berg asserts that “a life focused on Christ will not crumble in crisis.”109 Notice that the believer is the one who determines the focus. Rather than saying “a life given to Christ” or “the Christian life,” Berg places the human responsibility as continuous and tenuous. The Christian life involves daily and difficult salvations from the flesh.

Any distraction from that badge of honor (God), any hint at self, and the romance is doomed. Like the three Hebrew students in the fiery furnace in Daniel, “we should respond in such a way that others who watch us in our ‘fiery furnace’ can see someone ‘like the Son of God’ with us in the furnace of our trial.”110 Looking good is more important than feeling good or even being good. Berg assumes that he and his are on display. They are “watched” during their struggles. When they are the most hurting, they must look the most serene.

If “God Himself is always enough,”111 then any discomfort is simple fleshliness or sin. If they are uncomfortable or unsettled, it is the believer’s own recalcitrant lack of information. “If our hearts are not at rest when trouble comes, it is because we do not realize how much He loves us.”’112 “The crisis reveals what we are.” Instead of the crisis revealing Whose they are, Berg puts the full responsibility on the sectarian’s character-building skills or beauty. The sectarian must constantly inspect and control quirkiness and individuality. Beauty marks foil the ideal. All are unified. All must look the same.

At one point in WTC, Berg claims that “our sinful natures are clones of Satan’s own nature.”113 He offers no biblical grounding or explanation, but the statement reveals the actor-as-scene tension in his tragedy as mortification. The comment seems secondary. So for a fuller description of this loaded statement, we can refer to another Berg book—his most popular Changed Into His Image—a 1999 text that has blossomed into a video series, workbook, a “teen” version, and alternate translations in Spanish, Portuguese, and German.

The title exposes Berg’s bias. Rather than the traditional Judeo-Christian interpretation that every human being is created in God’s Image, Berg frames it as something yet to come. In other words, being created in God’s image is not a past divine act, but an ongoing human process. To be like or one with God is the purpose of the believer’s purification through mortification. Given the whole drama in this text and in When Trouble Comes, believers change themselves into God’s image. Like Burke’s Augustine, like the Gnostics, like the Keswick revivalists, Berg places the responsibility for sanctification on the believer who purges the self through mortification.

His “Mortifying the Flesh” chapter could be lifted right from Burke’s analysis of the Confessions. Like in WTC, the “flesh” is interchangeable with “sin.” Berg describes it as “the indwelling sin principle that remains in a believer after he is saved, although its absolute power over him is broken.”114 The corporeal body and the sin are “inextricably linked in practice.” In the end, being human is being sinful.

Because flesh equals sin, it must be “mortified,” “denied,” “put off,” “not be served.” The believer is again the actor here. Being God/Christ-like or one with God is the goal. The act of purging is complicated because Berg’s list of sins are more a listing of human weaknesses than deliberate actions: “worry, deception, lack of endurance, destructive bodily habits (such as drugs, drinking, anorexia, bulimia, or overeating), anger, a critical spirit, discontent, profanity and other sins of the tongue, bitterness, laziness, rebellion to the authorities in your life, greed and materialism, gambling, or immoral behavior.” He reads Romans 6:11115 to be saying: “‘God knows you have been freed from the requirements to obey indwelling sin. Now you need to take it personally and quit living as if you had to obey it; start living unto God.’” Berg plainly puts the believer as the sole agent obeying through mortification or crucifying the old man.

What results is pure Gnostic dualism: good duking it out with bad, the spiritual battling the physical, the believer counter-acting Satan’s continuous control. The classic Evangelical sermon illustration of the black dog and the white dog fits here. The clichéd image describes a black dog and a white dog fighting inside each believer, and the one we feed is the one who wins.

Thus, implicit in the drama is a combative dichotomy between God and self. He even cites the maxim so popular in these Fundamentalist circles: “Just two choices on the shelf—pleasing God or pleasing self.” Being divine is everything that being human is not. They are mutually exclusive and continually at odds. Humanity is not made in God’s image but is made in Satan’s image, even after redemption. Combat is inevitable, and this violence to the self is redemptive.

The dichotomy is simple, but the battle is tedious. “The Christian life is not an easy life to live because of this warring sinfulness that dwells within us. Though it isn’t easy, it isn’t complicated. Complications are usually the natural consequences of going our own way.” It is tough but easy. If it seems complex, that is just our selfishness rearing its ugly head. The dualistic simplicity makes mortifying the self an irresistible alternative to more intricate, more tenuous, more comic solutions. All problems are, then, sin problems. All crises are spiritual battles. All losers are simply carnal.

Berg’s seeming simplicity is made even thornier by the subjective standards. While anorexia is clearly giving in the flesh, self-denial must never let up. “We have to exercise self-denial by saying no to the promptings of the flesh, but we also have to say no to any pull to feed the flesh, thus making it stronger. Every time we feed it in one area of life, we make it harder to say no to it in any area.”116 We do not know where legitimate flesh-feeding is apt or where it is sinful. Like Sawyer’s critique of Keswick, the standard is completely subjective. But the ambiguous character is not freeing like it would be in Wink’s comedy; instead it is demoralizing since like Burke’s Augustine, believers never know if they can reach the goal of oneness with God.

As for romance in Berg’s text, it is absent. Wooing the Other in this drama is impossible. It would be too complicated and too unsafe. Berg describes separation as insulation, not attraction. Every believer must separate, but for protection, not flirtation. “Personal separation from the world does not mean isolating ourselves from the world but rather insulating ourselves from its toxic, fleshly effect upon our souls.”117 For him, the believers must live in the world but be nowhere near the world. They live in plastic bubbles. They elevate themselves on an even higher pedestal not for attention, but for shelter. Berg offers a surgical metaphor to explain:

Today physicians and health-care professionals are more careful about protecting themselves from the AIDS virus because the possibility of exposure to it in their line of work has increased enormously. As a result, they do not reuse needles, and they wear surgical gloves and sometimes masks. They are extremely careful about contact with bodily fluids. They are not less careful because we live in a “modern age.” They are more careful because we live in a “corrupted age.” In the same way, believers who are concerned about their spiritual health will be more careful in this increasingly corrupt culture. There are more dangers to their souls—not fewer. The pagan, sensual, materialistic environment around them is more contaminated with ungodliness. The need for circumspect living is greater today—not less.118

The believer purges the self by insulating himself against suspect human contact. This insulation is another kind of mortification, another kind of denial of humanity. The drama has shifted from loving the Other by wooing to proving a oneness with God by showing a squeaky clean image. For Berg, the believer must exist within a sterile environment.119 Hydroponics of the soul is Berg’s horticulture.

Therefore, attraction is too vulnerable for Berg. He must be much more utilitarian. Insulation is the key. While the surgical gloves may be flexible, for this sectarian separation is most like Martin Marty’s carapace—protective, hermetically sealed, and even uncomfortable—there is no safe contact for this romantic. Even abstinence is too vulnerable. The romantic now separates for fortification, not as a rhetorical strategy for evangelism. The romance is now a war story—a war within.

Thus, in this text the romantic sectarian is far from beautiful. Too encased in hazmat gear to even be seen, the sectarian Berg kills the self as a scapegoat. Even the romantic’s position before God is insecure since the divine is both elevated and reduced to a goal. God’s grace must be earned by regularly removing dangerously growing fleshliness. The insider without proper protection might even be the worst secular outsider: the reprobate. “The [Christian] individual’s problem isn’t that he is somehow ‘out of his right mind.’ His problem is that he has a ‘reprobate mind,’ and he is reaping what he has been sowing.”120

Thus, in interpreting the sacred Text, Berg and Burke’s Augustine sound the same. Berg presents a constant battle between the flesh and the spirit just as Burke’s Augustine sacrifices continuously. Berg’s distinction between selfishness and selflessness is tenuous and subjective just as Burke is never sure when Augustine is actually acting or merely moving. Berg frames God as an aspiring Image or goal just as Burke’s Augustine strives for a divine Order. Berg is always threatened by the self just as Burke reads Genesis as continuously menacing humanity with its dusty origins. In sum, both purge. Both confuse the action versus motion dichotomy. Both make the believer the actor and the scene. Both make the divine a goal never quite reached. And in doing so, in making God an irretrievable carrot-on-a-stick, both are recalcitrantly tragic. Neither seeks resolution but persists in the cycle of tragedy like a hamster stuck in its wheel.

And Wink’s way and Wallis’s politics can best speak to all concerned. Wink puts the tragedy as mythological not biblical, as temporary not inevitable, as unredeemed not a step in redemption. Sacrificing has ended, and so killing the self has ended too. From the Sermon on the Mount, Wink foregrounds a creative improvisation to startle, but never destroy, the enemy. In love, Wink finds hope for redefining the Secular Other as adversaries instead of enemies. Wink reminds the sectarian to separate not for insulation, but for strategy. To him, purity, not impurity, is catchy! Rather than pushing the divine into the distance as an irretrievable goal with the believer purifying the self through mortification, Wink makes God and the believer co-agents in ministering Grace to fellow human beings. And Wallis takes Wink’s way to the streets by telling these already-outsiders to continue their impious politics, to ignore political divisions, and to work the polls like a prophet instead of a politico.

Romance as Cultivation: BJU’s Greenhouse Curriculum

So a comical hope exists even for these sectarians still recovering from the political rejection after Campaign 2000. Wink and Wallis can be that undistributed middle term between these sectarians and comedy. Yet the BJU culture offers a glimmer of comic correction as well. As bestsellers as Berg’s books may be, his drama is not alone in the BJU discourse. Both historical and contemporary documents present a separation in defiance of insulation, a Christian life more human and confident than mortification, and a future more connected with its community than afraid. There are bold cultivating voices among the anxious mortifying ones.

The education philosophy from BJU documents is specifically and directly articulated in defiance to the Keswick fear of humanity. Author and faculty member Ron Horton states that Bob Jones, Sr. founded the school in direct critique to the Bible Institute movement. Dr. Jones saw the Christian walk as less a mysterious balance and more a plain common sense. Having a liberal arts curriculum—one that relishes human endeavor—is incoherent within the Keswickian mindset.121

Seeking academic accreditation, too, is far from insulating. Though the approval comes from a relatively new accrediting body, the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, the move is strategic and potentially endearing.122 Title IV Federal Student Aid may also soften that hardening carapace.

Thus, philosophical foundations and new policies frustrate the separation as insulation ethic and open the possibilities for a romantic comedy. And now a new administration offers more comedic metaphor for the next generation. Stephen Jones, great-grandson of the founder, is the first BJU president without the “Robert Reynolds” moniker. He has been described as “more attuned” to the Millennial generation in the student body.123 Far from the exciting extroverted evangelists before him, “he’s more anti-hellfire and brimstone,” reporters quip. Jones expresses a gracious “reaching-out” reminiscent of pre-Campaign 2000 romance. “[Jesus] reached beyond the pure believers of his day,” he reminds a reporter. To him, the campus is a nurturing “greenhouse,” a family that grows Christians stronger.

And within that curriculum embracing of humanity, within that attractive strategy of outreach, within that comedic cultivation of a greenhouse, Bob Jones University can find a new rhetoric. A greenhouse is a temporary place. Its purpose is to start the seed, feed it, nurture it lovingly, and eventually harden off that plant and send it out into the world to bloom and flourish. Greenhouses are used to grow plants that are not only beautiful, but also strong. They not only produce good fruit, but also weather the storm. Not just for show and not just for the fight, the products of a greenhouse will thrive and attract many future generations. A faith grown in a Keswick ethic cannot withstand the inhospitable winter of a secular world. It must remain cocooned and insulated in a perfectly controlled climate because it cannot brave the outside.

As gardeners in a greenhouse, these romantics can be better comedians. With Wink and Wallis’s landscape design, they can plan a more beautiful garden. Within a cultivating ethic, they can sing more like the romantically comic tune so predominant in their Museum and Gallery. They can boldly resist what Wink calls the “Myth of Redemptive Violence” as far from Christian. They can confidently ignore the lines Republican pundits draw as legitimate boundaries for political engagement. They can, like Wallis suggests, take religion more seriously than the rest and embrace a prophetic politics. These sectarians are already well-versed in liminal living. They know how to be strategically beautiful. By resisting the old tragic Augustinian mortification, by refusing Gnostic dualism, by critiquing Keswickian frustration, by choosing differently than Berg’s actor-as-scene tragedy, they can begin to articulate a confidently radiant beauty. They can join God in the ongoing work and demonstrate grace to those around them—including themselves. After the spurning of Campaign 2000, they have just two choices on the shelf: growing grace or killing self. The latter will ruin their testimony and their sanctity. The former will only let it blossom.


1Kenneth Burke, “The Philosophy of Literary Form.” In The Philosophy of Literary Form (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1941) 110–11.

2Jim Berg, Changed into His Image: God's Plan for Transforming Your Life (Greenville: U Bob Jones P, 1999) 100.

3David Domke, God Willing?: Political Fundamentalism in the White House, the “War on Terror,” and the Echoing Press (Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto P, 2004). Domke describes George W. Bush as a “political fundamentalist” using the naïve recalcitrance of conservative Evangelicalism as a guide for policy.

4Bob Jones, Letter to President Bush upon his Re-Election (3 Nov 2004) Online, 30 August 2005 .

5After the 9/11 attacks, Falwell blamed “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America” for “help[ing] this happen.” “Falwell Apologizes to Gays, Feminists, Lesbians,” CNN.com (14 Sept 2001) Online, 14 Sept 2001. 17 March 2006 .

6Kenneth Burke, The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology (Berkeley: U California P, 1970). vi.

7Burke, Religion 2.

8Burke, Religion v.

9Burke, Religion 1.

10Clarke Rountree and Mark Huglen, “Editors’ Essay: “Toward the Next Phase,” KBJournal.org, Fall 2004. Burke’s mother was a Christian Scientist, and he has often expressed more than a passing admiration for the Christian Scientist perspective.

11Burke, Religion 17.

12Burke, Religion 7.

13Burke, Religion 35–36.

14Burke, Religion 136.

15Burke, Religion 137.

16Burke, Religion 135.

17Burke,Religion 223.

18Burke, Religion 223.

19Burke, Religion 174.

20Burke, Religion 180.

21Burke, Religion 178.

22Burke, Religion 200.

23Burke, Religion 206.

24Burke, Religion 208–10.

25Burke, Religion 212.

26Burke, Religion 191.

27Burke, Religion 222.

28Burke, Religion 236.

29Burke, Religion 100, 200–01.

30Burke, Religion 271.

31Burke, Religion 271.

32Burke, Religion 200.

33Burke, Religion 249.

34Burke, Religion 266–267.

35Burke, Religion 200.

36Burke, Religion 207.

37Kenneth Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives (Berkeley: U California P, 1950) 13.

38Kenneth Burke, “Realism and Idealism,” The Dial 74 (1923): 97–99.

39James F. Klumpp, “‘Dancing With Tears in My Eyes’: Celebrating the Life and Work of Kenneth Burke,” Southern Communication Journal 61 (Fall 1995): 1–10.

40A. Cheree Carlson, “Creative Casuistry and Feminist Consciousness: A Rhetoric of Moral Reform,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 78 (1992): 16–32.

41Kenneth Burke, Counter-Statement (Berkeley: U California P, 1968) 64.

42Kenneth Burke, “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle.” In The Philosophy of Literary Form (Baton Rouge: U Louisiana State P, 1941) 191–220. Alice Miller, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1980). Other critics of Western civilization’s tragedy suggest solutions just as unsatisfying as Burke’s. Alice Miller in For Your Own Good uses Hitler’s Germany as the worst representative anecdote imaginable. For Burke, it is Hitler’s politics; for Miller, it is German parenting. She describes a “poisonous pedagogy” within eighteenth-century through nineteenth-century parenting manuals and summarizes their ethic as follows: adults must master the child whose will must be broken; self-respect is harmful but self-loathing is desirable; gentleness is dangerous; and the artificially pleasing is better than the honestly displeasing. Requiring German children to obey their parents the first time without question trained them to do the same when Hitler demanded that they complete unspeakable crimes also without question. Miller creatively ignores disciplinary boundaries and the imaginary line between the public and the private. To her, the most private crimes made the worst public sin possible and inevitable.

The German notions that “parents are always right” and “responding to a child’s needs is wrong” and “first-time obedience is expected” are jarringly familiar. The death-to-self or mortification in Augustine is extended to death-to-child or punishment in the German home. Unity with the parent is only possible through brutal abuse which cleanses both parent and child from any whiff of dissent.

Miller convincingly connects this familiar “poisonous pedagogy” to the horror of the Holocaust and, thus, creates an irrepressible desire in her readers for some resolution. But her prescription is absent—a tragedy in itself. She concludes: “All we can do, as I see it, is to affirm and lend our support to the human objects of manipulation in their attempts to become aware and help them become conscious of the malleability and articulate their feelings so that they will be able to use their own resources to defend themselves against the soul murder that threatens them.” All children are and will be inevitably reared “poisonously,” and therapists and novelists, she surmises, will be the agents of discovery and change for the future adult. Miller vividly identifies the catalyst for the worst evil in recent memory, but she cannot fathom a solution—another tragedy in itself.

Burke and Miller identify the same problem in German culture. In reading Mein Kampf, Burke sees Hitler’s “cure” for German problems as passing off “one’s ills to a scapegoat, thereby getting purification by dissociation.” The more guilt we carry, the more rage we must vent on the scapegoat, whether Jew or child.

And like Miller, Burke can only imagine that awareness is the solution: “Our job, then, our anti-Hitler Battle, is to find all available ways of making the Hitlerite distortions of religion apparent, in order that politicians of his kind in America be unable to perform a similar swindle” (Burke). While it is a start, for both Miller and Burke, this is only a chuckle. Neither can imagine anything more in the face of such horror than a risky whistling past the graveyard.

43Walter Wink, The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium (New York: Galilee Trade, 1999) 16–17.

44Wink 183.

45Wink 42.

46Wink 45–47.

47Wink 47.

48Wink 44.

49Burke, “Hitler’s Battle.”

50Wink 59.

51Wink 48.

52Wink 43.

53Wink 49.

54Wink 53.

55Wink 57.

56Wink 62.

57Wink 45–46.

58Wink 86.

59Wink 86.

60Wink 92.

61Wink 88–89, 91.

62Wink 60.

63Wink 110.

64Wink 101.

65Wink 109.

66Wink 126–27.

67Wink 135.

68Wink 187.

69Wink 165.

70Wink 165.

71Wink 167.

72Wink 171.

73Wink 177.

74Wink 179.

75Wink 74.

76Wink 75.

77Jim Wallis, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (New York: Harper Collins, 2005) xviii.

78Wallis xviii.

79Wallis xx.

80Wallis xviii.

81Wallis 6–7.

82Wallis 66.

83Wallis 75.

84Wallis 22.

85From I Samuel 7:12, an Ebenezer stone is a reminder that “God has helped us thus far.”

86George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism 1870–1925 (New York: Oxford P, 1980) 78.

87Marsden 78.

88Marsden 98.

89Marsden 99.

90Marsden 100–01.

91M. James Sawyer, “Wesleyan & Keswick Models of Sanctification” (Dallas: bible.org, 2005). Online. http://www.bible.org/page.asp?page_id=391

92Andrew David Naselli, Keswick Theology: A Historical and Theological Survey and Analysis of the Doctrine of Sanctification in the Early Keswick Movement, 1875-1920 (Greenville, SC: BJU, 2006).

93Naselli 148.

94Naselli, 223.

95Naselli 235–36.

96Jim Berg, When Trouble Comes (Greenville: U Bob Jones P, 2002) vii.

97Berg 6.

98Berg 8.

99Berg 12.

100Berg 21.

101Berg 47.

102Berg 63.

103Berg 12.

104Berg 16.

105Berg 21.

106Berg 26.

107Berg 33.

108Berg 47.

109Berg 36.

110Berg 43.

111Berg 63.

112Berg 66.

113Berg 54.

114Jim Berg, Changed into His Image: God's Plan for Transforming Your Life (Greenville, SC: U Bob Jones P, 1999).

115Romans 6:11, KJV: Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

116Berg Changed, 102.

117Berg Changed, 103–04.

118Berg Changed, 103–04.

119Berg Changed, 107.

120Berg Changed, 109.

121From Ron Horton, “BJU Statement of Christian Education” (Greenville, SC: U Bob Jones P, 2004) Online, 17 March 2006, < http:// www.bju.edu/academics/ed_purpose/>. Horton explains the Bob Jones pedagogical focus as distinct from Keswick’s “deeper life” inward focus. “Our common-sense realism encourages a balanced approach in peripheral theological matters that have divided orthodox Protestantism as well as a down-to-earth approach to the Christian life. Certain features of our Puritan heritage and of European pietism in general have given an introverted, mystical character to some Evangelicalism. Oddly coupled with this subjective “deeper life” inwardness is the emotional exuberance of Pentecostalism, with its emphasis on the experiential validation of truth. These intuitional tendencies, too easily disregardful of doctrine, have merged in leftward evangelicalism with an intellectualism anxious to establish rational bases for faith and eager for the respect of liberal scholarship. Intuitionism and intellectualism have not been characteristic of historic American Fundamentalism, nor are they part of our defining identity. For our founder, Dr. Bob Jones Sr., success in the Christian life was largely a matter of obedience and good sense. Hence, our anti-rationalism and anti-charismaticism.”

122 “Bob Jones University seeks accreditation for first time.” Associated P, 27 April 2005.

123Davenport, Jim. “Bob Jones Changes Leadership.” Associated P, 6 May 2005.

124Hawes, Jennifer Berry. “This is His Father’s World.” The Post and Courier. 10 July 2005.

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The Glamour of Motives: Applications of Kenneth Burke within the Sociological Field

Robert Wade Kenny, University of Dayton

When it comes to one’s intellectual standing, all publicity is not good publicity, for a simple citation can trivialize, misrepresent, and even scandalize a reputation. Consequently, the appearance of one’s name within a text, or lack thereof, is no measure of the role one has played in the construction of the authoring scholar’s work,1 nor does it adequately represent one’s significance to the field from within which that scholar produces. In sociology, for example, one could easily publish a document as long as this essay, composed only of the titles of texts in which Kenneth Burke’s name, or one of his ideas, is mentioned. On such occasions, however, the usage may be a misrepresentation (Kuhn, 1967a, p. 56, 1967b, p. 180, Blum and McHugh, 1971, p. 102, Dibble, 1975, p. 114)2 or a trivia (Hazelrigg, 1989, p. 43, Jasper, 2004, p. 237). Equally it is the case that the absence, or near-absence, of Burke’s name within a text does not mean he played no role in its creation (Edelman, 1977; Goffman, 1961, 1963, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1974, 1981, Brown, 1977). For such reasons, a citation-based assessment of Burke’s impact in sociology might be misleading. All the same, it is possible to take a general look at the persistence and depth of acknowledged Burkean thinking in sociology, to get a feeling of where Burke and Dramatism stand in relation to Marx, Weber, Durkheim, George Herbert Mead, Talcott Parsons, and more recently Anthony Giddens and Jeffrey Alexander. To ask this question in a meaningful way, however, we need to begin with a brief examination of what sociology is, as a discipline, of what it does.

Sociology is predicated on the notion that human action is neither random nor mystical, and this sets up the initial condition necessary for an inquiry into the motivating principles that give rise to social order and disorder. Of course, this sociological predication can only be correct if the actions of individuals are not so unique and spontaneous as any actor might otherwise assume – forces that significantly direct the behavior of individuals must be in play, even when they operate at a level below the acting agent’s conscious recognition. In Marx, for example, there is an assumption that the structural characteristics of the economy play a significant role in social order; and a Marxian sociologist might therefore assume that a person’s family of origin is a more powerful predictor of that person’s ultimate socioeconomic status than, say for example, a person’s virtuous character or strength of will. However, for sociology, this is not a matter of presumption or theoretical bias, in that the credible sociologist must establish those conditions necessary for determining whether such educated guesses actually stand up under empirical investigation. In this way, proceeding from theoretical reflections, to methodologies of assessment, to data of verification, sociologists engage in those inquiring strategies they treat as the conditions necessary to legitimate any formal articulation of the social world, and consequently strategies also regarded as mandatory for ideas to contribute, not only to public knowledge, but also to the public good, through the impact of sociological insights in matters of social justice, social work, policy analysis, and the like. Thus, sociology is not simply the name for a subsection of the intellectual life, for it is a praxiology as much as it is an ideology. When one meets a sociologist, in particular a field sociologist, one is always conscious of meeting a type – of meeting someone with an ethos as specific as might be found in a police officer or a dentist. Indeed, sociologists recognize each other more concretely through the sociological ethos than they do the sociological genius; and, in this way, in part, the sociological community maintains those elements of exclusivity that are associated with it. Kenneth Burke was, of course, an intellectual who was distinctly outside that sociological ethos.

The sociological presumption that agents are motivated by general forces they insufficiently comprehend implies that actors must both understand and not understand the reasons that they do what they do at the same time. Social agents are thus characterized by an anamnesis. This concept, used by Plato to describe the soul’s remembrance (and forgetting) of the pre-birth world, was also fundamental to Freud’s theory of hysterical neurosis. The sociological version of the notion is, fortuitously, much more palatable – it simply suggests that social agents are motivated by conglomerations of forces that they rarely comprehend; that agents have more of a competency for appropriate social action than they have a competency for accurate explanation of their social action. A fourteen year old boy might for example, display those competencies necessary to steal a pair of sneakers from Walmart, but he would be hard pressed to afterward explain the conditions that gave rise to the theft (social inequity, reference group relations, Merton’s typology of deviant action, peer answerability, etc.) – indeed he might even have only limited awareness of those performance competencies (normative dress, normative body movement, risk-answerability discernment) that he exploited in order to perpetrate the crime. The fundamental task of the sociologist, then, is to justifiably characterize the unacknowledged conditions that are specific to social actions, and this is predicated on the notion that there are such conditions, that there is a logic governing human action even when social actors cannot articulate it. Sociology is thus able to compose a general narrative of social life only because social agents are already and unwittingly living in a rule-governed reality, a “lifeworld”, even before the sociologist investigates or articulates it -- the script of social existence emerges within this lifeworld, a lifeworld that constitutes the social experience itself; and only thereafter does the sociologist makes sense of it, and only then because it was active prior to the initiating moment of sociological investigation.3

Given that the notion of the lifeworld is now in play, it should be noted that the success of The Social Construction of Reality, by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman, was certainly foretold by the writings of lifeworld phenomenologist Alfred Schutz (who is regularly cited alongside Burke by sociologists). Schutz had co-authored with Luckman in the past, but it was Berger’s sociological ethos as well as his sociological vocabulary that brought the issue of the lifeworld into explicitly sociological formulation.4 Perhaps it is worth noting, then, that the Burkean scholar Trevor Melia, also a late friend of Burke’s, was a reviewer of the Berger and Luckman book,5 for Melia saw a direct relationship between what Berger and Luckman called “reality” and what Kenneth Burke called “ontology”. Melia imagined that one might attribute to the “socially constructed reality” a collection of acknowledged, organizing principles found in Kenneth Burke’s writing, specifically, the pentad.6 He believed sociologists might examine social space in the same way a critic might examine theatrical space, because social actors were already self-motivated by the pentadic lifeworld that they ongoingly co-created, just as actors were dependent upon the pentadic forces that the writer and the director had used in the creation of the theatrical production. Unfortunately, sociologists, and Burke scholars in general, have resisted this relatively harmless insight.7 The tendency among sociologists who apply Kenneth Burke, excepting Duncan and Perinbanayagam, is to avoid Burke’s Dramatism, focusing instead on Burke’s treatment of rhetoric as a form of symbolic interaction or strategic discourse. Of course, this is an appropriate usage, but Burke’s Dramatism also needs to be applied in the context of general social action and performance if it is to gather the attention it deserves within the sociological field.

Burke hoped for more; and, indeed, spent decades trying to introduce his thinking to sociologists. I believe it was his limited grasp of how sociology functioned as a discipline which left him unable to identify the steps necessary and the language necessary to make his primary contribution within that community. For most sociologists, statements such as “Logology is my epistemology and Dramatism is my ontology,” or “Dramatism is literal,” confound, more than clarify, the significance of Dramatism to sociological investigation. Things would have been much clearer had he said:

Where some presume that structural forces order social life, and others presume that social life is best explained in terms of functional features, I argue that social life is ordered by dramatistic forces, under the general conditions I set forth for their emergence, perpetuation, transformation, and decline.

With the above characterization of Dramatism’s relationship to sociology in mind, it is worth mentioning that sociology is now subject to a “cultural turn”, a period in its history when culture and ritual are treated as ordering forces (Alexander, 1988; Alexander and Seidman, 1990; Alexander, Eyerman, Giesen, Smelser, and Sztompa, 2004; Alexander and Smith, 2005; Alexander, 2006; ). Burke has wandered into the background of these inquiries, already; but he might have a better position if it were generally understood that he not only recognized the role of symbols in social life but also created a grammar for the examination of how those symbols orchestrated the motivating forces specific to structured social action, and that he had developed a dialectic method which also facilitated any explanations for how such structured social orders, nevertheless and ultimately, transformed. Regularly, Burke’s pentad has been treated as the researcher’s explicit vocabulary rather than the social agent’s pre-reflective categories for the intuition of experience. Of course, the pentad is both: experts can regularly parse discourse and social action in terms of its pentadic characteristics, but it is equally true that social actors (even the most naive of them) regularly engage in non-thetic attunement to the proportions governing the act, scene, agent, agency, and purpose within whatever they experience; and that they are motivated to act based on what they intuit. In Burkean parlance, one would say that the world is experienced as a dramatistic configuration that impels motivated action. For example, let us imagine that a patron shouts “Time to die!” and jumps up in a movie-theater with a chainsaw. If I am there, I will run out the exit, not because it is a movie theater (scene), not because he is a patron (actor), and not because he jumped up (action) -- I will run because he has a chainsaw and because he has announced that he is intent on killing (an agency-purpose ratio).8 As I run, I will no doubt notice other people, who have never read Burke dashing for the door, some even ahead of me. Few of them will later discuss the nature of the agency-purpose ratio, but all would have known what to do when they saw the chainsaw and heard the words. Sociologically speaking, running from a movie lobby is not a norm, however it is quite normal, under the specified circumstances. What then would be the sociological vocabulary for explaining such subtleties of human motivation? This is precisely the question that Kenneth Burke answers. He makes clear that it is insufficient to explain human conduct in terms of norms, and he offers a complex, dialectical, dramatistic characterization of human motives to replace the much more general vocabulary that it is wont to use. His is a descriptive method that characterizes social action with more precision than norms can offer, a significant sociological contribution that might shake the foundations of social determinism, featuring the significance of pattern (ritual) and pattern reading by social actors, challenging both functional and structural explanations of human action, indeed rendering far more complex and representative any symbol driven theory of social action as well. This is, of course, the foundation of the emerging “cultural turn” in sociology, which relies so heavily on the writings of Victor Turner, Mary Douglas, and Erving Goffman.

There are many other rich contributions that Kenneth Burke might make to the study of sociology, but the general failure to characterize this one clearly has moved Burke toward the exclusively discursive side of that discipline. While this may be a disappointment to Burke scholars, it is perhaps the greater loss for sociology, for Burke’s ideas remain as relevant to the field as ever. In truth, Burke never obtained a critical and central position within social studies; his status fragmented and marginal even at his perigee. Attitudes Toward History, Permanence and Change, A Grammar of Motives, and A Rhetoric of Motives emerged in print while American sociology carved out approaches that, though similar to Burke, were partly motivated by each author’s attempt to distinguish himself from the literary critic whose work had been pressed upon them during their Chicago years. Consequently, Burke’s writing remained on the margins in a manner that allowed sociologists to occasionally perform status-elevation by indicating their knowledge of it, while also making it clear that they were not dependent upon it. How could it be otherwise for a discipline that was intent upon distinguishing itself, not only in terms of its theoretical articulations, but also in terms of its methods of investigation?

In terms of philosophical foundations, Burke’s relevance to sociology is associated with his neo-Kantian sensibilities. Having rejected the notion that human thought was linked to a supersensible realm which provided ideal mental objects, he was forced to find some other strategy to account for both the origins and purposes of human thinking and human action, including the mystical sentiments that often found themselves linked to social practices. It was for this reason that Burke developed his method of socioanagogic inquiry – a method that directed criticism toward the ways that social forces generated principles managed as if they were trans-phenomenal and eternal (1969, p. 220). Given this method, Burke’s fundamental discoveries are quite similar to those we find in Émile Durkheim, particularly his text The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1966). Durkheim, for example, was very concerned, in that text, to characterize the manner collective energy was driven into objects as a condition for their symbolic representation and group affiliation.9 His depiction of this process resonates with Burke’s notion of consubstantiality; and, while it has some features that consubstantiality does not address, any characterization of conscience collective could also benefit from some of the subtleties that Burke’s consubstantiality offers. All this goes unnoticed at the center of the sociological community, however, which reproduces its discourse, on a generational basis, through readings and re-readings of three figures that are sacred to that field: Durkheim, Weber, and Marx, a tendency that became more pronounced entering the 1960s, as the works of those authors became more available in English translation, thus strengthening European influences in the American context.10

While the roots of Burke’s relevance to sociology remain largely unnoticed, the branches of Burke’s study are regularly plundered. Having spent almost a century considering human motivation, absent any initial or ongoing heavenly nudge, Burke ultimately theorized a universe of secular forces meant to account for human action – such forces as trained incapacity, occupational psychosis, the dancing of an attitude, the thinking of the body, the symbolic of property, the pentad, and more generally the complete motivorium. Many of these ideas, and some others, have found their way into the writings of sociologists at one time or another, albeit they arise as accessories to a non-Burkean model developed from other sources, including the sociologist’s own reflections. Typically the sociologist who references Burke is not a Burke scholar and does not think the social world through Burkean spectacles. Burke himself made some explicit contributions to sociology (Burke, 1946), but scholarship is a finite endeavor – he could not do everything.

The only sociologist who operated from within a universe of Burkean sociology was Hugh Dalziel Duncan. Indeed, in reference to Communication and Social Order, “anyone who has read his Burke and this book knows how difficult and futile it is to separate the Burke from the Duncan.” (Rueckert, 1969, p. 357) Of Duncan, Rueckert says, “he has written more about Burke, used him more completely, and absorbed him more profoundly than anyone else I know of. All of his many books have been about or have been applications of Burke and have been parts of a lifelong attempt to develop a methodology and working model (in the scientific sense of theoretical construct) from Burke for the study of society.” (Rueckert, 1969, p. 260) Even sociologists recognized that Duncan’s greatest acknowledgment “was to the literary critic-teacher Kenneth Burke. Duncan often referred to Burke as ‘the master’.” (Cuzzort and King 1976, p. 299) The pair had met in 1938, during Burke’s initial tenure at the University of Chicago, where Duncan took a course in the English department entitled “The Psychology of Poetic Form.” (Elkins, 1986) Duncan was then affiliated with both the English department and the sociology department, and Burke had built connections in sociology consequent to a prominent review he had written in 1936, treating Mannheim’s Ideology and Utopia, which was, of course, instrumental in his later development of A Rhetoric of Motives. Louis Wirth, Duncan’s mentor, who was then a sociologist at the University of Chicago, had translated and prefaced the Mannheim text that Burke reviewed, and Wirth shortly thereafter published a review of Permanence and Change in 1937.11 Wirth’s review appeared in The American Journal of Sociology, and Wirth wrote that Burke’s text “is a book to put some of the authors and publishers of sociological textbooks to shame. It contains more sound substance than any text on social psychology with which the author is familiar.” (Wirth, 483) Clearly Wirth saw great sociological value in Burke’s thinking, as did other members of the department, like Edward Shills.12 All of Wirth’s many students were, therefore, inclined to read Burke (Goffman in Verhoeven, 1993, p. 321), and as they later split into fabricated or labeled categories of sociology, such as ethnomethodology, symbolic interactionism, and social psychology, Burke, was, in one measure or another, both carried along and abandoned.

Burke taught in the English program at the University of Chicago on two occasions. On the second (1949-1950), he presented portions of his then unpublished A Rhetoric of Motives, which heavily relied on the Mannheim volume.13 Indeed Burke expressed regret that publication deadlines did not allow him time to incorporate insights gleaned from his Chicago visit (Burke, 1969, p. viii), so we can assume that it was again a productive adventure. By the time of that second visit, Duncan had already completed a manuscript entitled An Annotated Bibliography of the Sociology of Literature, with an Introductory Essay on Methodological Problems in the Field (1947). This volume was self-published: mimeographed, bound, and distributed to those who showed sufficient interest,14 a labor that, in itself, says something about the tremendous energy and passion that Duncan brought to the academy. He was a prodigious writer, who would also author Language and Literature in Society, Culture and Democracy, Communication and Social Order, Symbols and Society, Symbols and Social Theory, and perhaps the largest volume of letters to Burke himself – thousands of pages, published and unpublished, despite a foreshortened intellectual lifespan. Duncan’s work was both indebted to and reflective of Burke in a manner that no other sociologist has been since, for he sought to author a distinctly Burkean vision of sociological theory, rather than merely apply or incorporate some elements of Burke into his vision, as did C. Wright Mills, Erving Goffman, and Talcott Parsons. Burke fully understood the significance of Duncan to his future in sociology, and he indeed carved out a niche in Burke mountain for Duncan, giving the sociologist charge over Dramatism’s comic mode (Wilder, 1985, p. xxiii), purification having been treated through tragedy in the Grammar (consequently, Duncan devoted almost two hundred pages of Communication and Social Order to an examination of comedy). Burke’s faith in Duncan is perhaps best evidenced in his request that Duncan pen an introduction to a later edition of Permanence and Change, which Duncan did in 1965. This is the only occasion in Burke’s corpus when another author has written on Burke’s behalf, a privilege that arose, in part, because Duncan’s project was meeting with some success: thus, in 1976, Cuzzort and King devoted one of thirteen chapters in their sociological theory textbook Humanity and Modern Social Thought to the sociology of Hugh Dalziel Duncan, describing his opus Communication and Social Order as “the most sophisticated book on social theory in print today.” (p. 299) Considering that these words were written in a prominent text dealing with social theory, taught in undergraduate sociological theory courses across the United States and North America, the endorsement is both striking and indicative of the sort of respect that Burke’s ideas might gather, should sociology commit itself to a study of his work. As many of us realize, however, the politics of such endorsements are complex and not reducible to the value of the work cited -- thus, it comes as little surprise that the next edition of the Cuzzort and King collection bears no reference whatsoever to Duncan, the chapter devoted to him completely eliminated, in that Duncan’s rising prominence within the field of sociology rapidly deteriorated with his untimely death. While it remains the case that Duncan had completed much of the intellectual work necessary to move Burke into the center of sociological inquiry; he did not live long enough to complete the political work that would be necessary to solidify the effect -- here we see the difference between the idea and the idée-force described by Bourdieu (2005, p. 39): The representation of Burke’s thought in Duncan’s sociology never rose to the point that it was “dominant and recognized as deserving to dominate.” (Bourdieu, 2005, p. 39) Working at the University of Southern Illinois, outside the hub of sociological powerhouses, Duncan’s access to exceptional graduate students was limited, and he had few opportunities to secure an intellectual legacy through them. Charles Elkins and Valerie Bentz, who were his students, have had successful careers, but not careers devoted to either Burke or Duncan. Like other scholars, one assumes, they allowed market forces specific to publishing opportunities and career management (one might otherwise say “circumstances”) to shape the nature of their intellectual production; or perhaps they simply got interested in other things --at any event, their careers have neither been given over to Duncan nor Burke. And so it goes.

Part of Duncan’s problem, it must be admitted, has to do with the quality of his writing. Burke, who reviewed Communication and Social Order for publication, pressured for revision after revision and finally settled for an edition he still regarded as problematic. Similarly, Duncan’s Symbols in Society, obtained the following review comments in The American Journal of Sociology:

Duncan is confused and confusing, and argumentative without being persuasive… the book is filled with hyperbole, value judgments, and sheer, joyous bull. (Grimshaw, 1960, p. 960)
Subsequently Duncan’s writing appeared without Burke’s counsel – one book, for example, composed of nothing but axioms and theorems.

In terms of direct, acknowledged, and thorough examination of Burke’s sociology, treating social action as Dramatistic, Duncan is seconded by Robert Perinbanayagam, particularly in his text Signifying Acts: Structure and Meaning in Everyday Life (1985),16 which attempts to think symbolic interaction as the condition for the construction of meaning in the social sphere, a thesis that is re-emerging in sociology with neither Burke’s name nor Perinbanayagam’s attached.17 In Perinbanayagam’s text, the author claims that Mead’s reliance on the concept of role reached its apotheosis in the writings of a number of eminent thinkers -- most of them were sociologists, but Burke appears first on Perinbanayagam’s list. Fred Davis, who penned the forward, characterizes Burke as “symbolic interactionism's favorite savant.” (Davis in Perinbanayagam, 1985, p. xi). The text is stylistically esoteric in a manner that is reminiscent of Burke and makes a nice introduction for anyone interested in Burke’s relationship to sociology, in particular because the author does penance to all the appropriate sociological precursors for his argument. Perinbanayagam reads Dramatism alongside Dramaturgy, initially stressing Burke’s concern for the arrangement of terms, as opposed to Goffman’s concern for the arranging of situations (Perinbanayagam, 1985, pp. 66-70) He goes on, however, to suggest that Goffman’s situations “have not only a rhetoric but also a grammar,” (1985, p. 70) and he follows this with perhaps the most telling passage in the Grammar, for anyone who would treat Burke in the manner proposed in my present essay. From Perinbanayagam (as he, for the most part, quotes Burke [1945, p. 11]) then:

The scene-agent ratio demands a congruence between the nature of the agent and the situation where an action is taking place. Burke mentions a "tiny drama enacted in real life" to illustrate this principle. At a committee meeting, one member found herself in sharp disagreement with the direction in which the discussion was going. Hence, Burke writes, "as unnoticeably as possible, she stepped outside and closed the gate. She picked up her coat, laid it across her arm, and stood waiting. A few moments later, when there was a pause in the discussion, she asked for the floor. After being recognized by the chairman, she very haltingly, in embarrassment, announced with regret that she would have to resign from the committee." Burke goes on to conclude that "she had strategically modified the arrangement of the scene in such a way that it implicitly (ambiguously) contained the quality of her act" (Perinbanayagam 1962:11).
This is not the place to examine the similarities and differences between Dramatism and Dramaturgy; but Perinbanayagam’s claim for intuitive dramatic engagement with the world should be noted, as should his claim that Goffman’s work “is founded on a dramatistic ontology.” (Op. cit., p. 81)

Having studied English literature in Ceylon, Perinbanayagam learned of Kenneth Burke’s work within a sociological context from Gregory Stone, his mentor when he moved to the United States and studied at the University of Minnesota. Stone would go on to influence Marvin Scott and Alan Blum (who will be discussed later), when he gave seminars on motives as a visiting at Columbia in 1969. 18 From Burke, Perinbanayagam initially took the idea of language as symbolic action; and he was publishing on Burke in sociology as early as 1971, with his essay on charismatic leadership in the Sociological Quarterly (Perinbanayagam, 1971). His various books, while they sometimes challenge the limits of sociological investigation (his literary sensibilities have never disappeared), contain regular, accurate, and general citations of Burke, as well as an ongoing characterization of Dramatism in human relations. Of recent years his prominence as a Burke scholar has increased, although his status among symbolic interactionists and sociology is long-standing, having received the G. H. Mead Award and the C. H. Cooley Award from the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction, as well as the Theory Award from the American Sociological Association. The reasons Perinbanayagam did not, in an earlier period, such as the 1980’s, capture the attention of, for example, my mentor, as he completed (with Herb Simons)the collection The Legacy of Kenneth Burke, given the nature of Perinbanayagam’s pursuits (he did know both Overington and Gusfield), is an essay in itself. Given the limits of this paper, I can only understate the significance of Perinbanayagam, with regard to the future of Kenneth Burke in sociology. Those interested in Burke and sociology overlook this author to their own peril.

Given that Duncan was Burke’s most loyal advocate in sociology, it is something of an irony that the sociologist Duncan railed against, Talcott Parsons, ultimately became Burke’s most powerful connection to the field; and Burke’s best chance for breaking out of the mold of symbolic interactionism, which under-represented the theoretical potential (sociologically speaking) of his work. Parsons, who had established the Department of Social Relations at Harvard University, and who also served as president of the American Sociological Association (as had Louis Wirth) was arguably the most prominent sociologist in America at the time that he met Kenneth Burke. His domination of the theoretical arena was largely understood under the rubric of structural functionalism. In 1957, Burke met Parsons at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. It was in their roles as fellows that they realized their mutual interest in the foundations of human behavior transcended any field specific sensibilities. Parsons informed the Center’s Director that “the most notable single contact I made there which has proved intellectually fruitful to me was with Kenneth Burke. This is the more nota¬ble in that the level of interest in his work I developed was quite unexpected to me. The big thing for me is that Burke more than anyone else has helped me to fill a major gap in my own theoretical interests, in the field of the analysis of expressive symbolism.” (Parsons in Doubt, 1997, p. 528) Burke visited and presented at the Department of Social Relations at Harvard in 1958, and Parsons also visited Bennington. Libby Burke befriended Helen Parsons, forming a personal bond that the husbands also shared (Doubt, 1997) on occasions such as their vacation at the Parsons’ farm in New Hampshire. While this friendship record suggests a strong bond, the relationship did not result in an intellectual confederacy that made Burke a sociological force of reckoning. For the most part, the collaboration is reducible to a pair of passages in which Parsons mentions Burke in Theories of Society, a massive, two volume collection of theory (a boxed set that looks like two volumes of an old-fashioned Encyclopedia), edited by Parsons and another prominent sociologist who was a longstanding acquaintance of Burke (through Louis Wirth), Edward Shills. Parsons refers to Burke in his own essays -- he references “On the First Three Chapters of Genesis,” as it appeared in Daedalus and says it represents “a classic analysis of the structure and implications of the conception of meaningful order.” (Parsons, 1961, p. 970, see also p. 971) Parsons also credits Burke with recognizing the “multiplicity of references in the same symbol and symbolic concept,” (Parsons, 1961, p. 987) and ads that Burke’s discussion of this issue in the unpublished Poetics “seems one of the most highly sophisticated analyses both of the elaborate ramifications of the association of meanings on several different levels, and of the importance of the factor of generalization.” (Parsons, 1961, p. 1987) The former comments were included in a section where Parsons dealt with “Language as a Groundwork of Culture,” while the latter comments appeared when Parsons was discussing “The Problem of Cultural Accumulation”. Burke was also granted space in the volume; and, therefore, the section from Permanence and Change entitled “An Incongruous Assortment of Incongruities” was published in the work (1961, pp. 1200-1204)19 . Given that the full text of this collection runs 1448 pages, however, this is both scant mention and scant inclusion. Nevertheless, a photo of a young Kenneth Burke adorns the box cover, alongside 72 other social thinkers who are the subjects of this, “the richest sourcebook on social theory ever published.”(1961, cover commentary) In fact it is Parsons, Durkheim, Simmel, Marx, Mead, Spencer, Smith, and Freud who dominate the work, some of them taking up to one hundred pages individually. Thus, while the picture of Burke proposes that Burke is an axial figure in American sociology, this status is not well-served in terms of the actual content on the pages of the text. Most sociological theory texts and compilations, then and now, do not reference Burke, nor do they include passages from his writing.

Edward Shills, a colleague of Wirth’s and a friend of Burke’s, who served as a co-editor of the Theories of Society volume was also an Associate Editor of The International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 20 published in 1968, another volume in which Burke contributed, authoring a passage that situated Dramatism within the more general sociological category of Interaction, for which an entire section had been devoted. The achievement is worth noting because the text broke the topic of Interaction into six sub-headings, where Dramatism stood alongside such other prominent theoretical perspectives as “Social Interaction” Talcott Parsons), “Symbolic Interaction” (Guy E. Swanson), “Social Exchange Theory” (Peter M. Blau), “Interaction and Personality” (William C. Schutz), and “Interaction Process Analysis” (Robert F. Bales). Burke, who would later (1982) win the George Herbert Mead Award for Lifetime Achievement, given by the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interactionism, must have been particularly pleased with this organizational frame, which neither reduced him to the category of Symbolic Interactionists nor situated him within Goffman’s Dramaturgical perspective (which remains a common error). No doubt Parsons, who saw the greater relevance of Burke’s work to action-theoretics in general, had much to do with this; and Burke notes in his own essay that Parsons, in an early work, structures action much in the manner it is structured by the pentad (Burke, 1968, p. 447). But this acknowledgment of Parsons was probably more tactical than collegial, included to inform readers that Dramatism offered a general sociological approach to questions of action (1968, p. 446). At the time that he wrote the Dramatism essay, Burke was recognized as a second-tier, founding figure for the community of professional sociologists who carried the banner of Symbolic Interactionism. These authors typically grounded their identity in the work of George Herbert Mead, Charles Horton Cooley, and Herbert Blumer, while claiming their difference through the occasional citation of, or elaboration upon, Kenneth Burke, making Burke the vocabulary of innovation, and thereby distinction for various members, internal to the community. But Burke did not think that Dramatism was merely a form of Symbolic Interactionism (which would be more the case for Dramaturgy); and it appears that, through his contact with Parsons, he came to understand that the general problems of action and order that had plagued social thought from Thomas Hobbes, to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, to Adam Smith and on to figures like Herbert Spencer and later Max Weber (problems usually treated within some paradigm of a rationality used to organize the social realm, whether or not agents intended to be rational) was better suited to Dramatistic investigation and explanation than it was to rational exegesis. The Dramatism essay remains the greatest source of ongoing influence among sociologists, albeit it does not obtain the status that Burke sought.21 Jeffrey Alexander, for example, gives it brief reference as one of many texts relevant to “the historical origins of theatrical performance and dramaturgical theory.” (Alexander, 2006, p. 30) If Dramatism is to have a future in sociology, it will occur when sociologists recognize that dramatistic framings are superior to rational models, whether those models be the sort specific to a philosophy of consciousness (Max Weber) or to more recent models of communicative rationality (Jürgen Habermas). The Yale studies currently underway, characterized as both social performance theory and cultural pragmatics might be receptive to such an analysis.

In many ways, the thinker who most successfully combines influence within the sociological community with indebtedness to Kenneth Burke is Erving Goffman, although the debt goes largely unacknowledged. Anyone familiar with Goffman’s dramaturgical approach will note the similarities to Dramatism. Even in his late work, Frame Analysis, one can see the conversion of Burke’s basic principle of scope and circumference into a methodology for the interpretation of human performance -- effectively, Goffman’s analysis of social action, under the rubric of frame, exploits a scene-act ratio as an explicandum of human action, something he also exploits in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. All the same, one only finds Burke mentioned in the earlier and more famous publication of 1959, The Presentation of Self -- a citation of the scene-act ratio on page 25 to warrant the claim that “we expect, of course, some consistency among setting, appearance, and manner;” (1973, p. 25) a reference to mystification as an explanation of how “restrictions placed upon contact…provide a way in which awe can be generated and sustained in the audience;” (1973, p. 67) an extended citation from Permanence and Change to elaborate upon the notion that “When individuals witness a show that was not meant for them, they may, then, become disillusioned about this show as well as the show that was meant for them;” (1973, p. 36) an extended citation that concerns the doctor’s performance of his role as a doctor, taken from A Rhetoric of Motives (in Goffman, 1973, p. 164-65); a reference to initiation rituals under the term “hazing” found in A Rhetoric of Motives (in Goffman, 1973, p. 175); and, finally, a confession that, “This chapter draws heavily on Kenneth Burke, who clearly takes the sociological view in defining courtship as a principle of rhetoric through which social estrangements are transcended,” (1973, p. 194) in order to discuss the social performance dynamics of partners who enter an interaction with differing levels of sexual and social capital. The social connection with Burke is obvious when one notes that Goffman had studied with Wirth at the University of Chicago, and was the recipient of moneys from a Ford Foundation grant administered by Shills for the purposes of writing The Presentation of Self. It is interesting to note, however, given the strong roots Goffman initially locates in Burke, and the ways his later books mirror his earliest text, that no other Goffman text cites Kenneth Burke or even references him. For Goffman, citation is an art: “one looks around in writing one’s stuff for references for authentication, authority, and the like, and so one dips into things that one might affiliate oneself with.” (Goffman in Verhoeven, 1993, p. 321) But Goffman did not believe any sociologist should either think or write from within the intellectual boundaries of any other thinker: “I think that’s plain bad hero worship… treating the corpus of a scholar’s writings as the ultimate data of social life.” (Goffman in Verhoeven, 1993, p. 343) Thus, Goffman, who also was elected president of the American Sociological Association, never again chose to transfer a portion of his sociological capital to Burke, in order to grant the literary figure a more central seat at the sociological table -- certainly, one can understand the philosophical statements he makes as the fundamental reason, but like all the other students of the Chicago school who emerged to take on prominent sociological careers, Goffman faced the daunting task of distinguishing himself from his professors and his peers. Burke had been a primary source of his earliest work, and this might motivate any ambitious writer to distance his ideas from the ideas of Kenneth Burke, that he might be treated as a person with ideas at all. There is no doubt that Goffman is his own thinker: an impeccable stylist with a wonderful imagination, a penchant for the minutiae of daily circumstance, and a genuinely sociological ethos. He certainly stood, and persists, as an intellectual in his own right. Nevertheless, one cannot read him without recognizing the massive impact of Burke upon both his thinking and, ultimately, his success. Again we see signs of the issue of identity and difference, suggested by Bourdieu, and pointed out above (1991, p. 34-35). Part of being a great scholar who stands on the shoulders of giants, involves developing a talent for making the giant disappear.

The primary story of Burke’s contribution to sociology would not be complete without some discussion of Joseph Gusfield, who launched a significant effort to solidify Burke’s contribution to sociology by editing Of Symbols and Society, published by the University of Chicago Press in the famous Heritage of Sociology series.23 Gusfield’s edited collection is excellent, with passages in which Burke treats symbolic action, the dramatistic method, identification, order and hierarchy, and ideology – all critical topics within sociology. In addition, Gusfield includes other aspects of Burke’s work that might more subtly engage a sociological imagination, including Burke’s treatment of irony, motivational vocabularies, terministic screens, and dialectic. A compact and representative edition, it is an ideal source for anyone seeking a general familiarity with Burke’s writings and style, and it is also an instrumental text for anyone who might attempt to borrow Burke over to sociology. Gusfield’s text emerged in a context that also saw the publication of Frank Lentrichia’s Criticism and Social Change (1985), Stephen Bygrave’s Kenneth Burke: Rhetoric and Ideology (1993), and Jameson’s various discussions of and with Burke (1978, 1978, and 1981). Whereas none of these authors commands attention in the sociological community, however, rumors of a Burkean renaissance in that discipline would have been precipitate – overall, “KB's influence on sociology was “‘sporadic and fragmented’. It was no ‘school project’.”24

Years earlier, Gusfield had done Burke another great service in sociology by dedicating the culminating chapter of Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics and the American Temperance Movement(1976) to the development of a dramatistic theory of status politics. Indeed, Gusfield, there, characterizes Kenneth Burke as “perhaps the greatest analyst of political symbolism.” (Gusfield, 1976, p. 170) In a subsequent book which treated drunk driving discourse in terms of a problem of symbolic order in the public sphere, Gusfield states that Kenneth Burke’s “writings are a major source of ideas in this book.” (Gusfield, 198, p. 53) His treatment of Burke is perhaps the most important of all those in sociology, for Gusfield earned his wings as a sociologist in the true setting of social studies, the sphere of cultural production (writers like Duncan and Parsons, wholly theorists themselves, fall short of the general sociological ethos mentioned early in this essay). Indeed, if Burke were to dominate sociology in a disciplinary sense, it would take thirty scholars as prominent as Gusfield to do it –thirty sociologists vigorously treating relevant social issues from within a Burkean framework of explication, like Peter K. Manning, who has examined the contrast between police roles and policing myths (1977), the Dramatistic influence of policing technologies (1992b), and a dramatistic reading of risk (1999), or Barbara Czarniawska and her work on organizational identity as a dramatic performance (1997) and organizational action as dramatistic (1999), although it should be mentioned that Czarniawska is not a sociologist. Throughout his career, Gusfield honored Burke both in his applied research and in his direct accolades. He characterized Burke’s work, for sociologists, as “an immensely valuable mode of thought and a perspective toward the study of behavior and society that has for too long not received sufficient recognition.” (Burke, 1989, p. 2) Gusfield is also one of those sociologists to initiate the reflexive turn in sociology, again following Burke’s lead, where Burke writes “the Rhetoric can serve as a bridge between sociology and literary criticism, (except in so far as sociologists and literary critics fail to ask how the Rhetoric can be applied even to their own field).” (Burke, 1973b, p. 96) Gusfield’s treatment of “social science as literature,” (Gusfield, 1989b, p. 21), his attempt “to read research as if it were literature” (Gusfield, 2003, p. 26) follows from this idea, as it emerges in Burke; and the idea was also the cornerstone for Richard Harvey Brown’s A Poetic for Sociology (1977). Brown, who was as charming as he was brilliant, will be missed. In his work, he also took his cues from this passage in Kenneth Burke, and thereby anticipated, to some extent, the reflexive sociology, grounded in the work of Pierre Bourdieu and Randall Collins, that is so prominent even now.

Another sociologist who applied the insights of Kenneth Burke to explicit research questions was Murray Edelman, who wrote about the social and symbolic dimensions of the political sphere. Like Gusfield, Edelman attended to Burke’s notion of political rhetoric as ‘secular prayer’ (Edelman, 1964, p. 33). He relied heavily on the scene-act ratio (Edelman, 1964, pp. 95-113) and used it, in part, to characterize policy bias (Op Cit., p. 55). Edelman also quotes Burke’s characterization of propaganda (op. cit., p. 124); and, perhaps most poignantly (given the context of the current presentation), he identifies a passage in which Burke, sounding very much like the prominent sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, states that “even the dispossessed tends to feel that he ‘has a stake in’ the authoritative structure that dispossesses him.” (Burke in Edelman, 1964, p. 185)25 Clearly Edelman was significantly influenced by Kenneth Burke; nevertheless in 1977 he published Political Language: Words that Succeed and Policies that Fail without a single mention of Burke or his relevance to the study. Thus, the sociologists to consistently apply Burke, with some success, and to consistently acknowledge him were Joseph Gusfield, Peter K. Manning, and Perinbanayagam.

Gusfield and Edelman were two well-respected American sociologists, like Goffman, who invested some of their own cultural capital in an attempt to mobilize Burke in sociology – of course they also used Burke’s cultural capital to mobilize themselves, intellectually and socially, for the most part early in their careers. Regardless whether one looks at the strategy in one way or the other, however none of these authors wrote as Burkean sociologists (as did Duncan), none of them depended upon Burke to build a sociological career, and none successfully launched Burke into the center of sociological research, despite their efforts and the significance of their work. This speaks to the generally acknowledged notion that social relations dominate scholarly attention and reputation, exerting effects that exceed the intellectual significance or merits of a body of work (Bourdieu, 1988; Collins, 1998; McLaughlin, 1998).

A well-known sociological essay on Burke is C. Wright Mills’s essay entitled “Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motives,” which appeared first in the American Sociological Review in 1940, later to be anthologized in the popular Symbolic Interaction: a Reader in Social Psychology (1967, pp. 355-368). Nelson Foote’s related and excellent article on identification first appeared in 1951 but was also anthologized in that volume (1967, pp. 343-354), next to the essay by Mills. Mills used Burke’s characterization of the agent’s motivational ambivalence, taken from Permanence and Change, in order to develop a notion of context-determined, rather than role-dictated, social action (Mills, 1967, p. 357). Foote, on the other hand, read from both A Grammar of Motives and A Rhetoric of Motives in order to develop a more flexible sociological model of motivated performance, one that does not so heavily rely upon the notion of “role” identities, which he finds unsatisfactory given the “apathy in the performance of conventional roles, when these are on the verge of abandonment or accepted only under duress. Roles as such do not provide their own motives.” (Foote, 1967, p. 343) Although they do not cite Foote’s essay, Scott and Lyman do cite the Mills essay in their famous essay “Accounts”, which investigates forms of talk used to restore equilibrium after unanticipated or untoward behavior (Scott and Lyman, 1968, p. 46). These authors also reference Kenneth Burke, but only to remind readers that Burke was but one instrumental figure in Mills’ creation of the notion of accounts, along with Weber and Mead -- they do not directly credit Burke as a source for their own insights. The literature on motives evolved into a tradition of research, based on these essays, one with which Alan Blum and Peter McHugh are also connected. Indeed, Blum and McHugh have authored the closest argument to the Burkean sociological perspective I am suggesting in this paper, stating explicitly that a motive belongs to an actor “as part of his commonsense knowledge, a motive to which he was oriented in producing the action… how a behavior is socially intelligible…. To talk motives is to talk grammar.” (Blum and McHugh, 1971, p. 100) However, Kenneth Burke is not the person to whom credit for this notion is directed. Instead, they say that Burke never “grasped the analytic character of motive,” (Op. cit., p. 102) specifically in that he fails “to explicate the grammar of motive, in more than a metaphoric sense” (Op. cit., p. 02) -- these words, despite Burke’s avowed claim, published in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences in 1968, that “drama is employed, not as a metaphor but as a fixed form…it is certainly as literal to say that ‘people act’ as it is to say that they ‘move like mere things’.” (Burke, 1968, p. 448)26 Such a rhetorical strategy sits well with Bourdieu’s general notion that professionals within a field must both connect and disconnect with the scholarship of others in order “to affirm their difference in and through a form endowed with every sign needed to make it a recognized form…which implies reference to the field of philosophical stances and a reasonably conscious grasp of the implications of the position which it itself occupies in that field.” (Bourdieu, 1991, pp. 34-35) It is because of such strategies, exercised regularly in sociology but also literary criticism, history, and other fields27 where Burke’s influence might be more definitively felt, that Burke has achieved a citation status, without generating a school of thought. A research-engaged tradition in social psychology that studies motives and ascriptions of motives emerges from Mills, Foote, Scott and Lyman, Blum and McHugh and their sources, for example “The Rhetoric of Motives in Divorce,” by Joseph Hopper, who traces back to the Mills essay and to Kenneth Burke’s Permanence and Change when discussing the rhetorical flavor of language used by divorce initiators and non-initiators.28 The talent that some of these authors exercised in order to put Burke on the margins of their own study should not go unnoticed, however. It is very reminiscent of Goffman and others, perhaps even more overt.

Whereas the literature mentioned above, in particular the essay by Nelson Foote, suggests that motivational systems are more sociologically meaningful than roles, it is an irony that Merton’s notion of role-set theory (Merton, 1964) continues to hold some authority in sociology, while Burke’s concept of identification never rose to comparative prominence. We should keep in mind, in this regard, that Robert King Merton, prominent Columbia University sociologist, had been a student of Pitrim Sorokin, and also had Talcott Parsons on his dissertation committee – if position helps one market one’s ideas within a field, then Merton was more than adequately situated.29 Once more we see, as we would see in any discipline, that discourse within the sociological field is dominated by those who exercise capital within the field.

Merton also mentioned Burke in his writing, specifically the essay “Bureaucratic Structure and Personality,” which first appeared in the journal Social Forces (1940)30, later to be anthologized within the pages of his greatest work, Social Theory and Social Structure (1949, revised and enlarged in 1957). In that essay, when examining the relationship between bureaucratic structure and personality, Merton leaned upon Burke’s notions of “trained incapacity” and “occupational psychosis” in his discussion (Merton, 1957, p. 198), going so far as to illustrate with the famous example of the chicken slaughter, used by Burke (Burke, 1984, p. 7). Indeed, Merton’s entire essay is grounded in these notions, but he remains sensitive to the sociological fidelity that is expected from him by his audience, and he painstakingly attributes these notions to the sources Burke claimed to be writing from (Veblen, an economist, and Dewey, a philosopher, respectively), albeit he does not cite the location at which either notion can be found in the earlier authors’ works. Clearly, Merton exploits the ethos of Veblen and Dewey, which would make the ideas seem more salient to sociology than they would coming from the pen of a literary critic, in order to give a scientific aura to the notions that he is discussing, thus distancing the concepts from any original interpretation which Burke gave to them. Merton also quotes Burke in an earlier essay (1936) that also appears in Social Theory and Social Structure (Op Cit., p. 575), when discussing the impact of the Puritan ethos on the advancement of science studies in the seventeenth century. The quote is originally from Permanence and Change (Burke, 1984, p. 29), although Merton does not designate his source. Even Harold Garfinkel, who also had an illustrious career in sociology, finds reason to direct readers to A Grammar of Motives and Permanence and Change (unspecified locations) when characterizing that sort of retroactive identity constitution we engage in when we say things such as “What he is now is what, ‘after all,’ he was all along.” (Garfinkel, 1968, pp. 207) Anselm Strauss read Burke thoroughly and cited him often (1959, 1993), suggesting, for example, that “One of the best theoretical analyses of the mechanics of disintegration, and therefore reconstruction, of symbolic universes is by Kenneth Burke in his Attitudes Toward History.” (Strauss, 1993, p. 156) Alvin Gouldner characterizes Burke as “a gifted sociologist who obstinately calls himself a literary critic.” (Gouldner, 1965, p. 16)32 Again, the comments made by these authors are incidental ones – some of them report brilliant insights that Burke made, but they do not bring Burke to the plate in the manner that Duncan, Perinbanayagam, Gusfield, and Manning do.

If we drop one tier in the status of social thinkers considered, we find a number of other scholars who have brought Kenneth Burke’s ideas to the distinctly sociological forum. Michael Overington, for example, began his career by publishing two well-respected articles on Kenneth Burke as a social theorist (Overington, 1977a, 1977b). Overington’s move toward organizational theory (with Ian Mangham) was instrumental in bringing Burke into that discourse, and Burke has played a prominent role in the literature on management as theater, popular in Europe. Mangham, who recently went forth ahead of us, spent thirty years merging theatrical and managerial performance. Even when writing his dissertation, he knew of Burke, but felt that Goffman was channeling him (Mangham, 2005, p. 943). When he met Overington in the late seventies, he turned to Burke more directly, through their many publications. In the last paper he wrote before his death, he characterized Burke as “a colossus, a figure that bestrides both literary and sociological studies.” (Mangham, 2005, p. 953) Taline Voskeritchian (1981) wrote her dissertation on Burke, Duncan, and Goffman, much as Delaney wrote on Burke and Parsons (Delaney, 1979). Thomas Meisenhelder published an essay which applied Burke’s notion of social action to a characterization of law (1981) as well as an essay on Duncan’s treatment of symbolic action and social order (1977), before drawing to a close his research on either figure.33 Ann Branaman published a credible essay for The Sociological Quarterly (1994) in which she suggested how Burke’s ideas might figure within sociology as it considered the question of identity. Valerie Malhotra Bentz and Wade Kenny (1997) published the most prominent recent essay within sociology, on Kenneth Burke, in that it appeared in Sociological Theory. That essay is cited in three recent sociological theory texts, (Adam and Sydie, 2001, Adams and Sydie, 2002, Bentz and Shapiro, 1998) as well as a number of essays, some of them by the present author,34 whose most recent publication in sociology (Kenny, 2007) also cites Burke, albeit incidentally.

Indeed, most citations of Kenneth Burke within sociology are incidental, and that is worth mentioning because a scholar’s ability to access the professional resources that are specific to the field of sociology is understandably contingent upon that scholar’s willingness to eschew, for the most part, non-sociological references and to exploit the ideas of authors who are already internal to the field. For this reason, a general reliance on Kenneth Burke would ultimately hinder, rather than advance, a sociologist’s professional career. Bourdieu makes this point succinctly when he says, “To enter the sociological field nowadays – most sociologists don’t realize this, still less the nonsociologist – you need a lot of capital. It’s only when you have this capital, which enables you to cross the barrier to entry, that you can attain autonomy with respect to crass social demands.” (Bourdieu 2005, p. 46) The aspiring scholar’s problem thus becomes Burke’s problem, as it is a problem for any intellectual who attempts to either contribute to or participate within a field. It is a problem that is associated with community and power.

At this point, any discussion of Burke’s impact within sociology would degenerate into a collection of citations. References continue to appear and disappear within sociology, and it is no doubt the case that the finest sociological minds will have reason to visit the writings of Kenneth Burke for quite some time. Dramatism has not become a sociological school, however.35 Instead, sociology retains a pale and largely unacknowledged facsimile of it in the writings of Erving Goffman, which are once more returning to prominence (I hope to have suggested in this essay, that most people who treat both Burke and Goffman don’t seem to recognize that there is a difference between Dramaturgy and Dramatism – that or they reduce the difference to a cliché). Largely, the cultural pragmatics movement will repair Goffman in ways they would not need to repair Burke; but that will generate productive action for the manufacturers of discourse within the field. Moreover, one must admit, that the ambiguities in Burke’s writing make it stylistically repugnant to sociologists, who tend to seek a fairly high level of precision in their work – a name and address for every concept, so to speak. Indeed, Dramatism will only take a seat next to sociological models, such as functionalism and structuralism, in the context of a social movement within the intellectual field -- it will not arise as an intellectual movement independent of those social forces necessary to provide scholars with academic appointments, tenure, promotion, research funding, publication and the like. If that were to happen, it would have occurred already. There is a lesson to be learned in this, and it is a simple one. The intellectual life does not emerge from the forehead – it emerges from within a community of thinkers who recognize that each time they severally provide opportunities for their others, they build that social capital which will also provide opportunities for them (Bourdieu, 1988; Collins, 1998) and for their ideas. One hearkens to the title of Coe’s (1986) well-known essay, “It Takes Capital to Defeat Dracula” – if only because the title reminds us that Burke’s preeminence within a field will be the result of the cultural capital he brings to that field. Effectively this means that Burke scholars must rally behind their own, if they are to advance their mentor.


During my own tenure in graduate school, Pierre Bourdieu’s name gained significant cultural capital. Unfortunately, being who I am, this was a sufficient reason for me to avoid reading him. In the past six months, however, I have gone through most of his works, and I have discovered that nothing surprises me, that Bourdieu’s way of seeing things has been in me all along. I suspect that a similar oral process shaped many of the sociologists in Chicago in the days of Duncan, Goffman, and Gusfield – some variation of an oral tradition in the academy that creates a way of seeing that could impact a generation who might not even know they have been affected -- this, and we must also consider the degree to which it was also in the interest of those students, and the ones who followed, to pull away from Burke.

Somewhere in the voluminous writings of Northrop Frye, two relevant, casual remarks are made: The first is a comment about the transformative effects that result when one inserts oneself completely within the thinking of a great mind (as Frye did with William Blake). The second suggests that the stature of a work is indicated not by its relevance in its own time, but by its ability to stand in time (Frye illustrates this point through Gibbons’ Decline and Fall). Both these points are worthy of a reader’s reflection as this essay reaches its conclusion -- the difference between a scholar who is oft-cited and one who is well-cited (i.e., one who constructs a dominant worldview within a field) is the difference that Frye addresses in the first quote above, and the worth of the thinker is reflected in the second. Such issues would seem negligible only to those concerned with Burke’s status, irrespective of his influence.

Paradoxically, it often seems to be the case in sociology that writers who have regularly and significantly used Kenneth Burke’s ideas only occasionally mention him by name, while others who are careful to include Kenneth Burke’s name in their essays seldom rely on him for anything of central importance. Thus people may be writing essays that are heavily dependent upon their foreknowledge of Burke, and not crediting him, while others, who actually give him credit, may merely be name dropping, or dabbling, or honoring a friendship (Duncan, Gusfield, Perinbanayagam, and Manning aside). And then there are the occasions when Burke is explicitly cited, yet completely misunderstood or partially misrepresented. Such things suggest that the question of Burke’s relationship to sociology is a problematic one that could stand redress through the careful work of serious scholars, if there were sufficient intellectual concern to take up the task.

Is it a betrayal of Kenneth Burke and the community of Burkean scholars to suggest that Kenneth Burke is yet to play his most significant role in the field of sociology, and to suggest that, because of factors that have nothing to do with the merit of the ideas he provides, he indeed might never do so? The answer depends, one assumes, on what it means to admire Kenneth Burke. To the extent Burke represents an orientation toward intellectual life, his status in sociology is best described in terms that give rise to clarity and reflection. To the extent Burke represents a source of professional legitimacy, however, the answer is a little more complicated, because no team wants to hear the ways it is losing during the mid-game pep-talk. For myself, I find it reassuring to know that sociology is an incomplete discipline and that Burke has not yet fulfilled his potential within it -- these are signs that there is more to be done; and, as a productive scholar, I always find that reassuring. The comments made here in no way challenge the merits of Burke’s scholarship, rather they direct readers toward the nature of value, usage, and prestige within the intellectual community and they suggest that there is a gap between Burke’s merits, status, and usage in sociology, as a field.


"For Richard Harvey Brown (1940-2003), sociologist, friend to Burke, and friend to those who studied Kenneth Burke"

1 Readers need only reflect upon occasions that they have been inadequately, inappropriately, or irrelevantly cited to recognize the validity of this claim.

2 Kuhn equates Dramatism with Dramaturgy, and he suggests that Dramatism is a “role driven” theory of human motives. Blum and McHugh say that Burke never “grasped the analytic character of motive,” (1971, p. 102) because Burke fails “to explicate the grammar of motive, in more than a metaphoric sense.” (Op. cit., p. 02) Dibble treats Burke as a crass essentialist in a text that assesses the sociological significance of Albion Small, who started the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago, indeed the world’s first sociology department. The reference in that context (Dibble, 1975, p. 114) is to Burke’s distinction between “action” and “motion”, however it leaves readers with the distinct and inaccurate sense that these terms are fixed opponents in Burke, no consideration to notions of action-minus, motion-plus (Burke, 1966, pp. 63-80) is presented.

3 This is a critical point made by Vito Signorile in his Burke essay of 1989. Signorile says that the, “nonlinguistic realm of symbolic experience is familiar to us in the form of the irrational. The irrational is not just the illogical but, in a more positive sense, the non-discursive. Irrational motives, if they are truly motives, come from the operation of presentational symbols.... While the rational tends generally to be a conscious activity, the irrational action compelled by nondiscursive symbols is primarily subterranean, subconscious.” (Signorile, 1989, p. 80)

4 In truth the idea could already be found in Durkheim, but it is not unusual for an idea to rise to prominence decades after it has been made known, indeed at the tip of someone else’s pen.

5 Personal communication, University of Pittsburgh, 1993.

6 See also Perinbanayagam, 1985; Signorelli, 1989; and Bentz and Kenny, 1997.

7 In rhetoric, Bryan Crable (Crble, 2000) is a noteable exception. Gusfield, however, distinguishes between Burke and Goffman in a number of locations (Gusfield, 1989a, pp. 36-39, 1989b pp. 17-20, 36-37)), suggesting that Burke’s focus is on language and interpretation (Gusfield, 1989a, p. 37) while Goffman focuses on deception(1989b, p. 22). I tend toward a more charitable reading of both authors, treating them in terms of symbolism, writ large. Thus, in Burke, all action is symbolic action (and therefore subject to dramatistic examination), and in Goffman all action is performance (and therefore not reducible to deception (since there is no more of a “space” in Goffman for an authentic deceiver than there is “space” in George Herbert Mead for a non-objective “I”).

8 If, for example, the madman did precisely the same thing, only from within a prison cell, I would not run, assuming he was locked in, and I was outside. In this case, a scene-purpose ratio would probably be the determining motive.

9 Burke does not cite Durkheim, but he certainly cites one of Durkheim’s sources, Sir James George Frazer, when he says “In any case, Freud (like Frazer) gives us ample grounds for trying never to forget that, once emotional involvement is added to symbolism’s resources of substitution (which included the invitations to both compensation and displacement) the conditions are set for the symbol-using animal with its ailments both physically and symbolically engendered, to tinker with such varying kinds of substitution as we encounter in men’s modes of penance, expiation, compensation, paying of fines in lieu of bodily punishment, and the cult of the scapegoat.” (Burke, 1973, p. 8) This passage has distinct relevance to the new directions currently being taken, using Durkheim to develop a theory of cultural pragmatics.

10 According to Goffman (Goffman in Verhoeven, 1993, pp. 325-326), his generation of sociology students at Chicago were not well versed in other languages and were therefore quite welcoming, almost two decades later, of those translated editions of Durkheim, Weber, and Simmel that began to emerge through the Free Press, in the late 50’s and 60’s. By association, this would mean that sociologists trained in the United States would have a tendency to read each other as well as sources like KB, at a time in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s when they were comparatively limited in terms of work from within their own field.

11 Elkins errs when he claims this review was published in 1935(1986, p. 47). Wilder (1985, p. xiii) makes the same mistake.

12 Shills translated Mannheim’s next book, Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction, which first appeared in English in 1940. That volume included a seventy page bibliography of suggested readings for scholars concerned with social policy and social work in an age of transformation (WWII). Burke’s Permanence and Change is included as part of that bibliography, in Section 5: New Dimensions in Cultural Life (p. 450). In that regard, it is worth noting, however, Mannheim’s expressed gratitude to translator Shills, who “supplemented the bibliography which I have been collecting for many years with some kindred items.” (Mannheim, 1966, p. xxii) Thus it appears that Shills brought Burke’s ideas to Mannheim’s attention as well, another instance of social relations influencing intellectual production.

13 This is also when Burke met Gusfied during an initial get-together for faculty (personal communication from Joseph Gusfield, December 12, 2007).

14 When I met Michael Overington in 1993, he was kind enough to give me his copy.

15 That book, Symbols and Social Theory, though it has been harshly reviewed, has some merit for anyone who would do sociological thinking. Particularly appealing is Duncan’s notion that communication is expressed hierarchically (The topic is discussed in Communication and Social Order as well, but is more succinct in Symbols), a conception that predates Bourdieu on the same topic. Duncan maintained such a distaste for Marx, however, that it remained impossible for him to exploit the full significance of this claim, as it would effect general social performance – something we can find in Burke’s Rhetoric of Motives. Because of the sheer volume of Duncan’s oeuvre, there is no equitable manner to present the Burke-dependent ideas in Duncan. Duncan himself wrote “I owe so much to Burke that I read what I write with the guilty sense of a thief.” (Duncan in Elkins, 1986, pp. 55) Readers who would know of this relationship may peruse the Duncan texts listed in the bibliography. The connection between Burke and Duncan was to have been this author’s dissertation project; however, after studying the work of both authors, it became clear that some fundamental principles in Burke needed to be clarified in order to properly exercise the study. An introductory chapter on this topic thus turned into a 350 page manuscript on Burke that ultimately functioned as the entire dissertation. Elkins (1986, p. 60) indicates that Valerie Bentz has written an essay on Hugh Duncan’s sociology – to my knowledge it remains out of print. Overington and Voskeritchian wrote their dissertations on the connection between these authors as well. The marginal status of a genuinely Burkean sociology is well-represented in the fact that Duncan has now gone out of print with little expression of regret. On the one hand, scholars of Kenneth Burke (though perhaps interested in the relation between Burke and the social sphere) are not typically interested in problems specific to the sociological field, while on the other hand sociologists are typically uninterested in the vocabulary of literary critics, outside the context of a sociology of literature, for example. David Blakesley is to be commended for organizing and annotating some part of the Burke-Duncan correspondence, but that project, while it is of interest to Burke scholars, is not one that will figure in the development of sociology as a field outside a more general project that would demonstrate and apply Burke toward the solution of sociological problems. Duncan’s sociology is no more than a gloss of what Kenneth Burke’s sociology might be; however, the conditions that would give rise to the triumph of that sociology within the sociological community simply have never arisen.

16 See also Perinbanayagam, 1982, 1991, and 2000. According to Perinbanayagam “it is in my last three books Discursive Acts, The Presence of Self and the recent Games and Sports in Everyday Life that I make more explicit use of Burke, particularly his literary-critical ideas.” (personal communication by email, December 30, 2007.

17 See Jeffrey Alexander’s The Meanings of Social Life, in which neither Burke nor Perinbanayagam are mentioned, although Burke has been mentioned in other texts by Alexander, as mentioned elsewhere in this essay.

18 Personal communication by email from Robert Perinbanayagam, January 4, 2008 – matters of fact, concerning the circumstances for Perinbanayagam are taken from this email and one other sent December 30, 2007.

19 Burke would return the favor by referencing Parsons in the famous “Dramatism” essay that appeared in the Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, discussed below.

20 Noted living sociologist and recipient (from William Jefferson Clinton) of the National Humanities Medal, Robert N. Bellah also wrote a summation of Burke’s treatment of religious language as symbolic action in Volume 13 of this collection (p. 412). Volume 18, which appeared in 1979, includes a biography of Burke, by J. Hillis Miller (pp. 78-81); and Volume 19, which appeared in1991 includes three quotes from Permanence and Change, and notes that the sentence A way of seeing is also a way of not seeing – a focus on object A involves a neglect of object B “has come to be known as ‘The Burke theorem.’” (Volume 19, p. 32)

21 In a letter to Hugh Dalziel Duncan, Burke points out the irony in Duncan’s characterization of the “dramatistic form” as one studied by Cooley, Mead, Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown. He says “I made up that word as a deliberate trade name of my particular wares.” (Burke in Wilder, 1985, p. xviii) The irony that Burke points out was not complete at that point, however, and continues to this day. Soon Goffman’s term Dramaturgy would largely replace, and occasionally substitute for (Alexander, 2006, p. 30), Burke’s term Dramatism, while contributing little, if anything, to a deeper understanding than Dramatism would allow. Now, Goffman’s Dramaturgy is read into cultural pragmatics and interaction rituals, where Burke’s Dramatism might have been, at least, as useful.

22 Within sociology, there is some attempt to distance Burke from Goffman by claiming Goffman is about deception and Burke is about language (Cuzzort and King, 1976, p. 237; Gusfield, 1989a p. 37, 1989b, p. 22). Neither claim is, in the final analysis, supported by the breadth of each author’s work, although both have been supported in terms of the general understanding of how they can be appropriated in the field.

23 The Heritage of Sociology series, which rejected an application from Valerie Bentz to edit Hugh Dalziel Duncan’s now completely out-of-print writings, provides readers with compilations of the most important works of the most important thinkers in the sociological tradition.

24 Joseph Gusfield, personal communication by email, December 12, 2007.

25 "The dominated apply categories constructed from the point of view of the dominant to the relations of domination, thus making them appear natural…Symbolic violence is instituted through the adherence that the dominated cannot fail to grant to the dominant.” (Bourdieu, 2001, p. 35)

26 Burke’s style of writing comes home to roost on this occasion, for he writes on the same page that, “Strictly speaking, then, dramatism is a theory of terminology.” (Burke, 1968, p. 448)

27 But not, of course, rhetoric.

28 Readers might also consult Hopper if seeking some characterization of prominent literature in the sociology of motives, following Mills; Foote; Scott and Lyman; Blum and McHugh, up into the 1990’s.

29 Merton’s lifespan fell just short of ninety-three years and he was active through most of them. Like Burke, he had that long tenure among intellectuals, so necessary for a broad impact.

30 Social Forces, Vol. 18, No. 4, 1940, pp. 560-568.

31 “Puritanism, Pietism, and Science,” Sociological Review, Vol. 28, 1936, pp.1-30.

32 The authorial moments of many such citations (Garfinkel, 1956, Straus, 1959, Merton, 1957, Gouldner, 1965) is worth noting, however – it is in the era that Burke was commanding the attention of many other sociologists, including Duncan, Garfinkel, Merton, Parsons, Goffman, Edelman, and Gusfield. The generation that follows these thinkers has not been so attentive or lavish in its praise.

33 Personal communication, 1993.

34 As is often the case, the citations do not show any genuine recognition of the significance of the essay, itself, nor do they suggest any comprehension of the claims the essay makes regarding Burke’s potential in the field. With the application of Burke to the consideration of social process, it is also worth mentioning an essay published by this author in Health Communication (Kenny, 2001), which applies the dramatistic paradigm to characterize death rituals as “rites of passage” that are essentially symbolic and social processes. The essay represents a rare application of dramatism in non-discursive social action, and has obtained some notoriety: cited, anthologized (Bauman and Peterson, 2005), catalogued in both centers for ethics and neurological institutes, and taught in a variety of programs ranging from nursing, to science, to English programs. Although it is a precursor to “cultural pragmatics” and “social performance theory” it has not gathered attention in sociology, while articles by this author published in sociology have – again the volume of literature and the limited attention-opportunities specific to a discipline exert an oppressing effect on any migration of ideas between fields.

35 The possibility for such a school lingers in the dedicated work of Perinbanayagam, but that potential will not be realized outside a variety of conditions which have not yet been realized and are, practically speaking, unlikely.


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Editors’ Essay: The Future of Burke Studies

Mark E. Huglen, University of Minnesota, Crookston
Clarke Rountree, University of Alabama, Huntsville

As we hand off editing duties to Andy King at the end of our tenure as inaugural co-editors of KB Journal we believe it is fitting to point toward what we see as the future of the field that Kenneth Burke called “Burkology.” In our “Editors’ Essay: Towards the Next Phase” in the inaugural issue we envisioned the Burkean corpora as a paradigm in the Kuhnian sense of the term, rich with teachings and insights that could be used productively in a manner in which KB envisioned: as operational benchmarks or springboards for further exposition, critique, interpretation, and insight. With several purportedly anomalous limitations emerging throughout the years to challenge the paradigm, we will temper our enthusiasm to provide a realistic yet hopeful vision of the direction for those working the paradigm, based upon past work within the field as a whole, KB Journal publications, and recent doctoral dissertations.

In organizing this essay we immediately thought of Barry Brummett and Anna M. Young’s contribution to KB Journal, “Some Uses of Burke in Communication Studies,” in which they identify three types of Burke scholars: 1) the “extratextual,” when the scholar looks into the biography and historical context of Burke; 2) the “textualcentric,” when the scholar seeks to interpret Burke and Burkean concepts in a hermeneutical, ethical, or organizational manner; and 3) the “seminaltextual,” when the scholar applies Burke’s concepts to contemporary texts for critique. We also reflect on Clarke Rountree’s contribution, “Burke by the Numbers,” which quantifies some trends in Burke studies. Both are good starting points through which to develop an organizing framework for identifying four trends, or at least “leanings” or “drifts” in Burkology today. The first two trends have to do with how Burke is used and the last two trends have to do with who is using Burke.

First, the most obvious and traditional focus draws upon Burke’s original texts in some way, as Brummett and Young’s textualcentric and extratextual categories emphasize. Regarding work in these categories, we may ask about the future of Burke studies: “What is the leaning or drift in regard to the focus upon Burke’s original texts or the historical or biographical context in which Burke worked?” A second use of Burke involves his support for criticism, which Brummett and Young put in the seminaltextual category. We wonder here, “What is the leaning or drift in regard to the focus upon Burke’s teachings for the critique of contemporary texts?” Regarding who is using Burke, we look at two trends: a new “generational drift” that will impact the future of Burkology and an “interdisciplinary drift” in the champions of Burke in various fields.

Original Texts and Biographical and Historical Contexts

What is the leaning or drift in regard to the focus upon Burke’s original texts and the historical and biographical context in which Burke worked? Because we are studying, applying, and appropriating the ideas of a single author this group most readily draws from what is available in print first before exploring Burke’s biographical and historical context. We have been fortunate in recent years to see the publication of new collections of Burke’s letters, his fiction, his late poems, his Shakespeare criticism, and a version of his Symbolic of Motives, with many featured in various forms in KB Journal.

We are fortunate to have a large and rich corpus from which to work. To support continued research, it will be important for the Kenneth Burke Society to ensure that Burke’s works remain readily accessible. The University of California Press and more recently Parlor Press have supported these efforts admirably. If market forces make continued publication problematic, then KBS should make efforts to find new publishers or get permission to publish the books itself.

In any event, we no longer have Burke producing new works, so we will be nearing the end of what can be harvested from the Burkean corpus. This limitation means that scholars may find themselves retracing work done by their predecessors in unpacking and exploring Burke’s rich concepts, so we may eventually reach the point of diminishing returns for our scholarly efforts.

On the other hand, one might view the Burkean oeuvre as containing as many meanings as there are contexts, language chains with ethnographic traces, constraints of persuasive situations, motivations and strategic choices, and people in the world, which means scholars ought to be able to continue unpacking Burkean concepts indefinitely. As Celeste Condit says, “a thousand different perspectives on Burke can be sustained, and at least a hundred have been printed…” (349), so unpacking can continue. She adds that the historical crucible of Burke’s original work—the Great Depression, World War II, and the academic stronghold of B.F. Skinner and John Watson—ensures that new work will need to be done to extend Burke’s ideas and make them applicable to our new world scene. This will take us “post-Burke,” extending Burke’s ideas in ways that change them.

The exchanges among James W. Chesebro, Condit, and Philip Tompkins and George Cheney in the early 1990s address the issue of whether we need to go “post-Burke.” In “Extensions of the Burkeian System” in the Quarterly Journal of Speech, Chesebro focused on unpacking Burke’s system and identified four limitations, which he labeled monocentric, logocentric, ethnocentric, and methodological. The possibility for addressing those limitations depends, Chesebro argued, “on how Burkeian scholars employ Burke’s works in the years to come” (356). Sixteen years later now in 2008 this qualifies as “the years to come.” What is the leaning or drift in regard to the focus upon Burke’s original texts or the historical or biographical context in which Burke worked in regard to addressing the limitations Chesebro and Condit pointed out in the early 1990s?

In regard to a “monocentric” limitation, Chesebro argued Burke was on a quest to identify one universal method, one systematic vocabulary and universal language system called “dramatism” (357). This quest, according to Chesebro, is reflected by the philosophy of monism: “a form of reductionism which de-emphasizes diversity in order to make broader and more universal generalizations about human communication” (357). Although Clarke Rountree has argued for the universality of dramatism (“Coming to Terms”; “Difficult Notions”), the drift seems to be heading in the other direction, a direction that KB himself has inspired many to take: that not only are ambiguities inevitable but also that there are benefits in ambiguity. Burke’s insights into dialectic, democracy, and constitutions speak more for what Burke was doing than where Chesebro thinks Burke was going. Burke seemed to be heading in many directions. Developing his system may have been an “occupational psychosis” for Burke, but the monism Chesebro talks about was never fully realized.

In regard to a “logocentric” limitation, Chesebro argued that Burke’s word-centered emphasis isolated language from the social context (360). As Tompkins and Cheney explained in 1993 logocentric is a term that associates with Jacques Derrida’s view that the Western world places too much emphasis upon Truth, rationality, and the written word. Tompkins and Cheney’s response was that the field of communication and rhetoric focuses on language and the symbolic–there is nothing new. They contend that the paths Derrida offered seem to have led to dead ends, while the interest in exploring the biography and context surrounding Burke’s texts seems to be growing.

Insight into this drift reveals there are multiple works that focus on the social context. Examples include M. Elizabeth Weiser’s “Burke and War: Rhetoricizing the Theory of Dramatism,” Ross Wolin’s The Rhetorical Imagination of Kenneth Burke, and James H. East’s The Humane Particulars. All of these explore the context surrounding Burke’s original work to provide greater insight into “Burkology.” In the case of Weiser and Wolin, the authors draw upon the historical context to provide greater insight into Burke’s original work, with Weiser illuminating the impact of World War II on Burke’s A Grammar of Motives and Wolin providing insight into the historical context that spawned Burke’s major works.

Those who write about Burke’s life and times have much more to do. Work by Armin Paul Frank, Jack Selzer, Ann George and others have offered glimpses into Burke’s life and its relationship to his work. But, they have only covered the earliest years of Burke’s life; there is much more to be done on his biography. This project has rich potential; we will see more scholarship in this area, perhaps by Ann and Jack, or their students.

In regard to an “ethnocentric” limitation, Chesebro pointed out that Burke was a White Anglo, heterosexual, Western male (361), particularly pointing to Attitudes Toward History to make the argument. According to Chesebro, Burke’s “Curve of History” reflects a distinctly Western orientation. Chesebro explained Burke’s curve was articulated as movement from “Christian Evangelism,” “Medievel Synthesis,” “Protestant Transition,” and “Naïve Capitalism” to “Emergent Collectivism.” Chesebro notes that Burke had an opportunity to take into account “a profound series of personal and societal changes” before republishing the 1959 and 1984 editions, but did not (361). Like Condit, Chesebro feels the reference points that rationalize Burke’s system are dated (362). We see this as an important area to cultivate for scholarship.

In “Post-Burke: Transcending the Sub-stance of Dramatism,” Condit agrees that Burke did not work from multicultural materials when articulating his claim that “a Dramatistic definition of man requires an admonitory stress upon victimage as the major temptation in the symbol systems by which men build up their ideas, concepts, and images of identity and community” (qtg. Language as Symbolic Action 2, 373; at 352 in Condit). Burke developed this insight by studying Western religion, particularly the Christian religion. Condit’s point is that victimage may be the dominant motive in Western thought and practice but not for all cultures (352). In this way, she argues, Burke is ethnocentric. Condit believes victimage is indeed a useful concept for critique, noting that “[o]ppositional discourses in feminism, African-Americanism, and Marxism flourish because they feed the linguistic craving for victimage so well” (354). Condit would have us critique victimage but move post-Burke to develop new vocabularies that transcend the victimage cycles and reflect alternative views of the world.

In “Spiritual Communication,” published in 2005, Bernard L. Brock took up this call for a reconsideration of victimage and the distinctly Western orientation of the “terms for order” as articulated in Burke’s The Rhetoric of Religion. He referred to this as a “fall-redemption” model of communication, characterized by the familiar “order, pollution, guilt, purification, and redemption” cycle. Alongside this Western model, Brock offered the more eastern orientation called “blessing/growth,” that emphasized activity, affirmation, befriending the negative, creative response/responsibility, and transformation. With roots in Buddhism, the blessing/growth model follows the Eastern tradition that acknowledges continuous change and growth. Others may take up Condit’s call and also consider how widespread the victimage motive and motif operates in human cultures and its alternatives.

In regard to a “methodological” limitation, Chesebro suggested that Burke’s pentad was used too categorically by the casual critic, with the concern that the pentad would be used similar to the neo-Aristotelian method (363). But, as Tompkins and Cheney pointed out in 1993, it is not Burke’s fault that some of his followers misuse the pentad. Plenty of scholars have used Burke’s critical machinery thoughtfully, deftly, and productively. We need not be victims of a Burkean methodological trap.

Recent work in Burke studies demonstrates that there is much more to say about original texts and biographical and social contexts. In KB Journal, notably, the focus is significant. Roberts Wess’s “Representative Anecdotes in General, with Notes toward a Representative Anecdote for Burkean Ecocriticism in Particular” argued that a representative anecdote was a “part of” reality rather than “apart from” reality to explicate views on ecocriticism, antifoundationalism, and foundational ecocriticism. Jo Scott-Coe emphasized Burke’s original work in “Canonical Doubt, Critical Certainty: Counter Conventions in Augustine and Kenneth Burke.” She analyzed the extensive writings of Burke and Augustine to re-address intersections between religion, literary, and critical vocabulary. Erin Wais’s “’Trained Incapacity’: Thorstein Veblen and Kenneth Burke” traced the phrase “trained incapacity” in the work of Burke and Thorsten Veblen, clearing up the confusion whether Veblen coined the phrase and Burke’s more expansive version of it.

Other examples of the focus upon Burke’s original work and the biographical and social context include Rebecca Townsend’s “Widening the Circumference of Scene: Local Politics, Local Metaphysics,” in which she employs the circumference of scene with the ethnography of communication; Keith Gibson’s “Burke, Frazer, and Ritual: Attitudes Towards Attitudes,” which returns to the literary context to understand Burke’s Attitudes Towards History and George Frazer’s The Golden Bough; Timothy Crusius’s “The Question of Kenneth Burke’s Ethics,” in which Crusius explores a theory of comedy with human relations; and Richard H. Thames’s “The Gordian Not: Untangling the Motivorum” (1), which reconstructs Burke’s Symbolic.

Given Burke’s tendency to tease out new ideas only to move on quickly and leave gems for others to pick up later, there’s more work to be done. For example, Rountree picked up on Burke’s brief discussion of “administrative rhetoric” (which is what Burke called Machiavelli’s “rhetorical theory”) to develop an approach to war rhetoric (Rountree, “Building up to War”). Similarly, Brenda K. Kuseski wrote an entire essay on Burke’s brief discussion of “the five dogs” of language, which she then used to analyze a speech by Mother Teresa.

Burkean Criticism

Burke’s work continues to provide an engine for criticism, especially rhetorical criticism. Despite the rise of alternative approaches to analysis in our postmodern academic world, critics still find value in the pentad, identification, terms for order, representative anecdote, perspective by incongruity, and myriad other nuggets mined from the Burke corpus. Publications in our own KB Journal illustrate this nicely.

Robert L. Ivie’s, “The Rhetoric of Bush’s `War’ on Terror,” lead essay in the inaugural issue of KB Journal, is a quintessential example of using Burke’s concepts for critique. Ivie illuminated George W. Bush’s persuasive seductions in regard to the war on terror. Ivie showed how Bush’s messages masqueraded as tests of Christian faith, suggesting that America needed to find its democratic voice.

KB Journal published a dozen other essays focusing on critique, including “The Drama of a Technological Society: Using Kenneth Burke to Symbolically Explore the Technological Worldview of Jacques Ellul” by Mike Hübler; “A Rhetorical Journey into Darkness: Crime-Scene Profiling as Burkean Analysis” by Jennifer MacLennan; “Symbolic Suicide as Mortification, Transformation, and Counterstatement: The Conciliatory (Yet) Resistant Surrender of Maka-tai-mesh-ekia-kiak” by Jason Edward Black; “Sociological Propaganda: A Burkean and Girardian Analysis of Twentieth-Century American Advertising” by Kathleen M. Vandenberg; “Burke, Sociology, and the Example of Cuban Agriculture” by Joshua Frye; “Using Cluster Agon Method to Assess the Radical Potential of `European American’ as a Substitute for `White’” by John Lynch; “Mysticism and Crisis Communication” by Robert S. Littlefield, Timothy L. Sellnow, and Mathew I. Attansey; “Conflicted Possession: A Pentadic Assessment of T.E. Lawrence’s Desert Narrative” by Jason Ingram; “Suicide: or the Future of Medicine (“A Satire by Entelechy” of Biotechnology)” by Eric Shouse; “Fahrenheit 9/11's Purpose-Driven Agents: A Multipentadic Approach to Political Entertainment,” by Samantha Senda-Cook; “Composing a Gourmet Experience: Using Kenneth Burke's Theory of Rhetorical Form,” by Hans Lundquist; and the final chapter of Camille K. Lewis’s book on Bob Jones University.

Whole books on criticism have drawn on Burke for their critical perspective, including, most recently, Greg Clark’s use of identification in Rhetorical Landscapes in America, Camille K. Lewis’s book on Bob Jones University’s rhetoric (see related article in this issue), and Clarke’s 510-page pentadic analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court case that ended the 2000 presidential election and swept George W. Bush into office.

Generational Drift

Despite the continued relevance of Burke and the opportunities for extending and applying Burke in new ways, it appears that the number of publications about Burke has reached a plateau and is waning. As Clarke noted in his “Burke by the Numbers” essay last spring, the trend in Burke studies has been positive over the past few decades. From eight works about Burke and his ideas in the 1920s, the numbers increased exponentially until the 1980s when they exploded with 400 publications, followed by almost 500 in the 1990s, and numbering 336 thus far in the 2000s. Since we have only two years left in this decade, we might expect to fall short of the high mark of the 1990s. That would mean that the number of works about Burke may decrease for the first time in eighty years. While numbers of publications provide a measure of account, we believe it is difficult to account fully for the expansive influence Burke and Burkeans have had in various fields.

Remember the series of editorials penned by Ivie as editor of the Quarterly Journal of Speech from 1993-1995? Ivie’s editorship capitalized on Burke’s assumptions and teachings, as well as the ideological turn, critical theory, and the postmodern complements. The assumptions were the result of what Burke was teaching for years, but the drift progressed from trying to figure out Burke to using those teachings implicitly as an assumptive framework. While the number of specific works about Burke may indicate a potential decline for this decade by 2010, KB’s influence is more far reaching now than at any other time.

Obviously, we’re not talking about a natural process here. On one hand, a focus on Burke studies is something scholars can choose to take up or not; on the other hand: being born into an intellectual tradition is something potential scholars cannot choose. The language of tradition will prefigure reality and use scholars until there are breakthroughs for effective change. Early Burke scholars had to figure out Burke and forge a place in the primarily Aristotelian assumptive framework of the field. Today Burke scholars function within a framework that provides the prevailing assumptions for the field. In one way of thinking the Kenneth Burke Society and this journal can help promote or fail to promote Burke’s teachings, but in another way of thinking Burke’s teachings have survived and will survive without any overt promotion because, if we listen to Burke, the teachings and the works about Burke will use its members within assumptive frameworks more than its members will use Burke in particular.

Yet we need voices that encourage us to listen to Burke, and we are experiencing a notable drift with the current passing of a generation of scholars whose numbers and standing in their own disciplines helped to raise the stature of Burke as a major scholar. Sociologist Hugh Dalziel Duncan died in 1970, and Burke’s best friend, Malcolm Cowley (who has five works related to Burke), died in 1989. In the current decade we’ve lost that great literary critic and Burke interlocutor, Wayne C. Booth; the “Dean of Burke studies,” Bill Rueckert; a friend whose scholarly work and rhetorical criticism textbook (with Bob Scott initially, adding Jim Chesebro later) brought Burke to the attention of communication students, Bernie Brock; a scholar who first applied Burke to social movements, Leland Griffin; and Dick Gregg, a communication professor who wrote a couple of masterful essays on Burke. Other major Burke scholars are retired or have moved to emeriti status, such as Joseph R. Gusfield, Phil Tompkins, W. Ross Winterowd, Hayden White, Dell Hymes, and Don Jennerman. A number of other leading Burke scholars began writing about Burke in the 1970s and may retire soon.

Despite these significant losses at least 14 major Burke scholars (those with five Burke related publications or more—see Rountree, “Burke by the Numbers”) began publishing on Burke in the 1980s and have a decade or two (or perhaps more) before leaving the scholarly stage, namely, Ed Appel, Cheree Carlson, Rick Coe, Greig Henderson, Phyllis Japp, Paul Jay, Andy King, Mark Moore, Clarke Rountree, Richard Thames, Tilly Warnock, Bob Wess, and David Cratis Williams. And the numbers indicate we have a cadre of major scholars, again fitting the criterion of five Burke-related publications or more, who began publishing after the 1980s, including Gregory Clark, Bryan Crable, Ann George, Debra Hawhee, Mark E. Huglen, and Kathleen M. Vandenberg. And several bright newcomers promise to make great contributions, including Dana Anderson, Scott Newstok, and M. Elizabeth Weiser, among others.

Among those newcomers who might carry on this work are the authors of recent Burke-related dissertations profiled in this issue of KB Journal. Their work offers grounds for optimism for the future of Burke studies. Out of the fourteen dissertations profiled, seven can be characterized as focusing upon Burke’s original works as textualcentric or extratextual, with the other seven using Burke’s concepts for doing a critique—a nice balance for continuing Burke’s work.

Interdisciplinary Drift

The dissertations also reflect a second drift worth exploring: the disciplines that are taking up Burke. For the fourteen profiled here, Literature and Communication departments spawned six each, with one coming from art history and another from occupational therapy. This generally fits trends noted by Clarke in “Burke by the Numbers.” While a wide range of disciplines have applied Burke—from architecture to religious studies to business studies to art, not to mention speech and literature—most disciplines lack a critical mass of scholars studying Burke to make him a significant force in their fields. Communication Studies continues to be the most significant torchbearer for Burke, along with the allied interdisciplinary field of rhetorical studies (which brings in speech, composition, and literature scholars particularly). Rhetoric and composition has a number of voices, including Tilly Warnock, David Blakesley, and Phillip K. Arrington. Although there are significant scholars in literature who study Burke, the field is so large that someone like Peter Holbrook could ask in the Times Literary Supplement last year, “What happened to Burke?” The comment reflects an attitude of declining interest, although Clarke’s “Burke by the Numbers” seems to suggest that literature scholars still draw on Burke.

The shortage of major scholars is more severe in other disciplines. Importantly, in sociology, no one has emerged as a champion of Burke on the order of a Hugh Duncan or a Joseph Gusfield, though Robert Wade Kenny, Robert Perinbanayagam, and Michael A. Overington have made significant contributions. Political Science never had a leading Burke scholar, though the late Murray Edelman, Dan Nimmo, and James E. Combs often worked in the spirit of Burke, referencing him occasionally. Mary Stuckey, who is Professor of Communication and Political Science at Georgia State University, carries on this tradition, using Burke occasionally (especially in “The Battle of Issues and Images” with Fred Antczak). Other fields feature lone Burkean voices. Hayden White (now emeritus) is the only historian of note to draw significantly from Burke. Philosophy has David Hildebrand, though he is supported by a range of philosophically-oriented scholars from other fields who draw on Burke (often publishing in Philosophy & Rhetoric). Linguistics has Dell Hymes (now emeritus). But one would be hard-pressed to identify a single notable Burke scholar from the disciplines of American Studies, anthropology, architecture, art or art history, business, education, the natural sciences, psychology, or religion.

Generally, it appears that Burke Studies is safe in communication, composition, and rhetorical studies. It will require continued education from the notable Burke scholars in literary studies to ensure their colleagues that Burke is not dead in their field. As for other fields, we will have to keep encouraging the interests of our colleagues in Burke, though perhaps those drawn to the rhetorical turn in their fields will eventually find their way to Burke.

Beyond disciplinary boundaries, it appears we must do more to cultivate Burke outside of North America. If U.S. and Canadian scholars still turn to Burke, this is not the case in Latin America, Europe, Asia, Africa, or Australia. There have been a fair number of translations of Burke’s works, including The Philosophy of Literary Form (German, Portuguese, Spanish, and Japanese), A Grammar of Motives (Japanese), On Symbols and Society (Japanese), The Rhetoric of Religion (Spanish), and various essays (German, Danish, and many others). But, it does not appear that many international scholars draw on or study Burke for the purpose of publication. British scholar Laurence Coupe is an exception, with several Burke-related publications. A special issue of Recherches Anglaises et Americaines in 1979 (Susuni) marks a significant (if one-time) spurt of interest in Burke by European scholars.

Generally, during the 1970s international scholars had largely ignored Burke, but there is hope: Our online tracking for KB Journal indicates that readers from every inhabited continent and dozens of countries have perused our pages (see charts below). And, we end our editorship by publishing our first essay by a European scholar, Hans Lindquist of Lund University in Sweden.

The Past and Future Impact of KB Journal

As the flagship journal of the Kenneth Burke Society, KB Journal has played an important role in advancing Burkean scholarship, as we suggest in this essay. It has also been one of the first journals in communication or English studies to publish under the open access model so that all of our articles are freely accessible to readers around the world. Each article is also published under a Creative Commons license, which means that they may be redistributed or reprinted without the usual permissions issues that normally dampen wide distribution of new scholarly work. We believe that the CC license is very much in the spirit of open and active inquiry that Kenneth Burke himself practiced with his own work. Many of his correspondents were treated with copies of his latest poetry or, in some cases, full (and as yet unpublished) manuscripts, such as Poetics, Dramatistically Considered.

Based on our analysis of tracking data, we know that people from around the world have read KB Journal articles, in numbers that many will find surprising. Since June, 2007, our pages have been hit more than 500,000 times, with the monthly average between 40,000 and 60,000 hits, as shown in Table 1, generated by Webalizer.

Table 1. Summary by month of Web stats for KB Journal from June 2007 to April 2008.

What is perhaps more interesting is to see how far KB Journal reaches across the globe, perhaps an indicator that the reach we hope to see and that we discussed earlier may have begun. Table 2 shows hits to the website by country of origin, for November 2007, not long after the release of the Fall 2007 issue.

Table 2. Hits to the KB Journal website by country of origin for November 2007.

Behind the U.S. are Canada, Australia, the European Union, Belgium and the UK, which together account for another few thousand hits per month. Combined with the numerous emails from international scholars received by the editors, this data suggests that KB Journal is extending the reach of Burkean scholarship and will continue to do so.

Readers of particular articles can track how many times a particular article has been read by noticing the “Reads” counter at the bottom of each article. Among the most popular pages at the site are the Burke bibliographies and two articles, Erin Wais’s “`Trained Incapacity’: Thorstein Veblen and Kenneth Burke” (8,170 reads) and Paul Lynch’s review of Keith D. Millers’s article, “Plymouth Rock Landed on Us: Malcolm X’s Whiteness Theory as a Basis for Alternative Literacy” (2,565 reads).

As we move to the next stage in the journal’s evolution under the editorship of Andy King, two new Web developers and editors join the team as well and will have an important role to play in distinguishing the future of KB Journal. Ryan Weber and Nathaniel Rivers—winners of the Emerging Scholar Award at KBS 2005—take over from David Blakesley and will no doubt help give the tenor of the argument its new pitch.

Given the drifts and leanings discussed here, we have reason to hope that the teachings of Kenneth Burke will continue to provide value to scholars and will be extended in ways even Burke did not anticipate. We are confident that our successors will help make the future of Burke studies bright.

*The authors thank David Blakesley for the information on website usage.

Works Cited

Black, Jason Edward "Symbolic Suicide as Mortification, Transformation, and Counterstatement: The Conciliatory (yet) Resistant Surrender of Maka-Tai-Mesh-Ekia-Kiak." KB Journal 2.1 (2005).

Brock, Bernard L. (Ed.). Kenneth Burke and Contemporary European Thought: Rhetoric in Transition. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1995.

Brock, Bernard L. "Spiritual Communication." Review of Communication 5.2-3 (2005): 88-99.

Brummett, Barry, and Anna M. Young. “Some Uses of Burke in Communication Studies.” KB Journal 2.2 (2006).

Chesebro, James W. “Extending the Burkeian System: A Response to Tompkins and Cheney.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 80.1 (1994): 83-90.

---. “Extensions of the Burkeian System.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 78.3 (1992): 356-78.

Clark, Gregory. Rhetorical Landscapes in America: Variations on a Theme from Kenneth Burke. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2004.

Condit, Celeste Michelle. “Post-Burke: Transcending the Sub-stance of Dramatism.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 78.3 (1992): 349-55.

Coupe, Laurence. Kenneth Burke on Myth: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2004.

---. "Kenneth Burke: Pioneer of Ecocriticism." Journal of American Studies 35.3 (2001): 413-31.

---. Myth. London: Routledge, 1997.

---. "Myth without Mystery: The Project of Robert Segal." Religious Studies Review 29 (2003): 3-17.

Crusius, Timothy W. "The Question of Kenneth Burke's Ethics." KB Journal 3.1 (2006).

East, James H. (Ed.). The Humane Particulars: The Collected Letters of William Carlos Williams and Kenneth Burke. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2003.

Frank, Armin Paul. Kenneth Burke. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1969.

George, Ann, and Jack Selzer. Kenneth Burke in the 1930s. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2007.

Frye, Joshua. "Burke, Socioecology, and the Example of Cuban Agriculture." KB Journal 2.2 (2006).

Gibson, Keith. "Burke, Frazer, and Ritual: Attitudes toward Attitudes." KB Journal 3.1 (2006).

Holbrook, Peter. "What Happened to Burke? How a Lionized American Critic, for Whom Literature Was "Equipment for Living," Became Lost to Posterity." TLS July 13, 2007 2007: 11-12.

Hubler, Mike. "The Drama of a Technological Society: Using Kenneth Burke to Symbolically Explore the Technological Worldview Discovered by Jacques Ellul." KB Journal 1.2 (2005).

Ingram, Jason. "Conflicted Possession: A Pentadic Assessment of T.E. Lawrence’s Desert Narrative." KB Journal 4.1 (2007).

Ivie, Robert L. "The Rhetoric of Bush's 'War' on Evil." KB Journal 1.1 (2004).

Ivie, Robert L.  "Where Are We Headed?" Quarterly Journal of Speech 79.4 (1993).

---.  "The Performance of Rhetorical Knowledge." Quarterly Journal of Speech 80.2 (1994).

---.  "A Question of Significance." Quarterly Journal of Speech 80.4 (1994).

---.  "Scrutinizing Performances of Rhetorical Criticism." Quarterly Journal of Speech 80.3 (1994).

Kuseski, Brenda K. “Kenneth Burke's 'Five Dogs' And Mother Teresa's Love.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 74.3 (August 1988): 323-33.

Lewis, Camille K. "Publish and Perish?: My Fundamentalist Education from the Inside Out." KB Journal 4.2 (2008).

---. Romancing the Difference: Kenneth Burke, Bob Jones University, and the Rhetoric of Religious Fundamentalism. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007.

Littlefield, Robert S., Timothy L. Sellnow, and Matthew I. Attansey. "Mysticism and Crisis Communication: The Use of Ambiguity as a Strategy by the Roman Catholic Church in Response to the 2004 Tsunami." KB Journal 3.1 (2006).

Lindquist, Hans. “Composing a Gourmet Experience: Using Kenneth Burke’s Theory of Rhetorical Form.” KB Journal 4.2 (2008).

Lynch, John. "Race and Radical Renamings: Using Cluster Agon Method to Assess the Radical Potential of “European American” as a Substitute for “White”." KB Journal 2.2 (2006).

MacLennan, Jennifer "A Rhetorical Journey into Darkness: Crime-Scene Profiling as Burkean Analysis." KB Journal 1.2 (2005).

Rountree, Clarke. “Building up to War: Bush’s ‘Administrative Rhetoric’ in the Persian Gulf Conflict.” The Speech Communication Annual 10 (Spring 1996): 5-19.

---. “`Burke by the Numbers: Observations on Nine Decades of Scholarship on Burke.’” KB Journal 3.2 (Spring 2007).

---. “Coming to Terms with Kenneth Burke’s Pentad.” American Communication Journal 1.3 (1998). www.acjournal.org/holdings/vol1/iss3/burke/rountree.html

---. “Difficult Notions: Dramatism as Literal.” Paper presented to the Kenneth Burke Interest Group at the Annual Convention of the Southern Speech Communication Association, Savannah, GA, April 2008.

---. Judging the Supreme Court: Constructions of Motives in Bush v. Gore. Ann Arbor: Michigan State University Press, 2007.

Scott-Coe, Jo. "Canonical Doubt, Critical Certainty: Counter-Conventions in Augustine and Kenneth Burke." KB Journal 1.1 (2004).

Selzer, Jack. Kenneth Burke in Greenwich Village: Conversing with the Moderns, 1915-1931. The Wisconsin Project on American Writers. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996.

Senda-Cook, Samantha. “Fahrenheit 9/11’s Purpose-Driven Agents.” KB Journal 4.2 (2008).

Shouse, Eric. "Suicide: Or the Future of Medicine (a “Satire by Entelechy” of Biotechnology)." KB Journal 4.1 (2007).

Stuckey, Mary E. and Frederick J. Antczak. "The Batttle of Issues and Images: Establishing Interpretive Dominance." Communication Quarterly 42 (1994): 120-32.

Susini, Christian, ed. "Special Issue on Burke." Recherches Anglaises et Americaines No.12 (1979).

Thames, Richard H. "The Gordian Not: Untangling the Motivorum." KB Journal 3.2 (2007).

Tompkins, Phillip K., and George Cheney. “On the Limits and Sub-stance of Kenneth Burke and His Critics.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 79 (1993): 225-231.

Townsend, Rebecca. "Widening the Circumference of Scene: Local Politics, Local Metaphysics." KB Journal 2.2 (2006).

Vandenberg, Kathleen M. . "Sociological Propaganda: A Burkean and Girardian Analysis of Twentieth-Century American Advertising." KB Journal 2.1 (2005).

Wais, Erin ""Trained Incapacity": Thorstein Veblen and Kenneth Burke." KB Journal 2.1 (2005).

Weiser, M. Elizabeth. “Burke and War: Rhetoricizing the Theory of Dramatism.” Rhetoric Review 26.3 (2007): 286-302.

Wess, Robert. "Representative Anecdotes in General, with Notes toward a Representative Anecdote for Burkean Ecocriticism in Particular." KB Journal 1.1 (2004).

Wolin, Ross. The Rhetorical Imagination of Kenneth Burke. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

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Editors’ Essay: The Future of Burke Studies by Mark E. Huglen and Clarke Rountree is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.kbjournal.org.