By Andy King
During the past three months manuscripts from England, Wales, Germany, and China have been submitted to the KB Journal. One reviewer experiencing vertigo and world weariness from the vast influx asked if Burke, that former disciple of the regionalist Van Wyck Brooks, would have approved this journal “going international.” I answered that he would have enjoyed it immensely. In the last decades of his life, Burke loved his growing fame. Had his work been eagerly read by giant sloth worms on Neptune or even horribly misconstrued by methane-breathing fire birds on the sun-blistered surface of Mercury, Burke would have been delighted. He would have been eager to engage their counter-statements.
In the pompous idiom of the 90’s he wanted the journal to be as a site of production rather than consumption like Derrida’s “emancipating fist” beating upon “the socially oppressive machinery of the academy.” The late Howard Nemerov, Burke’s longtime colleague, compared the typical academic journal to “Mother Courage’s huge wagon load of junk pulled across a stage of nearly comatose players.”
At the New Harmony Conference in 1990, Burke wondered out loud as to why he was being attacked by feminist critics.
“I’ve got nothing against them and don’t think I ever did any of them the least harm. They [feminists] say I am in the business of propping up male dominance. I just think they have got me a bit askew. I would enjoy setting them right about my little manifesto in “Words as Deeds” (published in Centrum in 1975). I only hope they listen to my defense.”He had three years and five months to live, and as far as I know he never mounted a defense. I believe he rehearsed bits of a counter statement in his mind, but his wonderful energy had begun to flag.
On a happier note of outreach we must note an entire issue of The Space Between: Literature and Culture Journal (published at Monmouth University) devoted to the Kenneth Burke’s Scene. David Tietge was guest editor and the cover shows Burke clad in a Harvard Square seersucker jacket grimacing with arms akimbo and carved cane askew. The issue contains a magnificent article “Dramatistic to the Core: Allen Tate and A Grammar of Motives by our own M. Elizabeth Weiser. The article is a corrective to the recent devaluation of the Fugitive poets, and it reveals the Tate’s deep understanding and misunderstanding of the meaning of Burke’s pentad. It has broader implications for the role of the arts in civic life.
The article contains one brilliant insight after another: Professor Weiser speaks of Burke’s dumping of the whole drafts of Grammar on the editors of the Sewanee Review and allowing them to discover parts of the manuscript that might provide “stand alone” literary insight for their readers, a practice that derived from Allen Tate’s role as the editor of a literary and not a political journal.
As a result the Motivarium came to be viewed as a method of critical analysis rather than a method for dissolving our dogmatic descents to tribal violence.
The journal also contains an article by Marguerite Helmers (Wisconsin, Oshkosh) “A Visual Rhetoric of World War I Battle field Art . . .” in which the author repurposes Burke’s concept of Scene for the analysis of visual rhetoric. Professor Helmer’s commentary parallels the Paul Fussell studies of the ways in which War transforms national cultures.
The expansion of Burkean ideas and methods into new arenas. W. B. Worthen, Alice Brady Pels, Professor in the Arts and Chair of the Department of Theatre at Barnard College, Columbia University has recently produced Drama: Between Poetry and Performance. This incandescent work draws upon Burkean theory to develop a unique critical perspective of “the dual identity of drama.” Worthen provides a way to experience plays on the hinterland between poetry and performance. Faculty from Performance Studies as well as Theatre have read the book between flashes of lightning. This issue contains a short review of Worthern’s tome; in the next issue a full review will be undertaken by a Burkean scholar with a Performance Studies background.