Burke on Documentary Poetics: An Overlooked Essay

Ben Merriman, University of Chicago


In 1934, Kenneth Burke published an essay, "The Matter of the Document," as an introduction to Charles Reznikoff's book Testimony. The text is not included in standard bibliographies of Burke's writings. This note examines the circumstances of the composition, publication, and failure of Testimony, which may help explain why Burke's introduction has been overlooked. The note then offers an overview of Burke's argument, which characterizes documentary forms of literary composition as both artful and moral. This assessment anticipated Prokofieff's development as a poet, as well as later critical assessments of his work. Burke's view of literary composition from existing documents may be valuable in critically assessing the wide range of contemporary documentary and conceptual poetics in the United States.

Stylizing Substance Abuse as Ritualized Healing

Mark Williams, California State University, Long Beach


This paper examines Burke's incantatory and confessional styles as strategies to intervene in substance abuse. Invoking two of Burke's "conversations," honoring his aim to "coach" synecdoche for diseases and cures, and embracing his claim for a magical quality in rhetoric to disrupt facile binaries, I examine how Burke's reversible ideas of piety and impiety inform his discussion of an alcoholic. Burke's styles can also be seen in the Big Book as strategies to potentially reject abused substances.

The International Legacy of Kenneth Burke

Kris Rutten, Dries Vrijders and Ronald Soetaert, Ghent University


This special issue of KB Journal is the second of two issues that offer a compilation of papers presented at the conference Rhetoric as Equipment for Living. Kenneth Burke, Culture and Education, which was held in May 2013 at Ghent University, Belgium. In part II of the special issue we will continue with a more theoretical examination of Burke's international legacy, by giving a stage to scholars who confront Burke's ideas with the work of European thinkers such as François Lyotard, Chaim Perelman and Augustine but also non-western thinkers such as the Ehtiopean scholar Maimire Mennsasemay. Other contributions in this issue confront the work of Burke with more contemporary theoretical perspectives.

Rhetorical Figures in Education: Kenneth Burke and Maimire Mennasemay

Ivo Strecker, Johannes Gutenberh University Mainz


Western education has always stressed the need for an intelligent use of literalness, especially in the fields of natural sciences. Plain style, clear expressions, transparent meanings, and methods of disambiguation were held in high esteem while tropes and figures like metaphor, hyperbole, irony, chiasmus etc. were viewed with suspicion, and their use was discouraged. Yet, in the writings of Kenneth Burke, especially his essay "Linguistic approaches to problems of education"(1955), and subsequently in other publications such as The Rhetoric of the Human Sciences (Nelson, Megill, and McCloskey ed. 1990), and The Rhetorical Turn: Invention and Persuasion in the Conduct of Inquiry (Herbert Simons ed. 1990), it has been shown that rhetoric pertains to all domains of teaching, learning and research. It is from here that the present paper departs in order to recall some of Kenneth Burke's flamboyant contributions to the study of rhetoric, which help us to better understand how figurative forms of expression are indispensible not only in educational practice but also when we think and argue about the discipline itself. Can Western forms of education claim universal relevance, or are they in other cultural contexts inappropriate - even destructive? The search for an answer will lead us to Maimire Mennasemay, an eminent Ethiopian scholar who more than anyone else has tried to figure out what the development of genuine forms of education in his country may involve.

Reading the Negative: Kenneth Burke and Jean-Francois Lyotard on Augustine's Confessions

Hanne Roer, University of Copenhagen


This article offers a contrastive reading of Burke’s chapter on Augustine’s Confessions in The Rhetoric of Religion (1961) with Lyotard’s posthumous La Confession d’Augustin (1998). Burke’s chapter on Augustine throws new light on his logology, in particular its gendered character. Central to the interpretations of Burke and Lyotard is the notion of negativity that Burke explores in order to understand the human subject as a social actor, whereas Lyotard unfolds the radical non-identity of the writing subject.

Burke, Perelman, and the Transmission of Values: The Beatitudes as Epideictic Topoi

Stan A. Lindsay, Florida State University


Perelman rediscovered the values aspect of epideictic: It “strengthens the disposition toward action by increasing adherence to the values it lauds.” Burke's entelechy claims that humans unconsciously act upon themselves in accordance with the implicit value systems of the entelechies with which they identify. The two are here merged in a genre study of the gospels.

Symbolic Action and Dialogic Social Interaction in Burke's and the Bakhtin School's Sociological Approaches to Poetry

Don Bialostosky, University of Pittsburgh


Burke and the Bakhtin School both proposed sociological approaches to poetry. Both start from an unsituated word for which they construe a situation. For Burke, the poet responds dramatistically to the scene of writing; for the Bakhtin School, the poem's speaker responds enthymematically to assumed social values and understandings.

A McKeonist Understanding of Kenneth Burke’s Rhetorical Realism in Particular and Constructivism in General

Robert Wess, Oregon State University


Readers of KB Journal likely know Richard McKeon mainly through his essays on rhetoric and his relationship to Kenneth Burke. But McKeon was first and foremost a philosopher who came to rhetoric in mid-career, so that his work is a philosophical path to and defense of rhetoric. This path, moreover, precisely because of its philosophical depth, offers insight into why "the linguistic turn," which began sooner than is commonly thought today, culminated in "the rhetorical turn" that informs constructivist theorizing in general and that is perhaps best  exemplified by Burke's "rhetorical realism" in particular.

Toward A Dramatistic Ethics

Kevin McClure and Julia Skwar, University of Rhode Island


This essay presents an initial response to the challenge that scholars begin to flesh-out the possibilities for a Dramatistic ethics. In turn we consider the status of ethics after the poststructural and linguistic turns and explore the potential in Burke's work as a response to the impasse that these turns have created for ethics. Next, we argue that a Dramatistic ethics begin as a mode of inquiry and advance pentadic analysis as a holistic framework for continuing ethical scholarship. Last, we provide a synoptic pentadic analysis of five ethical theories as suggestive points of critical entry.

Attitudes as Equipment for Living

Waldemar Petermann, Lund University, Sweden


This article explores Burke’s concept of attitude through an overview of its use in his writings, connecting it to the concept of literature as equipment for living, using the comic frame and research into the practical impact of attitudes in rhetorical situations, in order to better understand both concepts.

Burke's New Body? The Problem of Virtual Material, and Motive, in Object Oriented Philosophy

Steven B. Katz, Clemson University


Distinguishing between Object Oriented Philosophy and Actor-Network Theory this essay applies Burkean theory to question whether in the former Objects as actants can have agency if not motive. Burkean concepts of pentadic ratios, entelechy, Spinoza’s method, intrinsic/extrinsic, symbolic of the body, and catharsis are used to rhetorically analyze claims of Object Oriented Philosophy.