Volume 6, Issue 2, Spring 2010

The Spring 2010 issue begins with an editorial and announcement from KB Journal editor Andy King. Essays in this issue include Floyd D. Anderson and Matthew T. Althouse “Five Fingers or Six? Pentad or Hexad?,” Clarke Rountree “Revisiting the Controversy over Dramatism as Literal,” Brian T. Kaylor “Savior, Fool or Demagogue: Burkean Frames Surrounding the Ten Commandments Judge,” and Brian Bailie “Smart Mobs and Kenneth Burke.” This issue also contains several rich book reviews covering Michael Burke’s newly released novel as well as a variety of Burkean scholarship.

Editorial for Spring 2010

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.

Editor's Announcement

Humanistic Critique of Education Cover

Humanistic Critique of Education: Teaching and Learning as Symbolic Action, edited by Peter M. Smudde. Anderson, SC: Parlor Press, 2010. 268 pages with notes, bibliography, illustrations, and index. Available at Parlor Press: http://www.parlorpress.com/humanistic

“I go about my garden reading passages from the essays aloud! I feel like Walt Whitman braying out Homer on the horse cars. Nearly every sentence is superbly formed. I have never read such a beautifully edited and fluent book. This book enlists rhetoric to help solve the problems of education. I take it as a rhetorician’s call to revive our swooning education system.”--Buck Kartlian, Independent Scholar, Garden City, New Jersey
“Burke’s fifty year old essay is still wet on the hoardings. It roars like thunder in the dawn. The essays that follow Burke’s statement deeply engage such subjects as learning communities, service learning, our obsession with technology, schools as problem solving organizations, routinized creativity for problem solving, student and communal accountai8blity and much, much more.” --Charles Urban Larson, Northern Illinois University

We owe a great deal to Peter Smudde of Illinois State University for his energy, his tenacity and his sheer force of will. He brought this volume to birth by riding roughshod over all obstacles His old mentor and colleague, Bernie Brock, would be deeply delighted with this volume. Bernie often talked of his fascination with Wittgenstein’s Vienna Circle. And this book is a kind of Vienna Circle, a group of grail seekers on a single quest.

Peter’s Introduction makes a strong case for the importance of this book. He notes that high school graduation rates peaked in 1969; college-going has not increased since the 1970’s. When Burke wrote his famous essay on education, university scholars still enjoyed a kind of charismatic quality. He was able to speak of using the giant triplets of science, technology and bureaucracy for our betterment, not for our domination. He spoke of the college professor’s balancing act: to keep good will and maintain one’s integrity at the same time. A related goal was to serve individual needs and the needs of the community and the larger culture at the same time.

This book is a refreshing change from the usual insistence e on ever more math and science or Utopian schemes for unlashing the power of the so-called underclass.

The Burkean cure makes langauge central, and treats the student as active participant rather than passive learner. Burkian ideas are used to make us all colleagues and partners instead of victims and employees. The thread that runs through the essays is the construction and maintenance of a creative community. As opposed to excessive focus on individuals and individual mobility, Elvira Berry makes a magnificent case for Burke’s trans-disciplinary approach to study; Smudde renews Burkean them as the learner as critic. Huglen and Coppin devise Burkean inspired strategies of pedagogy. Richard Thames urges us not to be immune to our own knowledge and embrace the power of form in pedagogy. Huglen and McCoppin demonstrate the use of rhetoric in devising effective pedagogical strategies. Bryan Crable envisions a Burkean Curriculum and both Klumpp and Williams demonstrate Burke’s power of naming in education administration. David Cratis Williams envisions a fully dramatistic system of education.

In short the book is so incredibly rich that it merits a dialectical set of reviews in the next issue of the journal. Get the book! Read it! Believe it! Act on it!!!

Andy King

Five Fingers or Six? Pentad or Hexad?

Floyd D. Anderson, The College at Brockport: State University of New York and Matthew T. Althouse. The College at Brockport: State University of New York.


Is Kenneth Burke's pentad actually a hexad? The answer is complicated. Early in his career, Burke favors just five terms—act, scene, agent, agency, and purpose—in his dramatistic vocabulary. In fact, he compares these concepts with fingers on a hand. However, as Burke’s thinking evolves, this hand sprouts a sixth digit—attitude. The present study investigates the ambiguity surrounding the pentad and the hexad, and it yields two conclusions. First, the pentad is already a hexad, with attitude classed under the headings of act, agent, and agency. Second, despite the adequacy of the pentad, Burke and others have demonstrated the efficacy, if not the necessity, of hexadic analysis in fully discerning the sources of human motivation. Our survey of relevant literature clarifies ambiguities about the pentad and explores whether or not attitude should be treated as the sixth term of a hexad.
KB:     You see the original formula I used, the medieval formula: quis? quid? ubi? quibus auxillis? cur? quo modo? quando? is a hexameter line.1 Dick McKeon had not noticed that himself. If the terms are put in exactly that order, they make a line of verse in classical Latin prosody. I cheated in a way when I worked with it as a pentad, and I always think that I did it as a pentad because I only had five children. If I’d had six….
FG2:    If you’d had nine!
KB:     Oh God!
--Kenneth Burke ("Counter-Gridlock" 366)


IS KENNETH BURKE'S pentad actually a hexad? The answer is complicated. In the original edition of A Grammar of Motives, Burke discusses just five terms—act, scene, agent, agency, and purpose—as part of his dramatistic vocabulary for discerning human motivation. In fact, Burke likens these terms to five fingers on a hand (xxii; “The Study of Symbolic Action” 13-14). When elaborating the interrelationships of these concepts, Burke explores a separate term—“attitude”—that refers to one’s disposition to respond in a particular way to his or her circumstances. However, he classes attitude under either act, agent, or agency, rather than as a separate sixth term. Attitude, he says in Grammar, may be “the preparation for an act, which would make it a kind of symbolic act, or incipient act.”3 As it may also be a “state of mind,” attitude may “be classed under the head of agent” (Grammar 20). Additionally, Burke occasionally refers to attitude as a variation of agency (Grammar 443; “Counter-Gridlock” 367; Attitudes 394; “Questions and Answers” 332). He reinforces his preference for a pentad in at least two other works. In The International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, he calls the pentad “incipiently a hexad” (446). In Dramatism and Development, he expresses some regret that he "had not turned the pentad into a hexad, with attitude as the sixth term. However, the Grammar contains a chapter that implicitly performs this very function. It is entitled ‘Incipient’ and ‘Delayed’ Action” (23). Despite these assertions, Burke's "hand" sprouts a sixth digit. In the 1969 edition of Grammar, he states, “I have sometimes added the term ‘attitude’ to the…five major terms” (443), thereby making the pentad a hexad. In 1984, he admits that, had his view of attitude been “clear” years ago, the “Pentad would have been a Hexad from the start” (Attitudes 393-394). Burke’s oscillation has undoubtedly contributed to differing views of the hexad. For example, Trevor Melia embraces six terms, pointing out that attitude “was implicit in the pentad from the beginning” and maintaining further that, “were Burke writing the Grammar today [in 1989], he would treat the pentad as a hexad” (72, note 21). However, other scholars—among them Dana Anderson, Debra Hawhee, and Cheryl Tatano Beck—have performed significant scholarship highlighting attitude while working with only five terms, with attitudinal considerations being adequately included under act, agent, or agency.

Pentad or hexad—does it matter? Is the question significant? The answer is "yes" to both questions because the pentad plays an essential role in the "grounding" or "foundation" of dramatism's claims to be an ontological system that centers "on the substantiality of the act" (Burke, "Linguistic Approaches" 259). As such, dramatism makes literal statements about the nature of human symbolic action. Of course, some scholars contend that dramatism is instead an epistemological system that merely offers metaphoric statements.4 However, we take Burke at his word when he calls logology the epistemological counterpart of dramatism ("Dramatism and Logology” 91). We also take note of Burke’s “literal” definition of human beings as "animals characterized by their aptitude for 'symbolic action,' which is itself a literal term" ("Dramatism" 448). A person "literally is a symbol using animal" ("Linguistic Approaches" 259-260). Drama, Burke's representative anecdote, is "implicit in the key term 'act'…from which a whole universe of terms is derived" ("Dramatism" 445). For this reason, "a 'dramatistic approach,' as so conceived is literal, not figurative" ("Linguistic Approaches" 259-260). The five pentadic terms, then, constitute the necessary and literal conditions of symbolic action. "For there to be an act," Burke says, "there must be an agent. Similarly, there must be a scene in which the agent acts. To act in a scene, the agent must employ some means, or agency. And there cannot be an act, in the full sense of the term, unless there is a purpose" ("Dramatism" 446). As literal descriptions, the pentadic terms are grounded "in the nature of the world," as all persons "necessarily experience it" (Grammar xv); they constitute no less than "the necessary 'forms of talk about experience'"; and they are "transcendental categories" insofar as all human thought and speech "necessarily exemplifies them" (317). For such reasons, Rountree calls the pentad "a universal heuristic of motives" (“Coming to Terms,” par 1).

Another essential role of the pentadic terms is to establish the dramatistic perspective as "not just one way" of studying human motives but as "the most complete approach" (Crable, “Burke's Perspective" 329). As is well known, Burke correlates each of the five pentadic terms with one of the seven modern philosophical schools: scene correlates with materialism; agent correlates with idealism; agency correlates with pragmatism; purpose correlates with mysticism; and act correlates with realism. Nominalism and rationalism do not pair with any one particular school but can be a characteristic of, and thus correlate with, any one of them (Grammar 128-129). Francis Fergusson points out that the dramatistic perspective, by featuring act as its key term, enables Burke "to account for the analogous schools of his time without dismissing any of them," to read them "at once sympathetically and critically," to see them "in relation to each other," and to see them "in a wider context than any of them recognizes" (178). What Fergusson calls dramatism's "wider context" establishes it as the most complete approach to motives. Its "point of departure," as Bryan Crable notes, "can account for all competing philosophical approaches, in a way that they cannot account for dramatism" ("Burke's Perspective" 329). Thus, dramatism can "claim a privileged (literal) status" (Crable, "Defending Dramatism" 324). In light of the ontological importance of the pentadic terms, the question of whether the structure of the symbolic act contains six rather than five necessary terms is of obvious significance. Should the ontological foundation for the "house" of dramatism be designed to accommodate five rooms or six?

This essay undertakes a comprehensive investigation of the aforementioned ambiguities about the pentad and the hexad. It proceeds mindful of Burke’s admonition that the critic’s job is not to “dispose of” ambiguity but to “study and clarify the resources of ambiguity” (Grammar xix). Our analysis is divided into two sections. In the first, we make a case that a careful reading of Burke’s relevant writings suggests that the pentad—for all intents and purposes—is already incipiently a hexad.5 The term that Burke excludes from the “mediaeval Latin hexameter” (“Questions and Answers” 332; “Dramatism” 447), attitude (quo modo), is adequately included in the pentad by either the terms act or agent (Grammar 20). In the second section, which functions in part as a counter-statement to the first section, we make a case that several critics have demonstrated the efficacy, and perhaps even the necessity, of hexadic analysis in fully discerning sources of human motivation. Burke himself is reported to have likened the addition of a sixth term to the pentad to gaining “another soul” or an “extra existence” (King, par. 2).6 However, he does not fully and systematically explicate hexadic analysis. We will survey Burke’s later writings as well as relevant literature by other scholars and critics to show the utility of the hexad for accomplishing certain kinds of critical tasks.

Our dialactical juxtaposition of these two cases—one for and one against the transformation of the pentad into a hexad—is admittedly unconventional. At first glance, it may appear arbitrary. However, it resonates with Burke's notion of a "dialogue of many voices" in agreement and disagreement (Counter-Statement xi). Our approach, in fact, is patterned after Burke's description in Counter-Statement of his own method: "each principle it advocates is matched by an opposite…. Heresies and orthodoxies will always be changing places, but whatever the minority view happens to be at any given time, one must consider it 'counter'" (vii). Adoption of the dialectical format enables us to survey both positions at once, sympathetically and critically, and in relation to one another. The statement/counter-statement format also encourages a full and open exchange of ideas in which one "has maximum opportunity to modify [their] thesis, and so mature it, in the light of the antagonist's rejoinders" (Philosophy of Literary Form 444). The statement of each position serves as a rejoinder to the other, each perspective thus providing recalcitrance—a needed "corrective rationalization"—to the limitations of the other perspective (Permanence and Change 63). In the essay’s conclusion, we will summarize our "findings," the many points that have been advanced in our counter-statements, and explain how they clarify aspects of the ambiguities now surrounding the pentad/hexad. We will also show how our dialectical approach has achieved "transcendence," the reconciliation of opposite perspectives, by revealing that they have a common cause. Before developing our essay’s two main sections, however, we now must turn our attention to how previous literature treats the pentad and the hexad.

The Pentad And Its Sixth Term: Previous Interpretations And Understandings

To begin, a brief overview of pentadic analysis7 and of attitude is in order.  Burke sums up the critical goal of pentadic analysis with a single question: "What is involved, when we say what people are doing and why they are doing it?" Since pentadic analysis "is concerned with the basic forms of thought which . . .are exemplified in the attributing of motives" (Grammar xv), it can assist critics as a "generating principle" in finding answers to Burke's question ("Questions and Answers" 332). The five terms of the pentad, as we have shown, constitute a "universal heuristic of motives" that is grounded in the necessary conditions of symbolic action. Further, Burke points out that, "whereas the terms may look positive," they are actually questions, telling the critic what to ask about a given text ("Questions and Answers" 332). Thus, "Any complete statement about motives will offer some kind of answers to these five questions: What was done (act), when or where it was done (scene), who did it (agent), how he did it (agency) and why (purpose)" (Grammar xv). An answer to any one of these questions has implications for answers to all of the other questions; after all, terms share "certain formal interrelationships…by reason of their role as attributes of a common ground or substance" (xix). Given that one term necessarily affects understandings of others, Burke advises critics to consider human motivations from all perspectives.

Because of their interrelationships, and because they seldom stand alone in actual human interactions, discourses and narratives, pentadic terms form a range of different word pairs, correlations, "analogies” (Grammar 440), or "ratios." The concept of “ratios” is especially important because motive is not imputed except in their presence. In Grammar, Burke initially distinguishes ten ratios: scene-act; scene-agent; scene-agency; scene-purpose; act-purpose; act-agency; act-agent; agent-purpose; agent-agency; and agency-purpose (15). Then, he points out that these pairs may be reversed, allowing 20 possible combinations that name forms necessarily exemplified in the imputing of human motives" (402). For example, a "scene-act" ratio grounds social action (e.g., "no other action was possible") in the scene (e.g., "under the circumstances"). An "act-scene" ratio allows one to ascertain how a certain action (e.g., wearing a bath robe) might transform the meaning of a scene (e.g., a formal church wedding). An "agency-act" ratio explains the means (e.g., "give a child a hammer") as the determinant of the act (e.g., "and everything will be treated as a nail").8 With the addition of attitude as a sixth term, the number of possible pentadic/hexadic ratios would further increase. In fact, Burke suggests the inclusion of "scene-attitude" and "agent-attitude" ratios (403). The reverse of these, as well as others, would also be possible.

Pentadic/hexadic analysis permits critics to be especially sensitive to matters of “circumference,” a term designating the ways that terminologies employ both scope and reduction to widen and/or narrow explanations of human motivation. A featuring of any one pentadic term leads to a resulting de-emphasis of all other terms. As Burke puts it, when a term becomes featured, we "treat all five in terms of one, by reducing them all to the one or (what amounts to the same thing) 'deducing' them all from the one as their common ancestor" (Grammar 127). De-emphasized terms are then "coordinates" for tracking transformations of meaning guided by the featured term (127-128). Thus, with pentadic analysis, critics may give special attention to the ways that a text both restricts and opens the range of interpretive possibilities.

As we previously noted, Burke occasionally adds attitude to his five terms, seemingly transforming the pentad into a hexad. In Grammar, Burke discusses attitude as incipient and delayed action, building upon the ideas of I. A. Richards, who points out that “Every perception probably includes a response in the form of incipient action. We constantly overlook the extent to which all the while we are making preliminary adjustments, getting ready to act in one way or another” (Principles 107-113). For this reason, Burke calls attitude the “how” of symbolic action: “To build something with a hammer would involve an instrument, or ‘agency’; to build with diligence would involve an ‘attitude,’ a ‘how’” (Grammar 443). In part, attitude refers to preparation for physical action (20); one may decide or somehow know how to swing the hammer before striking a nail. Attitude may also refer to an agent’s state of mind (242), which encompasses his or her orientation toward the world or “motivational properties,” like “drives” or “instincts” (20), and may also refer to the figurative dimension of agency (“Counter-Gridlock” 367; “Questions and Answers” 332). Unlike I. A. Richards and Alfred Korzyski, who “attempt to translate the problems of action into terms of motion” (Grammar 239), Burke agrees with George Herbert Mead, who describes attitude, “the beginnings of acts,” in terms of symbolic action rather than in strictly physicalistic terms (236-237). Attitude may be manifested outwardly or inwardly: “We have tried to show that the attitude is essentially ambiguous, as an attitude of sympathy may either lead to an act of sympathy or may serve as substitute for an act of sympathy” (242). In either case, the attitudinal “is the realm of ‘symbolic action’ par excellence’ for symbolic action has the same ambiguous potentialities of action…. Here is the area of thought wherein actual conflicts can be transcended, with results sometimes fatal, sometimes felicitous” (243). Clearly, attitude is an important component of Burke’s critical program. Yet, uncertainty remains. Is attitude implicit in the pentad? Or, is it best viewed as the sixth term of a hexad? To explore these questions, we survey two kinds of previous works. Although numerous previous works have effectively employed pentadic criticism, often with impressive results9, our survey is limited to those in which a preference is expressed either for pentadic or for hexadic analysis.

We first review previous works showing a preference for pentadic analysis. These suggest that attitude is already implicit in the pentad and that the pentad is, therefore, sufficient for the performance of critical tasks. For example, Dana Anderson, drawing on Burke's discussion in Grammar, says that “attitude refers to the conscious preparation” for an action and to “the product of an agent’s consciousness” (261). Although he refers to “six concepts” (262) and to the “pentad/hexad” (272), Anderson adequately accounts for all six within the five terms of the pentad. Sarah E. Mahan-Hays and Roger C. Aden, in a study designed to align rhetorical and cultural studies, ask if attitude is embedded in pentadic analysis (34). Unfortunately, since this question is not central to their purposes, a fully developed answer is not given. They do maintain, however, that “an attitudinal analysis may indeed be complementary to pentadic analysis, as Burke suggests, but it can also stand alone” (52). Finally, Debra Hawhee calls attitude a “pointed” addition to Burke’s dramatistic pentad (333) but does not view it as a co-equal to the other five terms. Because Burke locates attitude “pentadically near the ‘agent’ node” (346), Hawhee says that attitude “hangs in the balance” between other pentadic terms (347).

  Jerome Bruner makes a unique contribution to Burke's pentad by adding a new concept, "Trouble." However, Bruner does not see attitude as a separate term. In Acts of Meaning, he writes, "Well formed stories, Burke proposed, are composed of a pentad of an Actor, an Action, a Goal, a Scene, and an Instrument--plus Trouble" (50). "Trouble," as Bruner conceives of it, "consists of an imbalance between any of the five elements of the pentad" (50). As examples of "Trouble," he offers the following: "an action towards a goal is inappropriate"; "an actor does not fit the scene"; "there is a dual scene"; or "a confusion of goals" (50). "Trouble," then, is a "relationship" between various pentadic terms and ratios and does not constitute a separate sixth term to a hexad in the same way that attitude does. Bruner's influence is evident in the work of Cheryl Tatano Beck, who looks for "Trouble" in birth trauma narratives (456-457). In a path breaking study, Beck employed pentadic cartography to map the birth trauma narratives of 11 mothers. Her map enabled her to pinpoint the source of "Trouble," the cause of the mothers' birth traumas, in a problematic ratio imbalance between act and agency. Like Bruner, Beck does not view attitude as the sixth term of a hexad. "Attitude," says Bruner, "is encompassed by 'agency'" (Re: pentadic analysis).

Next, we review previous works which express a preference for hexadic analysis. These works maintain that the expansion of the pentad to a hexad is necessary to explore the full range of motivations for human action.10 For example, Clarke Rountree, like Trevor Melia (72, note 21), whose views we have previously described, favors hexadic analysis. Rountree maintains that all six terms should be treated as equals, as Burke “technically” made the pentad into a hexad with the addition of attitude in the addendum to the 1969 edition of Grammar (“Coming to Terms,” par. 5). Jeanne Y. Fisher exhibits the potential of hexadic analysis in revealing human motivations in “Rhetorical Dimensions of a Multiple Murder and Suicide.” Using the hexad, which she calls the “Pentad Plus One” (182), Fisher examines events in the perpetrator’s life and finds explanations for the homicides located in an agent-attitude ratio. Finally, Floyd D. Anderson and Lawrence J. Prelli suggest that the pentad may not fully account for all the philosophical schools of thought. They write, "close examination of relevant texts and practices might reveal that Buddhism features attitude rather than the original pentadic terms and, thus, requires revision into a hexad for full inclusion” (93, note 50).

The results of this literature review reveal a diversity of opinion but no consensus. While some scholars find sufficiency in the pentad, other scholars underscore the need for a hexad. There is an obvious need for the justifications for each position to be fully alembicated. Thus, our tasks ahead are to develop and amplify both perspectives, in the process, opening new interpretive possibilities for scholars who appropriate Burke’s dramatistic terminology. We begin by exploring how attitude may be viewed as already embedded in the pentad.

A Case For The Pentad As Incipient Hexad

To build a case that the pentad already incorporates attitude, we offer three points. First, we demonstrate that, in the bulk of his writings, Burke favors the pentad. Although both the later Burke and other scholars elected to expand the pentad into a hexad, in the process of developing dramatism, the earlier Burke found the use of just five terms to be sufficient to encompass human motivation. Second, we demonstrate that attitude is already implicit in ratios featuring agent and/or act. Within these ratios, attitude may be evidenced in an agent’s state of mind or in an act's performance. Third, we demonstrate that expanding the pentad into a hexad creates terminological and logological inconsistency that does not exist with the pentad.

Although Burke’s view and use of the pentad is his own, he derived it from other sources in addition to the medieval hexameter. Rountree rightly notes that “Burke does not claim any originality for his pentad” (“Coming to Terms,” par. 6). For instance, in his 1968 essay about “Dramatism,” Burke points to several inspirations for his work. He notes the efforts of Talcott Parsons, who describes social acts in relation to actors, ends, situations (including elements over which the actor has control and over which the actor has no control), and normative orientations of actions (447). Also, Burke acknowledges the influence of Aristotle, whose thinking about action became “fixed in the medieval questions” (447). With his awareness of a variety of prospective dramatistic vocabularies, Burke might have shaped a hexad with corresponding ratios and with six philosophical perspectives. Yet, he chose not to do so.

Of course, one could make the case that Burke, looking back on his career, wished he had developed a hexad rather than a pentad. In his 1978 essay “Questions And Answers About The Pentad,” Burke admits that he would have crafted a hexad if his thinking been somewhat different:

I could have cited, if I had known it, a related passage in Nicomachian Ethics11 where Aristotle says, “A man may be ignorant of who he is, what he is doing, what or whom he is acting on, and sometimes also what instrument he is doing it with, and to what end… how he is doing it (e.g. whether gently or violently)”—which would indicate why I would class “how” (quo modo) with “attitude.” (332)

In the passage from “Counter-Gridlock,” an interview conducted with Burke in the early 1980s, which we cite at the beginning of this essay, Burke confesses to his unsettled feelings about the pentad:

You see the original formula I used, the mediaeval formula…is a hexameter line…. I cheated in a way when I worked with it as a pentad, and I always think that I did it as a pentad because I only had five children. If I’d had six…. (366)

Burke explains that he "cheated" by conflating quibus auxillis (by what means) and quo modo (how) in the process of formulating his treatment of agency in Grammar. Actually, Burke cheated in at least two ways when he reduced the seven terms of the medieval formula to five. First, he combined ubi (where) and quando (when) into a single term, scene. Such a blending is reasonable because place and time jointly contain the act. Second, he combined quo modo and quibus auxiliis under a single term, agency, a move that produced noteworthy consequences. It became necessary for him to then make quo modo implicit in the pentad as either an “incipient” act or as a “state of mind” of the agent. Burke explains that the merging of the terms happened, at least in part, because, in the process of writing Grammar, he began “transforming those abstract terms into personalities," more specifically, into the personalities of his children. For example, as the family's "gadgeteer," "instrumentalist," and "fixer," his oldest son, Butchie, well represented agency. Burke even changed the ordering of the five terms, moving act from its original first place to third place, because he associated it with his third daughter, "the stage-struck one." So pronounced is Burke's "tendency toward the personalization of the terms" that he even referred to his children as "my five terms” ("Counter-Gridlock" 368). In all likelihood, Burke was speaking with candor when he said that he transformed the seven terms of the medieval formula into five terms because "I only had five children" (366).

Still, the fact remains that the treatment of the pentad in Grammar is far more thought out than Burke’s later, less than systematically developed comments about a hexad. The chapter entitled "'Incipient' and 'Delayed' Action" makes attitudinal considerations "implicit" in act and agent, thus negating any need for a hexad (235-247). Of course, in the addendum to the 1969 edition of Grammar, Burke suggests that the pentad’s expansion into a hexad as “sometimes useful” (443). However, these remarks should be taken as a supplement to, not a replacement for, his original, carefully developed explication of the five terms of the pentad, with attitude strategically classed under the headings of act and of agent. It seems clear that, as the pentad was developed, Burke thought five terms sufficient and appealing. Two decades later, in Dramatism and Development, Burke reveals that “Possible purely personal motives may have affected [his] original choice of pentad rather than an explicit hexad” (23). Among these personal motives, as we have previously pointed out, is the fact that he had five children whose personalities he associated with his five abstract terms. Burke also enumerates additional personal motives affecting his attraction to the pentad: “But we may recall that Sir Thomas Browne was fascinated by the quineunx—and a perfectly formed five-act play combines the magic of both quineunx and triad, for it is essentially a three-part structure (beginning, middle, and end) with intermediate steps from beginning to middle and from middle to end. And Coleridge sets up several five-term designs” (23). So, despite his knowledge of the medieval hexameter, Burke chose to develop a pentad instead.

Burke’s initial preference for the pentad is also shown by his choice of a descriptive metaphor. In “The Study of Symbolic Action,” Burke notes, “The terms [of the pentad] are like five fingers. Each is distinct, yet they all merge in the hand. Thus, though the terms can be seen as distinct, so also they merge into one another. And by reason of this overlap, we may connect one into another” (13-14). Burke further develops this metaphor in Grammar, when he writes that “[i]f you would go from one finger to another without a leap, you need but trace the tendon down into the palm of the hand, and then trace a new course along another tendon” (xxii). Given the thoughtfulness of this metaphor, Burke had clearly settled—for a time, at least—on a five-termed vocabulary.

Because Burke often couches quo modo in act and in agent, we suggest that all ratios featuring act and/or agent hold the promise to account for attitude. To support this claim, we first demonstrate how Burke draws distinctions between two types of attitude. He states in his Grammar that:

the notion of the attitude as an incipient or delayed action would seem to be a special application of the concept of “potentiality,” which in Aristotle’s use of the dramatist Grammar was the reciprocal of “actuality.” …In the traditional Aristotelian usage, potentiality is to actuality as the possibility of doing something is to the actual doing of it. (242)

We shall refer to one of the kinds of attitude found here as an "attitude of potentiality,” which corresponds to the state of mind of an agent, who may create a substitute for an act. This notion of potentiality finds support in Burke's A Rhetoric of Motives. There, he describes to "bend" (flectere) as a function of persuasion. Bending does not result in a tangible, outward act. Rather, it affects a change of a person’s "leaning or inclination" (50). The second kind of attitude is what we shall call an "attitude of actuality," which is made manifest in a tangible, outward act. This notion also finds support in Burke's Rhetoric. He describes traditional approaches to persuasion as keyed on inducing a "move" (movere) toward action (50), not as a tool for “ingratiation” or “delight” (52).

Agent and act appear to cover all the variations of attitude Burke discusses. It follows, then, that ratios featuring either or both pentadic terms adequately reveal the presence of attitude. To name just a few, examples include the scene-agent ratio (surroundings influence the agent’s opinions and beliefs), the agent-purpose ratio (one’s biases shape his or her goals), the purpose-agent ratio (the believer’s lifestyle reflects their understanding of the “will of God”), and the agency-agent ratio (the means, including the communicative medium, influences the nature or state of mind of a listener). Space dictates that we cannot present elaborate examples of each possible ratio. However, we can supply and elucidate examples offered by Burke.

We offer three instances of ratios containing attitudes of potentiality. First, at the beginning of his Rhetoric, Burke provides an analysis of John Milton’s Samson Agonistes that features an act-agent ratio. The play's self-destructive protagonist, Samson, who is blind and held captive by the Philistines, nevertheless finds his opportunity for revenge. While chained to the pillars of a temple, he pulls down the structure, killing his enemies and himself. Burke shows how Milton—by identifying himself with Samson, “who was identified with God,” and by “identifying Royalists with Philistines and Puritans with Israelites”—was able to “ritualistically conquer” his own enemies, the Royalists (16). Burke notes that, despite the striking motive behind Samson's death, "Milton's religion strongly forbade suicide." What is more, Milton could not confront his enemies directly. So, to mollify his state of mind, he finds a substitutive act: writing about Samson, a figure "ambivalently fit to symbolize both aggressive and inturning trends." Milton's identification with Samson enables him to slay his enemies “in effigy.” As Burke puts it, "In saying, with fervor, that a blind Biblical hero did conquer his enemies, the poet is 'substantially' saying that he in his blindness will conquer" (5).

Second, from Burke’s own life, we offer an example of an attitude of potentiality featuring an act-agent ratio. This example involves Burke's negative feelings toward his long-time nemesis, Sydney Hook. Lawrence Rosenfield points out that Hook, whom he fittingly describes as a "conservative N.Y.U. Marxist and professional anti-communist voice after WWII," wrote critical articles about Burke.12 He "characterized Burke as a visionary Stalinist categorizer who was neither a historian nor a powerful ideological thinker" (10). Burke believed that the double insult affected his opportunities for employment during the McCarthy era and enticed the F.B.I. to monitor his lectures. Consequently, he felt "long term disgust" toward Hook and referred to him thereafter as "Shitney" (9-10). Rosenfield reports that, as late as 1978, Burke wrote to his good friend since childhood, Malcolm Cowley, that he was "trying to hang on until 84. Maybe Shitney Hook will still be living by then. And I must at least hang on long enough to piss on his grave" (10). Calling Hook "Shitney" is an overt act motivated by the state of mind of the agent, and it exemplifies an attitude of actuality. Burke's wish to live long enough to urinate on Hook's grave, however, is an "incipient act" and a "substitute" for an act, and it exemplifies an attitude of potentiality. It allowed Burke to gain symbolic victory over his enemy, to "punish" him "in effigy," just as Milton symbolically triumphed over his enemies. After Hook died in 1989, Burke lived until his death at 96 in 1993. During those four years, there is no reason to believe that Burke actually dampened Hook's resting place. Had he done so, the attitude motivating his act would have exemplified an attitude of actuality rather than an attitude of potentiality. Either way, Burke's attitude—his long-term disgust toward Hook—can be adequately discussed using an act-agent ratio without need for recourse to a separate term.

Third, we offer an example that discloses how an attitude of potentiality may be fixed in an agent-agency ratio. In "The Tactics of Motivation," written a few years after Hook negatively characterized him, Burke used a passage by Hook to demonstrate how the attitudes of an agent have the potential to influence their own perceptions of tools, methods, and procedures. Burke says:

Mr. Hook's reference to “faith in intelligence” is interesting as a dialectical device that obliterates the distinction between “faith” and “knowledge” . . . . We might note that the “faith and knowledge” alignment could be read as “act and scene,” if “faith” were conceived in the spirit of the expression, an “act of faith,” and “knowledge” were a knowledge of the scenic conditions in which that act could be enacted. . . . Mr. Hook's expression . . . could similarly be classed as an attitude of the agent directed toward agency; for “intelligence,” like “scientific method,” can be interpreted as a means rather than as a substance. (26)

Here, Burke illustrates how Hook’s technological/scientific mindset predisposed him to value scientific methods more than other modes of inquiry, like literary criticism or religion. To the extent that Hook’s attitudes merely predispose him to favor certain agencies over others, his attitude is one of potentiality. To the extent that he actually favors one agency, his attitude becomes one of actuality. In both this example, featuring an agent-agency ratio, and in the previous two examples featuring act-agent ratios, attitude is sufficiently accounted for within the pentad as part of either agent or act.

For examples of ratios that illustrate attitudes of actuality, we turn again to Burke’s Rhetoric of Motives. In his discussion of identification, Burke exemplifies how an agent-act ratio can account for attitudinal matters. He refers to "the politician who, addressing an audience of farmers, says 'I was a farm boy myself'" (xiv). In this case, the politician is consciously seeking to affect, or to bend (flectere), the attitudes of constituents in a way favorable to himself. However, if the politician’s goal is to promote a specific act (movere) by voters at the ballot box, then the statement would demonstrate an attitude of actuality. In either case, an agent is consciously seeking to perform an act, namely influencing the attitudes of others. Considerations of the attitudes of the politician and/or the voters can be adequately discussed in the terms of agent-act ratios.

Another instance of an attitude of actuality, this one affixed in an agency-act ratio, comes from The Philosophy of Literary Form, in which Burke describes a hypothetical land, Psychoanalysia. There, popular elections captivate citizens. In fact, the natives and their politicians practice a doctrine of "electoral obscenity,” which promotes the "curative value of a landslide":

Psychoanalysian politicians of all parties are insistent that the full cathartic (or purifying) effect of an election is frustrated unless voters switch violently from one candidate to another. They maintain that this violence of reaction is all the more necessary because there is little real difference between the candidates…. Thus, you have a one-party government cunningly maintained by a paradox, a constant succession of coronations and depositions. (134-135)

To maintain this system, the use of polarizing slogans, statements, rituals, and other tools of political campaigns (agencies) are employed to ensure that voters acquire the necessary attitudes to act in the appropriate manner by violently switching support from one candidate to another. This fictional case illustrates how attitudinal considerations can be adequately explained by an agency-act ratio constructed from the original five terms of the pentad.

These examples demonstrate how pentadic ratios can sufficiently account for attitude. Therefore, they suggest that the incorporation of a sixth hexadic term is unnecessary. Attitudes of potentiality reflect an agent's state of mind and often serve as substitutes for action. Attitudes of actuality, on the other hand, refer to both the preparation for and the execution of an act. We have provided examples of both attitudes of potentiality and attitudes of actuality in which attitude is given full and appropriate consideration under the heading of either act or agent. Our examples have included different pentadic ratios that incorporate attitudinal considerations: act-agent, agent-agency, agent-act, agency-act. These four are illustrative, not exhaustive. Other ratios that incorporate attitude are possible. From these examples, we conclude that attitude is already embedded in Burke's pentad. We further conclude that there is no need to expand the pentad into a hexad. The five terms of the pentad are sufficient to account for the full panoply of human motives.

There is one final argument that can be made against expanding the pentad into a hexad—an argument that deals with terminological inconsistency. As noted, Burke maintains that each of the seven different philosophical schools of thought is distinguished by and features one of the five pentadic terms: act corresponds with realism, scene with materialism, agent with idealism, agency with pragmatism, and purpose with mysticism (Grammar 128). The two remaining, rationalism and nominalism, do not correspond with a single philosophical school but can be a characteristic of all of the others. All terms relate to nominalism, as "they have a collectivist or individualist ('nominalist') emphasis." All terms also relate to rationalism, as "it is [the] perfection, or logical conclusion" of all of them (129). Attitude, however, boasts no clear correspondence. Since attitude is an "incipient act," each of the seven philosophical schools can be read rhetorically as inducements to attitude. Furthermore, since all language use is the striking of attitudes (Rhetoric of Religion 288-289), each one of the philosophical schools strikes its own particular set of attitudes. It is hardly surprising that, in everyday speech, the various philosophies are frequently used rhetorically as inducements to attitude. For example, people are sometimes told that they are "too idealistic" and are advised to become "more pragmatic." They might be warned that their aspirations are "not realistic." Or, they might be characterized as "overly materialistic" and counseled to become "more spiritual." Given that attitude is implicit in and correlates with all seven philosophical schools, it does not fit neatly with the other five terms. Architectonically, attitude seems out of place. It stands out like an unwanted sixth finger. Certainly, terminological ambiguity and inconsistency are inevitable and ubiquitous in all complex symbolic systems, including dramatism. What is more, dramatism has great tolerance for terminological ambiguity and inconsistency. Still, their presence thwarts our "rationalist impulse" to "perfect" our terms. But, the solution is simple: if one declines to view attitude as the sixth term of a hexad, the problem ceases to exist.

A Case For Hexadic Analysis

Although we have made a case for the pentad’s sufficiency, we also concur with Burke and others that hexadic analysis has the potential to expand a critic’s ability to explore human motives. As Burke points out in The Philosophy of Literary Form, “The main ideal of criticism, as I conceive it, is to use all that there is to use" (23). Hexadic analysis is one of the tools available for critical use. Rejecting the use of Burke’s “sixth finger” as a legitimate critical tool would not only be ignoring Burke’s ideal, but would also seem to be downright “un-Burkeian.” Therefore, our task in this section is to provide an analysis that supports a six-termed dramatistic vocabulary. Toward that end, first, we describe Burke’s conversion of the pentad into a hexad in his later works. Second, we offer noteworthy examples of scholarship that provide benchmarks in the development of hexadic analysis. As we have already noted, this section of the essay provides a counter-statement to our analysis in the previous section; and our discussion in the first section provides a counterstatement to this section.

Burke's thinking about the pentad evolves during his lengthy career. The 1945 edition of the Grammar presents a pentad. However, in the 1969 edition, Burke says that the pentad's expansion into a hexad is "sometimes useful" (443), and he expresses optimism for the use of hexadic analysis in understanding human motives. In fact, he briefly offers examples of ratios that feature attitude: “Thus, one could also speak of a ‘scene-attitude ratio,’ or of an ‘agent-attitude ratio,’ etc” (443). Burke further develops his ideas about the need for a hexad in an interview conducted in the early 1980s in which, as we have already pointed out, he "confessed" that he "cheated" when he converted the medieval hexameter into a pentad:

If I say that “he did this,” for example, “He built with a hammer with alacrity, with good will,” I’ve used “agency” in two ways, one literal, one figurative. I put “how” and “by what means” together; and what I did in making it a hexad was to make a difference between the two. (“Counter-Gridlock” 367)
Burke adds that the transformation of the pentad into a hexad "really is an improvement. ‘How’ is your attitude, and ‘by what means’ is your instrument’” (367).

In the 1984 edition of Attitudes Toward History, Burke further elucidates his evolving view of attitude. He acknowledges that, in the pentad, attitude is “but a figurative variation on the theme of agency” (394). In accounting for this apparent shortcoming, he points out that, in one of his earliest works, Counter-Statement (141), he quoted the medieval Latin hexameter without “realizing all the implications it would have for me when, about fifteen years later, I hit upon turning those interrogatives into the categories of my ‘Dramatistic Pentad’” (Attitudes 393). What is more, he says that, when writing his chapter on "incipient" and "delayed" action in Grammar, “I forgot my earlier investment in the term” of attitude (394). Had his view of quo modo been more clear, he says that that pentad “would have been a Hexad from the start” (393-394).

In light of Burke’s transformation of the pentad into a hexad, what is its potential for criticism and analysis? Put simply, it expands a critic’s ability to explore motives. Burke illustrates this in his Rhetoric where he discusses how manifestations of a rhetor’s attitude often appear in the form of “tonalities” of expression. He gives the example of Mark Anthony’s use of eulogistic appellatives in a speech to a mob in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (94-95). While they might seem like mere ingratiation, such tonalities suggest subtly—but influentially—“right things” and appropriate conclusions (98), thus explaining Anthony's success in changing the mob's attitude. Manifestations of a writer’s or a speaker’s attitudes are often revealed through the tonalities of style, what classical writers refer to as elocutio, or spoken presentation, what classical writers call pronuntiatio and actio. For example, use of a “grand” style expresses a different attitude than the use of a “middle” or “plain” style. Shouting expresses a different attitude than whispering. Use of hexadic analysis opens up possibilities for critics to explore how a rhetor’s attitude is conveyed in the performative acts of writing and speaking. Moreover, hexadic analysis can be useful in the criticism of visual rhetoric. In such visual arts as drawing, painting, photography, and film-making, artists express attitudes with tones and tonalities. Lawrence J. Prelli provides this example of the value of hexadic analysis in the criticism of visual works of art: “I was thinking that the hexad could help us get at the motivation behind a Monet or other impressionist painting in ways the pentad could not. One could examine the colors, composition, and other elements of a painting in relation to a viewer’s mood, thus illustrating the agency-attitude ratio” (“RE: hexad”). To further illustrate the potential of hexadic analysis, let us now turn our attention to relevant critical works.

William Haltom and Michael W. McCann use hexadic analysis to search for Bruce Springsteen’s attitudes, which they call “tones,” and his “character’s motivations,” which they call “purposes,” in his songs (par. 7). Maintaining that “complete, satisfactory and revealing” stories depend on purpose and tone more than other elements, it was important for Haltom and McCann to consider attitude as a separate, discreet term, rather than as implicit in act, agent, or agency. Hexadic analysis permits them to demonstrate how shifting tonalities in a song encourage a certain interpretation of its meaning. One of the songs they analyze is “Independence Day,” which is told from a son’s perspective and which explores his contentious relationship with his father. The lyrics begin with a rebellious tone (“Nothing we can say is gonna change anything now”), progress to an expository tone (“Now the rooms are all empty down at Frankie’s joint”), and then move to an apologetic tone (“I swear I never meant to take those things away”). The authors show how this progression stirs in listeners a particular attitude; as the young man matures, a feeling of “warmth” toward him is created through identification (par. 16). Hexadic analysis enables the authors to focus directly on the attitudes of the artist in reaching their conclusion that “Springsteen’s best stories constitute the highest art” (par. 5).

Jeanne Y. Fisher’s (1974) essay about “Rhetorical Dimensions of a Multiple Murder and Suicide” employs hexadic analysis to build a dramatistic bridge from Burkeian theory to intrapersonal communication. In 1970, the subject of her study, Joseph William White, shot and killed five coworkers at the New York State Department of Labor before claiming his own life. Officials who investigated the case struggled to find a motive for White’s actions. However, with her analysis, Fisher claims that the consideration of his attitude yields possible explanations. For example, she locates an agent-attitude ratio that links events in White’s life, like his hurt feelings that resulted from teasing by high-school peers (178), to a “hierarchical psychosis” (183). This, Fisher suggests, affected White's state of mind and, consequently, his attitude toward his work site, where he committed murders and his own suicide (185). Fisher’s use of hexadic criticism enables her to investigate how the formation of an agent's attitude precedes an act. In this case, the act links White and his victims in the consubstantiality of death.

Perhaps the most prolific use of hexadic analysis has been accomplished by Clarke Rountree. In addition to “Coming to Terms,” Rountree uses the hexad in at least three critical studies. First, he explores “attitude” in the Calvinistic sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who advocated the doctrine of election at a time when it was falling out of favor. Rountree employs attitude to chart Spurgeon's seemingly inconsistent characterizations of God. According to the preacher, God provides salvation “freely.” At the same time, humans are “unworthy” and deserve the creator's indignation (38). Despite this paradox, Rountree argues that Spurgeon provides a degree of encouragement to two kinds of listeners. Members of the elect find confirmation of their status by having an appropriate attitude, which includes boldness and being “too proud to sin” (41). Individuals who are uncertain of their election are urged to look for signs of their calling, which may include a “Christ-like attitude” (43-44). Use of hexadic analysis enables Rountree to discover, in both cases, how attitude provides a basis for identification.

Second, Rountree uses what he calls “multipentadic analysis” to examine the Supreme Court’s ruling in Korematsu v. United States. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the American military implemented Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which sent Japanese Americans to detention centers and effectively excluded them from the nation’s west coast. Rountree’s “multipentadic analysis” of this decision “better accounts for the rhetorical work involved in many rhetorical acts” than would be possible with traditional pentadic analysis. It also “opens the way to a consideration of complex rhetorical strategies” (21), enabling Rountree to show how contemporaneous understandings of act, scene, agent, agency, purpose, and attitude provided the motivational factors of racism that enabled the detention of Japanese Americans as “potentially disloyal” (8) members of the American population.

Third, in Judging the Supreme Court, Rountree uses hexadic analysis to size up the aftermath the Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, which effectively decided the 2000 presidential election. He concludes that the key to understanding the case is not “proper judicial concerns” or formal arguments presented by the justices. Rather, the key is “motives" involving “political and personal concerns of majority justices” (xv). Rountree’s focus on quo modo as a discreet term permits him to demonstrate that the majority constructed their attitude toward the case, which was thrust upon the Court, as one of reluctance. He is also able to show that others imputed different attitudes toward the Court; while defenders of the Court’s majority saw reason and boldness, critics saw arrogance, overconfidence, and recklessness.

In all three studies, Rountree's use of hexadic analysis reveals its usefulness in discovering motivations that are not fully apparent when revealed only in terms of the pentad. With traditional pentadic analysis, religious convictions, racist mind-sets, and institutional aloofness could be couched under the headings of act or agent. This results in only the individual dimensions of attitude being emphasized. For instance, a government’s discriminatory act may be interpreted according to its implications for fostering racism, or a government itself may be perceived as racist. However, as a sixth term in the hexad, attitude can directly point to and emphasize the broader social dimensions of motivation. Thus, racism may be viewed in a more nuanced and sophisticated way as a pool of shared symbolic resources from which individuals draw, rather than as merely an idea in an individual’s mind.  

All of the studies we have discussed both illuminate the utility and the critical potential of hexadic analysis. As Burke points out, the "how" of human action is a potent source of identification. “Tonalities" give meaning to symbolic acts, and "states of mind" inform perceptions and acts of agents. With attitude as the sixth term of a hexad, the number of pentadic/hexadic ratios increases. Burke’s suggestions of scene-attitude and agent-attitude (Grammar 443), plus their opposites, add four. Then, pairing attitude with act, agency, and purpose adds six more. Indeed, the development of ten new ratios opens a universe of new critical possibilities. For this reason, hexadic analysis may provide highly sophisticated explanations of rhetorical acts, and it facilitates the consideration of complex rhetorical events. Hexadic analysis, as Burke has observed, "really is an improvement" ("Counter-Gridlock" 367)

Summary And Transcendence

Pentad or hexad? Five terms or six? In this study, our use of a statement/counter-statement dialectical approach enabled us to survey both positions at once, sympathetically and critically, and in relation to each other. It also allowed the claims of each position to be "matured" and revised in light of the recalcitrance afforded by the opposite position. Although the dramatistic dialectic is not intended to yield culminating syntheses or final authoritative pronouncements, "the multiplicity of elements in the dialectic" do offer what Michael A. Overington calls "an accurate account" (137). In the presentation of its two counter-statements, our study clarified key aspects of the ambiguity surrounding the pentad/hexad. Our study’s “accurate accounts,” which we call our “findings,” provide useful “corrective rationalizations” to each side of the debate and are summarized below.

Burke Changed His Mind. In the 1940s, Burke transformed the seven terms of the medieval Latin hexameter into a pentad. He was motivated to do so, in part at least, by the fact that he associated his terms with his five children. In the 1945 edition of Grammar, he likened the five terms to fingers on a hand. However, ideas, like biological organisms, do evolve. Thus, in the 1969 edition of Grammar, Burke proposed expansion and refinement of hexadic analysis. In the 1980s, to justify the transformation of the pentad into a hexad, he stated that had his views on attitude been clearer earlier the pentad "would have been a hexad from the start.” Burke considered his six-fingered hand "an improvement” but never fully explicated hexadic analysis.

The Pentad Adequately Accounts for Attitude. Our analysis revealed that the five terms of the pentad—without the inclusion of attitude as a separate sixth term—sufficiently account for the full panoply of human motives. By making quo modo "implicit" in act and agent, Burke eliminated any need for a hexad. We found that, without the inclusion of a sixth term, the pentad enables one to account for and to discuss with a high degree of sophistication virtually all attitudes, both those of potentiality and actuality. We presented numerous illustrations in which attitudinal considerations were fully encompassed by act and agency ratios. Also, for more than half a century, Burke and others accomplished significant scholarship without impediment while working with only five terms. In short, expansion of the pentad into a hexad is unnecessary for either practical or theoretical reasons.

The Critical Value of Hexadic Analysis Has Been Demonstrated. To test Burke's claim that his later expansion of the pentad "really is an improvement," we surveyed several examples of hexadic criticism that illustrate the method's utility. We found that the incorporation of attitude allows critics to explore more directly how "tonalities" of expression convey the attitudes of the rhetor and how "states of mind" inform the action of listeners. Incorporation of attitude equips critics to investigate complex rhetorical events, and it frequently results in sophisticated, highly nuanced explanations of rhetorical acts. Without attitude as a discrete term, the resources available to critics may be unduly limited. A skeptic might argue that all of these critical tasks could have been accomplished using only the five terms of the pentad, and they would be right. However, the path would have been less focused, less direct, more complicated and more cumbersome. There can be no denying the value and efficacy of hexadic analysis for accomplishing certain kinds of critical tasks.

Attitude is Included Regardless of How One Configures the Ontological Structure of the Symbolic Act. Our analysis showed that considerations of attitude can be adequately taken into account whether there are five terms or six. With five terms, attitude can be discussed as "incipient act" or as "preparation for an act”; it can be considered as an agent’s "state of mind"; and, sometimes, it can be thought of as a variant of agency. Or, attitude can be considered as the separate sixth term of a hexad. In any case, quo modo is ontologically grounded as a condition of symbolic action.

Transforming the Pentad into a Hexad Would Increase the Possible Number of Ratios. In Grammar, Burke initially distinguished ten ratios, which he then claimed were reversible. Thus, he offered twenty pairings. When he later suggested ratios including attitude (i.e., “scene-attitude” and “agent-attitude”), these, and their reverses, increased the number of ratios to twenty four. We indicated in our essay that additional ratios are possible. For critics, this condition opens new possibilities by expanding the scope of their perspectives.

Transforming the Pentad into a Hexad Creates Terminological/Logological Inconsistency. In our analysis, we underscored that attitude does not "neatly" fit with the other five terms because, unlike each one of them, it does not correspond to a single philosophical school. Attitude correlates with all seven philosophical schools—each of which radiates its own cluster of related attitudes—rather than with a single one of them. Because attitude does not architectonically "fit" with the other five terms, its inclusion as the sixth term of a hexad produces terminological/logological inconsistency. If this seems problematic, it is; in our rationalistic quest for theoretical perfection, we resist terminological contradiction and ambiguity. Certainly, in all complex symbolic structures, dramatism included, ambiguities and inconsistencies are inevitable and ubiquitous. Dramatism as a system contains many devices designed to deal with such logological problems, including "discounting" (Attitudes 244), "casuistic stretching" (229), and "transcendence" (336). However, if one does not transform the pentad into a hexad in the first place, these terminological/logological problems do not exist.

Transcendence. Pentad or hexad? When posed this way, the question characterizes the two terms as opposites. Viewing them as such aided us in reading each perspective at the same time sympathetically and critically. Unfortunately, posing the question in an "either-or" way simultaneously reduced the circumference of our perspective. However, the juxtaposition of our two counter-statements suggests the desirability of widening the scope of our perspective by rephrasing our initial inquiry. Replacing "or" (which encourages division) with "and" (which encourages identification)—making the question "pentad and hexad?"—both widens our perspective and also makes possible a reconciliation of the two positions. For example, one can believe that there is no theoretic reason for expanding the pentad into a hexad and simultaneously believe that hexadic analysis is a legitimate and helpful critical tool.  It requires minimal, if any, "casuistic stretching" to regard hexadic analysis not as an opposite but as a useful "sixth finger." In reconciling these two seemingly conflicting positions, we have achieved what Burke calls "transcendence.” In so doing, we have employed a dramatistic dialectic that, in the words of Malcolm Cowley, "moves backwards from conflicting effects to harmonious causes" (19). Indeed, our dialectical understanding shifts attention from tensions about pentad and hexad to the "harmonious cause" that provoked Burke's thinking about the matter in the first place: adapting the medieval Latin hexameter to contemporary needs.


*Floyd D. Anderson is a Professor of Communication at The College at Brockport: State University of New York. Matthew T. Althouse is an Associate Professor of Communication at The College at Brockport: State University of New York. They gratefully acknowledge the thorough and invaluable commentaries on earlier drafts of this essay by Clarke Rountree, Lawrence J. Prelli, Andrew King, and four of this journal’s anonymous reviewers, and they gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Cheryl Tatano Beck and Lawrence W. Rosenfield. Finally, Althouse thanks the College at Brockport for generously providing a sabbatical leave that enabled him to work on this project and several others.

1. The formulaic medieval Latin septad that Burke recites originated in Hellenistic rhetorical theory. The earliest extant version is in Cicero's De Inventione, which discusses the "attributes of persons" and the "circumstances of actions" as the loci of arguments (De Inventione I. 34-43, II. 40-50; also see George Kennedy, 134-135). Quintilian also locates the loci argumentorum in the "circumstances that give rise to each kind of argument" (Institutio Oratoria. V. 20-52). These include "persons" and their attributes, "actions," and the "questions" that arise "in regard to every action," either "Why or Where or When or How or By what means the action is performed" (V. 32-33). In the sixth century, Boethius presents a similar list of seven "circumstances": quis, quid, cur, quomodo, ubi, quando, quibus auxiliis (De Topicis Differentis 1212D24-36; see also Michael C. Leff, 3-24). In the later middle ages, the seven terms were widely used for both religious and educational purposes and for textual exegesis. Thiery de Chartres, John of Salisbury, and Thomas Aquinas all discuss the formulaic seven terms (Robertson, 6-14; Burke, Counter-Statement 141). When placed in the order that Burke recites, the terms form a line of verse in classical Latin prosody that has sometimes been called "the medieval Latin hexameter." The hexametric structure and alliteration function as mnemonic devices that facilitate remembrance of the seven terms.

2. Burke's interviewer, is Frank Gillette. See "Counter-Gridlock," which contains material from a series of interviews with Burke in 1980-81. In conducting some of the interviews, Gillette was assisted by Monte Davis, Pellegrino D'Acierno, Roy Skodnick, and William H. Rueckert .

3. The notion that attitude is an “incipient act” originated with I. A. Richards (Principles 107-113), but Burke further developed and refined it for his own purposes in Grammar.

4. See, for instance, Bernard L. Brock, Kenneth Burke, Parke G. Burgess, and Herbert W. Simons, 18-22, 24-25, 26-27, 28-31; Brock, "Epistemology and Ontology" 94-104; Brock, "The Evolution of Kenneth Burke's Philosophy" 309-328; James W. Chesebro, "Epistemology and Ontology" 175-191. Although this view of dramatism as an epistemological system had some support in the 1980s and 1990s, it has largely been superseded by a growing scholarly consensus that Burke knew what he was talking about all along when he said that dramatism is an ontological system grounded in symbolic action. For examples of this perspective, see Bryan Crable, “Defending Dramatism”; Crable, “Burke’s Perspective”; Francis Fergusson, “Kenneth Burke’s ‘A Grammar of Motives’”; Clarke Rountree, “Coming to Terms”; Robert Wess, Kenneth Burke 234-240.

5. In Counter-Statement, see Burke’s earliest attempt at formulating the pentad from the mediaeval Latin hexameter (141), which includes seven terms: who, what, when, where, how, why, and by what means. It is thus a septad. However, in Grammar, Burke combined “where” and “when” into “scene,” and he conflated “how” and “by what means” in to “agency.” The result was the pentad.

6. According to Andrew King, Burke made this statement in an unpublished lecture titled “Walt Whitman’s Rhetoric,” presented as the Joseph Warren Beach Lecture at the University of Minnesota on April 2, 1976 (“RE: pentad”).

7. For useful commentaries on the pentad as a critical method see Francis Fergusson; Hugh Dalziel Duncan; Michael A. Overington; Charles W. Kneupper; Trevor Melia; Vito Signorile; and Floyd D. Anderson and Lawrence J. Prelli.

8. Some of the sample ratios cited here are borrowed from Charles W. Kneupper, 133.

9. See, for instance, studies by David A. Ling; Barry Brummett; Jane Blankenship, Marlene Fine, and Leslie K. Davis; David S. Birdsell; Mari Boor Tonn, Valerie A. Endress, and John N. Diamond; Richard Bello; and Andrew King (“Pentadic Criticism”).

10. In these studies, authors favor the terms “pentad” and “pentadic,” even if they actually employ a hexad. Clarke Rountree explains his use of terminology by stating, “although I do ‘hexadic’ criticism, ‘pentadic’ is the term of art” (“RE: Pentad/Hexad: Some Questions”).

11. The specific passage Burke cites here is Nicomachian Ethics, 1111a 3-5; see also Richard McKeon, ed., The Basic Works of Aristotle (966).

12. See Sidney Hook, “The Technique of Mystification” and “Is Mr. Burke Serious?”


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Revisiting the Controversy over Dramatism as Literal

Clarke Rountree, University of Alabama Huntsville


In 1984 Kenneth Burke particpated in a panel discussion over the nature of dramatism, insisting that it was literally descriptive of human symbol-using, while some leading Burkeans on the panel insisted that dramatism was metaphorical. This essay revisits that controversy and argues that Burke consistently maintained that dramatism provides a universal heuristic of human motives.

I WAS A graduate student at the University of Iowa in 1985, already known by my peers and professors as “the house Burkean,” when Communication Quarterly published a discussion from an Eastern Communication Association (ECA) Convention panel involving Kenneth Burke and “several of the leading dramatists in our discipline” (Chesebro 17). The subject was the nature of dramatism and, oddly enough, the discussion ended with Burke disagreeing with those “leading dramatists.” He claimed that dramatism is literal, while his interlocutors—especially Bernard Brock and Herb Simons—claimed that dramatism is metaphorical. A few years ago, Bryan Crable published an essay defending Burke’s position in Philosophy & Rhetoric, but I believe he sacrificed too much in that defense. Given the centrality of dramatism to Burke’s theory of human symbol-using, I would like to offer one more attempt to explain what Burke means when he claims dramatism is literal and to defend that claim.

Imagining a Land of No Motives

Instead of parsing the claims of each side at the outset, let me take a more circuitous route that I believe will bring us closer to the heart of the question before returning to the dispute. Let me start with an elaborate hypothetical.

Imagine the most politically correct society possible: no one draws distinctions between male and female, between those with black, brown, white, red, or yellow skin; between young and old, between the intelligent and dim-witted, between the strong and the weak, between rich and poor, between the first-born and the last-born, between the priest, the doctor, and the fisherman; between holy and unholy persons, and so on. Further, imagine this society did not even have different names for individuals, lest such monikers lead to some hierarchy based on different meanings or connotations. In fact, at the most extreme, this society does not distinguish between “you” and “me.” Finally, imagine that people in the society not only did not draw such distinctions, but could not—that they could not perceive such distinctions. In such a situation, the question “Who?” would carry no meaning.

Imagine further that this odd society drew no distinctions between place and time: that they had no words for “here” and “there” or “then” and “now”; that “the place we eat” was no different from “the place we relieve ourselves”; “dinner time” and “bed time” were indistinguishable. Imagine that they did not distinguish between mountains and valleys, lakes and deserts, spring and winter, yesterday and tomorrow, hunting ground and burial ground, and so on. That is, they could not answer the questions “When?” or “Where?”

Imagine further that they did not distinguish one act from another: killing, eating, having sex, giving birth, thinking, running—there was no way to answer the question, “What is being done?”

Without knowing what someone is doing, they certainly could not answer how or why something was being done. They could have no technology, for technology is concerned with means and ends, of adapting spears for hunting, pots for cooking, wells for collecting water, and so forth. Purposeful human action is difficult to conceive here. Religious belief based upon some divine purpose would be impossible.

Of course this is a ridiculous hypothetical. No recognizably human society ever existed that was not able to draw the distinctions we draw in answering the questions Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why. In other words, these questions and the answers they call for are universal in human societies. Procreation and child care, at a minimum, require distinctions in agents that allow us to know who gives birth and who cannot care for him- or herself. Success that makes survival likely requires a great deal more: the ability to see the overlaps between acts, agents, scenes, agencies, and purposes: Connecting the seasons to the planting of crops; connecting places to purposes of security and shelter; connecting means and ends sufficiently to create weapons that give humans advantages over more powerful predators and prey; identifying people good at doing particular things, such as hunting, fishing, cooking, caring for the sick, and so forth. Answering “Who in light of What,” “Where in light of What,” “How in light of Why,” and so forth is critical for the success of human societies, and is universal as well.

Of course, advanced human societies take the distinctions represented by the pentadic questions to extremes. As Maslow demonstrated, human “needs” come at different levels. If we’ve satisfied physiological and safety needs, then we look for love and ways to belong, and later to all manner of establishing our esteem in our own eyes and those of our peers, and perhaps then we can self-actualize. And the Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why questions crop up at each stage, establishing our place, our home, our roles; distinguishing us as “higher” or “lower” than others in myriad ways; and, at the ultimate stage, realizing our potential as unique agents in unique times and places, working towards our own unique purposes, in ways that are uniquely our own.

Our symbolic trek up Maslow’s pyramid is not necessarily “progress,” despite the pyramid’s implicit indication of where the “pinnacle” of human existence lays. The “grammar of motives” allows us to make important distinctions between, say, good hunters and bad hunters, but also leads to distinctions involving tribal identities, castes, organizational charts, “cool” groups and “lame” groups, and every manner of sexist, racist, sexual orientationalist, ethnocentrist, and other division imaginable, far past what is necessary or useful and, indeed, to the point of being detrimental to society. As Burke would say, we take our symbol-using to the end of the line, ignoring what’s good for us. Today, distinctions based on answers to Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why are sophisticated to a fault; but they still follow the fundamental grammar of motives that marks us as human.

Critical for the essential, but problematic development of our human sophistication in discerning answers to the pentadic questions is our facility with language. Not only do we see a person as a better hunter, a more attractive person, or an interloper; a scene as dangerous, agriculturally fertile, or “late”; a means as effective or efficient; and so forth, we can verbalize our distinctions, compare them with others, take up the characterizations of our interlocutors or criticize them, draw from witnesses to actions we did not see, and so forth. Burke uses the term symbolic action to account for our actions in verbally carving up the world in these ways. Such verbal carving creates a new, human world, as there inevitably emerges a distinction between the world and words about the world.

The most obvious way that action enters our world is through our interactions with other humans, as Burke notes in drawing a distinction between how we treat objects and how we treat people:

[A] physical scientist’s relation to the materials involved in the study of motion differs in quality from his relation to his colleagues. He would never think of “petitioning” the objects of his experiment or “arguing with them,” as he would with persons whom he asks to collaborate with him or to judge the results of his experiment. Implicit in these two relations is the distinction between the sheer motion of things and the actions of persons. (“Dramatism” 11)
Philosophically, it does not matter if we have free will or not. In a pragmatic sense, Burke notes, we treat other human beings as if they were acting rather than merely moving (Language 53). In short, we enact the pentad in the world, giving it a materiality.


On the other hand, action has often been seen in things scientists think of only in terms of motion. Ancient people attributed motives to the elements, to the gods, and to animals, anthropomorphizing them in attributing purposes (including sometimes the susceptibility of appeasement or admonishment). Thus, Herodotus tells us that Xerxes, angered when a storm at sea destroyed a bridge he constructed across the Hellespont, had his men give the Hellespont 300 lashes and to cast a pair of fetters into it to “bind” the sea. Humans also anthropomorphize unseen gods. Judeo-Christian texts make God into a jealous deity who judges and punishes us or a father who loves us. We extend this application of “action” as a terministic screen to animals. Thus, like other pet owners, I recognize when my dog wants to play, attributing purpose to him. Action, then, as a framework of understanding the world, tells us to look for motive. It opens the possibility of persuasion, of judgment, of subjection to the will of others, of forgiveness, of choice.

Just how a given community attributes motives will differ in light of their culture, history, and rhetorical needs. As I have argued elsewhere, relationships among pentadic terms have general dimensions that Burke’s Grammar explores at length: “The scene ‘contains’ the act; means (agencies) are adapted to ends (purposes); agents are the ‘authors’ of their actions; and so forth” (Rountree). On the other hand, there are nonuniversal, historically unique specific dimensions in these pentadic relationships. As I noted:

Specific dimensions of terministic relations are normative, established by a discourse community's shared beliefs about “what goes with what” at a given point in time, underlying expectations that one will or should find certain types of agents engaging in certain types of actions, using certain agencies, within certain scenes, for certain purposes, evincing certain attitudes. (Rountree)
For example, a “good wife” in a conservative Islamic society is associated with very different acts, scenes, agencies, purposes, and attitudes than a “good wife” among Baptists in Alabama. A “good Baptist wife” in Alabama may drive a car, walk through a mall unescorted, seek higher education, wear short pants, and question her husband; these actions would not be expected or tolerated in a “good Muslim wife” living in Taliban-controlled parts of Pakistan. Nevertheless, the general idea that particular agents will be expected to engage in particular actions in particular scenes using particular agencies for particular purposes with particular attitudes still holds. The grammar of motives is universal in describing those general, formal relationships, but not the particular content they will carry.


If we accept as a social and historical fact that humans have made, and continue to make, distinctions that allow them to answer Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why; and, indeed, that this perspective plays a central role in allowing us to become what is recognizably human (for better or worse), then we’re on the road to accepting the universality of the grammar of motives. And, insofar as dramatism is rooted in the assumption that such understandings of action are an inextricable part of human interaction, then dramatism is literally descriptive of our world.

Perhaps I’m using a sledgehammer where only a gentle tap is needed. I seriously doubt that anyone would deny that, as a matter of fact, humans do treat and talk about one another as if they were engaged in action (including themselves), discerning purposes behind actions, using time and place as a context to understand action, drawing upon knowledge of agents to figure out what they are doing and why, carving up the world in their own unique ways. But detractors from the claim that dramatism is literal still may have two objections:

  • That my description of dramatism is wrong and that Burke meant something different that they cannot accept as literal.
  • That my understanding of literality is flawed; that making a literal statement requires something more robust, more grounded in “reality” that I’m offering here.

What Burke Meant

Some scholars may point to the “drama” in “dramatism,” note Burke’s roots as a literary and theatrical critic, and suggest that he’s brought the stage metaphor to an understanding of human action. Parke Burgess, who participated in the ECA panel discussion with Burke, seems to be caught in this theatrical sense of dramatism when he tries to support Burke's position on the lite­ral nature of dramatism, claiming: "It [dramatism] is not mere metaphor; Burke means that people act on the stage of life" (Burke et al., 25). This "support" prompts Burke to caution: "In this context, it is extremely important to realize how we name things" (25).

Burke originally employed theatrical metaphors to veer scho­lars away from behaviorist reductions of action to motion (i.e., to highlight that an act is occurring). But these very metaphors have served to direct attention away from the “more-than-motion” connotations of "act" and towards the theatrical connotations of "act." This terministic obstacle has been further perpetuated through Goffman's work, which straightforwardly utilizes the thea­trical sense of “act,” stressing how people strategically present themselves in everyday life. But, unlike Goffman’s use of drama as strategic presentation, in Burke there is no “backstage” where motives are free from the constraints of the “grammar of motives.” For Burke there is no escaping scene, agent, agency, purpose, or act; whatever is being done, the grammar is implicated both in interpreting motives and in “say[ing] what people are doing and why they are doing it” (Grammar xv).

Beyond the use of drama as a theoretical term, there are other reasons why good Burkeans might be mystified by Burke’s insistence that dramatism is literal. This, I believe, rests on the role Burke has played in rhetorical studies as a de-masker of theoretical pretensions and a revealer of rhetorical subterfuge. Burke came along when neo-Aristotelians held sway in the speech field and we had a rather cramped view of what constituted rhetoric. Then came the 1960s, a political and social context where young graduate students (and some professors) began to question all forms of old thinking. Burke, who had been introduced to the speech field in the 1950s, didn’t become a major force in our field until the scholars of the 1960s finished their degrees and started publishing in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Burke was a breath of fresh air to these scholars: He warned us about terministic screens and about the misleading models of the behaviorists; he taught us about unconscious forms of persuasion and reinterpreted Machiavelli, Bentham, Marx, and others as rhetorical thinkers; he revealed the rhetoric of religion, of capitalism, and of science; and so forth. How could the one who helped show us the light turn around and insist that his own view wasn’t merely perspectival, but ontological and literal?

That is how I read the late Bernie Brock’s reaction to Burke’s claims at the ECA panel. In an essay following up on the ECA discussion published in Communication Quarterly, Brock claims that Burke had shifted his view of dramatism in recent years, trying to establish it as a “philosophy” (99). Brock seems to long for the days, as he constructs them, when Burke was more focused on “paradox and metaphor” and more interested in the ambiguities of language than in literal statements.

But Brock is longing for a Burke that never was. Although Burke was among the deftest of critics, who used “everything there is to use” in his criticism, his theorizing about human symbol using typically aims for ultimate generalizations, from his account of the variations of formal appeals in Counterstatement to his “Definition of Man” in Language as Symbolic Action. And so it is with dramatism. Those liberated rhetorical scholars of the ‘60s perhaps skipped too quickly over statements in the Grammar like the following:

It is not our purpose to import dialectical and metaphysical concerns into a subject that might otherwise be free of them. On the contrary, we hope to make clear the ways in which dialectical and metaphysical issues necessarily figure in the subject of motivation. Our speculations, as we interpret them, should show that the subject of motivation is a philosophic one, not ultimately to be resolved in terms of empirical science (xxiii).

Burke claims that the Grammar “offers a system of placement, and should enable us, by the systematic manipulations of the terms, to ‘generate,’ or ‘anticipate’ the various classes of motivational theory” (xxiii). Note that he does not qualify this statement by saying that this system will generate or anticipate some classes of motivational theory; he means to cover the entire gamut of possibilities. Because dramatism is universal, Burke is able to use the pentad to construct a framework to cover all possible motivational theories. Burke scholars should ponder this fact a bit more to understand the breadth and significance of dramatism, which, Burke once told me, he thought we had underappreciated and underutilized.

Furthermore, it was not in the 1985 exchange that Burke first claimed that dramatism is literal. Burke’s 1968 essay defining dramatism for the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences asked:

Is dramatism merely metaphorical? Although such prototypically dramatistic usages as “all the world’s a stage” are clearly metaphors, the situation looks quite otherwise when approached from another point of view. For instance, a physical scientist’s relation to the materials involved in the study of motion differs in quality from his relation to his colleagues…. In this sense, man is defined literally as an animal characterized by his special aptitude for “symbolic action,” which is itself a literal term. And from there on, drama is employed, not as a metaphor but as a fixed form that helps us discover what the implications of the terms “act” and “person” really are. (“Dramatism” 11)
Bryan Crable notes that Burke called dramatism literal even earlier, in his 1955 article “Linguistic Approach to Problems of Education,” as well as in 1961’s The Rhetoric of Religion (Crable 326). So, Burke’s position had been clear on this matter for many decades, making Brock’s claim of a change of heart by Burke suspect.


Burke doesn’t even claim originality in his parsing of action into the pentadic elements, which he emphasizes are not positive terms, but rather questions (Conversations 3:54). He notes that the pentadic questions have been the subject of scholars concerned with motives for thousands of years, from Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics to Talcott Parsons’ Structure of Social Action, and they were “fixed in the medieval questions: quis (agent), quid (act), ubi (scene defined as place), quibus auxiliis (agency), cur (purpose), quo modo (manner, ‘attitude’), quando (scene defined temporarily)” (“Dramatism” 9).

A curmudgeon might note that “attitude” is a Johnny-come-lately to the pentadic party, added in an addendum to a later edition of the Grammar (443). If the pentadic questions are so fundamental and universal, how could he leave out this one? He explains that attitude, which answers the “how” question as “in what manner,” is implicit in act, as a preparation or a substitution for action. That is, it was always there, but it was a subtlety in action that may usefully be teased out or left under the more general term act. “Shaking with fear” is as much an action as “fearful” is an attitude, but the distinction between more overt action and what takes place “inside” is useful. Attitudes hide in ways that overt actions cannot, involving mental or emotional “action” that might be missed by an onlooker, but which may completely change our interpretation of a given action. (Consider our interpretation of the smile of Ted Bundy as he interacted with young women, knowing that this “happy” attitude is grounded in something psychopathic—a dream of rape and murder.) Attitudes also may serve as a substitution for action (feeling pity for the poor, instead of giving them money), or as a precursor to action—a sort of inchoate act that is only complete when externalized.

Theoretically, we could look for such inchoate forms of the other pentadic terms as well. Can we usefully distinguish an “inchoate scene” for example—perhaps on the edge of being a “dangerous scene” but not quite there? Or an “inchoate agent”—one who might be a hero, but isn’t quite there? Or an “inchoate agency”—perhaps a shoe used awkwardly as a hammer, or a scalpel (an instrument for saving life) as a murder weapon? Burke always directed us to the “edges” of pentadic terms, especially the spots where two pentadic terms overlap; and so it is, perhaps, with an act that bleeds over into something we recognize as an attitude.

I believe the evidence shows that Burke has not changed his position on the literal description of humans as engaging in action, rather than mere motion. Whether or not humans have free will, humans treat others as if they have purposes, which are structured in acts, agents, agencies, scenes, and perhaps attitudes. Indeed, humans are only recognizably human insofar as they take account of others in this way; they only succeed as a species to the extent that they have facility with the grammar of motives (though perhaps that is our downfall as well). Finally, scholars over thousands of years have recognized these ubiquitous questions about action as central to understanding what humans do. To me this is the evidence for dramatism as literal.

Having emphasized the literal nature of dramatism’s description of the human world, let me rush to add that that literal description constructs an architectonic heuristic that allows one to systematically identify competing lines of argument about motives in a given case. So when someone attempts to disparage President Obama as a liberal spendthrift who is running up huge deficits (as Republicans frequently accuse “tax and spend Democrats” of doing), any pedestrian Burke scholar could advise him to counter that agent-focused construction of motives with a scenic one: “The threatening economic downturn requires us to spend money to avoid a deeper recession or depression.” But, just because the pentad is an inventional well for competing constructions of motives is no reason to claim that it is paradoxical or non-literal. One might as soon claim that Aristotle’s common topoi are paradoxical because one can find different content in applying them (e.g., different past facts).

Being Literal

The final stand for those who want to deny that dramatism is literal is to raise the bar for what is accepted as a literal statement. Burke’s disputants in the ECA dialogue pointed to Burke’s own claims about the perspectivism in and metaphorical nature of language. Crable comes to Burke’s rescue in a philosophical essay that separates two claims from the ECA panel: that dramatism is ontological and that dramatism is literal. Crable argues persuasively that

Burke was making two separate claims: (1) dramatism is ontological, and not epistemological, because it begins with language as action, not representation; and (2) this starting-point can claim a privileged (literal) status because, compared to scientism or behaviorism, it offers a more complete approach to the study of motivation. (324)

Key to Crable’s argument about dramatism’s literalness is a watering down of what it means to say that something is literal, drawing upon Burke’s essay on “Rhetoric, Poetics, and Philosophy.” This “soft” form of literalness suggest that we can’t make statements about things or people “in themselves” (the ultimate philosophical standard), but we can make statements that interpret situations by comparing them to previously experienced situations, analogically extending our understanding of the earlier to the later. And, such analogical extensions in statements such as “I shall gather some wood to build a fire” are certainly distinguishable from explicitly metaphorical statements such as “I’m going to build a fire under that guy,” which Burke used to emphasize the distinction (Crable, 332-333).

I don’t want to get into a philosophical discussion any deeper than necessary here, but I would like to note the uniqueness of Burke’s examples here, because I believe they are particular to his purposes of juxtaposing a metaphorical statement with a non-metaphorical statement and a bit misleading for our purposes. “I shall gather some wood to build a fire” is a statement about intended action, rather than a statement that describes some objective state of the world. Because it concerns action, we can apply all kinds of different criteria to judging it: Is it a sincere statement (does he actually intend to do it)? Does it state something that is possible (does he have the capacity to gather wood and build a fire; do the laws of physics allow that wood can be used to build a fire)? Does it state something that is likely to be done (do people gather wood and build fires at this place and this time)? Does it state something ethical (is burning carbon fuels the right thing to do)? Asking whether such a statement is literal is a bit strange, however, unless by “literal” one means “possible,” “normal,” or “sincere.” Speech act theory seems better suited to grappling with such a statement. However, for Burke’s purposes of distinguishing between statements about gathering wood for a fire and patently metaphorical statements about “lighting a fire under a guy,” it may suffice.

On the other hand, if I make a statement about the world, such as “Humans are mammals,” then that can be judged on truth criteria, at least theoretically. (In practice, we don’t generally act like philosophical hairsplitters—if someone asks us to “pass the potatoes,” we tend to manage to do that without much trouble, not bothering to try and identify what counts as a potato.) If we know what humans are and what mammals are and what it means to be a mammal, then we should be able to judge the truth of such a statement. If it can be judged on truth criteria, then we can say that the statement is literal. That is not to say that such statements must be true to be literal. I can say, “I was raised a Catholic”—a literal statement that can be judged on truth criteria and which, in fact, is false. Literality does not require truthfulness, only that something is capable of a truth judgment.

In addition to being subject to being false, literal statements, even if they are true, function, like any other terministic screen, as selective representations of the world. Therefore, something can be a literal statement and still function rhetorically. Even so scientific a statement as “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line” serves rhetorically to make efficiency an important value, to highlight “travel” or “movement” as something we should scrutinize, and to invoke the scientific ethos through its direct, terse, unadorned style.

Herb Simons apparently believes that “literal” and “rhetorical” are mutually exclusive categories, for he argues that Burke’s claims about the literalness of dramatism require them to work in a “nonrhetorical” way, avoiding embellishments, uncertainties, judgments, and perspectives (Burke et al., 29-30). But, consider Burke’s counter to Darwin: Darwin emphasized the nature of humans as animals who evolved from earlier species, while Burke sought to emphasize the qualitative difference that arises when humans gain the ability to use natural languages. Burke’s concern is not that Darwin’s theory of evolution is untrue (and that statements about it are not literal), but only that it draws attention to human animality at the expense of human symbolicity. Despite the differing emphases Burke and Darwin give to their characterizations of humans, that does not mean one of them must be in error or that one of them is speaking metaphorically.

Now, admittedly, dramatism’s literal statements about humans and action—that things move and humans act; that we are bodies that learn language; that action is constituted through distinctions reflected in the pentadic questions—are subject to falsity, like any other literal statements. And Brock and Simons could certainly argue that they are false. But they should not argue that they are metaphorical.


Ultimately, it would have been easier for me to play the philosophical game to reject Brock and Simons’ claims, and even Brian Crable’s watering-down approach by pointing out the paradox they create for themselves: Is Brock’s claim that Burke has switched from believing dramatism is metaphorical to believing it is literal itself a literal claim? Is Simons being metaphorical when he says that literal statements are nonrhetorical? Is Crable’s claim that Burke is using a “soft” version of literality itself a literal statement? And, overall, isn’t the action of these three scholars in trying to persuade others about how to see dramatism itself predicated on an assumption that their readers are agents who act, who have their own purposes, and who can be moved by arguments? Isn’t this the sort of “pragmatic” acknowledgment that Burke is talking about when he distinguishes the chemist with her chemicals from the chemist with her colleagues?

When Burke says that people act and things move, when he says that there is a difference between the taste of an orange and the words “the taste of an orange,” when he says that we participate in a symbolic world of our own making that literally exists (and that literally will vanish when human life is gone), he means that literally. We should understand that as his meaning. And we should sidestep the philosophical language games that problematize that which we must pragmatically recognize if we are to avoid being locked up in some rubber room as one who does not recognize that the social reality created by language is a reality we can talk about literally.


* Clarke Rountree is Professor of Communication Arts at 342 Morton Hall, University of Alabama in Huntsville. He is the author of numerous articles and several books on Burkean scholarship and is a former president and of the Kenneth Burke Society and former editor of the KB Journal. He can be reached at clarke.rountree@uah.edu

We can add Frank Lentricchia to the group of dissenting dramatists as well. See Lentricchia 68-69.

Works Cited

Brock, Bernard L. “Epistemology and Ontology in Kenneth Burke’s Dramatism.” Communication Quarterly 33 (1985): 94-104.

Burke, Kenneth. "Dramatism." Drama in Life: The Uses of Communication in Society. Eds. James E. Combs and Michael W. Mansfield. New York: Hastings House, 1976. 7-17. (Originally published in The International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, David L. Sills, ed., v. 7: 445-451.)

---. “Dramatism and Logology.” Communication Quarterly 33 (1985): 89-93.

---. A Grammar of Motives. 1945. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.

---. Language as Symbolic Action. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966.

---. “Linguistic Approach to Problems of Education.” In Modern Philosophies and Education. Ed. Nelson B. Henry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955. 259-303.

---. A Rhetoric of Motives. 1950. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.

---. The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology. 1961. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970.

Burke, Kenneth, Bernard L. Brock, Parke G. Burgess, and Herbert W. Simons. “Dramatism as Ontology or Epistemology: A Symposium.” Communication Quarterly 33 (1985): 17.

Chesebro, James W. “Editor’s Introduction to “Dramatism as Ontology or Epistemology: A Symposium.’” Communication Quarterly 33 (1985): 17-33.

Conversations with Kenneth Burke. Iowa City, IA: Department of Communication Studies, University of Iowa, 1987.

Crable, Bryan. “Defending Dramatism as Ontological and Literal.” Communication Quarterly 48 (2000): 323-342.

Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Ediburgh: University of Edinburgh Social Sciences Research Center, 1956.

Lentricchia, Frank. Criticism and Social Change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.

Rountree, Clarke. “Coming to Terms with Kenneth Burke’s Pentad.” The American Communication Journal 1.3 (May 1998). (online journal at http://www.acjournal.org/holdings/vol1/iss3/burke/rountree.html)

Savior, Fool or Demagogue: Burkean Frames Surrounding the Ten Commandments Judge

Brian T. Kaylor


Judge Roy Moore brought both condemnation and praise for his attempts to keep his Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama state courthouse building. This study examines the responses to Moore in light of Kenneth Burke’s poetic frames to suggest the existence and impact of simultaneous and contradictory frames. The frames of epic, comic, and burlesque are traced, and implications thereof for Moore’s situation and for Burkean frames.

JUDGE ROY MOORE, known as the “Ten Commandments Judge,” became a circuit court judge in 1992 and first created a stir after civil libertarians unsuccessfully sued in1994 to have a plaque of the Ten Commandments removed from the wall of the courtroom where he presided. As a result of that conflict, Moore gained popularity and was elected to the Supreme Court of Alabama in 2000 (Campo-Flores & Burger, 2003). He then paid for and secretly installed a five-ton monument of the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Judicial Building rotunda on the night of July 31, 2001, which civil-rights groups quickly sued to remove. This time the court ruled against Moore but he decided to defy the federal court ruling that ordered he remove the monument. Ultimately, despite Moore’s attempts to appeal the ruling, the monument was removed on August 27, 2003 and Moore was unseated from the bench on November 13, 2003 (Wingfield, 2003). But these actions came only after hundreds gathered in rallies to support him, and commentators across the nation had weighed in with their opinions.

To some Moore was the hero standing up for their Christian beliefs, to others he was a sincere but misguided judge, and to still others he was a dangerous demagogue who was unfit for office. Each perspective represents a unique framing of Moore and his actions. Due to the deeply polarized opinions and the national attention of this case, it provides an ideal opportunity to study simultaneous contradictory frames. This study will discuss Burke’s (1959) theory of poetic frames and ensuing research, analyze the rhetoric and frames surrounding Moore, and then discuss the impact of these frames on Moore and implications for the use of Burkean frames. As a result of this analysis, insights will be offered concerning how the competing frames affected the outcome of Moore’s fight, and how Burkean frames can aid scholars in other examinations.

Burkean Frames

Burke (1959) proposes that history is constructed in such a manner as to lead to the acceptance or rejection of the social order. This is accomplished by the framing of the individuals involved. He offers that there are acceptance frames of epic, tragedy, and comedy to attempt to show favor for and help confirm the status quo, and rejection frames of elegy/plaint, satire, and burlesque to point out the problems of the social order and the reasons to denounce it.

Several studies have employed Burke’s framework to analyze one frame being used in a particular rhetorical situation. Carlson (1986) used the comic frame to analyze Gandhi’s rhetorical framing of his opponents as he fights for Indian civil rights. Bostdorff (1987) utilized the burlesque frame to analyze the political cartoons about Reagan’s Interior Secretary James Watt, namely what they viewed to be his policies that would lead to the destruction of the environment. Rybacki and Rybacki (1995) examined vintage car racing in the comic frame, demonstrating use for the theory outside of the political arena where most of the studies lie. Appel (1996) studied conservative commentator William F. Buckley, Jr. and his attacks on his opponents in light of the burlesque frame. Christiansen and Hanson (1996) explore the rhetoric and tactics of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) against the Catholic Church, particularly Cardinal O’Connor in New York City, and their use of the comic frame. And Hubbard (1998) analyzed the present debate over Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bomb. He makes a significant addition by using the burlesque frame not to analyze a specific rhetor or strategies used by them, but to study it more comprehensively as an entire rhetorical frame that affected how Americans viewed Japan during the war.

Three studies have traced a shift from one frame to another. Carlson (1988) analyzed the change in tactics by the feminist humorists of the 19th century from the comic frame to satire, and then to the burlesque. Moore (1992) followed how during the 1988 election vice-presidential candidate Dan Quayle arrived at the point that he was viewed in the burlesque frame, after starting out in the comic one as most candidates in his position are viewed. And Appel (1997) followed a shift in frames in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s rhetoric from the comic frame, in which he paints his opponents as merely mistaken fools, to the tragic frame where he argues that drastic and immediate action is required.

Finally, three studies have demonstrated the existence of multiple frames at the same time. Brummett (1984) first proposed this important new direction by demonstrating that in the case of John DeLorean, a successful automotive dealer who was arrested on drug charges, two acceptance frames coexisted—the tragic and the comic. O’Leary (1993) also found simultaneous tragic and comic frames by studying interpretations of the end times by Christian writers by tracing those from the biblical book of Revelation up to the present day. Buerkle, Mayer, and Olson (2003) used the poetic frames to analyze the short but colorful governorship of Evan Mecham in Arizona. Their study offered a significant extension to the theory as they follow two simultaneous contradictory frames—the epic and the burlesque. Though they persuasively justify the possibility of the existence of two concurrent and conflicting frames, their presentation of Governor Mecham hurts the study as the tone of the article leans toward the burlesque and even the title (“Our hero the buffoon”) implies that he is definitely a buffoon, and only to some a hero.

This study seeks to determine the frames surrounding the situation of Judge Roy Moore, how they interacted, and how this impacted the events that transpired. This study also attempts to build on Burke’s (1959) theory of poetic frames and continue the expansion of it by analyzing concurrent and contradictory frames. The controversy and rhetoric surrounding Moore offers a unique opportunity for such an analysis. Through exploring the responses to Moore, this study demonstrates the presence of simultaneous and competing frames of epic, comic, and burlesque. This textual study of the framing of Moore during and after his struggle to keep the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama state courthouse and maintain his seat on the court required a couple of steps of analysis. First, statements about Moore by both supporters and opponents were collected from editorials, letters to the editor, and quotations from articles about the controversy published during the period of June through November of 2003. This six-month period marked the height of the public controversy and included both the removal of the monument and the unseating of Moore. These statements came from a variety of publications, including those from the national and Alabama levels as well as the secular and the religious, with at least six representative sources for each genre. Second, these statements were sorted into the categories of epic, comic, and burlesque. Finally, these statements were analyzed within each category to flesh out the themes and nuances of each frame, and then analyzed together in light of each other and the controversy.

Moore the Hero

The epic frame places the primary character as the hero, and perhaps even as the savior. It is not only an acceptance of who they are and what they have done, but it lifts them up as a role model for others. Those who see Moore in this frame generally agree with his religious beliefs, support his placing of and standing up for the monument, and praise him as a hero and example for all Christians. The Reverend Philip Ellen said, “There’s not a greater American than Roy Moore. There’s not a man with more integrity” (Bixler, 2003, ¶5). Billy Bruce expressed his support by writing, “I would like to salute ousted Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore for standing on his convictions and refusing to allow our ever-evolving system of ‘tolerance’ to supercede his beliefs” (Bruce, 2003, ¶1). And Kim Isbell, a preacher’s daughter, said she went to the courthouse “to support Roy Moore so all the liberals will see there are people in America that believe in God” (Marus & Warner, 2003, p. 2).

Often the support of Moore is based on a high view of the Ten Commandments, and thus anyone who fights for them is also viewed highly. One supporter wrote, “Whatever is our country coming to! …What a shame. The Ten Commandments are simply a good set of rules to live by. At least, our founding fathers thought they were” (Merritt, 2003, ¶1-2). And the Reverend Rick Reed explained, “To deny that the Ten Commandments are part of God’s law is a personal decision and to deny that they are part of our heritage is historical revision” (Reed, 2003, ¶3). And while most of those viewing Moore under this frame usually do not believe he has done anything wrong, some do not think that even matters. Kim Zimek wrote, “Yes, I know Judge Roy Moore is breaking the law he is sworn to uphold. But it is refreshing to see someone stand up for a true ideological belief, defending our faith instead of some less important cause (Zimek, 2003, ¶1-2).

Those arguing from the epic frame also often worry that this is only the beginning and fear a “slippery slope” if they do not stand up now. This usually includes a call to arms for Christians to get involved. Bill Clausen wrote:

Now that Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has been removed from office for posting the Ten Commandments’ in the Alabama state courthouse, I am wondering how many more of our rights will disappear under the guise of ‘separation of church and state.’ How long will it be before the same people/organizations who were successful in removing Moore will use the same separation-of-church-and-state argument to outlaw Christmas as a federal holiday? (Clausen, 2003, ¶1)
Emile Leger wrote, “To say I am outraged is not strong enough. A kangaroo court ousts an Alabama chief justice for personally acknowledging God. …We should shake our fist at the ACLU!” (Leger, 2003, ¶1-2). Mike Hassett argued, “Unless believers stand up in defense of Justice Moore, groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union will make sure the Supreme Court remains committed to turning America into a godless nation” (Hassett, 2003, ¶3). And Bill Rouchell commented:
We need more men of principle like Judge Roy Moore, who will resist the liberal race to perdition! I find it our duty to rally behind this man as he fights against this onslaught on the Christian values our country was founded upon. God bless America! (Rouchell, 2003, ¶4)
Moore’s case quickly became a representative case of a larger cultural war in American society.

Finally, this frame sometimes leads to the viewing of Moore as a Christ-like figure who is being innocently targeted for his faith. Burke (1959) argued that such Christ analogies are sometimes used in the epic frame. Emile Leger wrote “This reminds me of another trial 2,000 years ago held during the night for fear of the populace, resulting in the crucifixion of a just man” (Leger, 2003, ¶3). Becky Terry argued, “Judge Moore is definitely a hero! If you think Judge Moore is a joke, that’s OK. People thought Jesus was, too” (Terry, 2003, ¶5). And Vision America President Rick Scarborough stated, “God often does his best work right after a crucifixion. What we saw with Justice Roy Moore was a crucifixion. God will vindicate this man” (“Groups seeks protection for Commandments,” 2003, ¶4). The epic frame remained strong throughout the controversy, particularly among many evangelical Christians, and has given Moore continued popularity and support as he considers a potential gubernatorial run in 2006. When viewed in this frame, Moore is the hero standing up for the historic Christian beliefs that America was founded on, even if it means he must risk sacrificing himself and his career.

Moore the Fool

The comic frame, while still an acceptance frame, offers a less glowing picture of those viewed in it. Although the action they commit is rejected as ill advised or inappropriate, they are still held up as a sincere and good-hearted person. The epic accepts both the individual and the deed, but the comic accepts only the individual. Those viewing Moore in this frame are likely to hold some similar religious beliefs, or at least be sympathetic to those who are religious, but disagree with how Moore handled the specific situation. Generally they oppose the placing of a religious monument or Moore’s defiance of a federal judge order. Charles Busby wrote:

I can appreciate Moore’s zeal in standing up for what the Constitution really says about the federal government’s role in regard to religion, but his zeal for the holy scriptures should guide him to obey what they say about submitting to authority. (Busby, 2003, ¶3)
Chriss Doss, director of the Center for Study of Law and Church at Samford University in Alabama, stated:
I think he’s very sincere in saying ‘I determine how we acknowledge God—how the state acknowledges God. And I suspect that, when he does that, he is saying the state should [acknowledge God], and he is the one to determine [how to do] that. And that is a little bit overly ambitious of him. (Marus & Warner, 2003, p. 2)
Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, argued:
If Judge Moore feels that in conscience, pending his appeal to the Supreme Court, he cannot comply with the federal court order, then he should resign his office and continue to make his case. I will help him do it. (Land, 2003, ¶13)
And Paul Whiteley wrote:
Public display of the Ten Commandments to show America’s religiosity does not honor God. To be effective, the Commandments must be engraved on a person's heart, soul and conscience. …Many people are misguided by politicians’ attempts to make religion a political issue, but God is not fooled. (Whiteley, 2003, ¶2)
For these individuals, the concern was that he was not following the law, even if they agreed with him that he should have the right to post the monument.

The comic frame view sometimes is expressed with the concern that Moore has hurt the image of Christians and their cause. Jim Hauschultz wrote that he hoped people would believe the Ten Commandments but noted, “It would be nice that the world came to believe that because of the way we Americans live. Not because we are good stonemasons” (Hauschultz, 2003, ¶2). Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, warned:

…we must learn to choose our battles wisely. The court-ordered removal of Alabama's Ten Commandments monument is a national tragedy and a travesty of law. But thoughtful and responsible Christian leaders must ponder whether this is the place to take our stand in a court-defying, go-for-broke effort. The recovery of a culture requires the stewardship of strategy as well as firmness of conviction. (Mohler, 2003, ¶18)
And Charles McFatter argued that the case is hurting the Christian witness and cause:
More than likely this issue will not open the doors of heaven to a single individual soul. In that light it is not really very important. This fight becomes more important when we realize that in fact it may even have the exact opposite effect and serve to drive some souls away rather than attract individuals to the Christian faith. (McFatter, 2003, ¶1)

Thus, these individuals recognized Moore’s good intentions but criticized his foolish strategy used. Under this frame Moore is seen as a dedicated individual who truly believes what he is saying and fighting for; but, he also seen as being unfortunately mistaken and foolish in his attempts to implement them, perhaps to the determent of the very cause he is fighting for.

Moore the Demagogue

The burlesque frame stands in opposition to the previous two since it is a frame of rejection. The primary character in this frame is rejected for what they have done, and ultimately for who they are. Jim Evans, pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, Alabama, demonstrated the difference between the comic and burlesque frames as he tried to determine the motivation of Moore. A comic response would be when Evans wrote, “If he’s motivated by a genuine concern about the Scriptures, then he’s terribly misguided” (Marus & Warner, 2003, p. 2). However, Evans also left open the possibility of viewing Moore in the burlesque frame when he added, “And if he’s motivated by political ambition and he’s using this to advance himself, then shame on him, because that’s the kind of worst example of the callous use of things sacred” (Marus & Warner, 2003, p. 2). Thus, he highlighted the key difference between the comic and the burlesque—while both reject the action, only the burlesque actually rejects the individual. Their negatives are highlighted, and even exaggerated in order to lead to a complete rejection of them.

Those viewing Moore in this frame reject his arguments that it is his right to display the Ten Commandments and that this is a solely Christian nation, and suggest he is not fit for the office. Ayesha Khan, legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said, “Judges have no right to impose their personal religious beliefs on others through official action” (Marus, 2003, 21). Morris Dees, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, stated, “Judge Moore is a classic demagogue. He’s a total embarrassment to the legal profession” (Bixler, 2003, ¶7). Larry Hammer rejoiced at Moore’s removal: “Praise God! Our republic is saved from another demagogue. …at least ‘The Roy Moore Show’ will be playing in its proper venue: ‘Coming soon to a pulpit near you!’” (Hammer, 2003, ¶1-3). And Robert Carver wrote:

The problem is that Judge Moore is not a rational man and his followers practice an irrational and intolerant form of religion that is beyond the purview of reason. …Demagogues like Judge Moore are not above the law when we have the protection of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Yet I am sure Judge Moore will keep up this charade for as long as he can milk it for political gain and to inflate his ego. (Carver, 2003, ¶1-2)
Not only is Moore’s action rejected, but he is mocked for even trying to install the monument.

Those viewing Moore in the burlesque frame are also likely to see him as a threat if left alone. Often the focus of the argument in this frame was why Moore should be removed from office and how not removing him would endanger the foundation of law and democracy. Norman Peterson wrote:

I am glad that former Alabama Justice Roy S. Moore is off the bench. …Any judge who places the Christian Bible above the foundation of civil laws on which this country was founded is suspect. How can such a person be relied on to treat people of other religions, or no religion, fairly and justly? (Peterson, 2003, ¶1-2)
Lance Lamberton wrote, “Now we can all breathe a little easier knowing that this crass attempt to force religion on us has been thwarted. Thank God!” (Lamberton, 2003, ¶2). And the Reverend Harry Parrott argued that Moore is almost in the comic frame, but really should be viewed under the burlesque:
Moore is almost the caricature of the religious fanatic who skillfully manipulates the power of religion to deliberately create religious division, foster tumult and turn neighbor against neighbor. But for all its comic aspects, this demagogue is dangerous indeed, and a deadly challenge to the historic principle of separation of church and state which has saved our nation from religious strife and conflict. (Parrott, 2003, ¶4)
For these individuals, Moore cannot be merely viewed as a fool because he is seen as more sinister than that. Under this frame Moore is seen as a dangerous demagogue who not only has done something wrong, but also holds beliefs that make him unacceptable for the office he holds. Thus, this frame depicts him as someone who must be stopped in order to prevent him from causing future harm.

Interplay of the Frames

While Burke (1959) focused on how a specific rhetor(s) framed someone, something, or a situation, this and other studies (Brummett, 1984; Buerkle, Mayer, & Olson, 2003; O’Leary, 1993) have begun exploring the different frames in which a particular rhetor or situation is viewed. Such an analysis allows the critic to go beyond simply uncovering the nuances of one type of rhetoric, and begin to view the differences between rhetors and the interaction of the various viewpoints. The three frames surrounding the situation of Moore suggest two important conclusions about the outcome of the controversy.

First, Alabama state officials charged with deciding whether the monument would stay and whether Moore should keep his job viewed Moore under the comic and burlesque frames, but not the epic. Alabama’s Republican and openly evangelical Christian governor, Bob Riley, refused to come to Moore’s defense. And Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, a Catholic whose nomination for a federal judgeship was filibustered at the time by Democrats over concerns about his religious conservatism, argued the case for Moore’s dismissal from the bench because of Moore’s “utterly unrepentant behavior” (Johnson, 2003, p. 3A). Pryor acknowledged that he felt the Ten Commandments could be constitutionally displayed in the courthouse, but said, “As Attorney General, I have a duty to obey all orders of courts even when I disagree with those orders” (Land, 2003, ¶7). But regardless of the acceptance of the individual, the comic frame still calls for a rejection of the deed, which would include removing the monument and the individual from office if they refuse to obey. The burlesque frame also leads one to these two conclusions. Alabama Supreme Court Justice Gorman Houston responded that he and the other justices would “take whatever steps necessary …to assure that the state of Alabama is a government of laws and not men” (Marus, 2003, p. 8). Ultimately because the state officials viewed Moore under the comic and burlesque frames, he was doomed to lose both the monument and his job. Examining these frames assists in determining why Moore’s crusade failed.

The second insight from this study into Moore’s situation involves his future. Even while Moore continued his legal appeals to both decisions, many began to wonder what his next political move would be, such as running again for the Supreme Court or even for governor. After being removed Moore traveled around the country on numerous Christian speaking engagements (often taking the 5-ton monument with him) and released a book, So Help Me God. During the controversy some in the burlesque frame suggested that he was doing it simply for his own political gain and was going to run for governor with the renewed popularity from the fight. Others in the epic frame encouraged the idea that Moore would run for governor or some other post as the next step in his crusade. Moore later ran for governor but was solidly defeated in the Republican primary by incumbent Bob Riley, who had refused to support Moore during the Ten Commandments controversy. Moore had already shown some political power as his spokesman during the controversy defeated the only sitting Alabama Supreme Court justice that was on the ballot in 2004. Moore also helped defeat a constitutional amendment to remove racist language from the Alabama Constitution (Roig-Franzia, 2004). Yet, his political influence and public notoriety failed to make him even competitive for the Republican gubernatorial primary.

Voters in Alabama remained divided over Moore and his actions. Spencer (2003) reports that while polls found that more than two-thirds felt that the Ten Commandments monument should be allowed in the courthouse (an epic or comic view), half of the respondents felt he was wrong to defy the court order (a comic or burlesque view). This poll result suggests that although most people in Alabama might support someone with a similar religious message as Moore, he is unlikely to be successful without a significant third-party where one could win with less than fifty percent. The individuals in the epic frame are likely to be highly energized by a campaign, as demonstrated by the rallies and prayer vigils during the controversy. However, if the other two groups were to grow much, it could be a difficult campaign—as it turned out to be. Perhaps when he announced his run for governor, some who were in the epic frame believed that the Ten Commandments stand had really been only for political gain and thus changed their opinion of him, or it is even more likely that some in the comic frame shifted to the burlesque since they were already slightly suspicious of Moore. It seems highly unlikely that anyone in the comic or burlesque frames moved to the epic as a result of his gubernatorial. Due to the polarization surrounding Moore, his support could only drop by seeking higher office. Thus, he was doomed to lose because of the frames already ingrained during the Ten Commandments controversy.

Additionally, it was likely difficult for Moore to use his religious faith in the race since he had to first challenge Governor Bob Riley, who is open about his evangelical Christian beliefs. This difficulty was increased since the religious community was already somewhat split in this situation as notable evangelical leaders, including those of his own fundamentalist Southern Baptist Convention, viewed him in the comic frame. The strong emotions aroused in the controversy over the Ten Commandments, especially among those in the epic and burlesque frames, reemerged after Moore announced a run for governor. Thus, even though he attempted to ignore the issue and run on a different platform, he was unable to escape the frames already cast from the Ten Commandments controversy. In particular, it seemed that Moore had difficulty because he could not hold onto the support he once had as three years passed between the monument fight and because many saw him as only standing for that one issue (Gordon, 2006). What had been his strength eventually became his weakness. Controversial figures like Moore may be able to rally large numbers of people around a cause, but may be unable to convert such numbers as the situation shifts to be about the person and not the cause. Moore has, however, been able to remain popular with enough people who still viewed him in the epic frame to earn a living writing and speaking.


This study has explored the concept of Burkean frames and the drama surrounding Judge Roy Moore. Three frames were discovered, with the “Ten Commandments Judge” being viewed as a hero, a fool, and a demagogue simultaneously. Ultimately, this controversial and diversely viewed situation helped create conflict, and may have aided in Moore’s loss in the monument case and substantially impacted his political future. This study continues the development of Burke’s (1959) work on poetic frames as it demonstrates the existence of three frames, including both ones of acceptance and rejection. This extension of Burkean frames can aid critics in gaining a more complete understanding of a particular scenario, and offer a tool for dissecting the various nuances of the different rhetorical perspectives involved. Arenas that naturally involve differing and competing viewpoints, such as religion and politics, are not well suited for the one-dimensional approach that the original concept of Burkean frames created. In order to more fully analyze those situations, the existence of multiple and diverse frames should be recognized and studied. Future studies are needed to continue exploring the impact the presence of multiple frames have on each other and on the events and characters they surround.

* Dr. Brian T. Kaylor is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va. 22804. He can be reached at kaylorbt@jmu.edu

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Smart Mobs and Kenneth Burke

Brian Bailie, Syracuse University


How do we understand acts of protest using social networking technology as their respective starting points, and the temporary groups formed in these moments of tech orchestrated protest? How do the antithetical rhetorical acts of the corporations that market these technologies help create a context (scene) where these temporary groups are continually interpreted as unimportant? To answer these questions, I plan to give a brief description of “smart mobs,” and then discuss how a small, recent smart mob used technology to its advantage. To demonstrate how technology is the correct and appropriate channel for these types of protest groups as they try to attain their goals, I place this smart mob in Burke’s pentad, and at the same time, show how the larger societal belief in technology as a magic fetish object hinders a straightforward act of communicating discontent. To demonstrate the hurdles a smart mob must overcome to be taken seriously, I also place the antithesis of the smart mob, the corporation, into its own pentad. Then, through the use of this pentad, I show how my representative smart mob’s attempt at protest is complicated by the digital scene created by corporations—a scene which follows the archetypical narrative of technology as only a boon to the social status quo and corporate capitalism.


THE ACADEMY (AND OUR DISCIPLINE) has a love for grand figures. Any type of work with social movements is often seen through and discussed in terms of leaders who are easy to identify, and therefore, easily work as metonymic figureheads for their respective organizations. The speaker in this situation becomes the embodiment of the social movement, and s/he (and the organization s/he represents) is judged by hir ability to speak in accordance with the classic concepts of oratorical performance. Inevitably, this model conjures up images of a leader crafting an oration for public consumption in an offstage space; some text carefully crafted by the individual speaker working alone until the appropriate time of its release. It is easy to imagine all rhetoric, and especially unorthodox or polemic rhetorics, working in this way since it is comforting—it allows rhetoricians to make the unfamiliar familiar by pressing unusual or discomforting rhetorics into a Quintilian-like model of public performance.

This “Quintilian-like model of public performance” also extends to the hypothetical developmental models for protest rhetorics. The persuasive strategies of protest groups is often seen like the building of cathedrals, that is, “carefully crafted by individual [rhetors] working in splendid isolation” with no written statement or elocutionary act “released [or performed] before its time” (Raymond 2-3). While the cathedral style of building suasive strategies may be true for established groups (e.g. NOW, the NAACP, or Greenpeace), this is not the way many protest groups utilizing network technologies are being organized. The creation of the rhetorical strategies for these social movements are much more like a public market, where everything is “open to the point of promiscuity” and there can be “no quiet, reverent cathedral-building” (Raymond 3) since these protest groups coalesce and work like ribosomal sects—not a monolithic group—around a predetermined event which may or may not be related to a larger common cause. This means the rhetors making things happen are part of “a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches…out of which a coherent and stable system” emerges for finite amount of time (Raymond 3).

This is difficult for many in the American academy to conceptualize, let alone believe in, because it is contrary to how technology is taken up in the United States. As Cynthia Selfe explains in “Lest We Think the Revolution is a Revolution”:

we find ourselves, as a culture, ill equipped to cope with the changes that the “global village” story necessitates, unable, even, to imagine collectively ways of relating to the world outside our previous historical and cultural experiences. As a result...we revise the script of the narrative to fit within historically determined contexts that are familiar and comfortable. In doing so, we also limit our cultural vision of the technology changes that are acceptable and possible for us as a culture. (294-295)

Instead of seeing technology as something that can bring about social change, the dominant archetypical narrative is the continuation of capitalism into a new electronic frontier. While this can be seen as a trifling issue (Who cares if not everyone understands how new fangled electronics are being put to use?! It’s the end result for the group in question!) I argue that it is quite debilitating for organic protest groups when their method of organizing (new fangled electronics) is fore-grounded over their message of discontent. Groups/individuals that do not have the cultural capital of NOW or the NAACP use technology to create social networks and recruit people to their cause; if and when these groups are able to attain media attention it is counterproductive to their goals when the press presents them as a novelty act which used technology in an interesting way instead of a group advocating for change. In this situation, the fore-grounding of how the group mobilized to protest becomes an impediment for the protest group since the audience receiving this type of portrayal takes them up as an anomaly, as a group using flashy gadgets with no valid social message. Through using the work of Kenneth Burke it is possible to see how and why this belittling occurs, and at the same time, demonstrate how these emerging protest rhetorics utilizing technology are legitimate persuasive strategies for organic movements looking to create social change.

This may seem a bit dramatic. Still, rhetoric (to paraphrase Victor Villanueva) is the purposeful use of language and the way we construct/navigate our shared experiential reality, and because of this there are weighty penalties for the continued misnaming and misinterpretation of these rhetorical acts. With this in mind, here’s the question I pose for readers (and myself) to grapple with through the lifespan of this text: How do we understand rhetorical acts of resistance using technology enacted by these emerging protest groups (which from here on out I’ll call, to borrow the phrase from Howard Rheingold, “smart mobs”), and how do the antithetical rhetorical acts of the corporations that market these technologies help create a context (scene) where these groups are continually interpreted as unimportant?

To answer these questions, I plan to give a brief description of how smart mobs work and then discuss how a small, recent smart mob used technology to communicate their discontent to the larger world. To demonstrate how technology is the correct and appropriate channel for this group’s goals, I place this smart mob in Burke’s pentad, and at the same time, show how the larger societal belief in technology as a magic fetish object hinders a straightforward act of communicating discontent. To demonstrate the hurdles a smart mob must overcome to be taken seriously, I also place the antithesis of the smart mob, the corporation, into its own pentad. Then, through the use of this pentad, I show how the representative smart mob’s attempt at protest is complicated by the digital scene created by corporations—a scene which follows the archetypical narrative of technology as a boon to the social status quo and corporate capitalism.


The use of technology is often divided along socio-economic lines, and any use of technology is usually state-supportive in the most direct and circuitous ways. If we consider the history of the Internet, the World Wide Web, and the Web’s rise to the status of national treasure through its ability to be used as an electronic shopping mall, then we can see Selfe’s above quoted criticism as exceptionally erudite. Even more fruitful is placing Selfe’s “comfortable” technology claim into Burke’s description of ultimate hierarchies. In Burke’s ultimate hierarchy, the cultural narrative of “comfortable” technology is merely conforming to a rhetorical framework using capitalism as the “‘guiding idea’ or ‘unitary principle’” (A Rhetoric of Motives 187) of capitalism.

In capitalism, technology is considered one voice within a “diversity of voices,” one that like all the other voices within this social-political system are not “disrelated competitors that can work together only by the ‘mild demoralitzation’ of sheer compromise” but is interpellated to be one voice that represents “successive positions or moments in a single process” (A Rhetoric of Motives 187) towards building a paradise of never-ending, always increasing profits. In this milieu, technology is constructed as either a set of tools to open new markets and increase spending by consumers (the Web), or a way to defend and safeguard the social and political status quo needed to conduct business (the Internet’s origin as a part of a missile defense system built by the US Department of Defense.)

The normalcy of this situation is now being challenged through smart mobs, a congregation of protesters which lasts for an indeterminate (usually finite) amount of time and with the express purpose of demonstrating against a specific, group defined wrong. A smart mob comes into being by accessing the existing network of communication technology via their computers, cell phones, and traditional phones.

Whereas this may not seem very edgy, it is when it becomes apparent these groups do this by using the grids of communication created with the intention of being state-supportive and a boon to corporate capitalism—not a “phone tree” to connect individuals whose interests may counter the corporations who built these networks, or challenge the national/state/local governments who equate the well-being of these corporations with their own well-being. In using these pre-existing, well-maintained communication networks, the smart mob is not only cost-effective and time efficient, but moreover, difficult for authority figures to sabotage since it “consist[s] of people who are able to act in concert even if they don’t know each other” (Rheingold xii, emphasis mine).

To demonstrate how a smart mob works, I will discuss the recent “Penny Prank” at Readington Middle School (hitherto referred to as the “small, recent smart mob”), place this smart mob into a pentad of its own, and in an effort to make clear how corporations naturally counter the utilization of technology for social change, also place the Nokia Corporation into a second pentad. By using the scene-act and the scene-agent ratios, I endeavor to make plain that “the nature of acts and agents [is] consistent with the nature of the scene” (here, the time periods and the experiential reality of both groups involved); that there is a direct relation between each group’s agency and their scene, i.e., their respective material, social realities; and the strategic modification of their respective scenes completely contains “the qualities” of their respective acts (Burke 1302, 1307). Through using Burke’s pentad I assert it is possible to see how messages using the medium of technology—while still emerging—is still a straightforward message; the message is just garbled due to the stranglehold that commerce has on the public’s imagination when it comes to the use of technology as a viable genre for communication. What needs to happen is a reconsideration of how we, as a culture, view technology and its uses, and a more realistic interpretation of computers, the Internet, cell phones, and the World Wide Web as everyday tools—not fetish objects imbued with a mystical quality. In showing two very dissimilar agents I hope to make plain how the Readington students and their action is just as normal—if not more so—than the aims of a corporate giant like Nokia.

The Scene-Act Ratio at Readington Middle School

Burke explains that in the scene-act ratio, “there is implicit in the quality of a scene the quality of the action that is to take place within it. This would be another way of saying that the act will be consistent with the scene” (1304). At Readington Middle School the students complained of being hurtled through their lunch period through the technologies of observation and the corresponding physical architecture of the school layout. They were lined up, kept in plain view, and then monitored and timed as they ate lunch. When the lunch period was up they were informed, most likely by a bell and the commands of school personnel, to return to their respective classrooms. That 250 students could purchase lunch, find a place to sit, eat, and clean up in 20 minutes is absurd; to point out this absurdity which was within the legal limits of good practices, they returned the favor to the school through their act of resistance. This act was the paying for lunch in pennies.

Lunch at Readington Middle School, at the time, cost two dollars, and therefore, the students politely rebelled against their schoolmasters by giving the cafeteria cashier exactly 200 pennies. (“Politely,” denotes the fact that pennies are still legal currency in the United States, so it is not a crime, that is, impolite or criminal, to pay for goods or services completely in pennies.) Because of this savvy protest move, when the lunch period ended the school staff was hard pressed to force the students back to classes since several of the students had not eaten. This conflict between the staff’s obligation to ensure the proper nutrition and their need to herd the students back into the educational work routine forced a managerial paralysis, and the students gave their intimated displeasure a material, physical presence through a work stoppage.

Within the confines of Readington Middle School, the act completely matches the scene; according to Michel Foucault schools based on the Western European model have a long tradition of being places of control and discipline. In this space of control and discipline techniques were developed that garnered the most out of individual student bodies, and everything was run with efficiency in mind. Early schools, Foucault explains, where built with the idea of using “few words, no explanation, a total silence interrupted only by signals—bells, clapping of hands, gestures, a mere glance from a teacher...Even verbal orders were to function as elements of signalization” (Foucault 166, 167). Foucault continues on to explain that even the structure of schools and how that space was utilized was meant to train and coerce students:

For a long time this model of the camp or at least it’s underlying principle was found in urban development...hospitals, asylums, prisons, [and] schools...The old, traditional square plan was considerably refined in innumerable new projects. The geometry of paths, the number of and distribution of the tents [here think classrooms and cafeterias], the orientation of their entrances, the disposition of files and ranks [here think halls and corridors] were exactly defined; the network of gazes that supervised one another was laid down. (171)
Through this architecture Readington Middle School should have provided “a hold on [the] conduct” (Foucault 172) of the Readington 25 and their classmates, and with these years of bio-manipulation made (literally) concrete, alter the students through their educational regime.

The Readington 25, due to years within in the public education system, knew this system existed (even if they didn’t articulate it), and created the resistance that would be most effective in forcing that technology and architecture to break down: using the individual body as a site of disruption. By literally clogging the system with their individual bodies and ensuring that no body flowed smoothly through the cafeteria that day, the confines of the system swelled beyond its capacity and burst. While the previous metaphor likens the student bodies to water, the real action here was not bodies bursting out of the building but the introduction of entropy through a strategic use of a common action in that system, i.e., the method of payment. The disciplinarian system could continue to monitor and keep the students’ bodies in line (literally and metaphorically), but it could not work upon their bodies efficiently so as to make certain their movement through this part of the daily schedule was within the prescribed time limit.

To achieve this seditious, scandalous, and smart moment of civil disobedience, the students utilized the mundane technology available to them. Students used cellular phones, email, personal websites, blogs, and the traditional telephone to organize. In doing this they displayed how the smart mob method is an amazing moment of solidarity not built on a unified agenda or identity, but a temporary solidarity built around a common cause—their displeasure with the length of their lunch period. That this could occur at a school, where hetero-normative, consumer-capitalist identity and hierarchy is enforced by school personnel as a way to prepare students for their lives as adults, and also where the students self-police and maintain an organic rigid social hierarchy of groups based on race, ethnicity, socio-economic class, gender, sexual preference, academic track, affiliation with school extracurricular activity/sports participation and beauty standards (yes this is long, but it’s meant to be) displays the awesome power of the smart mob as an organizing tool.

The ability to organize around the act of composition (composing texts to inform) and the rhetoric of a specific cause (the disliked short lunch period) cut across a highly stratified caste system to unite them for one specific purpose. The act matches the scene as the school uses the physical layout of buildings, the use of lines (a “file” in Foucault’s military paradigm) a time schedule, and technology (to keep records, to schedule classes, to set-up the bell schedule, to store personal files, to record test scores), to act on the students. The students, in turn, used the layout of the building, being forced to stand in line, the time schedule, and technology (cell phones, the telephone, blogs, websites, email, and text messages) to resist.

The Scene-Agent Ratio at Readington Middle School

Placing the Readington Middle School rebellion within the scene-agent ratio explains why the students chose to use technology to organize, and how they decided on a work stoppage as the built- in swarming method inherent in the cafeteria architecture (swarming is the term often applied to the disruptive action of bringing an inordinate number of bodies to bear on a designated space to disrupt the everyday actions of daily living as a sign of protest). Burke asserts that in the scene-agent ratio:

[t]he correlation between the quality of the country and the quality of its inhabitants...by the logic of the scene-agent ratio, if the scene is supernatural in quality, the agent contained by this scene will partake of the same supernatural quality. And so, spontaneously, purely by being the kind of agent that is at one with this kind of scene the child is ‘divine’. The contents of the divine container will synecdochically share in its divine. (1305)
Essentially, the agents will take on the qualities of their environment and use the tools and practices (agency) common to their scene. This group of agents used the architecture of the dining area and the technology of the Internet against the school, the two aspects that the school is par excellence in using as a way to coerce and manage the student body.

To create this protest, the students at Readington Middle School organized using “text messages, online blogs, and the good old fashioned telephone line” (<http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/local&id=5989226#bodyText> ), which actually matches the district’s action plan to “[a]ssess student skills on a continuous basis at the 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade levels and develop programs with curricula that fosters computer, communication, presentation, and design technology literacy skills” (“Readington Five Year Technology Plan” 5). The standards of behavior for the cafeteria state “All RMS students are expected to enter and leave the cafeteria in an orderly manner and to follow the lunchroom procedures set forth by the supervisors” (“RMS Student Handbook” 4), which they were in compliance with, and the students by paying with pennies (which there is no mention of in the student handbook) did not violate any of the prescribed standards for behavior in the student handbook dealing with cafeteria decorum. This challenge to authority is a subversion of the status quo in a public space in which the technologies of the ruling class were used against said class.

Nokia in the Scene-Act Ratio

That a discursive space dominated by the bourgeoisie, as described by Jürgen Habermas in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere still exists is demonstrated, I submit, by looking at the actions and strategies of a large, multinational corporation. In this case it is Nokia, a major player in most of the world when it comes to cell phone technology.

In the scene of hyper-competitive global capitalism, Nokia is making moves that will help it maintain its market share in the cell phone industry. As Lillie points out in “Cultural Access, Participation, and Citizenship in the Emerging Consumer-Network Society,” Nokia is pursuing strategies that promote mobile phones and other mobile information and communication technologies (MICTs) that “reduce the user’s ability to interact and effect change in the world” (41).

The company’s strategy involves Digital Rights Management (DRM), which works in a few key ways. First, as Lillie points out with the Nokia advertisement concerning subscription service (figure one), owners of Nokia handsets must sign up and pay a subscription fee to access the content they wish to see (I would also add that I have the sneaking suspicion the content available is limited, ergo, not offering much of a real choice in comparison to non Nokia services like YouTube, which is also limited due to copyright. This leads into, and possibly serves as another discussion, about the illusionary “freedom of choice” concept when only a finite number of choices are offered). When “Sam,” the fictional user in the advertisement, thinks his friend “Patrick” would like the comic, too, “Sam” can not just forward the comic onto “Patrick” since “MMS [Multimedia Message Service] has forward lock DRM embedded” (Lillie 42).

Fig. 1. First comic from the DRM White Paper. From Jonathan Lillie, “Cultural Access, Participation, and Citizenship in the Emerging Consumer-Network Society” (42).

A similar thing occurs within the second comic (see figure 2), where “Morgan” likes the ringtone on “Sara’s” phone, which is a song clip from “their favourite [sic] band” (Lillie 42). “Sara” can not just send it to “Morgan” because he has a “Separate Delivery DRM” (Lillie 42) service. Because of this, “Morgan” will have to “buy the ‘rights’ to use it for a month, from the content provider from whom Sara got it” (Lillie 42).

Fig.2. Second comic from the DRM White Paper. From Jonathan Lillie, “Cultural Access, Participation, and Citizenship in the Emerging Consumer-Network Society” (45).

Because of the scene (or environment, or milieu) of corporate, unchecked capitalism, this strategy, this act, makes sense—probably to everyone reading this text since we all live in the same scene. Still, the act in and of itself is problematic as it means specific traditions and ideals of a democratic republic are negated through these types of acts. How these acts are problematic and tie directly into smart mobs I’d like to discuss later, but for now the most important concept to hold onto is what this type of socially approved act means. Lillie explains:

[Nokia’s advertisements which were a suasive artifact housed in the] DRM White Paper applies a notion of rights divorced from political or democratic theory and legal definitions of citizen’s human rights in its attempt...to control how certain digital cultural texts can be used. The rights of the citizens are essentially reversed in the discourse of DRM. Rights are not understood as guarantees of human liberty from specific modes of oppression, but are instead rules for how citizens can act in specific dealings with cultural texts. Corporations, rather than the state, are represented as being justified in appropriating and using the power to specify exactly what these rights are. The rights of the corporate citizen emerge as pre-eminent. (43)
The “corporate citizen” mentioned in the above bloc text signifies the corporation as political citizens, as members who have the rights and privileges of an individual political citizen; this act is a conflation of the bourgeois who make up the boards and shareholders of Nokia and the company known as “Nokia.” Corporations are a specific legal, mass identity that allows individual members distance from the entity known as “Nokia,” i.e., so if Nokia, the company, fails, its assets, earnings, and holdings are liquidated to pay off creditors, and not the assets, earnings, and holdings of individual board members and shareholders who plan Nokia’s strategies and profit from Nokia’s performance. This fanciful display of mental gymnastics—an act which flies in the face of legal definitions, defined consequences for bankruptcy, and a categorization designed to hedge the risks for capitalists so as to encourage the investment of their wealth in the open market—to make Nokia a political citizen is enabled purely by the scene of global capitalism. Again, how corporations tie into smart mobs (even the little one of 25 students at Readington Middle School) will be taken up later.

Nokia in the Scene-Agent Ratio

As stated earlier in the paper, “by the logic of the of the scene-agent ratio, if the scene is supernatural in quality, the agent contained by this scene will partake of the same supernatural quality” (Burke 1305). In short, the character of the agent within the scene is a direct reflection of the scene, and if Nokia where an individual character in a “brutalizing” situation (scene), then Nokia would be a “brutalized” character as the “dialectical counterpart” (Burke 1306). And, as stated before, the agents will take on the qualities of their environment and use the tools and practices (agency) common to their scene. In this case, Nokia is a mass agent that uses the architecture of mobile networks and mobile information and communication technologies to turn a profit from the masses (purpose).

The Big Picture

Burke explains the overall framework for the grammar of motives in these terms:

The hero (agent) with the help of a friend (coagent) outwits the villain (counteragent) by using a file (agency) that enables him [sic] to break his bonds (act) in order to escape (purpose) from the room where he has been confined (scene). (1301)
So, if we place the school smart mob into this setting, we get the Readington 25 (agent) outwits the school (counteragent) by using architecture and technology (agency) that enables them to shut down the operations of school lunch (act) in an effort to protest the unusually short lunch period (purpose) at their local public school (scene). In the case of Nokia, we see Nokia (agent) sidestepping traditional civil society (counteragent) by using the architecture created by mobile technology (agency) that enables them to control cultural texts (act) in order to turn a profit (purpose) within a public sphere dominated by capitalists (scene).

Now, the easiest move here would be to connect the situation of Readington Middle School and its reaction to the Readington smart mob to Nokia and corporate capitalism. I could say that the school is an agent, within a specific scene, whose action matches the scene (postindustrial nation in late stage capitalism which values docile workers) and their agency (detention) is a way to silence dissent (act) in order to keep the calm status quo of a typical, culturally appropriate school day (purpose). While I do think that’s true as a way to describe the motivation of the school, the larger question for me is how and why the Readington smart mob’s action has been taken up as a “prank,” and why the event put on by the smart mob is not known as the “Readington Lunch Protest” but as the “Penny Prank.”

Using Burke’s grammar of motivates, I have endeavored to make clear how two different entities describe our current shared political milieu (or scene), and using Habermas’ ideas concerning the public sphere, demonstrate how Nokia and its motivation matches, in spirit and intention, the current social scene of global capitalism. In the converse, I placed the Readington 25 into the same set of ratios to show how their motivation differs, and yet their scene, act, and agency match that of Nokia’s. Here, I’m pointing towards the differences in how each act is taken up, and how symbol using through the act of composition and the rhetoric that accompanies it are interpolated by wider society. So, let’s play with a simile. If we think of both Nokia and the Readintgton 25 as two trains, using the same methods, i.e., the technology of steam, and the same architecture of railroad tracks, how is it the Readington train is seen as less important than the Nokia train? Why is the Readington act described as a prank and the Nokia act seen as serious and ethical?

The point of using trains is to create the mental image of trains traveling on railroad tracks. These trains run parallel to each other for most of the time, but in specific ways they affect one another since one can effect the other’s schedule; what one carries can be transferred over to the other; when one is derailed it effects when and how the other is allowed back onto the network of railroad tracks.

Essentially, this attempt at a railroad inspired metaphor is an attempt to a make point: Nokia does not directly influence the Readington 25, but Nokia’s acts within the world scene affect the Readington 25. How Nokia deals with symbols and cultural texts decides how the Readington 25’s act is taken up by society, and in actuality, all smart mobs and their actions.

George Myerson argues:

The mobilising [sic] of communication turns out to be the precursor, the necessary precondition, for this larger mobilisation [sic] of the everyday. The ‘m’ [in MICTs] will stand for a new order of every day life: faster, neater, sharper...There will, if the ‘m’ is the future, be no idea of communication distinct from the idea of commerce. To communicate will mean the same things as to exchange money. The two activities will simply be merged. (qtd. in Lillie 44).
And here, in the United States, I argue this has occurred. Money and communication, the ability to access information through a library, listen to a song from iTunes, or share images over long distances have all followed the Nokia model. Everything must be paid for, and paid for each time it is used or paid for on a regulated, monthly schedule. No cultural artifact can be claimed as something political citizens have the right to access by virtue of being a member of said society; they must pay for each piece of text they want to share within the larger discourse community that forms the US.

This may seem frivolous. It may be countered by explaining if a person does not want to pay, then the person does not have to sign up for services. Still, the talk either for or against the Nokia model dominates the ways of knowing, being, and describing our culture’s experiences when it comes to dealing with technology. In connection to the Readington 25, no one in the mainstream media can properly name the actions of the students since it does not fit a commerce model. Instead of being described as a “protest” an “uprising” or a “smart mob” it’s called a “prank” because it does not, to paraphrase Myerson, treat communication as money.

Through a scene empathetic to capitalism, even dominated by capitalism, the idea of the smart mob, its use of technology, and what it can accomplish as interpreted merely as a group of malcontents glomming together through sheer luck of the encounter, or worse, a prank played by school children. The smart mob is a perversion of the public sphere model as described by Habermas, and is even a perversion of the public sphere proposed by telecommunication giants, but it is a quiet perversion which exists in an underworld state since it, and its motives, can not be recognized in the current social-political milieu (scene).

What Does This Mean for Rhetoric?

Cynthia Selfe in “Lest We Think the Revolution is a Revolution” confronts this issue of technology and social change by analyzing a number of advertisements selling technology through a narrative in which we “create a global village in which the peoples of the world are all connected—communicating with one another and cooperating for the commonweal” (294). And with the situation in Readington, this would seem to be the case. A group of young, educated American children practiced the time honored American tradition of civil disobedience. They saw a situation which they felt violated the common happiness and well-being of all the students, and therefore, communicated with one another and cooperated in a way to highlight the grievous situation and, hopefully, force some type of change. Instead, they received detention (two sessions in fact) and have had their act (which in the United States should remind people of the old patriotic stories concerning the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution) degraded to a prank. Why?

As Selfe demonstrates with “Lest We Think...” technology in and of itself is a business. All the advertisements Selfe shares with readers are notices for products to buy which will enhance a user’s time with her technology. As Ziauddin Sardar points out the privatized and deregulated frontier of “cyberspace has done much to boost business—trade is growing twice as fast, and foreign direct investment four times as fast, as national economies” (22). This is the dream world of corporations like Nokia and governments who run societies in which both the governing body and the masses see themselves as obligated to being amenable to laissez-faire capitalism (the United States, for example).

With this in mind, I assert that this cultural narrative where technology is a tool of capitalism there is only one acceptable roles available to individuals: consumer. In a situation where people band together and try utilizing technology for social change, they will be thwarted because the audience, or to borrow from Mikhail Bakhtin, addressees, will never match the imagined ideal addressee, that is, the superaddresse. Technology, in this setting, creates disempowering social roles which make “change hard to imagine and even harder to enact”—specifically because “technology is involved” (Selfe 316). If the message (“purpose” in the pentad) of an act (in the pentad sense) does not match the narratives saturating technology (technology would be “agency” within Burke’s nomenclature), then the message will be disregarded, or worse, misinterpreted and misnamed.

This misinterpretation and misnaming occurred with the Readington 25. Their act of protest, instead of being read as an act peaceably challenging the rules of their immediate environment (scene), was read as a “prank” and can be found on YouTube using the delimiters “penny” and “prank.” The entire newscast I’ve used as the artifact for analysis refers, constantly, to the students’ actions as a clever trick because it used things like the web, the Internet, and text messaging. In the actual footage form the interview, it isn’t mentioned until the very end—literally the last few seconds—students are upset by the conditions and rules they’re living under when it comes to their lunch period. The entire segment focuses on the novel use of the technology often used for business or consuming, and the administrators interviewed see it as an embarrassing, harmless, and punishable offense. The administrators make no mention of considering a change, nor do they acknowledge the students may be trying to send a message.

For rhetoric, this means two things. First, and despite recent criticisms that he is obtuse, Burke’s ideas are found to exist in experiential reality. The students who formed the Readington 25 were agents who imagined their message would be heard and understood by someone within the school administration, and using the elements of rhetoric Burke delineates, thought they were making a message with communicative value using the agency available to them in their immediate scene. Second, technology, while it may seem old hat in the brave new world of the 21st century, still causes new issues and concerns for rhetors. Simply put, technology and its accompanying, special narratives and rhetorics problematize Burke’s pentad; but this is due to audience expectation and their terminsitic screens—not the smart mobs nor its methods, nor due to a flaw in Burke’s theories.

Using Burke once again, a motive behind this audience expectation may be discernable by applying his concept of “god-terms” (276, A Rhetoric of Motives). The administrators may not consider making changes to the lunch period since the baggage with the signifier “technology” is on the level of a vague, “ultimate” (188, A Rhetoric of Motives) term which the administrators are expected to make sacrifices for within the cultural-linguistic system they exist in. As I demonstrated earlier in this paper with the Nokia example, the system these administrators live in is a capitalistic hierarchy, one where technology furthers the agenda of global capitalism. Anything that does not meet this standard is filtered through the terministic screen created by this ultimate term and left on the mediatory ground as useless slag. Second, using this idea that technology is somehow involved in an “ultimate transcendence” (276, A Rhetoric of Motives) explains the mystification that occurs whenever technology is invoked in mundane talk—meaning that oftentimes the mystery of caste is in play when technology is the subject of discussion. In a caste system where technology is often seen as the channel to US economic and military domination, “[i]t is the ‘glamour’ of caste alone that makes [the everyday citizen] ready to subordinate his will to the will of the institution[s]” (211, A Rhetoric of Motives) that govern American society. This “glamour,” I propose, also coerces everyday people and media pundits into denying the possibilities technology holds outside the uses prescribed by the American ruling class. This, in turn, means anything not fitting within this hierarchy of terms, like smart mobs, are often overlooked, misnamed, and misinterpreted.

This expectation of “ultimate transcendence” is due to the rhetorics surrounding technology. As Sardar points out in “alt.civilizations.faq: Cyberspace as the Darker Side of the West,” cyberspace (his term for what I’ve referred to until here as either the Internet or the World Wide Web) is seen as the “new frontier” (21). In this new frontier the “desire of the settlers [is] for absolute freedom” and “new spaces to conquer” (16) all the while making at tidy profit (the Nokia example, Selfe’s critique, Sardar’s figures all previously alluded to in this paper).

Sardar asserts this is continuation of the Utopian drive first started by Europeans like Sir Thomas Moore and Francis Bacon, and in fact, the technologies that make the Internet, text messaging, and the World Wide Web possible are nothing more than a “designer techno Utopia” that “delivers what capitalism has always promised: a world where everything is nothing more than the total embodiment of one’s reflected desires,” and that space serves as an escape for people because “morality and politics [have] become meaningless, [because] social, cultural, and environmental problems seem totally insurmountable...the seduction of the magical power of technology [has] become all embracing” (34).

This rhetoric means that any symbol manipulation or communication, or action produced by the inhabitants of said world, e.g., the Readington 25, can not be seen for its intended purpose because it does not fit the rhetorical schemes commonplace to the mainstream’s take on technology. If we continue in the current mode of thinking described by Burke and Sardar above, then all things produced within the confines of the term “technology” will always be misnamed and misinterpreted. How do we move past this, make meaning, and come to understand the ways that technology is being used by social movements?

Better Descriptions

One way for this to happen is better descriptions of smart mobs. A theoretical base that could provide a better, thicker description of what is actually happening in places like Readington is to start with Bakhtin’s views on the use of macaronic language. According to Bakhtin, in macaronic language situations “the languages that are crossed in it are relative to each other as do rejoinders in a dialogue; there is an argument between languages, an argument between styles of language” (76). This “argument” is more than argument in “the narrative” or “abstract” sense; this is “a dialogue between points of view, each with its own concrete language that can not be translated into the other” (76).

I propose this state of affairs existed in the Readington uprising, and in both technology and language worked in conjunction to create a moment of dialogic protest, and because of that the macaronic concept applies to language and technology. In Readington, both the state officials (the faculty and staff of the school) and the smart mob (the students) used technology, but the use of technology by the smart mob parodied the use by state officials. Instead of technology serving as an element of order in a larger architecture of panoptic surveillance, technology—in the hands of the Readington 25—created disorder since it was used to coordinate the disruption of normal routines.

The aspect of macaronic language Bakhtin points out, that the use of such language represents “a dialogue between points of view, each with its own concrete language that can not be translated into another” is the power and flaw of macaronic uses of language and technology. While in the short term the Readington 25’s methods were effective, their goals, and the methods used to try and achieve those goals, were ultimately distorted when presented to the larger audience of observers outside their immediate locale.

To combat this, the grand narratives of the individual hero creating ideologically pure protest groups needs to be suspended when dealing with moments of protest. The talk and writing that goes into the organizing either moments of, or groups devoted to, social protest need to be examined in a new way that discerns the difference between traditional methods of group creation and new, communication technology enabled methods. One way would be to combine Bakhtin’s idea of macaronic language and Burke’s pentad, as well as Burke’s concepts of hierarchy and god terms from A Rhetoric of Motives. Using Bakhtin’s idea of macaronic language will keep researchers aware of the possibilities that might be overlooked due to their immersion in the technophile milieu we currently traverse, and at the same time using Burke’s pentad, terms and hierarchies will allow researchers to subtract the obvious and keep the meaningful.

While this paper can not close with a definitive answer to the question: “How do we understand rhetorical acts of resistance using technology enacted by ‘smart mobs,’ and the antithetical rhetorical acts of the corporations that market those technologies?”, it can at least provide a starting point for a new type of work. An analysis of protest groups using the work of Burke and Bakhtin may allow for the correct naming and interpretation of rhetorical acts put forth by groups like the Readington smart mob. By applying the work of Burke and Bakhtin, it will be easier for scholars to provide a thick description of social movements as they actually exist, and not as they are imagined to be.

*Brian Bailie is a doctoral student in the Composition and Cultural Rhetoric Program at Syracuse University. He can be contacted at bjbailie@syr.edu

Works Cited

Bakhtin, Mikhail. “From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse.” The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1984.

Burke, Kenneth. “From A Grammar of Motives.” The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. 2nd ed. Eds. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. New York: St. Martin’s, 2001. 1298-1324.

--. A Rhetoric of Motives. Los Angeles: U of California P, 1950.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Random, 1976.

Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Trans. Thomas Burger. Cambridge: MIT P, 1991.

“Kids Get Detention for Penny Prank.” 7online.com. 6 May 2008. ABC inc. 21 Apr. 2008. <http:// abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?Section=news/local &id= 5989226#bodyText>

Lillie, Jonathan. “Cultural Access, Participation, and Citizenship in the Emerging Consumer-Network Society.” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies. 11.2 (2005): 41-48. Communications and Mass Media Complete. EBSCO. Syracuse U. Syracuse U Lib. Keyword: Flash Mobs. <http://search.ebscohost.com>. 4 Apr. 2008.

Raymond, Eric Steven. “The Cathedral and the Bazaar.” The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Ed. Eric Raymond. 20 Nov. 2006. 21 Mar. 2009. <http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/>.

“Readington Five Year Technology Plan.” Readington Township Public Schools. Schoolwires. 18 Apr. 2008.<http://www.readington.k12.nj.us /771100726191951/site/default.asp?>.

Rheingold, Howard. Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. Cambridge: Perseus Publishing, 2003.

“RMSSchoolHandbook.” Readington Township Public Schools. Schoolwires. 18 Apr. 2008. <http://www.readington.k12.nj.us/ 77111572720218/site/default.asp>.

Sardar, Ziauddin. “alt.civilizations.faq: Cyberspace as the Darker Side of the West.” Cyberfutures: Culture and Politics on the Information Superhighway. Ed. Ziauddin Sardar and Jerome R. Ravetz. New York: New York UP, 1996. 14-41.

Selfe, Cynthia. “Lest We Think the Revolution is a Revolution: Images of Technology and the Nature of Change.” Passions, Pedagogies, and 21st Century Technologies. Eds. Gail E. Hawisher, and Cynthia Selfe. Logan: Utah State UP, 1999. 292-322.

Book Review: Burke, War, Words: Rhetoricizing Dramatism

Weiser, M. Elizabeth. Burke, War, Words: Rhetoricizing Dramatism. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2008.

In the epigraph to A Grammar of Motives, Kenneth Burke wrote that he wanted to purify—not exactly end—war. The statement is bewildering (even if bewilderment is the appropriate affective response to Burke). What did he mean by that? In Burke, War, Words, M. Elizabeth Weiser explains that “while ad bellum purificandum has been rightly taken to mean a stance toward all debates that devolve into physical conflicts, it was also written as a specific stance toward a specific war—World War II as experienced from the home front” (3). Weiser’s scintillating book examines Burke’s masterpiece of war purification in the context of World War II, the war of 72 million casualties, the war-iest of all wars, the war of Spielbergian proportions. In fact she argues in the preface that the timelessness of A Grammar of Motives (hereafter GM)ironically takes strength from its timeliness as a response to the non-dialectic of human destruction. Though dramatismhas now become “an eternal theory” (147), Weiser proposes to account for its time-bounded valuethrough what she calls “rhetoricizing,” an act of interrogating a theory as a rhetorical construct in a historical context. Instead of using rhetoric to practice theory by doing history, as with Mailloux’s rhetorical hermeneutics, Weiser practices rhetoric “by using history to do theory” (xiii). (I am tempted here to propose my own theory of using theory to practice history by doing rhetoric.)  

Weiser’s approach makes good sense. Perhaps it’s the only way to engage Burke on his own terms, in his own parlor, “responding to his work as historical” and yet “still speaking timelessly across the decades” (148). With meticulous historical sleuthing—inspired, I imagine, by the careful work of Jack Selzer and Ann George—Weiser shows us how the concepts in GM unfolded from Burke’s (mostly friendly) conversations with some of the most prominent American thinkers. She compiles an all-star cast of interlocutors: Malcolm Cowley, John Crowe Ransom, Alan Tate, S.I. Hayakawa, Alfred Korzybski, W.H. Auden, Robert Penn Warren, William Carlos Williams—even Ralph Ellison makes a cameo to call Burke a “rhetoritician” (84). Weiser sets up these dialogues to give a rich accounting of how Burke’s Dramatism unfolded in the transformative give and take of intellectual inquiry during the war years. To rhetoricize GM, Weiser analyzes the archive of private correspondence, numerous essays and articles, and Burke’s major works from Permanence and Change onward. Though she has framed Burke, War, Words as an analytical work, I suggest it is better read—without any diminution of value or importance—as intellectual biography, with a rhetorical twist. What rhetoricizing actually looks like may not be as important as the intellectual journey that takes us through the incongruities and complexities of Dramatism in its context. 

Weiser cleverly sets up her project with the terms of the pentad as architecture, starting with the “scene” of the 1930s that led Burke to develop the four “trends” of dramatism: “falling on the bias, translation, ambiguity and incongruity, and the comic corrective” (7). In the 30s Burke worked hard to reconcile the oppositions put into play by aesthetic critics, who concerned themselves primarily with textual wholeness and psychological complexity, and Marxist critics who wanted to account for material socioeconomic forces. Because he believed poetic language had real world work to perform, Burke wanted “to translate the aesthetes’ ambiguity, irony, and eloquence to the Marxists and the latter’s persuasive propaganda to the aesthetes” so that the two viewpoints could merge (19). Burke saw ambiguity, incongruity, and the comic corrective as key terms in an ethical stance that fostered openness to culture’s multitudinous voices—the diverse, and equally compelling, ways of slicing the cheesy universe, to use his own odd metaphor (20). Weiser leads us through this inchoate and often confusing “protodramatism” as it unfolds in Burke’s prewar writings wherein he argued for a poetic, rhetorical, “flexible analysis” for human symbolic interaction (24-25). She also points out that his early attempts to fall on the bias of everything “meant general confusion by all” (26). Or, it was perceived as fence-sitting:  neither the aesthetes or the Marxists “could see his position on the bias as anything other than an attempt to weaken their own” (11). In fact a common feature of Burke’s intellectual history, which he shares with other theoretically-oriented critics, is that he was chronically misunderstood, even by those select few who read his works carefully.

After setting the scene, Weiser presents the agents—the “word men,” the new critics, neo-Aristotelians, sociologists, and general semanticists whom Burke courted and corrected and with whom he “haggled much,” in his own words (32). In Philosophy of Literary Form, published in 1941, Burke wanted to demonstrate the “semi-propagandistic” nature of poetic expression in order to fall on the bias between aesthetic (literary, internal) and social (political, external) texts (41). He wanted the semanticists to adopt a more flexible understanding of terms, and he wanted the New Critics to see poetry as situated action. Neither group got it. As Weiser writes, “the critics could not see how his method got at the essence of poetry, nor could they see how poetry could do the job of science” (49). His courtship with critic John Crowe Ransom becomes emblematic of just how hard it is to transcend differences and find comic commonalities. Weiser’s astute color commentary on “the Burke-Ransom conversation” (126) begins in the summer of 1941 when the two of them “were engaged in a serious discussion of their critical overlaps and divergences” (51). Earlier Burke had written to Ransom—in a move to define the relationship, let’s say—that “it seems that, at every point where we agree, there is a margin of difference that may make all the difference” (42). But just when it looked like “the two of them were coming together,” Ransom wrote a less-than-glowing review of The Philosophy of Literary Form for the Kenyon Review, arguing that Burke did not have a clear philosophy of poetry and therefore provided little in the way of a “‘poetic’ understanding of the social world” (52-53).  Years later, after GM had been sent out to the world, Ransom was still wrestling with Burke’s dramatism: it was, in the words of Leonard Brown, “sweating hell out of him” (144).

Weiser spends two chapters on the war years, when American critics and artists were pushed into what Burke considered a false dilemma: either ostracize yourself by fighting for an obsolete isolationism, or support the war effort with artsy propaganda. It is during the war years that Weiser shows us how Burke’s Dramatism began to take shape as a response to human conflict—a response that steered clear of the false unity of fascism or jingoism by celebrating “the parliamentary babel of incongruous perspectives” (75-76). The real challenge for Burke, though, was articulating Dramatism in a way that made it relevant to the struggles of life during war. Weiser points out how it took Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor for Burke to overcome his “cultural lag” and engage the war as a serious intellectual project (77). Weiser shares one anecdote I find particularly telling: In 1940, when Robert Penn Warren returned from his Guggenheim Fellowship in Italy after escaping a brutal bombing and a boat ride through a U-boat infested ocean, Burke asked him “whether he could critically analyze Warren’s play for symbolic clusters” (72). Burke’s “act” during the war was to develop what he hoped would be an alternative to war—the Dramatistic mode that leads us to see “one’s enemies” in “a comic rather than a tragic light” (93). But in the thick of the war effort, when some of his literary friends had jobs working with Archibald MacLeish in the Office of Facts and Figures, Burke got the cold shoulder from Uncle Sam, partly because Uncle Sam didn’t quite know how Burke’s “singular skills [could] best be applied to direct service in the war” (91). He was “mildly humiliated” that after all his work on motives since Permanence and Change, his government wanted him “not at all while embracing fifth-rate college hacks by the trainload” (91). Though he was sitting out the official war effort, he hoped that someone in “officialdom” would read his work anyway and “lay eyes upon it long enough to swipe from it” (91).

It never happened, not even after the war was over and the kairos was right for the mystic chords of Dramatism to stretch to every heart and hearthstone. Weiser tells us that “Burke had originally hoped that publication of GM as the war ended would change the way America acted in a postwar world” (134). But a prophet hath no honor in his own country. The government ignored it, as did the political Left. Even the editors of the New Republic, who had printed Burke’s articles before, took a pass on excerpts of GM because they thought all of it was “much too profound” for their readers (134). Even worse, after the A-bombs unleashed Shiva, the god of death, on Japan and the whole world, Burke’s purificandum seemed “out of touch with the profoundly rhetorical scene” that made nuclear annihilation a possibility (139). Weiser’s careful analysis of the conclusion of GM suggests that Burke’s own attitude became less sanguine as he put the finishing touches on his 500-page mammoth that Prentice-Hall courageously had agreed to publish. Though “neo-Stoic resignation was not the attitude with which Burke began GM,” she explains, using Michael Denning as a collaborative witness, “it was the attitude with which Burke ended it” (139).

As with all his other works, the response to GM was mixed. With the deftness of the best intellectual biography, Weiser shows us how even the most sympathetic readers had little idea what Burke really was saying. Perhaps Hayakawa speaks for many such readers when he wrote that Burke’s treatment of ambiguity was so capacious and intricate that “for dozens of pages at a time, one can only vaguely discern what he is talking about” (140). Nevertheless the book sold well for the time, garnered attention from multiple intellectual communities, and had at least nineteen high-profile reviews, including one from Max Black, the analytic philosopher, who called GM a“ vast rambling edifice of quasi-sociological and quasi-psychoanalytical speculation” (141). To Burke’s bitter disappointment, Ransom wrote a scathing review of GM in The New Republic, panning it as a derivative of Aristotle’s Four Causes (142).Other associates declined to review it because they couldn’t set aside the requisite two months of full-time reading to absorb it sufficiently. William Carlos Williams wrote Burke in December 1945 that he was delighted with the book, a book “I shall never entirely put down.” Several months later he wrote, “I have not as yet finished reading it. When? Christ knows. It is looking at me now across my desk” (145). Amen. Perhaps none of us have as yet finished reading A Grammar of Motives.
As you can see from the focus of this review, the best part (I argue) of Burke, War, Words is not necessarily the analysis of Dramatism as a theory but the historical backstory of how it came to pass through the back and forthness of intellectual dialectic. Though she leaves out much of Burke’s non-Dramatistic biography, Weiser has paved the way for a new genre in rhetorical studies: the biography of a theory. There are compelling antecedents for this kind of work, but not too many in our field. (Parts of Robert Richardson’s biography of William James come to mind.) This kind of storytelling is particularly exciting for those of us who have read only Burke’s major works without really knowing the man behind the moustache. My only regret is that Weiser did not spend more time evaluating—rather than simply interpreting—Burke’s composition of Dramatism. It is in those rare instances when she does that she is most provocative. For example, she mentions that some of Burke’s critics wanted him to be more “pedagogical,” by which they meant for him to make his methodology clearer and more accessible.

Burke struggled with articulating Dramatism all his intellectual career, and Weiser foregrounds that struggle near the end of the book. The last pages of the chapter “The Dialectical Purpose of Dramatism” are, to use a maudlin word, sad. We see Burke as the jilted lover, trying desperately to be understood, in fact begging editors for just one more chance to clarify what he meant by Dramatism. While Burke’s interlocutor-friends published Pulitzer Prize-winning novels (Warren), wrote immensely popular textbooks (Brooks and Warren), took prestigious editing jobs (Tate and Ransom), and got appointed as U.S. delegates to UNESCO (McKeon), Burke was busy overexplaining himself, “compounding his rhetorical problem of too many words for a time demanding action” (145). He was “furious at being misrepresented when he had been trying so hard to be understood” (143). Weiser breaks from her rhetoricizing to make a strong point that still needs to be explored: “His friends might encourage him to be pedagogical rather than heuristic, to write out his methodology, to pack his points with meaning, but the simple truth was that as a writer Burke was oftentimes his own worst enemy” (140). At the time it seemed he was demanding too much of his readers. Perhaps Weiser has shown us that purifying a theory is about as hard as purifying war.

History, Weiser notes in the epilogue, has “been kinder to Kenneth Burke,” and Burke, War, Words is exemplary of the work that continues to be spun out alchemically (whose Arabic root means “transformation”) from the mixed materials of GM. It is indeed an inexhaustible work, and it has provided the theoretical backbone for a discipline that may not have survived otherwise. In providing the biography for Dramatism, Weiser helps us correct our habit of appropriating fragments of a fuller parlor conversation (148). We should hope for more rhetoricizing in the future.

Brian Jackson, Brigham Young University

Book Review: Drama: Between Poetry and Performance

W.B. Worthen. Drama: Between Poetry and Performance. United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

This brilliantly written book uses Kenneth Burke’s thought to conceive an original critical frame that allow us to deal with drama as both text and performed work. The book teaches how to read drama and explores the perennial issues of theatre: language, plot, character, role and the reciprocity of drama as archive, repertoire and restorative performance.

The study of drama in universities has been a record of unresolved issues. I recall early attempts to use Burkean methods and insights as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. David Thompson and Virginia Fredericks used Dramatism as the central method in their Performance Studies (then called Oral Interpretation) classes. David Thompson (often called “The Duke” by his students) had a strong classical education and was a firm believer in the integrity and wholeness of the text. Yet he often acknowledged the tension between the New Criticism and what he called “Burke’s Sociological approach.”

“I tell you about the dignity of the text and the authority of the author, but Burke examines the text by shoving it from one lens to another, ignores generic convention and sometimes reduce the text to a bat squeak of its milieu. I tell my students to trust the author, but Burkean methods undermine that trust,” said Thompson in a lecture about the relationship of writing to staging a play. He noted that rather than serving the text or restoring it to some state of performative purity, for Kenneth Burke the text and the theatre are agencies for the presentation of ideas and issues.

And in this sense, Worthen’s book is very Burkean. Permit me to quote a representative passage:

Many of the critical innovations in modern dramatic performance have arisen from efforts to restore “original” practices, or a modern imagination of them, against the overwhelming domination of the scenic realism of the nineteenth century stage: discovering the vitality of the orchestra as a dancing place and the cinematic flexibility of the Shakespearean empty platform, and so on. But Brecht’s work is critical in another regard, asserting the theatre not as the site for the representation of a fictive narrative, the recitation of characters, which make speeches, but a scene of action defined . . . as part of the larger world surround the stage. (Worthen, 213)

No one has ever written more lucidly about the relationship between writing and performance. Worthen has much to say to teachers of writing, dramatists, theatre goers, art historians and rhetoricians—especially Burkean rhetoricians. The book bristles with ideas. After reading the second chapter I built an exercise for students called “building character from scraps by putting back the subtext.” It was wholly inspired by Worthen. He has five worthwhile suggestions where other theorists might give you one. I understand that several other persons are going to review this work and I will leave most of the deep exploration to them.

Charles Urban Larson, Professor Em., Northern Illinois University

Book Review: Identity’s Strategy: Rhetorical Selves in Conversion

Anderson, Dana.  Identity’s Strategy: Rhetorical Selves in Conversion.  Columbia: University of South Carolina, 2007.

Given the prevalence of post-modern skepticism and the textual turns in the humanities and social sciences, many traditional rhetorical concepts have become difficult to assume, and rhetoric is faced with either abandoning or reclaiming and redefining core concepts. Traditionally rhetoric has presumed a role for an individual speaker to craft language in such a way as to affect the social and material world, and rather than abandon discursive agency, many contemporary scholars have been theorizing anew core rhetorical concepts as diverse as intention, agency, deliberation, subjectivity, hermeneutics, identity, and rhetoric itself.

Dana Anderson’s Identity’s Strategy: Rhetorical Selves in Conversion, a significant reclamation, constructs a rhetorical theory of personal identity. Asking “how rhetors constitute the identities of audiences,” Anderson also examines how rhetors constitute their own identities” (14). To accomplish both tasks, he reads first-person conversion narratives, investigating both how individuals describe their conversion or identity-transformation and how their narratives might work also to transform audiences. In choosing to look at reported moments of transformation to develop a theory of identity, Anderson foregrounds the dynamic, strategic, and effective nature of the rhetorical subject, arguing against the skepticism that diminishes current relationships between the humanities and civic engagement. The method is smart as are his choices of texts to read. He examines Dorothy Day’s religious conversion, David Brock’s political conversion, Deirdre McCloskey’s gender transformation, and the effects of scenic transformation in the autobiography Black Elk Speaks. Each example allows Anderson to consider identity as an experiential, contextual, and temporal term. In approaching identity with three perspectives, he escapes more static Cartesian antecedents and defines identity as dynamic.

Adding the richness of his vision, Anderson develops his concept of identity within a Burkean frame of grammar, rhetoric, and symbolic, ultimately building his key insights on Burke’s “Dialectic of Constitutions,” specifically the substance of constitution, the agon of constitutional principles, and the dialectic of merger and division. Following A Grammar of Motives in premising language as a resource of boundless transformations, Anderson argues that language’s ambiguity “both anchors and animates Burke’s ‘problem of identity’” (25).  Then building on the concept of identification within Burke’s Rhetoric, he argues that identity is itself a kind of symbolic action. Anderson sees identification as the means by which a unique “I” is formed, whether in a deliberate, suasive strategy of appealing to an audience or through social identification with a group. In the process of engagement within multiple social relationships, the unique I develops, and through those ongoing relationships, she maintains a degree of consistency over time. Similar to identity within constitutions, individual identities are formed of merger and division (which perhaps are “partial acts”). In developing his statement about identity, Anderson lays out the multiple, complicated roles that identification plays for Burke, glancing at several entanglements of identity and identification; but Anderson focuses more specifically on the tensions between identification or union and division within identification, for it is within that tension that conversions and transformations take place.

On initial reading of Anderson’s theoretical orientation, one might think that linking the substance of constitutions with the substance of identity, and the linking of identity with identification, are too analogic and metaphoric to be useful. The loose chain of insights, backward and forward from identity to identification to constitution to merger and division is certainly Burkean in its luster and lack of lucidity (here a Burke-like paradox of light), but the looseness is generous and productive in two very significant ways. First, to reclaim the concept of identity and acknowledge a rhetorical capacity for self-definition, temporal definition, and situational definition, the reclaimed concept will have to be copious enough to acknowledge a number of discourses, power dynamics, historical agons, and cultural constructions as well as be acute enough to engage a number of rhetorical theories. Furthermore, demands for more rigorous division, definition, and denials of ambiguity are not Burkean (a sacrilege!), and they are inappropriate to reclaiming a concept of identity open to transformation rather than status or essence.  Anderson’s commitment is to moving from earlier desires for an authentic individual to an individual of fluid or molten autonomy formed in historical struggle. The desire for a logical rigor or rigidity is at odds with the premises of an ambiguous and transformative language. The argumentative style of Anderson’s reclamation of identity is a productive part of its logic and method.

The analytic richness of analogy between the substance of identity and the substance of the constitution are clear in Anderson’s readings of autobiographies; each reveals the place of identity in rhetorical exchange. Most telling is the chapter “Black Elk Speaks and Is Spoken” based on Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux (1932). Here Anderson demonstrates how changing scenes transform the constitution of identity. John G. Neihardt, a Western writer, interviewed sixty-eight year old Black Elk, documenting his holy vision.  In the decades since, the tension over who actually speaks in the autobiography demonstrate the rhetorical effects of identity: whose identity and whose motives affect what audiences?  Reviewing the readings of the autobiography through the decades further demonstrates the power of scenic transformation on identity.

In Anderson’s reading of Black Elk’s constitution, initially Neihardt sought to memorialize Lakota history, constructing Black Elk as a tragic hero.  The scene, and so constitution and identity, however, change. First during the 1960’s and then during the 1980’s, cultural and political forces brought new attention to Native American history, and this reopened identity questions, specifically whether Black Elk’s spirituality is a resources for Native Americans or the invention of a white writer. Questions of Black Elk’s real identity became debatable.  In addition to the autobiography’s reception in the 30’s, 60’s, and 80’s, Anderson discusses the 1985 publication of the interview transcripts and Black Elk’s death bed statement as a regenerate Catholic (1933). These multiple autobiographical texts demonstrate how literary multiculturalism—not just multiple cultures, but multiple texts, constitutions, and audiences—creates alterations in the constitution or the identity of Black Elk as both a text and a rhetor. Black Elk’s identity constitution repeatedly becomes a new act, and he becomes more tensely layered and controversial. His identity which would transform a scene becomes transformed by the scenes in return.

Anderson argues that conversion narratives are not just therapeutic self-representations, but significant assertions or acts of individual substance.  His four case studies of conversion become the bases for understanding the rhetorical self. If rhetoric can no longer premise a self-defining and self-constituting identity, Anderson’s insight has helped rhetoric retain identity and identification as core concepts to its art. Anderson’s conception offers a way into the continued “study of persuasive self-presentation” (165).  Rather than sovereignty, more rhetorical than sovereignty, it is agon and audience that create “who I am.”  The rhetorical self, the self as a situated, deliberative practice, is the substance of identity.

Arabella Lyon

Book Review: Judging the Supreme Court: Constructions of Motives in Bush v. Gore.

Rountree, Clarke. Judging the Supreme Court: Constructions of Motives in Bush v. Gore. Rhetoric and Public Affairs. East Lansing: Michigan State UP, 2007.

Clarke Rountree's new book examines one of the Supreme Court's most consequential decisions: Bush v. Gore, the December 2000 opinion that ended the Florida recount and effectively handed the presidency to George W. Bush. As a scholar, teacher, and attorney, I recommend the book for three reasons. First, it shows the rich insights to be gained by applying Burkean methods (here, pentadic analysis) to legal discourse. Second, by positioning the Court's arguments in detailed contexts of motives in American jurisprudence, news reportage, editorialists' arguments, and scholarly debate, it offers a model for a close, careful rhetorical case study. Finally, it is structured and written in such a way that it should find a wide audience (beyond just Burke scholars) for Rountree's important arguments about rhetoric's role in creating and upholding the rule of law.

Rountree sets out to examine not only the various legal opinions in the case but also larger contexts and rhetorical agons using what he argues is the "overarching concern" of both (the many) critics and (the few) defenders of the High Court's decision: "the contested ground of judicial motives," or accounts of what the majority justices were doing and why (xiv- xvi). Rountree's claims about the importance of analyzing judicial motives through rhetorical methods deserve to be quoted at length:

An understanding of judicial motives is inextricably tied with constructions of what law is being followed, of what justice requires for parties (and the larger society) in a given case, of how larger contexts shape (or ought to shape) legal decision making, and other considerations that take us beyond narrow questions of what a judge was thinking in rendering a particular decision. An analysis of this expands beyond a narrow focus on individual motives to include jurisprudential considerations explored by many legal scholars, yet it goes beyond legal analysis in situating the issue of judicial motives within a larger framework of institutional legitimacy. It highlights, as standard legal analyses do not, that judicial opinions are rhetorical performances, that key to those performances are constructions of "proper" judicial motives, and that through rhetorical analysis, judicial motives can be teased out, their propriety assessed, and the quality of judicial opinions as rhetorical performances determined. (xv)

Rountree argues that if we are to understand and participate in the cultural myths of the rule of law and an impartial judiciary, then judicial opinions (especially in cases as deeply partisan and as momentous as Bush v. Gore) must be "rhetorical performances . . . constitutive of the political community" (xv).   Judging the Supreme Court reads as Rountree's plea and exhaustive evidence building a particular case: that when we examine accounts of what the Court did and why it did it, Bush v. Gore is not only a failed rhetorical performance but also corrosive of political community. Rountree argues that the Bush majority knowingly used weak legal rationales and improperly shaded its recitation of the material facts to end the recount for personal and partisan motives, rather than for the motives that the opinion itself constructed or that defenders of the result have offered (such as preserving order or preventing uncertainty about who would become president).

To build his case, Rountree structures the book in thirteen chapters. The first two chapters, along with the Introduction, lay the foundation for Rountree in later chapters to apply pentadic analysis to the majority and dissenting opinions, to news reports and editorials and--most importantly--to the accounts of judicial motives in the work of legal scholars. Early in Chapter One, Rountree argues that the characterization of acts "is the primary mode of judicial persuasion," yet characterization of acts is "strangely camouflaged" behind a "technical language of rules, precedents, holdings, dicta, and the like."  Rountree identifies ten different sets of acts that judicial opinions "construct, reconstruct, or embody"; these acts include the facts giving rise to the case, the parties' actions, lower court proceedings, kinds of legal authorities, competing opinions of justices deciding the same case, and others (7-10). At the end of Chapter One, Rountree introduces Burke's pentad as "a heuristic for exploring motives through discourse" and offers a four-step method for pentadic analysis: locate the relevant text (or multiple texts, as Rountree does with this "meta-analysis of motives"), specify the acts to be examined, analyze the pentadic ratios, and interpret the results (11-16). Chapter Two, entitled "The Road to Bush v. Gore," reminds readers of the crucial events of the battle for Florida's electoral votes, which would tip the contest in favor of either Bush or Gore should they prevail in that closely contested state. Chapter Two goes on to set the background for how the case ended up in front of the Supreme Court in the first place by summarizing the events of two Florida Supreme Court cases and the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 order staying the recount at a time when Bush held a razor-thin lead of a few hundred votes. Rountree's analysis of the rhetorical challenges of a stay order (a remedy designed to suspend court proceedings or other legal remedies for the purpose of preventing irreparable harm) is especially salient because pentadic analysis of the Court's order (and of Justice Scalia's response to the minority's dissent from it) in this case shows how the majority, from the outset, began to characterize Bush as the likely winner, the one who would suffer harm if the recount continued because he had a claim to the presidency and happened to be slightly ahead at the moment.

The road to Bush v. Gore having been traveled, Chapters Three and Four consist of extensive pentadic analysis of motives in the Court's majority, concurring, and (multiple) dissenting opinions. It bears remembering, as Rountree points out, that the Court's majority opinion was a per curiam ("by the Court") opinion, which matches the per curiam Florida Supreme Court decision it overturned, "matching camouflaged agent for camouflaged agent" (34). One effect of the unusual decision to render a per curiam opinion (usually reserved, as Rountree notes, for unanimous, summarily disposed cases [33-34]) was that the High Court's majority opinion operated scenically, with the individual justices taking action within that scene by writing concurring and dissenting opinions. Rountree analyzes how the justices, joined in a rhetorical agon, constructed the case's history, the applicable law, state court motives, the proper remedy to fashion, and their own (and one another's) motives to either support or challenge the court's intervention in the recounts and ultimate decision. Summary of these close, careful analyses would not do them justice, but what emerges from these chapters is a picture of judicial action as rhetorical through and through. While such a point will not surprise readers of KB Journal, Rountree is also clearly writing for larger, non-specialist audiences. I hope that the many law students whose libraries have purchased this book will have an enhanced understanding of judicial opinions as rhetorical, an understanding that enhances how law students learn to "think like lawyers" or "think like judges."

Chapters Five and Six examine how reporters and editorialists reconstructed the Supreme Court's action, a move that I consider important to the richly layered analysis that Rountree offers. Supreme Court opinions are, of course, not texts that average citizens read regularly. News and editorial reconstructions of the Court's action, especially in a case with stakes as high as Bush v. Gore, are crucial parts of the wider circle of how the cultural investment in the rule of law is built and perpetuated and how challenges to the legitimacy of the Court are examined. In particular, Rountree's analysis of how editorialists attempted to characterize the Court's acts as, for some, the deeds of noble jurists reluctantly stepping in to stop potential chaos or, for others, as a reckless and brazen attempt to decide the election, is especially salient.

Chapters Seven through Twelve, nearly half the total number of chapters in the book, are devoted to the arguments of legal scholars, many (but not all) of whom were, to understate it greatly, highly critical of Bush v. Gore as a cynical and terribly reasoned opinion. Rountree devotes this much space to scholarly arguments because, from the standpoint of constructions of motives, much of the lasting legacy of the Court's decision would play out in scholarly books and articles, written as they are using the twin advantages of "time and space" that academic writing enjoys (171). Rountree offers exhaustive analyses of how scholars reconstructed the stay order, how and why the Court reasoned out its decision, who (in terms of factors such as political motives of individual justices, the scene of the case as it came to the Court, past precedents, and attitudes) decided the case, when and where the Court decided the case, and Chief Justice Rehnquist's concurring opinion. Depending on their arguments about the opinion's reasoning, or effects on the rule of law, or propriety, scholars attempted to--as Burke has long helped us examine--emphasize particular pentadic ratios and downplay others.

The payoff for the first twelve chapters, besides their worth as pieces of rhetorical criticism and as models of pentadic analysis applied to a highly detailed case study, is the final chapter, "Judging the Supreme Court and its Judges." Rountree opens by arguing that while there is enough flexibility "in the structure of the grammar of motives" for supporters and defenders of particular judicial decisions to build "coherent stories," that flexibility has its limits. The limits come from "the interrelatedness of the grammatical terms and of one set of acts with other sets of acts," so that not just any story "can be convincingly constructed" (377). After being careful to note his own self-identified liberal political predispositions, Rountree sets out to offer what he contends is "the most coherent reconstruction of motives" for the Court in this case; that is, he mounts an argument about "what the Court was doing and why" (379).

In stark terms, Rountree argues that the majority justices, as some of the most brilliant and experienced legal minds in the country, knew or should have known that their arguments in Bush v. Gore were specious but nevertheless pressed ahead with ending the recount, "allowing purpose (ending the controversy and seating a Republican as president) to drive agency, rather than the other way around" (394). If the cultural myths of the rule of law and an impartial judiciary are to be upheld, argues Rountree, judicial discourse must at least muster the best arguments possible to construct court action as following the law rather than using the law as a fig leaf to cover a partisan and predetermined outcome (394). Tellingly, justices also must appear to follow their own self-fashioned judicial philosophies such as, in this case, the majority justices' earlier pronouncements about states' rights and judicial restraint (393). In this case, Rountree argues that there simply were no better arguments than the weak ones the majority offered, but the majority decided to press ahead anyway, knowing that damage to its stature and legitimacy resulting from the decision would likely be short-lived, at least in the minds of the general public. This sort of cynical and solely consequential construction of motives whereby the Court was, at best, willing to take a hit to its credibility in the name of preventing uncertainty about the election "essentially laughs behind the backs of Americans who believe in the rule of law" (403). Certainly, nothing in Justice Scalia's public statements about Bush, for example, would dispel a construction of motives concluding that the Court arrogated to itself the right to decide the election. For example, Scalia has stated, "I and my court owe no apology whatever for Bush v. Gore. We did the right thing. So there!" and "Get over it. It's so old by now” (Scalia). Of course, as Rountree notes, whether one considers the actual Bush presidency--as opposed to speculations about what a Gore presidency would have been--a fortunate or unfortunate outcome depends on one's political views (405-406). However, the main point of this final chapter of Judging the Supreme Court is that what the highest court in the land said it was doing and why are the very basis of judicial decision-making and thus will have consequences for how future cases are decided. When there are huge gaps separating quality legal arguments, justices' own stated judicial philosophies, and an opinion's self-fashioned construction of motives, the diagnostic and admonitory tools Burke provided, and which Rountree uses here, are needed urgently.

Work Cited

Scalia, Antonin. Interview with Leslie Stahl. 60 Minutes.  CBS. 14 Sept. 2008. Television.

Drew M. Loewe, St. Edward's University

Book Review: Swan Dive

Michael Burke, Swan Dive. New York: Caravel Books.

Elsewhere in this journal we print the on-line reviewer Teri Davis's takes on Michael Burke’s new novel, Swan Dive. Here we do our own review.

Private Detective Johnny “Blue” Herron pursues his quarry across the rubble desert of de-industrialized New England, that sprawling region North of Boston that Tom Wolfe called “the grayed-out Atlantic Sea Board.” Hired by an apparently wealthy father to discover his son’s affairs, ‘Blue’ encounters incest, perjury, suicide, embezzlement and murderous revenge as the adventure unfolds. He is constantly threatened, hoodwinked, and savagely attacked. Luckily, these intrigues and dangers do not interfere with his ability to copulate.

Mickey Spillane was always telling us that Mike Hammer had a “huge mind” yet he never produced anything but snarky clichés. ‘Blue,’ on the other hand, is far more than a lead fisted detective with driving energy and endless curiosity. He is a reflective man as well. This private eye is moved to tears by the fate of clients, and during his journeys in his aging Toyota he laments the loss of New England’s maritime charm, the displacement of the middle class, the departure of old-line industries, the loss of open spaces, and the corporate indifference to local aesthetics. Everywhere he perceives the ghosts of lost American community. As he sutures together his case, Blue is surrounded by farcically empty careerists. Yet he remains strong in his purpose and indifferent to the endless and joyless greed and carnality of nearly everyone around him.

Michael Burke is a master of dialogue. He practices the trope of economy and dialogue moves with the speed and wit of Comedia Del Arte. Johnny Blue Heron speaks with the force and certainty of a tight lipped athlete, describing and summing up complex situations with quick deft images.

But if the dialogue is vehement, fluent and rapid, the exposition is lush and thickly textured. Burke has a photographer’s, sensibility. One might almost say he has a painterly eye. With rapid strokes he sketches vividly focused scenes and then moves the reader through them like the Eye of God pursuing Ahab across the desert floor. The narrative has balance and flow and discipline and pace. At the end of 175 swiftly moving pages I cried out for more.

Michael Burke’s novel runs on two tracks: the myth of Leda and the Swan, and the journey of Johnny Heron. Along the way he insinuates Heron upon us by giving him sparkling wit and bucketfuls of charm.

And there will be more. We understand that he is finished or nearly finished with The Music of the Spheres, the next book in the Johnny ‘Blue’ Heron series to appear late this year. It will be eagerly awaited by this reviewer.

Andy King, Editor, KB Journal

Special Book Review: Swan Dive

Michael Burke, Swan Dive. New York: Pleasure Boat Studio, Caravel Mysteries. 2009.

Michael Burke forwarded to us an online review of Swan Dive by Teri Davis. Here are excerpts

Swan Dive coverBelow is the review for Swan Dive. I loved it.

If you were a private investigator, would wonder about a family relationship if a wealthy father hired you to investigate his only son's possible affairs? Added to that, the son is engaged to a wealthy, educated, intelligent, and beautiful woman who appears very proper. Why would he chance that relationship for a one-night stand, or is there another woman who means more to him?

Most private investigators have relationships with local law enforcement officials and apparently the local police recommended this family to use Blue. Blue has formerly been a part of the local law enforcement. Since he needs to pay his bill, Blue quickly agrees. However he soon realizes that even though the family can afford to pay him, they haven't been completely honest with him and want their own secrets to stay hidden.

Johnny 'Blue' Heron decides to take the case but wonders abut the family when the fiancées father temporarily bullies him into his personal limousine and offers to pay him off if he drops the case. Huh? Her own father apparently does not want Blue investigating his future son-in-law. Why does it seem like the wrong families are investigating the wrong people?

Do the priorities seem a little confused? That is exactly how Blue feels throughout this investigation, which has a variety of twists involving numerous crimes, including embezzlement, perjury, incest, and murder. As Blue discovers more truths, the problems tend to grow geometrically.

While 'Blue' is wondering and investigating these bizarre relationships, he unfortunately discovers the son's dead body. Was he having an affair with this woman? Was he poisoned? How? If there was poison wouldn't others at a party also possibly be endangered?

Swan Dive is seen through Blue's point-of-view. His eyes, while wandering to attractive females, always deceive him when it comes to meeting attractive women. Blue's persistence and curiosity are his traits that are the driving force throughout the novel.

In the case of Swan Dive, good reads do come in small packages. The only flaw was in the shortness of this precise gem. As a reader, you are constantly wondering what Blue will find out the strangeness of the situations for whom he is working.

Michael Burke shows his artistry in literature with his first novel, Swan Dive. He definitely has a varied past from being Harvard graduate, being in the army, working as an astronomer, studying urban planning, and finally becoming an artist through painting and sculpture.

The Music of the Spheres will be the next book in the Johnny 'Blue' Heron series. It is due to be published this year.

Book Synopsis: A Good Man

Editor’s note: The book is dedicated to KB’s grandson, Harry Chapin, Larry Baker’s good friend.

Baker, Larry. A Good Man. Ice Cube Books.

Harry Ducharme is at the end of his rope. Booze and bad decisions have taken him from the A-list talk-radio fame down to a tiny cinder-block station, WWHD in St. Augustine, Florida. He talks mostly to himself from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., not sure anybody is listening, reading books and poetry that he likes, not caring if anyone agrees with him, playing golden-oldies from the Sixties, and wondering how he got there.

Then as a hurricane pounds north Florida, with WWHD broadcasting to a town without electricity, Harry gets a visitor just as theeye of the hurricane passes over. An old black man who calls himself a Prophet wants to borrow a Walt Whitman poem that Harry red the night before. The Prophet wants “A Noiseless Patient Spider” to be the core of his next sermon, in which he announces the imminent arrival of a New Child of God. Or perhaps not. Still, Harry is there, in the parking lot of a football stadium, surrounded by thousands of pilgrims, as witness to and participant in one final act of death and redemption that might be a sign of the beginning or the end.

The story weaves back and forth in time, revealing the history of an orphan named Harry Ducharme. From Iowa farm to Florida beach, Harry is finally surrounded by men and women with their own burdens to carry. Captain Jack Tunnel is the morning host, more rightwing than Rush, with a cranky co-host parrot named Jimmy Buffett, but also with a gentle secret life. Nora James is the mysterious “cooking woman” who broadcasts from her home kitchen, but whom nobody has ever seen. Nora cooks on-air and discusses women’s issues. Harry spends his first year in town trying to find her, only to discover that Nora’s whereabouts are a communal secret, revealed to only a select few. Carlos Friedmann has the 2-6 a.m. slot, a fourth-generation Jewish Cuban who cannot speak Spanish, but whose forte is to broadcast fake interviews with Fidel Castro. Friedmann’s great desire is to kill and cook the parrot Jimmy Buffett.

Harry had arrived in St. Augustine in November of 2000. Living in America’s oldest city, Harry reveals profound insights into American politics and history throughout A Good Man. Eventually, his role in the New Child’s arrival becomes intertwined with contemporary politics, Iraq, 9/11, old-time religion and classic literature from writers like Flannery O’Connor and Emily Dickinson, as well as the music of Harry Chapin.

Harry Ducharme has always believed that somebody has written about him in the past. All that he needs to do is find the right book or poem, and then he will understand himself.

Editor's Note: What a Burkeian belief. Burke once joked that he read deeply, voraciously, and endlessly because he believed that some day he would find the answer written in a book.