Volume 9, Issue 1, Fall 2013

Contents of Issue 9.1 (Fall 2013)

A Note from the Editors

Welcome to issue 9.1 of KB Journal. We are very pleased to present the issue, which features many new elements as we nudge the journal in new directions. As a result, 9.1 broadly reflects a series of moves we have made as editors.

We have worked to exploit the strengths (and limitations) of the online format

Because KBJ is an exclusively online publication, we strived to make the best use of what the internet affords and what it constrains. For example, we aimed for shorter pieces with fewer endnotes to allow for scrolling reads. An online journal may be theoretically more spacious, but online reading habits make lengthy articles less attractive.

We likewise wished to treat videos as articles (or as featured content) that advance claims either implicitly or explicitly. First, there is the wonderful video discussion between Debra Hawhee and Bryan Crable: “Video Parlor: Action and Motion.” Crable and Hawhee (whose respective books are both reviewed in this issue) discuss how Burke’s action/motion pair has figured in their own work—how they have deployed, supplemented, and even discounted it. They likewise engage issues of the body and of bodies—including Burke’s own body—as they are made manifest in and through rhetoric. In this vein, Crable and Hawhee describe where Burke himself gets with the pair and how further we can go with it after Burke. Their compelling conversation concludes with a discussion of how they have both used archival research and how such research is changing the work of Burke scholarship. Perhaps most importantly, and in light of KB Journal’s revised mission statement, we see two scholars fully deploy the work of Burke, who remains not a static figure but a thinker whom we think with (and sometimes against). In short, Crable and Hawhee perform what it is to be Burkean.

Second, we have the striking video creations of Jimmy Butts, who has done more than simply translate three of Burke’s short stories; he has brought them to new life. His films not only attend to Burke’s fiction, which is explored far less than his scholarly output, but they also make these stories do important work. Through these films, we are compelled to think about Burke in fruitful, inventive ways. As Butts argues in his concise introduction of the films, “Adaptation as close reading, then, becomes a way of seeing, as Burke would say—but then also a way of not seeing.” Butts’s films are both delightful and suggestive of the many ways in which we can do scholarship.

We have worked to shift the way the journal engages Burke

Applications of Burke abound in rhetoric scholarship generally. As such, we have endeavored to downplay such work in KB Journal (more on this below). We do this not because we believe that such work is not valuable, but because we wager that the health and relevance of the journal lies in its ability to push Burke in new directions rather than in using Burke as a stable platform from which to read the world. Instead, we looked for work that might challenge readers to reconsider Burke (rather than to reaffirm that he was so often right). Christopher Oldenburg’s more traditional scholarly piece on the protest of the Milwaukee 14—who burned draft cards and other documents in protest of Vietnam—claims that this action represented “hybrid victimage,” in which the protestors played the part of both mortifiers and scapegoats. Oldenburg’s rich reading of Burke offers the kind of work we have sought: work that might change the way readers think about Burke.

Third, issue 9.1 features a healthy crop of book reviews cultivated by reviews editor Ryan Weber. We have reviews of Bryan Crable’s Ralph Ellison and Kenneth Burke: At the Root of the Racial Divide; Debra Hawhee’s Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language; John McGowan’s Pragmatist Politics: Making a Case of Liberal Democracy; Krista Ratcliffe’s Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness; and Clarke Rountree’s The Chameleon President: The Curious Case of George W. Bush.

* * *

Readers will likely note not only the delay between issue 8.1 and 9.1 but also that issue 9.1 features one scholarly article. Why, longtime readers might reasonably ask, have we waited so long for such a brief issue? We took over the journal in Fall 2011, before Andrew King’s final issue went into production. In our 18 months of editing the journal, we’ve received 21 submissions, or a little more than one per month. Of those 18, we have forwarded eight to reviewers. Only one of the eight received a decisive reject; the other seven were encouraged to revise and resubmit. Of those seven, four are still in process and two have been withdrawn by their authors. The remaining piece is this issue’s feature article. We did consider waiting until we had three or four articles, but the long gap since 8.1 suggested to us that it was time to publish 9.1.

As for the ten submissions that we did not forward to reviewers, these pieces fall into one of two groups, which we might call the “straightforward application” and the “tangential relation.” The first moniker is self-explanatory: many authors simply apply Burke—usually the pentad—to some text, artifact, or situation. Though the authors often perform this operation successfully, the straightforward application articles all tend to come to the same conclusion: Burke was right. As persuasive as readers of KB Journal may find that thesis, it does not serve to challenge or even complicate any conventional scholarly assumptions. This is not to say that we did not welcome applications. Oldenburg’s “Redemptive Resistance” is an application, but it is complex and deeply engaged with a wide range of Burke’s writing.

That brings us to the second type of problematic submission, the “tangential relation” article. In these, the author pursues a rhetorical inquiry (sometimes a compelling one) that does not really rely on or even need Burke for its analysis. For these submissions, the telltale sign is usually a bibliography that features a single work from Burke’s corpus. Once inside the article, the reader finds what we would call (following John Schilb’s discussion of Foucault in rhetoric scholarship; see “Turning Composition toward Sovereignty” in Present Tense 1.1) the “drive-by Burke moment”: a passing reference that could be deleted without damage to the overall structure. Here, the question is obvious: why KBJ? As the journal’s mission statement makes clear, “Kenneth Burke need not be the sole focus of a submission, but Burke should be integral to the structure of the argument.”

In spite of these problems, we have never summarily rejected an article. We have sent every author feedback, including those whose work did not make it to the review stage. We outlined our concerns, related those concerns to the journal’s mission statement, and encouraged every author to revise with those guidelines in mind. Happily, a couple of authors who received an initial rejection have since submitted new work that reached the review stage. Moreover, our rate of external review has increased: of our most recent eight submissions, four have gone out. We interpret this as a sign that authors are becoming more attuned to the journal’s mission statement. Meanwhile, the journal is planning to produce a special issue of European Burke scholars who participated in the Ghent conference in May. That issue, guest edited by Kris Rutten and Ronald Soetaert, should appear in late 2013 or early 2014. After this long delay, the gears of the journal are starting to turn more quickly.

In spite of these welcome developments, however, we have decided to step down as editors. After two years and one issue, it has become apparent to us that we are taking the journal in a direction that the Burke community may not want to follow. Given the special issue that is coming this fall, and that the natural end to our tenure comes next summer, now seemed a good time to step away. We have enjoyed our time as editors, but we think the journal might be better served by other leadership. David Blakesley has taken over the journal’s editorship as of August 1. Authors whose submissions are in process should refer their questions to him. In the meantime, we are looking forward to seeing everyone at next year’s Burke conference in St. Louis, and we remain the point-persons for that event. Finally, we wish to thank the following reviewers for their service to the journal: Matthew Althouse, Denise Bostdorff, A Cheree Carlson, Gregory Clark, Miriam Clark. Nathan Crick. Sonja Foss, Robert Ivie, Robert Heath, David Hildebrand, James Klumpp, Stan Lindsay, Star Muir, Lawrence Prelli, Peter Smudde, Mari Boor Tonn, and David Cratis Williams.

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"A Note from the Editors" by Paul Lynch and Nathaniel Rivers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Video Parlor: Action and Motion Featuring Debra Hawhee and Bryan Crable

Debra Hawhee and Bryan Crable discuss the Action-Motion distinction in this "Video Parlor":

From the Editors' Introduction

In this video discussion between Debra Hawhee and Bryan Crable, “Video Parlor: Action and Motion,” Crable and Hawhee (whose respective books are both reviewed in this issue) discuss how Burke’s action/motion pair has figured in their own work—how they have deployed, supplemented, and even discounted it. They likewise engage issues of the body and of bodies—including Burke’s own body—as they are made manifest in and through rhetoric. In this vein, Crable and Hawhee describe where Burke himself gets with the pair and how further we can go with it after Burke. Their compelling conversation concludes with a discussion of how they have both used archival research and how such research is changing the work of Burke scholarship. Perhaps most importantly, and in light of KB Journal’s revised mission statement, we see two scholars fully deploy the work of Burke, who remains not a static figure but a thinker whom we think with (and sometimes against). In short, Crable and Hawhee perform what it is to be Burkean.

Paul Lynch and Nathaniel Rivers

Three Short Film Adaptations

"Parabolic Tale, with Invocation," The Excursion," and "Scherzando"

Jimmy Butts, Louisiana State University


I have become increasingly interested in the process of adapting literature to the screen. Short stories represent a particular kind of medium that I find attractive in the age of new media, because they’re quickly taken in, but also manageable in the space of an hour long class discussion. Even so, Kenneth Burke’s short stories still remain largely unread—even by Burke scholars—and so I wanted to give them a broader audience by shifting them into another medium.

Adapting short stories in particular, has become quite a lucrative business, after all, with the recreation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” or Christopher Nolan’s reworking of his brother Jonathan’s short story “Memento Mori,” A.I. as Kubrick and Spielberg’s retelling of Brian Aldiss’s wonderful “Super Toys Last All Summer Long,” or the long list of Philp K. Dick stories adapted for the big screen. Total Recall, based on Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” is now being adapted for the second time. These are just a handful of short stories that I’ve liked and that come to mind without even thinking about it much.

But this is not an overview of the growing field of adaptation studies. For that, you should talk to a Shakespearean rather than a Burkean. Still, making multimedia as a way of responding to Burke in particular offers us some interesting insights into his literary work. Collections like Dave Blakesley’s The Terministic Screen testifies to this relationship to Burke studies.

A couple of years ago, I started having some of my English classes adapt short literary works into little videos with some success. What I began to understand is that adaptation is interpretation. And cinematic adaptations, for my students and myself and for Hollywood as well, have become a very interesting and entertaining way of conducting close readings upon some of our favorite texts.

Adaptation as close reading, then, becomes a way of seeing, as Burke would say—but then also a way of not seeing. When I was sharing with Julie Whitaker, the wife of Kenneth Burke’s son, Michael, that I had made the films, her first response was a kind of wonder. How could Burke’s highly stylized writings be transferred onto the screen? The language itself was almost visual, but sometimes more cerebral. Furthermore, Burke’s writing isn’t primarily plot driven. In some ways, making Burke’s writing visual takes us away from the language that he so adeptly employs, but there is also something that calls us to visualize the symbolic imagery he invokes. After she’d seen the films, however, Julie seemed to really appreciate the watching of Burke’s work. She came up and gave me a hug.

The result was that these films offered another way of breaking down Burke’s fiction, and I have kept his exact wording from the stories as voiceovers. This tactic is one that I as a lover of writerly language haven’t been able to shake in my work with literary adaptation. Keeping Burke’s beautiful language was important to me.

The three stories, “Parabolic Tale, with Invocation,” “The Excursion,” and “Scherzando” are now in the public domain and have been collected elsewhere in The Complete White Oxen and Here and Elsewhere, with a wonderful introduction by Denis Donahue. Each movie has its own soundtrack that I created using computer software and looping. Each short piece considers God in some way by happenstance. I merely chose the three shortest fictions that I could find to adapt for the screen. I first showed them at the Triennial Kenneth Burke Society Conference in 2011, and now they are available here.

I made each of the movies in this little trilogy in chronological order. “Parabolic Tale, with Invocation” was written in 1917, and functions like a strange parable. The first movie, the blue one as I began to think of it, seemed to work best with shadow puppets. As a parable, the narrative needed some kind of distancing that would allow us to read the text symbolically. Parables do this by using representative characters—animals oftentimes. Here I place the camera vertical, and placed a pane of glass above it. This allowed me to move paper shadow puppets using wires for the different shots. The blue hue of the video makes for a calming and serene experience in the vein of wisdom literature. The prayer at the end is meditative as well and shifts visually to show its addition in the same way that Burke adds the invocation on at the end of his short parable.

Read “Parabolic Tale, with Invocation" by Kenneth Burke here.

The Excursion,” written in 1920, is an angry piece. It is the most seemingly plot-driven piece, but in the end moves toward philosophical and poetic thought. The red movie works from an ironic perspective. Because the main character of “The Excursion” is not an admirable fellow, I thought of the way that Burke notes irony as a humble trope in The Grammar of Motives. He suggests, “True irony, humble irony, is based upon a sense of fundamental kinship with the enemy, as one needs him, is indebted to him, is not merely outside him as an observer but contains him within, being consubstantial with him” (514). So, I played the role of the unlovable speaker in “The Excursion.” It was not easy to watch myself like that. I also learned a lot about killing ants. Although, as a disclaimer, I should note that no ants were harmed in the making of the film.

Read "The Excursion" by Kenneth Burke here.

The final video, “Scherzando,” whose accompanying written piece was first published in 1922, was the most difficult to make and is the most difficult to pronounce. Scherzando is a musical term—and Burke knew his musical terms—meaning “in a light, playful manner;” it literally means “joking” in Italian. The music for the final movie is the most playful, and the cuts are certainly the most playful in this collection. Because the written work was a pastiche, a joke of sorts, I decided to make the entire film a pastiche of other films. The yellow figured in for the anxiety that the piece elicited. One might think that pastiche is a simpler form of mere borrowing, but I went back and borrowed from many old films now in the public domain. Trying to find the right shots was difficult, and making them layer well was also difficult. I shot some of my own footage and added it to the mix. The final work is a blend of alienating visions that end apocalyptically.

Read "Scherzando" by Kenneth Burke here.

I hope that these three little projects offer a new way of spying on Burke. Maybe I’ll continue this project and show another adaptation at a future Burke Conference, but I also want other Burkeans to explore these kinds of thoughtful responses to Burke’s writing. However, my main goal has simply been a broader audience for Burke that cinematics can facilitate. It in some ways prompts all of us as Burke scholars to make our own responses to Burke in various media. I want to see projects like the Burke videos help us address, apply, extend, and repurpose Burke as the new mission statement of the KB Journal asks of us.

I had the happy opportunity to study with director Volker Schlöndorff in Switzerland this past summer. His work has focused largely on adapting literary classics like Death of a Salesman, The Handmaid’s Tale, Coup de Grâce,and the Palme d’Or winner at Cannes Die Blechtrommel. Schlöndorff values the power of story as a way for us to interpret our lives. I believe Burke valued fiction for similar reasons.

I’d like to close with my deepest thanks to the Burke family and the Burke Literary Trust for their encouragement and endorsement of this project. It’s been quite an experience.

* Jimmy Butts likes to explore strange rhetorical tactics, in places like sentences and in digital media.   He has worked with students in Charleston, at Winthrop, Clemson, and most recently at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to get them composing in brave, new ways.  He received his PhD from the transdisciplinary program called Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design at Clemson.  His research interests include structural and poststructural composition strategies, new media, rhetorical criticism, defamiliarization, and writing pedagogy.  He has published multimodal work elsewhere with Pre-Text, in the CyberText Yearbook, for Pearson Education, and as a proud instructor in The Journal for Undergraduate Multimedia Projects.  You can find him online at theyellowrobot.com.

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"Three Short Film Adaptations" by Jimmy Butts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Parabolic Tale, with Invocation

Kenneth Burke

And the old man, being an old man, and therefore a senex, and entitled to give counsel, asked the young man:

"Young man, what do you know?"

And the young man, who had felled trees, had girded mountains and swum rivers, done many things, and who never took counsel, immediately answered:

"I know everything, father."

And the old man rather smiled and said:

"I know nothing."

And the old man, being old, then gave the young man counsel, which the young man tossed aside with anger. And the young man continued to do many things, while the venerable senex meditated in silence and was mildly discomforted by the young man's stubbornness. And the old man's mind became quiet, and magnificent, and awesome, like a deserted Cathedral full of vanished echoes. And his soul became tall, and calm, and Gothic, like the Cathedral.  But he was still vexed at the sacred stubbornness of the young man, and still gave counsel.

Until finally the young man hearkened a little, and found that what the ancient senex said was wise. And the more he obeyed, the less often he swam a stream too swift.

And  the old man wrote his counsel, that other young men might read of it, and died.  And  the young man became old, and counseled the young.  And these young men hearkened to him, at first not at all, then more, and more, until they, too, were senexes, fit to give counsel.  And having spoken, they died.

And as time went on the young men were led more and more by the accumulated wisdom of the old men, and their mistakes became fewer and fewer.

They are trying to guide me; 0 God, be merciful, and spare me, who should be young yet, from the wisdom of death.

* "Parabolic Tale, with Invocation" originally appeared in The Sansculotte 1 (January 1917): 8. [Also in The White Oxen and Other Stories and Here & Elsewhere: The Collected Fiction of Kenneth Burke by Kenneth Burke (Black Sparrow Books, 2005)]

This story has been adapted to video by Jimmy Butts in KB Journal 9.1 (Fall 2013).


Kenneth Burke

As I entered the room, he was reading one of his poems to a very moth-eaten person. “Catalogus Mulierum,” he grunted at me, and went on with the poem. From which I assumed that the title of the thing he was reading was “Catalogus Mulierum,” or “A Catalogue of Women.”

“Yes, I know the old ones who have had their day.
I have observed them.
Those old wrecked houses;
Those dead craters.”

The next I do not remember. Or rather, I do not want to remember it. It was detestable. And the stanza following. . . . The moth-eaten person clucked after each, and murmured something. When he had read another stanza, I left, while the moth-eaten person clucked—whether at the poem, or at me, I do not know.

“Then there are the little girls,
Recently able to become mothers;
Packages wrapped securely
In the admonitions of their parents.”

Why must men be hog-minded like that, I say. Great heavens! Have we exhausted the play of fresh morning on a lake? Have all the possible documents been written of a star near the horizon? I have seen him sitting monstrously in his chair and leering at me as though I were a whole world to leer at. I remember him in the distillation of my memory as a carcass, so many pounds of throbbing flesh with the requisite organs stuffed in, growling over the raw meat of his ideas.

Is there some gigantic cancer for us to sap with wells, and where we can descend on ladders? Could we spend our holidays here, on the edge of the decaying flesh, with our wives and children? I used to grind my teeth at the mere thought of him, until I had diseased my liver, and I ached from escaping juices. Ossia: There has been Christ, and the saints, and whole libraries of sanctity, and yet there was no law to exterminate this man! What darkness of darknesses have we been plunged into, when pestilence is invited among us, suffered to sit at our table and fester our tongues? But the critics are coming, and the satirists. Soon a wide plague of caterpillars will cover all the green leaves. There will be nothing behind them but naked trees and the scum of intestines. Prepare for a lean season, made meager with excessive insects.

I have sat opposed to him, and remembered the sunlight with a bursting gratitude. I remembered a little town sleeping in the foothills, with a bright clay road working across the countryside, and a green pool with the shadows of trout. I remembered the long, drooping fingers of the chestnuts—for the chestnuts blossom late, and there was a scattered frost of them even though the beards on the corn were already scorched. I remembered all this, while there spread about me the cool, dank mold from the cellar of his brain.


Let us construct a vast hippopotamus to the glorification of our century. Other ages could have constructed hippopotami of equal vastness, but ours will be superior in this: That it is exact within as well as without. A steam heart will beat against the brazen ribs of the brute, and the ooze of the kidneys will have been studied accurately. On the bolsters of his folded hide we shall have blotches and sores proper to the hippopotamus. And when we have finished, we shall have constructed a vast hippopotamus, which will cast its shadows
across the plain, and disfigure the sky to the glorification of our century.

* "Scherzando " originally appeared in Manuscripts 1 (February 1922): 74. [Also in The White Oxen and Other Stories and Here & Elsewhere: The Collected Fiction of Kenneth Burke by Kenneth Burke (Black Sparrow Books, 2005)]

This story has been adapted to video by Jimmy Butts in KB Journal 9.1 (Fall 2013).

The Excursion

Kenneth Burke

Having nothing to do, and having searched in vain among the notes of a piano for something to think on, I started off on a walk, trusting that I might scent a scandal on the breeze, or see God’s toe peep through the sky. I passed a barbershop, a grocery store, a little Italian girl, a chicken coop, a roadhouse, an abandoned quarry, a field of nervous wheat. All this distance I had walked under God’s blue sky, and still without a thought. But at last, after trudging on for hours, I came upon a thought. Miles upon miles I had walked for a thought, and at last I came upon an anthill.

Idly curious, I stopped to look at the ants. They would go from one place to another and return to that first place again, and for no reason that I could see. Little ants with big burdens, big ants with bigger burdens, and ants with no burdens, the most frightened and panicky of them all. As I watched them they seemed so human to me that my heart went out to them. “Poor little devils,” I said.

But I grew tired of watching the swarming mass of them. “I shall watch just one of them,” I said to myself after much deliberation. And I picked out one frightened little ant to watch. He went running about unaware of my presence, not knowing that a great god was looking down on him, just as I did not know but that a great god might be looking down on me. And with the toe of my shoe I marked out a rut in his path, so that he had to climb over it. And then I began dropping little bits of sand on him, and turning him over with a blade of grass. “I am his destiny,” I whispered; the conception thrilled me.

As the poor little fellow rushed about in terror, I realized how massive his belief in life must be at this moment, how all-consuming his tragedy; my pity went out to him. But my blade of grass was too limber; I picked up a little stone to push him with. I drew a circle. “May God strike me dead, little ant, if you get out of that circle.” I took that oath, and the battle was on. It was long and uncertain, with victory now on his side, and now on mine.

The little ant, in a last despairing burst, made for the edge of the circle, and crossed it. I was aroused. “I’ll kill the ant,” I shouted, and brought the stone down on his body, his passions, his dreams. Destiny had spoken. For an instant I was ashamed, for I had been unfair. He had beaten me under the terms I had made for myself. I should have let him go free.

I began watching other ants. They irritated me—they were so earnest, so faithful. Two ants came up and touched. I wondered what that could mean. Do ants talk? Then I watched one of the ants which had touched the other to see if it touched still other ants. For it might be a herald of some sort; perhaps ants do talk.

One little ant was tugging and pulling at a dead bug. Slowly, carefully, I took my stone and drew it over two of his legs, so that he was wounded grievously, and began writhing in agony. My face was distorted with compassion; how my heart bled for him!

I ran the stone across his other legs, and the motion was like a thrust into my own flesh. I was almost sick with pity for the poor little ant, and to end his suffering I killed him. Wide regret came on me, “Perhaps,” I thought, “perhaps, he was a poet. Perhaps I have killed a genius.”

And I began stepping on the other ants, digging up the anthill, scattering destruction broadcast about me. When my work was finished, and only a few mangled ants remained alive, my sorrow for the poor little ants had grown until it weighed on me, and crushed the vitality out of me. “The poor little ants,” I kept murmuring, “the poor, miserable little ants.” And I was bitter with the thought of how cruel the universe is, and how needlessly things must suffer. I stood gazing at the death and slaughter about me, stupefied with calm horror at what I had done. I prayed to God.

“O Great God,” I prayed, throwing back my head towards Heaven and stretching out my hands like Christ on the Cross, “O Great God”—but I didn’t really throw back my head, for I still kept looking at the ants, and I did not address God, for at times I even wonder if there be no God. I didn’t do these things, I say, since I was too intently watching the ants. “O Almighty God,” I thundered out in mighty prayer, throwing back my head towards Heaven and stretching out my hands like Christ on the Crucifix, “Thou who art Ruler of us all. Now I know why we suffer, and ache, and I pity Thee, God.”

* "The Excursion" originally appeared in The Dial 69 (July 1920): 27-28. [Also in The White Oxen and Other Stories and Here & Elsewhere: The Collected Fiction of Kenneth Burke by Kenneth Burke (Black Sparrow Books, 2005)]

This story has been adapted to video by Jimmy Butts in KB Journal 9.1 (Fall 2013).

Redemptive Resistance through Hybrid Victimage

Catholic Guilt, Mortification, and Transvaluation in the Case of the Milwaukee Fourteen

Christopher Oldenburg, Illinois College


In 1968 the Milwaukee Fourteen, members of the Catholic Anti-Vietnam War Movement, removed approximately ten-thousand draft files from a Selective Service Office and burned them with home-made napalm in a nearby park before awaiting arrest. Employing the Burkean concepts of categorical guilt, mortification and transvaluation as a framework from which to analyze the Milwaukee Fourteen’s “statement” and the resistive act itself, this essay troubles the general understanding of mortification as simply extirpating one’s guilt by self-victimage. Rather the Milwaukee Fourteen mortify themselves for the disordered transgressions of a culture. Their sacrificial purification results in a form of hybrid victimage with the ultimate goal of transvaluing the moral order of the Vietnam War era.

THE FIRE BURNED AT THE BASE OF A FLAGPOLE in a small downtown Milwaukee park. With arms locked in solidarity, fourteen men stood in a single line; they awaited arrest and peacefully entered police patrol wagons. As reported by the Milwaukee Sentinel on September 24, 1968, fourteen me—comprised of five priests, a protestant minister, and Catholic laity—raided a Milwaukee Selective Service Office. They seized approximately ten thousand 1-A draft files and burned them with homemade napalm in an adjacent park dedicated to America’s war heroes. Before anyone could to make sense of what occurred, all fourteen peaceful demonstrators were demonized by the Milwaukee Sentinel as “war foes,” and charged with “burglary, arson to property (other than a building) and criminal damage to property” (Patrinos 7).

In a statement to the Milwaukee Journal, Senator Robert W. Warren, Republican candidate for attorney general described the event as “brazen anarchy” (Kirkhorn 2). Framing the event this way, the Senator converted civil, Christian-inspired dissent into “anarchy.” The false dichotomy of “with us or against us” was not far behind. Lamenting that the reconstruction of Wisconsin draft files would be long and costly, Lt. General Lewis Hershey, national selective service director, said “people have the right to oppose the Vietnam war, but I don’t think it’s doing service to give aid to the enemy by showing such disunity here” (Kirkhorn 2). The Milwaukee Fourteen’s bail was set at $415,000. They were tried and sentenced to two years in prison.

While much scholarship has been produced on anti-war protests and social movements of the Vietnam era, the purpose of this essay is to understand the Milwaukee 14’s resistance from a Burkean perspective. Through an analysis of both “The Milwaukee Fourteen Statement” and the public act of resistance itself, I argue the case of the M-14 is of particular interest for Burkean scholarship because it demonstrates how categorical guilt is managed with both blame and complicity through what I call hybrid victimage. The M-14 mortified themselves by the “cleansing fire” of burning draft files for which they were arrested, but their victimage ritual simultaneously included serving as scapegoat for the larger American public guilt. Such hybrid instances are absent from the Burkean literature on vicitmage and its variants. My study aims to fill this gap. More examples and analyses of hybrid victimage will better help Burkeans understand the complexity, contingency, and interdependence of sacrificial variants in ethico-melodramas. I intend to illustrate how the M-14’s hybrid victimage can function as a socially purposive political trope, another means of coping with the misguided instruments of our own making whereby symbol users need not have to choose between the all-or-nothing extremes of dogma and skepticism that imperil war and democracy. I would suggest that hybrid victimage is a concept that Burke himself would endorse due to its affinity with his “both/and” view of the symbolic “Scramble,” his pursuit to purify war, and his mindful dedication to the pedagogy of language.

A full understanding of the M-14’s blending of purgation devices requires a brief review of those Burkean scholars who have theorized alterative peace building and guilt relieving strategies. Robert Ivie, for example, underscores Burke’s point that self-mortification is not a default response to guilt. Ivie notes that calling “for a redeeming act of self-mortification by a nation accustomed to condemning scapegoats, asking in effect that it purge itself of savagery without the benefit of the principle of substitution” fails to engender peace (“Metaphor” 178). As a corrective to the ritual of redemptive violence via trigger-happy scapegoating, Ivie calls for rites of reconciliation with the main rite being making enemies less evil and more human (“Fighting” 236). Margret Calvin, in an examination of William Sloane Coffin’s language of peace, suggests the scapegoat function can be replaced by “mutual mortification leading towards a mutual confession” between adversaries (288). Calvin acknowledges that sacrifice is still part of this process “with mortification requiring a death of self, the collective self” (290). But Calvin does not specify who represents the collective self. It is plausible that a mortifying representative from the guilty collective could in fact also serve as a scapegoat.  

Offering the idea of hybrid victimage troubles the dichotomy of scapegoating and mortification and thus extends the Burkean applications of these previous studies. The M-14’s brand of hybrid victimage is another rehumanizing rite that purifies the guilt created by war culture in two significant ways. First, the case of the M-14 accounts for Ivie’s assertion that the political language of demonization and national blame alone are insufficient in changing the order of war. Consequently, the M-14 conflates the two variants of victimage. By standing in as sacrificial scapegoats, the M-14 simultaneously exorcise their own guilt and the guilt of their culture. Their burning of draft files and arrest were non-violent and saved lives. Secondly, beyond attenuating guilt through a mutual, confessional “language” of peace as Calvin suggests, the M-14’s hybrid victimage centered on a radical, positive act of bearing witness. Their resistance was a sacrificial drama with deep symbolic meanings that focused on transvaluing the disordered practices of a war culture. My examination of the Milwaukee Fourteen’s resistive drama therefore focuses on the Burkean concepts of categorical guilt, mortification and transvaluation. 

Categorical Guilt

Order is a decisive notion in Burke’s dramatistic theory of human relations. Given that symbol users are “inventors of the negative” (LSA 9) language generates orders, hierarchies, and bureaucracies that goad individuals towards perfection. To the extent that verbal acts construct orders and establish proprieties, they engender guilt. Categorical guilt is an initial and necessary precondition of Burke’s cycle of terms implicit in the concept of order. Burke writes of the steps in history that join order and sacrifice, “Order Leads to Guilt…Guilt needs Redemption…Redemption needs a Redeemer (which is to say, a Victim!)” (RR 4-5). Since falling short in the glorious pursuit of entelechy is endemic to the symbol-using animal, guilt is a condition that abides. Burke writes in The Rhetoric of Religion “as there is guilt intrinsic to the social order, it would not in itself be ‘actual,’ but would be analogous to ‘original sin’ an offense somehow done ‘in principle’” (224; PC 290). Here Burke draws an apt parallel between the logological and theological conceptions of guilt. Burke insists that it is important to note the tautological nature of Order. “[W]e may say either that the idea of Disorder is implicit in the idea of Order, or that the idea of Order is implicit in the idea of Disorder” (RR 182). Based on this observation, how might the sacrificial variants engendered by the guilt of such Order and Disorder be purified? It is no accident that Burke defines mortification as “a systematic way of saying no to Disorder, or obediently saying yes to Order” (190). What we witness with the M-14 is a party mortifying themselves for failing to say “no” to disorder and serving as scapegoat for others who and fail to say “yes” to a moral order.
Following Burke’s cycle, “‘guilt’ intrinsic to hierarchal order…calls correspondingly for ‘redemption” through victimage” (PC 284). The purgative sacrifice may be completed by two main salvation devices: scapegoating, “a sacrificial receptacle for the ritual unburdening of one’s sins” (PC 16); and mortification, whereby castigation for one’s sins is self-enforced or self-inflicted which Burke places on the “suicidal” ambit of human motives (RR 208). William Rueckert’s Kenneth Burke and the Drama of Human Relations, provides a narrow distinction between the two salvation devices:

The essential difference between victimage and mortification is that the first always directly involves some other person, place, or thing; always calls for ritualistic transference of pollution to the chosen vessel…In mortification, however, even in its most extreme form of suicide…nothing outside the person involved needs to be polluted or destroyed in order for purification to take place….Generally, then, to make others suffer for our sins is victimage; to make ourselves suffer for our sins is mortification. (146-147)

Barry Brummett notes that mortification “involves open confession of one’s ‘sins’ and actual or symbolic punishment of them” (256). Here an opportunity arises to problematize Rueckert and Brummett’s emphasis on the narrow, autotelic understanding of mortification as “making ourselves suffer for our sins.” But Brummett and Rueckert do not consider the possibility that the ritual of mortification could be enacted for the sake of redeeming the sins of an external group or culture in the form of a self-scapegoat.
In“A Dramatistic View of Language,” Burke does stress the significance of “self” as both the source and telos for mortification; it functions as Rueckert’s paraphrase of Burke suggests as the “self-inflicted punishment for one’s self-imposed, self-enforced denials and restrictions” (Drama 146). For Burke, mortification “does not occur when one is merely ‘frustrated’ by some external interference. It must come from within. The mortified must, with one aspect of himself, be saying no to another aspect of himself” (RR 190). However, mortification is not limited simply to self-punishment. Later in The Rhetoric of Religion, Burke acknowledges mortification’s wider social utility as “basic to the pattern of governance” (RR 200), the Biblical equivalent to Mosaic Law (“THOU SHALL NOTS”). Burke also notes mortification’s martyrdom function. “Martyrdom is the idea of total voluntary self-sacrifice enacted in a grave cause before a perfect (absolute) witness. It is the fulfillment of the principle of mortification, suicidally directed, with the self as scapegoat” (248). This martyrdom function of self-scapegoating can be socially purposive and uncover politically corrective possibilities for guilt. Burke writes, “mortification…can be developed by conscientious priesthoods who would transform the negatives of guilty trespass into a corresponding regimen of ‘positive’ athleticism” (“Dramatistic” 264). Mortification is not merely an efficient self-atoning device but can be a political trope for changing the status quo. To use mortification in this politically active manner, agents must enact an imaginative strategy where “taking one for the team,” a positive athletic form of martyrdom, attempts to achieve a moral victory by altering the game itself.

C. Allen Carter comes close to this strain of mortification when he writes in Kenneth Burke and the Scapegoat Process that mortification involves the secret yearning in people “to be the one whose sacrifice saves the group. Who would not secretly revere the one who behaves heroically in the face of punishment or death at the hands of the authorities?” (19). In accordance with Burke’s cycle, sacrificial motives are driven by a range of partisan and hierarchic estrangements, order/disorder, right/wrong, etc. Every act of victimage, mortification, or some hybrid version is an effort to transvalue the flouted piety incurred by these divisions.


The lesser known, but highly relevant, Burkean concept of transvaluation plays a critical role in redemptive dramas and social orders. In Attitudes Towards History,Burke defines transvaluations as “new attitudes” and remarks that attitudes are synonymous with values (381-382). In Permanence and Change,Burke characterizes the process of transvaluation “whereby the signs of poverty were reinterpreted as the signs of wealth, the signs of hunger as the signs of fullness, and present weeping was characterized unmistakably as the first symptom of subsequent delight” (155). One rhetorical goal of transvaluation is the conversion of attitudes and orders. Sacrifices, self-inflicted or otherwise, are performative rituals enacted for transformative purposes. Virgins are sacrificed to end droughts; baptisms (the symbolic death to self) are conducted to remove original sin. Burke’s conception of transvaluation is another corrective means of “pious yet sportive fearfulness” (“Poetic” 63) that the symbol user can take up to cope with the “ultimate disease of cooperation” (RM 22).

The Milwaukee Fourteen: Catholic Guilt and the Improprieties of Property 

In her book Divine Disobedience, Francine Gray provides some historical context and insight into the motives of the M-14. The Catholic Church’s apathy towards the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement prompted the Milwaukee Fourteen to employ an act of radical civil disobedience, one in a series of actions by the little known Catholic Anti-War Movement in the United States. These Catholic activists worked with related organizations such as Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam (CLCV) and Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker. The incursion on the Milwaukee Selective Service Office was the third destructive act of resistance following similar episodes earlier that year. In Baltimore, four activists poured blood on draft files. In Catonsville, led by the infamous Berrigan brothers, nine opponents to the war in Vietnam ransacked the draft headquarters there and burned 1-A draft files with home-made napalm. Unlike the members of SNCC and SDS, who were not going to be drafted anyway, the Catholic anti-war movement carried out their resistance away from the insulated college campus and into the public sphere. The Milwaukee Fourteen, all draft-exempt themselves, confronted the administrative instruments of war directly. Disillusioned with the unraveling of America’s social, economic, political, and moral fabric, these Catholic activists resolved that concrete action was the only option left. Resistive communities like the M-14 held “since politics weren’t working anyway, one had to find an act beyond politics: a religious act, a liturgical act, an act of witness” (Gray 57).

The M-14’s direct confrontation and destruction of property was viewed by the general public as a secular transgression. Yet, for the M-14 it was only a small part in a broader “catholic guilt” that motivated them to self-victimage in the first place. Both meanings of “catholic,” both “Roman Catholic” and “universal,” apply to this situation. Many of the members of the M-14 were Catholic priests, brothers, and laity who were motivated to burn draft files out of their own sense of guilt. And for Burke, guilt is an essential motive in human communication and is therefore catholic. James Forest, one the Fourteen, concisely characterized the general sense of cultural indifference, soft, hands-off dissent, and catholic guilt by drawing analogy to a Peanuts comic strip:

It [soft-dissent] is not unlike the Peanuts cartoon in which Linus, a grim SDS sort of expression on his face, marches forward with a placard in his hands proclaiming: HELP STAMP OUT THINGS THAT NEED STAMPING OUT! But following along a few paces to the rear was Snoopy, a drowsy, clerical expression on his face. He, too, is carrying a sign: (THIS ANNOUNCEMENT IS VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW). Many of us considered the war in Vietnam, the draft, racism, and poverty intolerable. We didn’t hesitate to say Amen to Linus’s sign. But we marched behind Snoopy. (2)

A close analysis of “The Milwaukee Fourteen Statement” can be read as a confession of “categorical guilt.” Such guilt prescribed purification though social and moral change and redirected readers’ attention to the discourse surrounding the M-14’s own motives for action as they are described in the introduction of the Statement:
Generation after generation religious values have summoned men to undertake the works of mercy and peace. In times of crisis these values have further required men to cry out in protest against institutions and systems destructive of man and his immense potential. We declare today that we are one with that history of mercy and protest. In destroying with napalm part of our nation’s bureaucratic machinery of conscription we declare that service of life no longer provides any options other than positive concrete action against what can only be called the American way of death: a way of death which gives property a greater value than life, a way of death sustained not by invitation and hope but by coercion and fear. (3)

As the statement suggests, the categorical guilt of the M-14 stems from an unconscious acceptance of the actions of political authorities, in which “positive concrete action” is the only remaining corrective. Refusing to act renders one complicit in “giving property greater value” and sustaining the “American way of death.” “The American way of death” was employed as an ironic, subversive phrase with the intention to awaken the American people and inspire more resistive communities. That particular way of death can be understood as another articulation of Burke’s “socialization of losses.” Burke explains, “the most normal mode of expiation is that of socialization (the “socialization of losses”). […] And the patriot may slay for his country, his act being exonerated by the justice of serving his group.” (PLF 50-51). “The socialization of losses” in the context of the Vietnam War could very well be synonymous with “the American way of death” precisely because it illustrates other symbolic related pathologies, i.e. “trained incapacity” and “occupational psychosis” (PC 7, 37) from which collective America suffers.

This kind of desensitizing doxa allows for the violence of war to persist because its dehumanizing effects are remote, not seen or discussed in public. Stephen Brown observes the challenges of confronting and transforming violence rhetorically are difficult to surmount because violence is a potent force that silences, dulls the moral imagination, and eliminates the capacity for resistance (159). Quiescence to the violence of war is socialized under the mytho-poetic banners of “duty,” “service,” and “protecting our freedoms.” More sophisticated strategic ambiguity and double-speak employed by the military to describe events in Vietnam have been captured in such familiar phrases as “pacification,” “neutralization,” and General Westmoreland infamous, “destroying the village to save the village.” It is resistance communities like the M-14 who seek to transfigure such criminal complacency and call attention to systematic distortions of communication. Such an example is the M-14’s own rhetorical revolution evident in the ironic inversion of “the American way of life.”

Moreover, the “genesis” of their moral culpability also centers on acquiescing for far too long to the indifference of ecclesiastical authority. At the risk of being lumped in with those apathetic religious leaders who Martin Luther King indicted for “remain[ing] silent behind the anesthetizing security of stain glass windows” (“Letter” 52), the M-14’s repudiation of Church authorities was necessary for redemption. According to the M-14, their shame also derives from being part of a fractured order. They believed that certain practices such as “killing is disorder, [and] life and gentleness, and community and unselfishness is the only order we recognize” (2). For the sake of bringing about that benevolent order, the group was willing to mortify themselves if it meant purifying the disorder of war and saving even a small amount of human lives.  

The M-14’s categorical guilt and motivation for resistance is clearly articulated. “We confess we were not easily awakened to the need for such action as we carry out today. In order for communities of resistance to come into being, millions of America’s sons were torn from family, friends, health, sanity and often life itself” (3). The aforementioned passage illustrates the magnitude of the M-14’s own transgressions. First, they admit the lag in their own enlightenment. Secondly, more significantly, they confess that their own existence as a community of resistance was called forth by immense suffering and loss of life. Thus, as they state later in the pamphlet: “For a growing number of us, the problem is no longer that of grasping what is happening. […] Ours is rather a problem of courage. We wish to offer our lives and futures to blockade, absorb and transform the violence and madness which our society has come to personify” (3). In articulating this disruptive desire to shift a nation’s moral conscience and exorcise their own categorical guilt, it becomes clear to the M-14 that abstract hopes and inert political talk has failed. What are needed are sacrificial acts of witness; however, the acts must to be public, profoundly symbolic, transvaluative and purify by a new brand of sacrifice. Federal property would become the target of this concrete action.

While the M-14’s guilt stemmed from indifference and inaction, they were also deeply troubled by America’s obsession with property. A simple cluster analysis of the Milwaukee Fourteen Statement associates property with: evil, slavery, the instruments of torture and human holocaust. Several examples of this “what goes with what” exercise include: “Today we destroy Selective Service System files because men need to be reminded that property is not sacred”; “So property is repeatedly made enemy of life: gas ovens in Germany, concentration camps in Russia, occupational tanks in Czechoslovakia, pieces of paper in draft offices, slum holdings, factories of death, machines, germs, and nerve gas”; and finally, “Some property has no right to exist” (3-4). However even deeper analysis reveals the role that destroying Federal property played in both the M-14’s micro rhetorical strategies and their grander sacrificial resistance. Property was described using mechanistic imagery, most notably in reference to the draft system as the “bureaucratic machinery of conscription.”

Beyond the materialistic bourgeois sense of property, the M-14 were more interested in eradicating a particular kind of property, that which is given “a greater value than life.” The “bureaucratic machinery of conscription” is one such a type of property. The purposeful use of this mechanistic imagery in describing what the M-14 destroyed functions rhetorically in two important ways. Mechanistic imagery further articulates the pathology of institutions and bureaucracies like the Department of Defense and Selective Service Offices who hold a view of the world as a set of objects preserved by systematic, unconscious, and naturalized practices and behaviors, what British cultural studies theoretician Raymond Williams calls “mechanical materialism” (96). From this perspective, what must stop this apparatus of enslavement is destructive friction. In short, framing the administrative injustices of the military industrial complex in mechanical terms allows for the possibility of breakdown or more pointedly, sabotage—the proverbial “monkey-wrenching.”

Closely related to the idea of property is the thought that categorical guilt is a byproduct of constructed hierarchies of values. As Burke informs us in Permanence and Change that the etymological propinquity of property and propriety is no accident (212). Here the principles of hierarchy allow for the symbol-using animal to place and be placed in positions of moralizing status. “[T]o the extent that a social structure becomes differentiated, with privileges to some that are denied to others, there are the conditions for a kind of ‘built in’ pride. King and peasant are ‘mysteries’ to each other. Those ‘Up’ are guilty of not being ‘Down,’ those ‘Down’ are certainly guilty of not being ‘Up’” (LSA 15). The bounded reciprocity between property and propriety therefore sets up variations of social regulation on who’s in and who’s out, who is guilty and who is innocent. This is precisely the problem the Catholic Anti-War Movement has with property. That is to say, America values property over people; it rejects secular and spiritual norms and therefore establishes why purification is needed.

Fr. David Kirk, a proponent of the Catholic Anti-War Movement declared, “We must depropertize, renounce the material of power. She [the Church] must divest Herself of property to return to the spiritual roots of the Gospel” (qtd. in Gray 25). Brother David Darst, a Christian Brother from Memphis, Tennessee, and the youngest member of the Catonsville Nine, condemned the deleterious effects of privileging property over people at his own trial. Darst, using Jesus’ actions as an analogue, vindicates the radical destruction of property:

The non-violent tradition of our religion has always drawn the line between people and things. It said that material things are for the use of people, but that people are sacred, they are absolute ends in themselves, they can never be used as means. Jesus Christ beat the moneychangers and threw over their tables because these were properties which were desecrating a more sacred property—the Church. Our point is that we’re destroying property which is desecrating the most sacred property—life. Was Jesus Christ guilty of assault and battery? (qtd. in Gray 179)

In short, through America’s quest to accumulate material property, rapacious capitalism has reified human beings. Phil Berrigan, a member of the Catonsville Nine, quipped, “One thing that Americans do understand is the destruction of property! Think of how much more upset the average parent is when his kid smashes the family car into a tree than when he receives an induction notice” (qtd. in Gray 151).

Thus burning draft files served two interrelated functions in the larger goal of reconfiguring the moral order. First, those individuals whose draft files were destroyed were ensured of not being drafted in what was perceived by many as an unjust war. Such an act of destruction was ironically lifesaving. Secondly, perhaps even more important, burning draft files was the impetus for ensuring the M-14’s mortification. As stated the M-14’s scapegoating of the Selective Service was an incomplete sacrifice. For if scapegoating the supreme example of property—the Selective Service—would have exculpated the sins of the Milwaukee Fourteen, then why stand around and wait to be arrested? A defining feature of the sacrificial deed, which marks the M-14’s act as mortification, is the protest notion of “stand around.” Contrary to other alternative tactics such as “hit and run,” after burning the draft files the M-14 simply awaited arrest. Their sabotage was grounded in “the nonviolent mystique that the presence of the man awaiting arrest, sacrificing his freedom to witness to his moral indignation, is an ingredient that transforms sabotage into a religious act” (Gray 2). Along with this shift from sabotage to act of witness, the M-14’s hybrid-victimage becomes clear. They state: “We have no illusions regarding the consequences of our action. To make visible another community of resistance and to better explain our action, we have chosen to act publicly and to accept the consequences. But we pay the price, if not gladly, at least with profound hope” (3). Here, the mortified are transvalued into more than an instance of self-atonement, but, rather, are offered up as a scapegoat for the collective guilt of a culture with the “profound hope” of transcending the disorder of war. In sum, Burke’s guilt-purification-redemption cycle is not always tidy; internal machinations occur. The M-14 was willing to stand in as scapegoat and be mortified by incarceration, however, in order for them to ensure mortification, it was necessary to locate an antecedent material scapegoat (the Selective Service, a penultimate synecdoche for property).

Transvaluation and Mortification: Salvation, Condemnation, and Atonement

Having established the M-14’s guilt and the role property played in the redemptive drama, let us now continue with an analysis of the ways in which the M-14 reappropriated the instruments of war for peaceful purposes, culminating in an act of martyrdom that transvalued mortification into a self-scapegoat. Just as the justification and public support for war necessitates a strategic choreography of attitudes, so, too, does resistance to the tribal war waltz require the “dancing” of new attitudes (PLF 9). But new attitudes are often side stepped or dubbed disgraceful by older orders with recalcitrant values. How can one rhetorically refresh the moral imaginative of older, static orders? One answer is through transvaluation. It follows that the attainment of a new moral order insistent on a conversion of hearts only has hope of taking hold to the extent that the old order undergoes significant rhetorical transformations.1 The M-14’s acts of destroying property did more than simply render the group consubstantial, scapegoat the Selective Service, or set in motion the cyclical elements of redemption; they also saved lives through nonviolent transvaluations.

The M-14’s symbolic conversions rely on changing the perceived meaning of terms and contexts used by the old order. Such refining by redefining is similar to Burke’s concept of “exorcism by misnomer” (PC 133). Burke explains “[o]ne casts out demons by a vocabulary of conversion, by an incongruous naming, by calling them the very thing in all the world they are not” (133). The M-14’s name is itself an exorcism of the more familiar meaning of the M-14, an automatic rifle with a 20-round magazine, more efficient than the 8-round weapon used in World War II and Korea. One protest poster offered this ironic slogan “The M-14, a soldier’s best friend.” Thus, the proverbial sword is turned into the plowshare. But the M-14 had other significations, as well: the number fourteen indicated an increasing momentum and potency of the movement, containing more members than those of antecedent groups—the Baltimore four, and the Catonsville nine.

In addition to transvaluing the meaning of the M-14 machine gun, the scene where the draft files were burned and the M-14 awaited arrest also undergoes a symbolic reformation.2 The draft files were strategically burned with homemade napalm in a nearby park that memorialized America’s war heroes. It goes without saying that a nation’s commemoration of its war dead is an archetypal and rhetorical aesthetic form. But as Burke would remind us, such a form is not only “a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality” (LSA 45). Under a different scheme of hierarchical and cultural values, at different times in history, involving different wars, it is possible to interpret commemoration as condemnation.

However, this translation from commemoration to condemnation is more easily understood when juxtaposed by competing symbolic forms. The choice of the war memorial is intended to produce a radical rethinking of the exploits involved in what those monuments represent. Honor becomes horror, and we are reminded that both “victim and executioner have been trapped in the same dragnet of death” (MFS 3).It is also important to note that it is at this park where the M-14 themselves are arrested. From the perspective of a religious drama, the Milwaukee memorial park may be transvalued into the Garden of Gethsemane through Burke’s idea of secular conversions. “It [conversion] effects its cures by providing a new perspective that dissolves the system of pieties lying at the roots of the patient’s sorrows…offering a fresh terminology of motives” (PC 125). Scholars of rhetoric have observed discourse’s ability to reinforce the conversion process.3 The M-14’s own religious piety is consubstantiated by the symbolic conversion of the situation. The act of their willing arrest converts a secular green space into the locus of their Lord’s sacred Passion. Just as Jesus refrained from resistance upon his arrest by Roman centurions, giving himself up freely; so, too, did the Milwaukee Fourteen accept the consequences of their actions. In doing so, they invited the American public to view their mortification as a resistive act having larger sacrificial purpose.

Finally, there is the repeated allusion to Napalm, which the M-14 used both rhetorically and extra-rhetorically in their act of resistance.4 Symbolic destruction of institutional property and the burning of documents rest on mythic, biblical and historical precedent. Harvey Cox, a Harvard theologian, compared the acts of the radical Catholic anti-draft movement to several other such religious acts, including:        

Jeremiah destroying the clay pots on the steps of the Temple; to William Lloyd    Garrison’s public burnings of the Constitution in protest against slavery; to Martin Luther’s burning of Cannon Law in front of the University of Wittenberg.... Catholic priests have a special task of carrying out sacrificial acts which lead to redemption. (qtd. in Gray 163)    

Before elucidating how the extra-rhetorical use of napalm functions as incipient redemption and corroborates the hybrid victimage thesis, let me explain the rhetorical ways in which the M-14 reconstitute napalm. First, they plainly state, “we use napalm and strike at the draft as a point of continuity in the nonviolent struggle recently carried forward in Maryland” (2). This genuflection to the Catonsville nine, who also burned draft files with napalm, sears the bands together, thereby sustaining and propelling the Catholic anti-draft movement. Secondly, apart from the simple thought that “if it worked once, it will work again,” they use napalm metaphorically. “Indeed Napalm is the inevitable fruit our national un-conscious, the signs of our numbness to life” (2). This metaphor operates on two levels. First, as an all-consuming weapon of mass destruction, napalm is compared to the collective complacency that has subsumed the Catholic Church and the larger American public. While the comparison to “the inevitable fruit,” may appear anachronistic, it becomes analogous to the forbidden fruit of the Garden Eden in the book of Genesis when conjoined with the possessive pronoun our preceding “national un-conscience” and “numbness.” When they eat this fruit under the temptation that it will make them godlike, they directly disobey God’s commandment and thereby instantiate humanity with our “original sin.” Likewise, in the U.S. military’s ubiquitous and arbitrary use of napalm it attempts to be god-like, raining fire down on our enemies, the godless Communists of Vietnam.

Another example present in the opening section of the pamphlet informs readers of precisely why the M-14 chooses to use napalm. In burning government property the M-14 turns the very instrument of war on itself. This transposing of napalm gets close to a more elaborate symbolism. Recall that in order for the M-14’s or any group’s redemption there must first be a purgatory ritual. It has become clear that what the M-14 desires to purify is not the simple machinery of war, but the ideology promulgated by it. It is an ideology that sees “devotion to property take ever greater precedence over devotion to life” (MFS 4). The expiation of guilt, the rejection of the hierarchical position that America has placed on death over life and the guilt by association that complacency produces requires a purification ritual. Joseph Gusfield, in the introduction of Kenneth Burke On Symbols and Society observes, “Rituals, dramatic enactments, provide us with visible symbols in which hierarchy is built up and in which rejection is atoned for (33). Thus, a more expanded understanding of the M-14’s transvaluation of napalm requires the knowledge of liturgical ritual. As the M-14 prepared the altar for sacrifice, as it were, these “suffering servants” burned draft files in order to enact the final rite of mortification.

Most importantly, through mortification by incarceration, the M-14 publicly forge a moral reordering. Although the symbol of fire in most religions has liturgical resonance signifying refinement, purity, or vengeance, for the M-14 it is the light of new life brought about by a holocaust, the “purgatorial fire,” the “ritual cleanser” (SM 97). The draft files functions as a synecdoche representing the larger institution of war and all the guilt and disorder associated with it while destroying the draft files functions as a scapegoat device and not as an act of mortification alone. Since new covenants require the central agents of fire and sacrifice, napalm is transvalued into the fire that creates a new non-violent moral vision with the sacrifice occurring in the arrest and imprisonment of the M-14. While potential draftees’ lives were saved by the protest pyre, the sacrificial act is not complete without self-victimage. Here Burke’s more nuanced definition of mortification as “scrupulous and deliberate clamping of limitation upon the self” (qtd. in Burke, PC 289) aligns most appropriately with the redemptive drama of the M-14. The M-14’s meticulously planned and public act of burning Federal property and subsequent incarceration, the “clamping” of handcuffs, the “limitation” of space, and restrictions of freedoms were all expected and accepted consequences. These self-impositions, the symbolic death of one’s liberties, thereby constitute a form of mortification. The M-14’s hybrid victimage becomes the ultimate act of transvaluation whereby one becomes the object of sacrifice themselves.


The purpose of this paper has been to challenge the narrowly defined concept of mortification by analyzing an act of resistance that illustrates how categorical guilt can be purified through a blend of mortification and scapegoating. The M-14’s actions were not those of mere anarchists or saboteurs, but those of “secular sinners.” The M-14 mortified themselves for the disordered transgressions (most notable the Vietnam War, racism, sexism, poverty, and exploitative capitalism) of a culture. Crucial to this sacrificial drama is that the Selective Service be marked as scapegoat. However, because the M-14 saw themselves complicit with the larger socio-political sins of the Vietnam era, stealing and destroying draft files from the Selective Service did not to purify their guilt outright. It only became a subsequent sin, a necessary catalyst for their mortification by incarceration. Ultimately, the M-14’s brand of hybrid victimage managed both individual and collective guilt and, most importantly, saved human lives through peaceful, nonviolent resistance.

* Dr. Christopher J. Oldenburg is Assistant Professor of Communication and Rhetorical Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois. He can be reached at chris.oldenburg@mail.ic.edu.


  1. For an excellent analysis of how a new order (albeit an odious one) is achieved by distorting the symbols of another see Kenneth Burke, “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle” in The Philosophy of Literary Form.
  2. In focusing on the scene or site of the resistive act of destroying draft files, I do so for the purposes of demonstrating the concept of transvaluation and mortification. While I acknowledge the scene is arguably the most prominent element of Burke’s dramatistic pentad, it is not my intention to analyze the scene from that framework.
  3. See E.E. White. Puritan Rhetoric: The Issue of Emotion in Religion. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. 1972.
  4. For Burke’s own poetic reflections on the Vietnam War and napalm, see, Collected Poems 1915-1967, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968, 290-291.

Works Cited

Brown, Stephen. Angelina Grimke: Rhetoric, Identity, and the Radical Imagination. East Lasing: Michigan State UP, 1999. Print.

Brummett, Barry. “Burkean Scapegoating, Mortification, and Transcendence in Presidential Campaign Rhetoric.” Central States Speech Journal 32 (1981): 254-264. Print.

Burke, Kenneth. Attitudes Towards History. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984. Print.

—. Collected Poems 1915-1967. Berkeley: U of California P, 1968. Print.

—.“A Dramatistic View of the Origins of Language.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 38 (1952): 251-264. Print.

—. Essays Toward a A Symbolic of Motives, 1955-1955. Ed. William H. Rueckert. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2007. Print.

—. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley: U of California P, 1966. Print.

—. On Symbols and Society. Ed. Joseph R. Gusfield. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1989. Print.

—. Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984. Print.

—. Philosophy of Literary Form Studies in Symbolic Action. 3rd ed.Berkeley: U of California P, 1973. Print.

—. “The Poetic Motive.” Hudson Review 40 (1958): 54-63. Print.

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

—. The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology. Berkeley: U of California P, 1970. Print.

Calvin, Margret. “Replacing the Scapegoat An Examination of the Rebirth Strategies Found in William Sloane Coffin’s Language of Peace.” Peace & Change 19 (1994): 276-295. Print.

Carter, Allen C. Kenneth Burke and the Scapegoat Process. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1996. Print.

Forest, Jim. “In a Time of War.” Delivered into Resistance. (N. editor) New Haven: The Advocate Press, 1969. Print.

Gray, du Plessix Francine. Divine Disobedience: Profiles in Catholic Radicalism. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970. Print.

Ivie, Robert L. “Metaphor and the Rhetorical Invention of Cold War ‘Idealists.’” Communication Monographs 54 (1987): 165-182. Print.

—. “Fighting Terror by Rite of Redemption and Reconciliation.” Rhetoric and Public Affairs 10 (2007): 221-248. Print.

King, Martin Luther Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Audiences and Intentions: A Book of Arguments. 2nd ed. Ed. Nancy Mason Bradbury and Arthur Quinn. New York: Macmillan, 1994. 43-55. Print.

Kirkhorn, Michael. “Draft Office Here Raided, Protestors Burn Records.” The Milwaukee Journal 25 September 1968: 2. Print. 

Milwaukee Fourteen, The. The Milwaukee Fourteen Statement. Milwaukee: The Milwaukee Fourteen, 1968. Print.

Patrinos, Dan. “War Protestors Give Statement.” The Milwaukee Sentinel 25 September 1968: 7. Print.

Rueckert, William H. Kenneth Burke and the Drama of Human Relations. 2nd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1981. Print.

Vkbellis. “Milwaukee Fourteen Action.” YouTube, 22 Feb. 2009. Web. 5 Sept. 2012.

White, E.E. Puritan Rhetoric: The Issue of Emotion in Religion. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1972. Print.

Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1977. Print.

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Review: Moving Bodies by Debra Hawhee

Hawhee, Debra Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language: Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2009.

Patricia Fancher, Clemson University

Debra Hawhee’s book Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language develops the only comprehensive examination of the role of bodies in Burke’s rhetorical theory. For Burke scholars, this fact alone makes this book a significant contribution to the continuing conversation that Burke initiated. In addition, Hawhee argues that the broader field of rhetorical theory must re-focus on the body in order to account for the complex interaction of language and material in each rhetorical situation. This book constructs an argument for and a performance of body-focused rhetorical analysis.  Through her body-focused analysis of Burke, Hawhee illustrates how refocusing on the body in rhetoric can add new depth and complexity to our understanding of rhetoric and rhetorical theory.  For an audience of Burke scholars and rhetoricians in general, this book reminds us that the body is the foundation of rhetoric, and that we create new perspectives to understand any rhetorical situation by paying close attention to bodies. 

Hawhee argues that, in Burke’s rhetorical theories, bodies are inseparable from language. Bodies and language are in a co-constituting relationship. Bodies represent non-symbolic motion. Words represent symbolic action. Although Burke distinguishes between non-symbolic motion and symbolic action, language (symbolic action) cannot exist without bodies (motion). Therefore, bodies form the ground of all symbolic action. If we are to understand symbolic action, we must understand the bodily foundation. However, bodies are not just the foundation of symbolic action; Hawhee focuses on numerous ways that the bodies in Burke’s world and his writing move toward language and symbolic action. Hawhee’s argument focuses on how bodies move, dance, and sneak away from non-symbolic motion and toward symbolic action. Hawhee supports this argument by looking at how bodies, in Burke’s writings, in Burke’s life, and in Burke’s own body, move toward language.

Burke’s employer, Colonel Author Woods of the Bureau of Social Hygiene, was a significant ‘body’ outside Burke’s text that influenced Burke as he formulated his method of counter-efficient scholarship and perspective of incongruity. Hawhee explains that the Colonel represented the counter-Burke, about whom Burke once claimed “it would take a life time to explain the damages and rewards” from working with Colonel Woods (61).  Woods was efficient, serious, and bureaucratic (62). He promoted the training of efficient disciplined bodies in order to create efficient social organizations. Colonel Woods held an unwavering conviction that drugs, of any sort, are evil, in part, because they drugged body was an inefficient, uncontrolled body (69).

Hawhee explains Burke’s reaction to this professional relationship: “the counter-efficient style of scholarship no doubt made more explicit to Burke through his oppositional relation to Colonel Woods” (74). Burke develops his counter-efficient style of scholarship, in part, as a reaction to the ‘efficient’ bodily mannerisms and convictions of Colonel Wood. Burke saw this type of efficiency as a form of mental gridlock. Burke advocates for a ‘counter-gridlock’ that would allow the mind to “go every which way” (64). This counter-gridlock thinking appears as the key term ‘perspectives by incongruity’ in Permanence and Change and Attitudes Toward History, the books that Burke wrote during and immediately after his employment at the Bureau. 

Hawhee’s chapter “Body Language: Paget and Gesture-Speech Theory” focuses on the bodies within Burke’s texts in order to explain how Burke configured the body/language dualism.  Hawhee traces out numerous locations where Burke invokes gesture-speech theory. Hawhee argues, “attention to Burke’s Pagetian side will show… that attitude both stems from and manifests in generative, connective, bodily movement…. Burke’s addition of attitude brings with it the crucial mind-body correspondences that his theories honored all along” (108). Gesture-speech theory draws on physical science and evolutionary theory to argue that language evolved out of a foundation in the body and gesture (107).  Burke developed an interest in Richard Paget’s gesture-speech theory early in his career and continued to incorporate the concepts into his theories of dramatism and symbolic action.

Burke uses gesture speech theory to demonstrate that bodies have a formative role in the ‘linguistic dance’ of meaning and attitude (117). Bodies do not simply produce the sounds necessary to speak and convey meaning. The body also performs the attitude motivating the speech act. The physical cues made by the larynx and mouth, which he calls ‘tonal gestures’, convey meaning and attitude that may or may not correspond to the logic of the words alone. In Philosophy of Literary Form, Burke writes, “The Paget theory of ‘gesture speech’ obviously makes a perfect fit with this [theory of drama] perspective by correlating the origins of linguistic action with bodily action and posture” (121, in Hawhee). Hawhee stresses that Burke’s interest in gesture speech theory should remind rhetoricians that “communication is difficult to separate from language’s materiality, which is never far from communing, communicative bodies” (124).

The final chapter, “Welcome to the Beauty Clinic”, is likely the most useful for rhetoricians interested in the connection between bodies and rhetoric because Hawhee performs the most body-focus method of rhetorical analysis, which she calls a body biography. In this chapter, Hawhee creates direct connections between an analysis of Burke’s physical condition and his intellectual progress on the Symbolic of Motives. Until this point, Hawhee has performed a rhetorical method that connects Burke’s writings to the bodies in Burke’s life. She has also performed a method that connects Burke’s writings on bodies and his writings on language. In this chapter, she moves language and bodies even closer by making the most direct connection between bodies and language. Hawhee explains the method is to “examine how two bodies – the body in theory and Burke’s own ailing body – both sculpted and stultified his writing during this period [1950’s]” (129).

She opens the analysis by discussing Burke’s various ailments and then connects those ailments to Burke’s developing thinking on bodies and symbolic action. His abuse of alcohol and ongoing respiratory ailment hindered the flow of his ideas. These physical conditions affected his process of writing, creating starts, stops and interruptions. His writing stops and stumbles like the Gaspo-Gaggo-Gulpo of his lungs struggling to breath. Both of these physical ailments led Burke to return to thinking on the body in further depth. Hawhee explains, “Burke’s relationship to his ailing body, as evidenced in his painstaking account of his symptoms’ correlation – indeed, response – to the flow of ideas, approximates....a belief in the transformative power of illness” (134). She then connects these physical ailments to how Burke develops four different bodies of catharsis – bodies that purge, bodies that laugh and cry, bodies of the crowd, and bodies as part of ecology - in “On Catharsis or Resolution” a piece of writing that was intended to contribute to A Symbolic of Motives, his final major book project. Hawhee explains that these bodies and Burke’s own body remind him of the ‘deathiness’ that “paradoxically binds and divides bodies and language” (146). Without bodies, language may be pure and essential, but it would also be dead and empty. Bodies give language life, vivacity and through the birth and death of new bodies, language builds and grows.

Hawhee does not simply urge rhetoricians to focus on the connection between language and body; her entire book performs body-focused rhetorical analysis. This focus on the body is most clear in “Welcome to the Beauty Clinic”. In Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language, Hawhee effectively argues for a rhetorical analysis at the intersection of language and bodies. The book functions as a performance of a rhetorical analysis that connects bodies and language. By connecting Burke’s ideas to the bodies surrounding the texts, this book breathes fresh life into Burke’s words. Before publishing Moving Bodies, Hawhee states, “It would be incumbent upon Burke scholars to take seriously Burke’s terms and turns and look into their conditions of emergence” (Burke on Drugs, 1). Moving Bodies represents the most extensive example connecting Burke’s terms and turns and their “conditions of emergence”. In this case, the conditions of emergence are the bodies in the text, the bodies influencing Burke’s ideas, and Burke’s own body as he develops his theories throughout his life. Hawhee’s argument and performance in this text remind scholars of rhetoric to pay attention to the bodies that give language life, movement and energy.

* Patricia Fancher is a PhD student in the Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design program at Clemson University.

Works Cited

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

Hawhee, Debra. “Burke on Drugs”. Rhetoric Society Quarterly. 34:4 (2004), 5-28. Print.

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Review: Ralph Ellison and Kenneth Burke by Bryan Crable

Cover of Ralph Ellison and Kenneth BurkeCrable, Bryan. Ralph Ellison and Kenneth Burke: At the Roots of the Racial Divide. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2012.

Tyler Branson, Sharon A. Harris, Tom Jesse, and Joel Overall, Texas Christian University

Ralph Ellison once said in an interview that he chooses not to recognize a distinct “white” culture: “I recognize no American culture,” he said, “which is not the partial creation of black people” (McPherson 174). Ellison thus rejected the separation of “black culture” from a more general “American” culture. And this “fundamental hybridity” (Stephens 119) embodied in Ellison’s work is what, according to Bryan Crable, links him with Kenneth Burke. Ralph Ellison and Kenneth Burke: At the Roots of the Racial Divide highlights how the personal relationship between the two men embodies a “distinctly American” conversation, one in which discomfort, silence, distance, and awkwardness represent building blocks of a new kind of “transformative discourse” which more accurately counters the prevailing and stifling dialogue on race in America.

In Chapter 1, Crable investigates why, given their biographical and intellectual alignment (45), Ellison’s fan-letter to Burke—in which he said he was “indebted” to Burke’s theories—was met with “awkward distance” and reticence (3). Crable writes that Burke’s “discomfort” with Ellison’s praise and identification indicates the larger “awkward conversation” developing around race in America, the “antagonistic cooperation . . . that has long characterized the relationship between blacks and whites” (5).

In the book’s second chapter, Crable frames his discussion of the brief correspondence between Burke and Ellison around a central paradox. The chapter’s title—“Antagonistic Cooperation”—borrows from Ellison’s comments on the challenges of maintaining friendships between writers (46), but Crable shifts here from personal history to textual analysis in an effort to demonstrate how the long silences and unresolved tensions present in their “ongoing dialogue had helped [Burke and Ellison] create some of their most celebrated works” (78).

Over a series of five documents—Ellison’s 1945 essay “Richard Wright’s Blues,” three letters written between 1945 and 1946, and the published text of A Rhetoric of Motives in 1950—Crable details the countervailing approaches to race each man would develop in conjunction with but wholly separate from the work of his peer. The on-again, off-again correspondence between Burke and Ellison becomes, paradoxically, one of the most important and most consistent influences in the development of both thinkers’ attitudes toward racial identity, privilege, and justice (64). As both men struggle to find the right words to express their early positions on race in America, each converts this lack into an excess by exploiting the “motive force” inherent in language that compels “man to transcend the ‘state of nature’” (Burke 192). This force enables Burke to develop his terminological hierarchy (moving from positive to dialectic to ultimate vocabularies) in the Rhetoric and motivates Ellison to create the character “Invisible” who comes to embrace “a more complex set of coordinates” regarding “the symbolic constitution of reality” (Crable 93).

The same “drive for transcendence” (75) that Burke felt Ellison missed in his 1945 review of Richard Wright’s Black Boy becomes a major concept in the final section of the Rhetoric, and through his detailed readings of the five documents featured in Chapter 2, Crable constructs a convincing case that “Burke’s Rhetoric constitutes a significant treatment of race, one developed in response to Ellison” (76, emphasis added). And though, at times, the focus veers so sharply from Ellison to Burke and back again that the finer points of Crable’s analysis get a bit muddied, there can be no denying that the paradox inherent in the relationship between these men—the formative correspondence that had no coherent form; the substantial sharing that lacked consistent substance—produced transformative results in the works each published from 1950 onward.

This paradox, embodied by disconnected correspondence and inconsistency, manifests itself particularly in Burke’s response (or lack thereof) to Ellison’s Invisible Man in 1952. In Chapter 3, Crable argues that while many scholars have highlighted the Burkean structure of Invisible Man, few have adequately placed it within the context of Burke and Ellison’s relationship with one another. Examining private letters between Burke, Ellison, and their mutual friend Stanley Hyman, Crable demonstrates how Burke deliberately refused to comment on or even read Invisible Man for years after it was released in 1952, despite Ellison’s letters of praise and the fact that Invisible Man is so very clearly Burkean in its “comic consciousness” (101). Crable writes, “When we consider that this book was initially dedicated to Burke, this admission is simply astonishing” (105). Burke, jealous of the quick rise in fame of Ellison and of the success of Invisible Man in particular, was unable to see the useful adaptation of his own theories into a valuable counter-statement (98). Thus, Burke’s 1985 essay on Ellison, “Ralph Ellison’s Trueblooded Bildungsroman,” is not simply a friendly meditation thirty years later, but a manifestation of the response that Burke never wrote to Ellison, the letter of approval that Ellison so desperately wanted but never received (110). Crable also shows that merely noting the linkages between Burkean concepts and Ellison’s Invisible Man is by itself is not enough: we need to look deeper into the context of their own relationship, at the acceptance and rejection--or the “tragic grammar” of purpose, passion, and perception between them--in order to visualize an “ultimate vocabulary” for better understanding and combating America’s racial divide.

Before we can arrive at this vocabulary, however, Crable feels that the issue of Burke’s own personal attitudes on race need to be addressed. Chapter 4 (“Was Kenneth Burke a Racist?”) contests other scholars’—especially Beth Eddy’s and Donald Pease’s—simplistic denunciations of Burke as a racist and argues for a more nuanced view of Burke’s and Ellison’s disagreements on race. To achieve this, Crable constructs a holistic context from little-used archives. As in other chapters, Crable assembles evidence from published and unpublished correspondence between Burke, Ellison, and others, as well as critical works by both men to address the central argument of his book: Although his own position within a white cultural milieu rendered him incapable of transcending a dialectical terminology, Burke provided Ellison with the model for creating a vocabulary to address race as an irreducible element of humankind. More importantly, Crable’s analysis of the theme of race in Burke’s letters to Ellison and others from the 1940s through the 1960s reveals Burke’s habitual framing of race as a binary—a “unified whiteness . . . whose sole other was the black American” (132). The consistency of Burke’s dualistic view of race is perhaps Crable’s greatest contribution to scholarship on Burke and Ellison, a portrayal all the more unsettling because Burke—the quintessential observer of linguistic practice—appears at times unconscious of the terministic screens with which he conveys the duality.

Inasmuch as their correspondence reveals Ellison’s desire for Burke’s affirmation and counsel, Burke can only offer Marxist terminology as an admittedly temporary and unsatisfying way for “minorities to transcend social conflict” (135). Burke himself is unable to envision “the possibility of an ultimate vocabulary of race” (135). However, Ellison understood the origins of racial identity in ways that Burke could not, and, building upon Burke’s theory, Ellison projects “a more complex, ultimate vocabulary which would treat race as central to the question of human existence, thus providing a vision of true cooperation to replace wins and losses inherent in the dialectical order” (136). The transcendent order of vocabulary Ellison envisioned would probe the foundations of American racial identity in ways that Burke could theorize but not articulate beyond the terministic screens warranting race as a binary circumstance of American culture. However much Burke and Ellison, the individuals, may have yearned for equilibrium within and between their cultural scenes, Crable writes, only a conscious union of their vocabularies offers a new discourse on race.

From the introduction, Crable claims his book provides “important intellectual resources for the critique of [the] racial binary” (6), and in Chapter 5, Crable most fully details these resources. By combining Burke’s theoretical description of an ultimate vocabulary with Ellison’s enactment of this theory in his often-overlooked nonfiction, we can more effectively critique the racial binary. Some readers might have expected Crable to delve into Ellison’s posthumously published fiction (Juneteenth and Three Days before the Shooting…) in this final chapter, but instead, Crable argues Ellison’s nonfiction more fully envisions “a nondialectical approach to the analysis of race” (138). While readers might prefer to know in which nonfiction essays Ellison articulates this nondialectical approach to race, Crable chooses instead to treat the works of nonfiction as a unified body of thought. For the most part, this strategy works, though a few dates to help trace the evolution of Ellison’s thoughts might have been helpful. Nevertheless, Crable delivers a clear articulation of “the central arguments and insights of an Ellisonian rhetorical theory of race and identity” (214).

Crable details a comprehensively Ellisonian and Burkean rhetoric of race by first confronting the fantasy of racial purity within the positive and dialectical orders of current racial vocabulary. While Crable claims Burke was blinded by his own whiteness, he describes how Ellison rejected a dialectical vocabulary of race and adopted an ultimate vocabulary that unified black and white races. Though Ellison was unable to fully transcend the dialectical order of race, Crable pushes Ellison’s insights further to “move closer to the ultimate account of race” (150). By acknowledging race as “a concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies” (159), Crable argues that the racial divide too often relies primarily on dialectical symbolism, which can be divorced from the natural, biological world. In arguing for transcendence into the ultimate order, Ralph Ellison and Kenneth Burke: At the Roots of the Racial Divide continues the process of regrounding the racial dichotomy in nature and bodies and compelling us to take responsibility for both our social and symbolic acts.

* Tyler Branson is a PhD Student in Rhetoric and Composition at TCU. He can be reached via email at tyler.branson@tcu.edu
* Sharon A. Harris is a PhD Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition at TCU. She can be reached via email at s.a.harris@tcu.edu
* Tom Jesse is a PhD Student in 20th Century American Literature at TCU. He can be reached via email at t.jesse@tcu.edu
* Joel Overall is a PhD Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition at TCU. He can be reached via email at joel.overall@tcu.edu

Works Cited

Burke, Kenneth. A Rhetoric of Motives. 1950. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

McPherson, James. "Indivisible Man." Ed. Maryemma Graham and Amritjit Singh. Conversations with Ralph Ellison. Jackson: U of Mississippi P, 1995. 173-191. Print.

Stephens, Gregory. On Racial Frontiers: The New Culture of Frederick Douglass, Ralph Ellison, and Bob Marley. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999. Print

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Review: The Chameleon President by Clarke Rountree

Four Ways of Looking at Eleven Ways of Looking

Clarke Rountree, The Chameleon President: The Curious Case of George W. Bush. Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2013.

Jason C. Thompson, University of Wyoming

In 1917 Wallace Stevens published “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” a poem that, in presenting alternative perspectives of a mundane act, argues not for the narrative construction of one singular and edifying meaning, but for the intellectual possibility of perspectivism: in place of a distinct narrator’s voice, thirteen narrators speak, a literary prefiguration of the “virtual camera” that pioneered Bullet Time® in the 1999 film The Matrix.

J. Clark Rountree, Professor of Communication Arts at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, appears to engage in a project similar to that of Stevens: when I read on the dust jacket that Rountree proposes “eleven different versions of George W. Bush” that illustrate his multi-perspectival mode of inquiry, I got excited by the project and remembered the quote in Kenneth Burke’s Rhetoric of Motives: “But put identification and division ambiguously together, so that you cannot know for certain just where one ends and the other begins, and you have the characteristic invitation to rhetoric” (25).

I thrilled at the idea of a writer ambiguously combining various and quite possibly contradictory portraits of the controversial former president and architect of the War on Terror—the notion of an invitation to rhetoric, an incitement to a kind of Corderian spaciousness, a consideration, after Erasmus, of a political De Copia. In anticipation of a reading a modern Dissoi Logoi on a contradictory president I eagerly pick up the book and turn to read the first words of the first chapter.


In his Acknowledgments, Rountree sets out the nature of this unique project: The Chameleon President: The Curious Case of George W. Bush marks “a departure from [his] usual academic work—a chance to apply [his] theoretical work on the rhetorical constructions of human motives to an understanding of one of the most confounding politicians” (ix). The book also offers “a postmortem on the ugly body of work known as George W. Bush’s presidency” that aims to “get at the issue of who Bush is, and how who he is has led us to where we are to today” by comparing “several of the most popular and defensible constructions of Bush” (xvi). Rountree identifies these eleven constructions in corresponding chapters: “Not the Sharpest Tool in the Shed,” “The Callow Frat Boy,” “The Born-Again President,” “The Conservative Texan,” “The Man Who Would Be King,” “The Incredible Oedipal Bush,” “The Corporate Crony,” “The Evil President,” “Cheney’s Puppet,” “The Victim of Circumstance,” and “The Far-Seeing Patriot.” For each chapter, Rountree adopts the appropriate writerly persona (the voice of what he terms “an advocate” of that construction) and discursively channels that argument. He concludes the book with a short final chapter that asks “Will the Real George W. Bush Please Stand Up?”

Through his source material, experimental form, and cunning use of Kenneth Burke, Rountree intends to reach a non-academic or general audience in order to achieve his ambitious purpose of showing how rhetoric—specifically Burke’s dramatistic Pentad— can be used to illuminate motive. This light, then, artfully destabilizes the solid ground that had, just before, seemed to support the construction. By voicing dominant popular constructions of Bush—and rigorously supporting these voices with compendious endnotes (there may by 900 in all)—Rountree nicely sidesteps the difficulty that attends an academic writer arguing directly against a named authority or a known argument. Here, in creatively voicing a given construction—“Not the Sharpest Tool in the Shed,” for example—Rountree inductively gathers evidence that eventually coheres. To watch it occur on the page is not only to experience the fleshing out of a commonplace (a type of argumentative z-axis emergence) but also to understand that its reconstruction (like Bakhtin’s heteroglossia or Butler’s drag performance) unveils its ontological construction. Again, an expert move for his audience.

In order for Rountree to embody the eleven most “defensible” constructions of Bush, he appropriately draws on the most widely-known material from popular, not academic, sources: biographies, autobiographies, tell-alls, and reportage written by and about Bush administration officials. When looking to articulate the construction of Bush as “The Callow Frat Boy,” for example, Rountree argues that Bush’s use of nicknames and his practice of nepotism coalesce in the infamous Katrina press conference, in which Bush “stated in front of the media, ‘Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.’” Rountree recounts how Brown had become FEMA director based on “his work as commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association” (17) and along the way had earned the nickname “Brownie,” a badge identifying his status as a “loyal Bushie.” Rountree points out that Bush’s “penchant for nicknaming . . . suggests an informality that makes him as playful” but that it may also be “sinister” and, according to journalist Ron Suskind, “‘a bully technique’” (28). The cluster—callow, frat boy, nepotism, nickname, “Brownie,” bully—gets set up by Rountree. However, the quotation cementing it comes from the tell-all What Happened by longtime Bush press secretary Scott McClellan:

Even Brown looked embarrassed, and no wonder . . .. For Bush to commend him publicly suggested either that the president’s well-known belief in personal loyalty was overwhelming his judgment or that he still didn’t realize how bad things were on the Gulf Coast. Either way, the incident said something bad about the Bush administration. (38)

Given that Rountree’s audience lived through both Bush terms, they likely recall the many press conferences held by Bush’s longest-serving press secretary. Hurricane Katrina, in addition to being the costliest domestic disaster, affected millions of people and generated thousands of rhetorical identifications that would have been consumed by Rountree’s audience. Also, administrative mishandling of Katrina came to exemplify Bush’s disconnection from the American people, particularly his detachment from suffering Americans. In McClellan’s assessment, either Bush accidentally revealed how loyalty trumped judgment (supporting the voice of Chapter 2: “The Callow Frat-Boy”), or how incuriousness trumped fact (supporting the voice of Chapter 1: “Not the Sharpest Tool in the Shed”). It is worth noting here that this interpretation of presidential motives comes from the former press secretary, the official manager of popular rhetorical constructions of the president. Surely the audience reading The Chameleon President must think back to that particular press conference and to the many defenses of Bush policy outlined by McClellan over the years. “If a former, official apologeticist can be such a chameleon,” Rountree’s reader might wonder, “how changeable must Bush himself be?”

Throughout the book, Rountree offers some masterful deployments of the work of Kenneth Burke, particularly of Burke’s theory of human motivation as given in the Grammar of Motives. However, though his book relies on the Pentad, Burke is not named until page 147, when the Pentad gets summarized without the familiar terms Act, Agent, Scene, Agency, Purpose, (and Attitude). Burke is named again on page 217, in order to introduce pentadic ratios. Given his audience and purpose—not to mention the unwieldy nature of harnessing Burke—this choice to downplay helps the project. Finally, Rountree returns for a third time to Kenneth Burke, the idea of terministic screens and the pentadic elements, in order to reveal his higher purpose: the 11 constructions of Bush can be related to agent (“Not the Sharpest Tool in the Shed,” “The Callow Frat Boy,” “The Born-Again President,” “The Evil President”), to scene and act (“The Conservative Texan,” “The Victim of Circumstance,” and possibly “Cheney’s Puppet”), to purpose (“The Incredible Oedipal Bush,” “The Corporate Crony,” and “The Far-Seeing Patriot”), and attitude (“The Man Who Would Be King”). In other words, the Pentad itself is revealed as the scene of the act of popular presidential construction. Readers among Rountree’s intended audience will likely find satisfaction in this conclusion: in addition to offering a way out of the maddening binaries and high volumes that currently mark popular political discourse, it creates a feeling of anagogic arrival. Rountree’s “eleven Bushes” serve a pedagogic function, one designed to improve our politics by destabilizing unitary understandings of our forty-third president. In this, it does resemble a political Dissoi Logoi, and that accomplishment deserves high praise.


Academic audiences, especially ones familiar with Kenneth Burke, may find aspects of RountreeÕs project problematical: his title and chapter constructions might be read for tensions of a work at cross-purposes.

For example: the title of Rountree’s book, The Chameleon President: The Curious Case of George W. Bush, smashes rhetoric (in the implied sophistry of a president best characterized as a lizard, a reptile able to change its color to match its surroundings) and literature (in the salute to “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the 1922 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald about a man who ages in reverse). If, as Kenneth Burke argued, “To call a person a murderer is to propose a hanging,” then Rountree’s title calls Bush a lowly reptile, a natural liar whose very adaptability suggests no essence. Aligning Bush’s life and presidency with Benjamin Button proposes that the reader see Bush as out of time, backward, a child’s mind controlling a grown man. Neither association—lizard nor liminality—proves complimentary to George W. Bush. To borrow from Kenneth Burke’s Counter-Statement, before beginning Rountree in his choice of form creates a contradictory appetite in the mind of his reader: as a president, Bush’s lack of essence allowed him to become invisible; also as a president, his anachronisticity makes him conspicuous.

Looking more closely at the eleven constructions, too, a reader might observe that nine propose flatly negative rhetorical identifications that range from simple stupidity (“Not the Sharpest Tool in the Shed”) to cosmic malevolence (“The Evil President”); only the final two chapters offer positive identifications, iambically starting on the weak foot of victimage (“The Victim of Circumstance”) and ending on the strong foot of Promethean exceptionalism (“The Far-Seeing Patriot”). A quick tally of endnotes mirrors this: whereas “Cheney’s Puppet” offers the most—129 notes in support of 25 pages—the final two chapters combined share only 104 notes in support of 35 pages. In fairness, it may be that Rountree in selecting the most popular rhetorical constructions simply found more evidence to support the initial nine Bushes; alternatively, it may be that Rountree was disinclined to apply de Gourmont’s La Dissociation des Idees to associations for which he advocates.

This disproportion could lead one to question the project. For example, in his Introduction Rountree maintains that “While constructions of Bush’s motives are always rhetorical—persuasive attempts to convince other to see Bush as the author sees him— they run into limitations” of fact and cohesion (xvi); in this light, one could read Rountree’s book for the way it tacitly proposes a twelfth rhetorical construction of Bush. This finds support in the Conclusion, in which Rountree writes, “So who is George W. Bush? This book offered 11 possible answers to that question. If I’ve done my job well, my readers should not be able to identify which profile I personally endorse” (235).
After working so diligently to offer this needed lesson on the productive nature of multiple perspectives and their import for political discourse, the conclusion—that one “essential” Bush has been disclosed but successfully obscured by the author—like the book’s title, seems at cross purposes. An academic might find in the book’s conclusion the Psychology of Information, relying as it does on suspense (“Who is this ‘humanist thinker’ Kenneth Burke? Which is the real George W. Bush?”)—and surprise “This book is about rhetoric!”). What eloquence here marks the Psychology of Form? Other formal difficulties: if the reader accepts that each of the eleven chapter voices is written in a persona voice, does it follow that Acknowledgements, Introduction, and Conclusion are not? What might a reader make of an exculpatory statement contained within a persona chapter but presented prior to its articulation as when, in “The Far-Seeing Patriot,” Rountree asserts “I cannot attribute this particular construction to the 43rd president”? (219). The ambiguities brought on by these questions may enliven the project; on the other hand, they may be taken for intratextual signs that make some readers wonder if an academic, too, can become an unreliable narrator.

I submit that these dangers, however compelling, grow directly from the ingenious methodology Rountree employs in pursuit of his monumentally difficult task.


In his final sentence, Rountree hopes, “Perhaps in seeing these constructions side-by-side we can engage in a more thoughtful conversation about this man who has had such a significant impact on our country, for better or worse” (239). Given the increasingly polarized and shrill nature of US political discourse, Rountree implies, here we have a modern president whose ultimate meaning has not yet been established. In terms of Burke’s Definition of Man: despite an overabundance of rotten symbol-using, Bush escapes perfection. This destabilization of Bush constructions recalls Burke’s own rejection of strongman rule and his advocacy of the messy, many voices of a polyvocal parliamentary. Rountree’s book takes us back to the Scramble, “the flurries and flare-ups of the Human Barnyard . . . the War.” Rhetoric must lead us through.

I close Rountree’s book and re-read the Wallace Stevens poem. In part V he writes, “I do not know which to prefer, / the beauty of inflections / Or the beauty of innuendoes, / The blackbird whistling / Or just after.”

When I first read the description of Rountree’s book I imagined what would happen if Burke himself undertook to explode the multiplicities of George W. Bushes contained and obscured in those singular constructions. In my mind’s eye I pictured a sort sol, the “black sun” of a million birds as they form, deform, and reform in flight: a spectacle of profound identification and division together.

I applaud anyone willing to engage the messy, irascible, and indefatigable intellectual curiosity of Burke, and I absolutely stand and salute anyone who, after such engagement, succeeds in reaching a non-specialist audience. The beauty in Rountree’s book is the beauty of inflections, in his facility with explaining how motives shape real- world constructions of presidency. If his experimental form is a departure, we should not only applaud his courage but this: we should entertain how formal ambiguity might inform our own future projects as we pause to enjoy its enthymematic effect—the beauty of innuendoes, the “just after” that occurs in that silence when the back flap folds over, a blackbird’s wing.>/p>

* Jason C. Thompson is Assisant Professor of English at the University of Wyoming

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Review: Pragmatist Politics by John McGowan

McGowan, John. Pragmatist Politics: Making the Case for Liberal Democracy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Paul Stob, Department of Communication Studies, Vanderbilt University

John McGowan’s Pragmatist Politics draws upon the pragmatist tradition—primarily the work of William James, John Dewey, and Kenneth Burke—to formulate a liberal democratic politics for the twenty-first century. At least that’s the overt aim of the book. But what may stand out most to readers of KB Journal is how McGowan seems intent on crafting an attitude. In formulating a pragmatist politics, McGowan fails to explicate political programs and initiatives, he disregards the nuts and bolts of democratic negotiation, and he provides no real strategies for building grassroots coalitions. What he does—and what he does admirably—is present readers with a pragmatist attitude that will, he hopes, come to permeate public culture. This attitude leaps off the page in the book’s introduction as McGowan foregrounds the writers who will help him construct a pragmatist politics:

Because of my interest in desire, Dewey alone does not suffice. William James and, more idiosyncratically, Kenneth Burke have a large role to play in this book. . . . I am not particularly interested in being “faithful” to any of the writers who have inspired me. I have mined each of them for what they can contribute to the vision of a possible and desirable democracy that I try to articulate. . . . My title, “pragmatist politics,” is meant to indicate my sources and general outlook, but if readers find what I have to offer not really “pragmatic,” that’s all one to me. Nothing significant hinges on whether what I say deserves the name “pragmatist” or not. And since I am not purporting to offer either an interpretation or an introductory understanding of Dewey or James or Burke, but, instead, an account of a possible democracy, I feel no responsibility to discuss parts of their work not relevant to my concerns. (xvii)

The presentation of an attitude in Pragmatist Politics is wholly fitting because of the role of “attitude” in pragmatist philosophy. For James, pragmatism is an “attitude of looking away from first things, principles, ‘categories,’ supposed necessities; and of looking towards last things, fruits, consequences, facts” (James 32). For Dewey, one’s attitude is integrally linked to the art of communication:

To be a recipient of a communication is to have an enlarged and changed experience. One shares in what another has thought and felt and in so far, meagerly or amply, has his own attitude modified. Nor is the one who communicates left unaffected. Try the experiment of communicating, with fullness and accuracy some experience to another, especially if it be somewhat complicated, and you will find your own attitude toward your experience changing. (Dewey 8)

For Burke, attitude is integral to symbolic action, for “The symbolic act is the dancing of an attitude” (Philosophy 9).

Pragmatist Politics seems intent on making an attitude dance. McGowan has little interest in reasoned argumentation—at least in the objective, philosophical sense of the term. But he does hope to persuade readers that “liberal democracy as described herein offers the best possible guidelines currently available for creating a polity that we could embrace because it most fully approximates concrete achievement of goods to which we are committed” (39). Accomplishing this project, McGowan recognizes, requires a bit of Burkean identification: “I need to convince you that liberal democracy is aligned with goods you already cherish or should now come to cherish—and that liberal democracy is more likely to promote those goods successfully than other possible political arrangements” (39).

For many readers, especially those already interested in the pragmatist tradition, McGowan will likely succeed in making his liberal democratic vision compelling. While he presents no novel or specific political initiatives, often just reaffirming the basic commitments of Deweyan social democracy, he does show how the pragmatist tradition relates to America’s current political culture. In so doing, he implements all the key terms of American pragmatism: uncertainty, novelty, possibility, contingency, deliberation, habit, orientation, meliorism, anti-foundationalism, collective action, and more. Taken together, these terms lay the groundwork for a liberal democracy, even though McGowan is careful to note that pragmatism “does not inevitably go hand in hand with liberal democratic values” (36). It does, however, emphasize “that each of our fates is inextricably tied to the fate of our fellow citizens, that an affirmation of the everyday as the scene of our entanglement with one another is preferable to imagined ‘elsewheres’ that transcend the limits of the ordinary, and that effective freedom is not only a cherished good, but also possible to achieve for all” (42).

Central to McGowan’s political vision is the art of rhetoric. Rhetoric, McGowan argues, fits naturally with pragmatism because pragmatism puts philosophy “at the center of democratic action,” where the “attempt to persuade others” connects citizens in a common project (xv). Indeed, one of the more heartening aspects of Pragmatist Politics is the fact that it brings together pragmatism and the rhetorical tradition—and does so from outside the rhetorical tradition. It is one thing for a scholar of rhetoric to link pragmatism and rhetoric; it is another thing entirely for a political theorist to recognize rhetoric’s role in a vision of pragmatist politics. As McGowan describes the rhetorical nature of his interests,

This pragmatist account is meant to introduce a dynamic understanding of everything involved in the articulation of reasons. What count as convincing reasons (to one’s self as well as to others) will shift over time and from context to context. Each self is constantly buffeted by the judgments and demands of the other selves with whom that self occupies the world. (105)

In a world that hinges upon intersubjective negotiation, rhetoric is the counterpart of pragmatism.

McGowan develops his view of pragmatist politics across five chapters. The first chapter, “The Philosophy of Possibility,” uses Burke’s thoughts on literature as “equipment for living” to show how pragmatism lays the intellectual groundwork for liberal democracy. The second chapter, “Is Progress Possible?,” draws upon pragmatist philosophy to explore the idea of democratic progress, which “is not about moving the world, or a whole society, toward a certain substantial good. Rather, goods are plural, and progress involves creating the conditions for the pursuit by individuals within varying social associations of those multiple goods” (77). The third chapter, “The Democratic Ethos,” explicates the attitude and posture that, according to McGowan, ought to define a liberal democracy. In this chapter, Burke’s “unending conversation” plays a key role in grounding the sense of moral responsibility that makes citizens attentive to one another (106-107). The fourth chapter, “Human Rights,” operates as a kind of case study that reveals how rights are rhetorical and performative: “They are words spoken in public, in a particularly solemn or ceremonious way, that are designed to bring what they designate into existence” (130).

The fifth chapter, “Liberal Democracy as Secular Comedy,” will likely prove most interesting to readers of KB Journal. Drawing extensively on Attitudes Toward History, McGowan affirms comedy as the best political attitude for accommodating the “cacophony of multiple voices and motives” that mark modern society while also “giving each person the opportunity to undertake the work” of writing his or her own story (175). Burke’s idea of the comic frame, McGowan argues, leads to a politics that aims at a social, contingent, ever-changing “modest utopia of the ordinary,” which allows individuals to love diversity, embrace imperfections, and accept those “constraints designed to enable our peaceful intercourse with others even as we avoid turning those constraints into straightjackets” (157). McGowan’s comic frame is secular because it involves turning away from nonhuman subjects and toward the human community itself. We can then perform

the work of continually adjusting ourselves to the presence of others and to our need to cooperate with them to sustain life. The work of comedy is to foster first the ‘charitable attitude’ that can help us to avoid the temptation of blaming others for our ills and then, possibly, to move us toward a more positive love that delights in the fact of others who are not like me. (182)

With the help of James, Dewey, and Burke, Pragmatist Politics enters a conversation about political goods in the twenty-first century. It is safe to say that McGowan largely succeeds in making pragmatism speak to current problems. Even those who may not find his liberal democratic politics wholly persuasive will no doubt find in the book compelling fodder for discussion. Pragmatist Politics raises the issues about public life that need to be raised.

This review would be incomplete, however, without noting two potential shortcomings in the book. “Shortcomings” may not be the right word here, for McGowan is simply presenting an attitude, simply formulating a vision of politics. As a result, he can pick and choose whatever ideas and themes he finds most inspiring, and he need not worry about “shortcomings.” Nevertheless, the book passes over two areas that could have, according to my own vision, strengthened it further.

First, McGowan adeptly positions the rhetorical tradition as a fitting counterpart of the pragmatist tradition. The trouble is that a number of scholars have already begun this project, and McGowan pays no attention to their work. Mailloux, Keith, Danisch, Crick, and Stroud, among others, have already started accounting for the intersection of pragmatism, rhetoric, and democratic politics. Their work could help round out and bolster McGowan’s account. To be sure, McGowan is able to make his case apart from this body of secondary literature, yet connecting to it could have contributed to a larger framework for understanding the issues he raises. Pragmatist Politics has, unfortunately, missed an opportunity to bring rhetorical scholarship and humanities research writ large into closer conversation.

Second, and more germane to readers of KB Journal, are issues surrounding McGowan’s final chapter on “secular comedy.” Burke’s influence comes through most prominently in this chapter, yet McGowan’s emphasis on secular comedy misses a key aspect of Burke’s work. In fact, it misses a point that James, Dewey, and Burke made time and again. In advocating a secular comedic frame, McGowan argues for a turn away from “nonhuman agents” (158). He also argues for a turn away from religious terminology, which, he insists, has corroded civic connections. McGowan, for example, describes James’s “obsession with ‘salvation’ and redemption’” as “disquieting.” “Why talk of salvation?” he begs to know. “What are we to be saved from? . . . To talk of salvation is to dream of a once-for-all dramatic transformation, of a tool that will fix the human condition permanently” (158). For McGowan, the “talk” of salvation impedes effective political operation, as does the language of “sacrifice” (160) and “sin” (165-166). Secular comedy, he hopes, will provide “a social, this-worldly, non-extreme response to the ongoing presence of evil in human affairs” (182).

If a secular comedic frame means relinquishing religious symbols, McGowan moves in a direction that James, Dewey, and Burke were not willing to go. All three pragmatists recognized the motivational, coordinational power of religious language. As symbols, sin, salvation, redemption, faith, God, and sacrifice do important rhetorical work. James, for example, not only investigated but routinely employed religious discourse, particularly in The Will to Believe and The Varieties of Religious Experience. Even Pragmatism culminated with a lecture on “Pragmatism and Religion.” Dewey preached a kind of democratic gospel grounded in the language of sin, salvation, faith, and cooperation. While this language was disconnected from the realm of the supernatural, Dewey drew upon it regularly to motivate and inspire.1 Furthermore, Burke’s logology was premised on the power of religious symbols. Logology, for Burke, is “a purely secular project,” but it probes religious terminology to understand symbolic transcendence and human motivation (Rhetoric 5). As a result, Burke warns against “a simple historical development from the ‘sacred’ to the ‘profane,’ from the ‘spiritual’ to the ‘secular’” (Rhetoric 35). Because humans are “goaded by the spirit of hierarchy,” religious language, shot through with ultimate terms, establishes powerful grounds for action.

McGowan can, of course, advocate for whatever kind of secular project he wants. As already noted, his book is not a systematic treatment of pragmatism, rhetoric, and democracy, but a presentation of an attitude. Yet considering pragmatism’s historical commitment to religious terminology, McGowan’s emphasis on secular comedy may have missed an important piece of the motivational puzzle. His own conclusion to Pragmatist Politics underscores the need for liberal democracy to tell captivating stories that will garner adherents: “Liberal democracy needs to become what people desire, not something viewed as an impediment to individual fulfillment” (185). He also notes that while supporters of liberal democracy have failed to tell a compelling story, “Conservatives have understood the rhetorical core of politics in a democracy” (186). The conservative story is, at least in part, a religious story. Yet McGowan advocates for the creation of a narrative based on secular comedy. James, Dewey, and Burke point down another path. Religious language, all three pragmatists suggest in their own way, ought to play a role in the story of liberal democracy.

Contrary to McGowan’s book, then, pragmatist politics may lead not to secular comedy but to a comedic frame that infuses collective life with a new kind of religious meaning. This religious meaning need not be tied to the supernatural, and it need not be divisive and exclusive. But it ought to be compelling to a populace that has long responded to religious symbols. At the very least, the liberal democratic story needs to provide terminological order to the messy world of modern politics. One way to do that, Burke insisted long ago, is with the “‘transcendence’ of man’s symbol-systems” (Rhetoric 38).

* Paul Stob is Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Vanderbilt University*


1. I develop this point about Dewey and religious discourse at length in Stob, “Minister of Democracy.”

Works Cited

Burke, Kenneth. Philosophy of the Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. 3rd Edition. Berkeley: U of California P, 1973. Print.

—. The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology. Berkeley: U of California P, 1970. Print.

Crick, Nathan. Democracy and Rhetoric: John Dewey on the Arts of Becoming. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2010. Print.

Danisch, Robert. Pragmatism, Democracy, and the Necessity of Rhetoric. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2007. Print.

Dewey, John. Democracy and Education, vol. 9 of The Middle Works of John Dewey, 1899-1924. Ed. Jo Ann Boydston. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1980. Print.

James, William. Pragmatism (The Works of William James). Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1975. Print.

Keith, William. Democracy as Discussion: The American Forum Movement and Civic Education. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007. Print.

Mailloux, Steven. Reception Histories: Rhetoric, Pragmatism, and American Cultural Politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1998. Print.

Stob, Paul. “Minister of Democracy: John Dewey, Religious Rhetoric, and the Great Community.” Trained Capacities: John Dewey, Rhetoric, and Democratic Culture. Ed. Brian Jackson and Gregory Clark. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, forthcoming 2013. Print.

Stroud, Scott. John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 2011. Print.

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Review: Rhetorical Listening by Krista Ratcliffe

Ratcliffe, Krista. Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005. 248 pages.

Steven M. Pedersen, Oklahoma State University

During the 2005 Kenneth Burke Conference at Penn State, I was lucky enough to meet Donald Jennerman, who told me stories about knowing Kenneth Burke. One in particular has always stayed with me. It has to do with Burke’s notion of the negative. The story goes that, as a child, Burke’s grandmother would follow him around the house and any time Burke would touch or grab something he wasn’t supposed to, his grandmother would shake her index finger and say, “You musn’t.” This experience of listening to his grandmother, as I understand it, was the genesis of his later theories of the negative.

Listening is a skill often overlooked in scholarship, and yet in the anecdote above, it is the means by which we learn, retain and share stories, hold onto memories, understand our world, and develop our own voice in conversation with others. Krista Ratcliffe’s work, Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness, has given “listening” new prominence in the field of composition and rhetoric for the way she extends Kenneth Burke’s theories of rhetoric. It is a work that explores how rhetorical listening, grounded in Burke’s theory of “identification,” might foster and increase cross-cultural communication in a number of different contexts.

In her introduction she writes, “This concept of rhetorical listening is important to rhetoric and composition studies because it supplements Kenneth Burke’s rhetorical theory” (1). She frames her project through Burke’s theory of identification in A Rhetoric of Motives and extends listening’s social and communicative function when talking about gender and whiteness:

But identifications, especially cross-cultural identifications, are sometimes difficult to achieve. Such identifications may be troubled by history, uneven power dynamics, and ignorance. Curious about such troubled identifications, I use this project to investigate the following question: How may people employ rhetorical listening to foster conscious identifications with gender and whiteness in ways that may, in turn, facilitate cross-cultural communication about any topic? (1-2)

In other words, Ratcliffe demarcates her project in questioning how rhetorical listening operates as a stance/space that allows individuals to foster “conscious identifications” in overcoming troubled issues of gender and race within cross-cultural communication practices.

In the first chapter, Ratcliffe sets the foundation for what she refers to as rhetorical listening. She writes, “As a trope for interpretive invention, rhetorical listening signifies a stance of openness that a person may choose to assume in relation to any person, text, or culture” (her emphasis 17). In defining this, Ratcliffe goes on to review how listening has largely been overlooked in composition scholarship. She “makes a case” for what listening has to offer research. Later, she elaborates on what she means by rhetorical listening as a trope for interpretive invention, where a person occupies a space of openness “to cultivate conscious identifications in ways that promote productive communication” (25). She defines a “code of cross-cultural conduct” that “assumes that listeners posses the agency for acknowledging, cultivating, and negotiating conventions of different discourse communities,” (34) and she details how “rhetorical listening may foster understanding of intersecting gender and race identifications in ways that may promote cross-cultural communication” (35).

In the second chapter, “Identifying Places of Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Disidentification, and Non-Identification,” Ratcliffe makes a case for extending Burke’s notion of identification to promote better understanding of cross-cultural communicative contexts. Ratcliffe begins by critiquing the limitations of Burke’s identification:

As a place for rhetorical listening, however, Burke’s concept of identification is limited. It does not adequately address the coercive force of common ground that often haunts cross-cultural communication, nor does it adequately address how to identify and negotiate troubled identifications; moreover, it does not address how to identify and negotiate conscious identifications functioning as ethical and political choices. (47-48) 

Ratcliffe’s critique of Burke’s theory of identification, with its limited discussion over the inequities found within cross-cultural communication contexts, is a fair perspective when looking back over A Rhetoric of Motives (RM). But I also believe Ratcliffe overlooks a critical passage in RM, a passage where Burke readily opens the door for the type of project Ratcliffe pursues in Rhetorical Listening. Towards the end of “The Range of Rhetoric,” Burke outlines how the resources of identification can extend into a more idealistic realm found within human relations:

[T]he resources of identification whereby a sense of consubstantiality is symbolically established between beings of unequal status may extend far into the realm of the idealistic. And as we shall see later, when on the subject of order, out of this idealistic element there may arise a kind of magic or mystery that sets its mark upon all human relations. (46)

Burke shows that through the resources of identification, a more “idealistic realm” is found within human relations. And it is within this idealistic realm that Ratcliffe is able to carve out her extended theories of identification in Rhetorical Listening, making it accessible and giving it form in practical ways that promote what she refers to as “productive communication” (25).

After making this critique, Ratcliffe moves beyond Burke to outline competing definitions and functions of identification and how it “directly informs or indirectly haunts academic theories in many fields, such as, psychoanalysis, philosophy, communications, drama and performance studies, queer studies, [as well as] feminist studies” (50). 

Ratcliffe draws upon the scholarship of postmodern feminist scholar Diana Fuss and her ideas of “disidentification” as an example of how the context of communication is complicated by internalized factors (60-62). To explain, the idea of “disidentification” is the direct result of preconceived stereotypes a person might hold that fosters an automatic disindentification with another person. Ratcliffe writes, “Within this logic, disidentifications are dependent upon previous identifications however faulty or stereotypical” (62). By understanding this interplay within a communicative context, we begin to see how cross-cultural communication can be obfuscated by inaccurate presuppositions.

Another important factor that Ratcliffe writes about later in the chapter is the notion of “non-identification” (72). To simplify, this idea postulates the reality that sometimes there is a lack of any notion of “identification,” whether about a “person, place, thing, or idea” (73). Within this space, rhetorical listening enables one to explore identifications and disidentifications with increased awareness. Towards the end of this chapter, Ratcliffe underscores some ethical concerns and possibilities with “theorizing and practicing identification, disidentification, and non-identification as places of rhetorical listening” (77). In a world separated by political, cultural, and ideological differences, Ratcliffe makes clear that embracing an open stance of acceptance in rhetorical listening might foster “appropriation, [and] misunderstanding,” but it also holds the possibilities for “coalition building across cultural boundaries” (77).

In the last three chapters of the book, Ratcliffe outlines different contexts in which rhetorical listening can be applied as a tactic. Chapter 3 is entitled, “Listening Metonymically: A Tactic for Listening to Public Debates.” In this chapter she offers specific functions that rhetorical listening can take in listening to public debates. In Chapter 4, Ratcliffe introduces another tactic for listening that she refers to as “eavesdropping” in scholarly discourse. She writes that “eavesdropping is . . . an ethical tactic for resisting the invisibility of a gendered whiteness in scholarly discourses within rhetoric and composition studies” (her emphasis 101). She recovers the term from its negative connotations (as “busybody”) and redefines it “as an ethical rhetorical tactic . . . as a means for investigating history, whiteness, and rhetoric” (103). In the final chapter, Ratcliffe outlines how to “listen pedagogically” and how rhetorical listening in the classroom can overcome resistance between students and teachers. After a thorough discussion on pedagogy and resistance, Ratcliffe elaborates on issues of gender and whiteness in the classroom, outlining specific ways of helping students develop awareness of these issues. In the appendix section of the work, Ratcliff generously shares her assignment sequence and lesson plans for those interested in incorporating these strategies for teaching gender and whiteness in an advanced writing course. 

Krista Ratcliffe’s Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness is a work of tremendous impact for composition, communication, and rhetorical studies, not only for the ways it calls attention to the importance of listening as an area of scholarship, but for the ways it extends Kenneth Burke’s theory of identification in order to help bridge the difficult space between cross-cultural communication. In fostering “conscious identifications,” brought about through acts of rhetorical listening that are cognizant of the interplay between disidentifications and non-identifications, Ratcliffe brings to the forefront research that holds great theoretical and pedagogical potential. Burke’s Grammar of Motives opens with the epigraph, “Ad bellum purificandum” (the purification of war), an epigraph that calls for greater rhetorical awareness that might advance peaceful communication practices. Towards this end, Ratcliffe’s work is a step in that direction, one that reminds us all of the importance of listening rhetorically, whether dealing with our students, scholarship, public debates, colleagues, or a grandmother who shakes her finger to admonish, “You musn’t.”

Steven M. Pedersen is a PhD Student in Rhetoric and Composition at Oklahoma State University.

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