Andrew King, Louisiana State University
AT THE RECENT EASTERN COMMUNICATION ASSOCIATION convention in historic Philadelphia, Floyd Anderson and Matt Althouse wondered about Burke’s Pentadic mutation, that incandescent moment in 1969 when the Pentad suddenly became a Hexad. Before Darwin and Wallace, Herbert Spencer had believed that systems of thought could evolve in complexity and richness as surely as living organisms. “By God, it was like growing a sixth finger in the night,” said Anderson and Althouse paraphrasing Burke.
Anderson and Althouse asserted that Burke had developed the term attitude (an incipient action) in the 1930’s but had not brought it into the pentad until his 1969 moment of spiritual elevation. They also note that he was never able to incorporate it into the pentad despite the fact that he told Hugh Duncan "adding an extra term to the Pentad is like acquiring another soul or suddenly gaining an extra existence."
Questions were raised as to whether Burke would be happy with Anderson and Prelli's Pentadic Cartography, the system of rhetorical mapping that is now being hailed as one of the most original and generative uses of the Pentad. It has been used to decode advertising, to critique politics, to provide a vocabulary for visual rhetorics, And it has unexpected uses. It has even been used by Cheryl Tatano Beck of the University of Connecticut to map birth trauma and post traumatic stress in delivery rooms. Several persons at the conference confided that they did not believe such a departure from traditional Burkean criticism was Burkean. But then, just how Burkean was Burke?
Of course contradictions are what make writers interesting and Burke was a mass of contradictions. In the 1990 Conference at New Harmony he confessed that he was emphatically a man of the city, but that he nearly always sought rustic isolation to do his literary work. Burke loved company and bustle but resented the overdeveloped horror of flimsy houses and orbital roads that was breaking the bucolic atmosphere of his neighborhood. He believed in the socially ameliorative power of good criticism, yet he preferred continuing mystery to the final resolution of problems.
For Burke there was always another counter-statement. As Floyd Anderson has said: "His most characteristic move was his counter-statement. He never closed the universe of discourse, but was always opening up other perspectives." For Burke criticism was not merely pointing out weaknesses or faults. One had an obligation to display an alternative vision of things. But then what could one expect from a man who spoke of ‘whole parliaments and legislatures in his head?
The present issue contains a couple of articles and one review that deal with Burke’s political orientation. Instead of thinking of Burke as an American original, these writings put him in the context of his time. Recall that Burke’s most productive years occurred when people thought they were living through the final collapse of capitalism, a gloomy era. It was a morbid age that saw the future of civilization in terms of disease, death and decay. Like FDR, Burke thought the economy was mature and that its future lay not in growth but in the redistribution of wealth. Near enough it was a vision of Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s polite socialism accompanied by long range Soviet Style planning without the Brutalism in architecture or the four million dead kulaks.
The 1930’s was a dark age of eugenics, fascist dictators, mass unemployment and the back to the land movement. Despite his clutch of literary friends, Burke felt adrift in the treacherous tides of his era. Malcolm Cowley remembered Burke’s long dark night of the soul in the spring 1979 issue of The Southern Review:
Kenneth, having left his job with the Rockefeller foundation, had retired to a farmhouse in New Jersey, three miles from a railway station (no electricity, no running water). He chopped wood and wrote. . . . He now worried about the effect of his divorce upon his three daughters. He worried about the state of the country. He worried about the risk of his family’s sinking into utter destitution. He had written a novel, Towards a Better Life (1931) in which the hero declines into a state of catatonic dementia, and that was another worry: mightn’t he end as his hero ended? Could he avoid that fate by joining with others to build a better world? (p. 278)
And these dark nights brought Burke to join what we now call the Old Left along with other American writers in the very year in which Hitler achieved full employment and prepared to frighten the French out of the Rhineland.
It was a time of great confusion. When the League of American Writers under Waldo Frank proclaimed their independence from the American Communist Party, they sang a celebratory version of the International, after which several of their members rose and objected to the absence of the word revolutionary in the newly emergent organization. And in our entry into World War II, many of these same American writers denounced the Old Left, and formed what would become the bulwark of the Neo-Conservative elite, leaving Burke as always the ‘Sea Green Centrist’, vulnerable to abuse from all sides.
We have yet to do much about Burke’s unfashionable interest in delivery. Recently Josh Gunn has recalled this guilty flight from our past, our shameful retreat from the canon of delivery. Professor Gunn notes that we buried delivery under a mountain of silent texts, and drove it from us like an unwelcome old dependent, not good enough for the farm house but useful in the barn, the pens and the silos. Our models were English and Classics, departments that were strongly cathected to canonical manuscripts. Increasingly, delivery did not seem to be a respectable study for aspiring mandarins. As Donald K. Smith once said: “We still (1960) have a dire fear of being branded elocutionists.” Lo, it is true. When I proposed a joint seminar with Communication Disorders, Performance Studies (then called Oral Interpretation), Theatre Arts and Rhetoric at the University of Arizona in 1980, there was suspicion in every eye, and consternation in every face. The chair of our department, a decayed amateur middle weight boxer, eyed me from a fighting crouch.
"We have been trying to bury Elocution ever since James Winans posed with the skull of Aristotle for that painting at Dartmouth," one Division Head averred.
"Haven’t you ever read but the shameful vulgarity of elocution? The bird calls? The cheap vocal tricks? The absurd gestures? The disporting of college youths in public fountains? The masks? The choral drones? Do you want us to be ridiculed by deans and savaged by provosts?" another expostulated.
"Perhaps we might participate if you don’t go beyond the end of the eighteenth century," said another.
"We could do it as an antiquarian curiosity. It might be exhibited like limner’s portraits, alchemist’s tools, or Greco-Roman declamation," a kindly emeritus professor piped in.
I faced what the Harvard Business Review calls "a sliding doors moment." The cage was open but the bird had flown. Delivery was a humble subject. To these Jacobin intellectuals, it was almost like studying a bodily function. I might as well have proposed a retrospective on Morris Dancing.
As a despairing Waldo Braden said of the new theorists: "By God, King I used to think all we had in common was the larynx. But these deep thinkers don’t even acknowledge that."
Burke was emphatically a student of the text but he was also obsessed with delivery. His interest in tone and inflection, his pleasure in telling jokes, his recitation of poems and stories, his ‘voices’ and his deep interest in convoluted puns represent an area that has not been sufficiently looked at. But as Professor Gunn notes, the dead hand of Ramus still throttles us and as respectable disciples of Petrus Ramus we avert our eyes from a canon that constitutes rhetoric’s most unique hallmark.
In the meantime I plan global outreach for the journal. Next week I will publish a letter from a Chinese Burkean scholar who will report: “Almost nothing of note on Burke has emerged from China recently.” It is my hope that local readers will say: "My goodness, the KB Journal has penetrated deeply into China." It was through such ambitious strategies that the Journal Nature changed from a British lab newsletter to the leading international journal of science in the world. I hear a rising chorus of voices as we march on the citadel. Rom-ah! Rom—ah!! Rom—ahhh!!!!