Burke, Kenneth.  Language As Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and

Method.  Berkley: University of California Press, 1966.




1.     Chapter One: Definition of Man (sic)


I. General words

“[D]efinition is the critic’s equivalent of a lyric” (3).

“[A] definition so sums things up that all the properties attributed to the thing can be as though derived from the definition” (3).


II. Man (sic) is the symbol using animal.

Symbol use is the means by which we apprehend our world, and thus understand what constitutes our reality.  Burke uses the story of the confused bird (4) to illustrate his point that humans use words in a symbolic fashion to communicate about our world.


“[H]owever important to us is the tiny sliver of reality each of us has experienced firsthand, the whole overall picture is but a construct of symbol systems” (5).


Words are not completely within our control, however.  Burke posits that “ideology,” in fact, possesses great power.  “An “ideology” is like a spirit taking up its abode in a body: it makes that body hop around in certain ways; and that same body would have hopped around in different ways had a different ideology happened to inhabit it” (6).


Substitution is a “resource” “’natural to symbolism.”  Thus, Freudian notions such as displacement and condensation are endemic to symbol systems in general, not just dreams in particular (7).


“Substitution sets the condition for ‘transcendence,” since there is a technical sense in which the name for a thing can be said to “transcend” the thing named” (8).


III. Man (sic) is the Inventor of the Negative.


“[T]here are no negatives in nature, and…this ingenious addition to the universe is solely a product of human symbol systems” (9).


Laws and morals are essentially negative principles, although the negative character of moral codes is often cloaked in a disguise of “quasi positives.”  Laws and private property rights are negative because they stipulate “mine equals “not thine” (11).


Binary oppositions are also a negative, human symbol construct.  True/False, Order/Disorder, Life/Death, Clean/Unclean and other are all “to be distinguished from sheerly positive terms” (11).


We are aesthetically entertained and fascinated by villains and other “deviants who, in all sorts of ingenious ways, are represented as violating these very Don’ts” (13).


IV. Separated from his (sic) natural condition by instruments of his own making


Our use of language tools indicates a break from nature, because “the survival standards of sheer animality” do not include implementation of symbol systems (13).


“[T]hough instrumentality is an important aspect of language, we cannot properly treat it as the essence of language” (13).


“Edward Sapir’s view of language as ‘a collective means of expression’ points in a more appropriate direction” (13).


V.Goaded by the spirit of hierarchy


We desire order, hierarchy, and the notion of a social ladder.  As a result, inequality, division, and power disparities develop in human societies.


“Here man’s (sic) skill with symbols combines with his negativity and with his (sic) tendencies toward different modes of livelihood implicit in inventions that make for divisions of labor, the result being definitions and differentiations and allocations of property protected by the negativities of the law” (15).


VI.We are the “political animal” and the “culture bearing animal.”


We are perfectionists.


“The principle of perfection is central to the nature of language as motive.  The mere desire to name something by its “proper” name, or to speak of language in its distinctive ways is intrinsically “perfectionist” (16).


“There is a principle of perfection implicit in the nature of symbol systems; and in keeping with his nature as symbol-using animal, man (sic) is moved by this principle” (17).


We are “rotten with perfection” in that we seek this sense of ultimate completeness in unwholesome figures such as the “perfect fool” and the “perfect villain” (18).


Desire for perfection, in both the “honorific,” or good, sense, and the “ironic,” bad sense leads to concepts like God, Devil, Heaven and Hell.  “Perfection” is basically understood to mean the ultimate, most complete manifestation of a concept, such as love, punishment, wickedness, or beauty (20).




Burke feels somewhat uncomfortable concluding this section, because his “discussion should itself have a perfect ending” and “a perfect ending should promise something” (21).


In lieu of “the most perfect ending” of “a sermon” promising “the hope of total salvation if we do mend our ways,” Burke offers the next best option. “The best I can do is state my belief that things might be improved somewhat if enough people began thinking along the lines of this definition; my belief that, if such an approach could be perfected by many kinds of critics and educators and self-admonishers in general, things might be a little less ominous than otherwise” (21).


To illustrate his point, Burke ends with an apocalyptic poem espousing the height of “ironic” or “rotten” perfection: the “perfect” nuclear warhead (22).


2.     Chapter Two: Poetics in Particular, Language in General



In this segment, Burke uses literary examples to underscore his points about perfection.


Burke uses Poe’s statement that “the most poetic topic in the world” is “the death of a beautiful woman” to illustrate his point about perfection (26).


 “The “perfect’ is the completely done.  In this sense Death provides a quite relevant source of imagery for the idea of perfection” (26).  “Perfection means literally a finishedness” (26).


“Another notion of perfection is associated with the idea of a person in full bloom.  And could any topic more fully meet this test than the theme of persons in love?  Thus, if the dead person were associated with the height of love, another requirement of Poetics would be met” (27).




Burke again distinguishes between “animality” and “symbolicity.” Animality concerns basic needs, where symbolicity deals with “complex, alembicated purposes” which are “the aims developed by custom, education, political systems, moral codes, religions, commerce, money, and so on” (28).


“Naming” and artistic expression also fall under the category of “symbolicity” (28).



Language has universal and particular dimensions.  “Thus there is a sense in which each poet speaks his (sic) own dialect,” (28) which would be an example of the individual dimension.  “[A]t the very opposite extreme, there are respects in which we use language ‘universally.”  Institutions such as the United Nations, developed to deal with “the methodic discussion of human quandaries represent the universal aspects of our nature as a species (29).


The “middle realm” between the individual and the universal is indicated by class identification (29).


“In sum, then, there are certain things to be said about a poem as a poem; and there are certain things to be said about it as an example of language in general” (29).


For example, “a belief in fate involves dimensions that extend far beyond a man’s trade as playwright” (30).


“Even though Freud bases his theory of the Oedipus complex on the myth embodied in Sophocles’ play, his kind of speculations would necessarily move us beyond the realm of Poetics to the realm of language (or symbolicity) in general” (31).




Here, Burke discusses the role of the critic.


“[P]oem is to poet as Poetics is to critic” (31).


“As I see this issue, the statement I have quoted from Woodsworth’s preface is in effect a critic’s attempt to formulate some of the practices which the poems exemplify” (33).


“The poet’s job is simply to write his poem as best he knows how” (33).  The critic, on the other hand, had the task of theorizing about the poem and making value judgments.


“And to the extent that the critic carries out such a task, he (sic) contributes simultaneously to the vitality of criticism as an autonomous activity with it’s own principles, and to the glory of poetry by showing that the poems are ‘principled’” (33).


It’s not the poet’s job to mull over her principles in writing the poem.  “The critic, in matching the poetry with a poetics, seeks to make these implicit principles explicit” (33).




Paradoxically, then, the “principles of the poetics were formulated after the poem had been produced” (34).


However, we can still think of these principles as “prior” to the poem in a logical sense, even though they followed it in a temporal sense (34).


“The principles of composition ‘come first’ in the sense of logical priority” (36).




The job of the critic is to classify the particular poem according to its “kind of poetry, with its corresponding kind of principles and properties” (37).


“Insofar as feasible, the critic’s formulations will be in terms of poetics.”  The critic will inspect the poem for its principles, then “test his formulations by ‘deducing’ or ‘deriving’ the poem from the principles” (37).


Identifying aspects context are part of the critic’s job as well.  The text should not be analyzed alone, without respect to the author.  “[T]he very the attempt to discuss the poem purely as the product of a poet should eventually help sharpen our perception of the respects in which the poem must be analyzed rather as the product of a citizen and taxpayer, subject to various social embarrassments, physical ills, and mental aberrations” (38).




Burke ends by reiterating some of his discussion of perfection, in particular its anti-social or “ironic” applications, such as the “perfect scapegoat,” (39) concluding finally with another example, a poem exemplifying “perfect” victimization and destruction of nature(40-1).




3.     Chapter Three: Terministic Screens


I. Directing the Attention


Burke opens by distinguishing between the “Scientistic” versus the “Dramatistic” “approach to the nature of language” (44).  “A scientistic approach begins with questions of naming, or definition” (44).  A “dramatistic” approach stresses “language as an aspect of ‘action’, that is, symbolic action” (44).


The dramatistic approach tends to be more prescriptive, announcing what “thou shalt or thou shalt not,” whereas the scientistic approach concerns itself with questions of what “is, or is not” (44).


“The dramatistic view of language, in terms of ‘symbolic action,’ is exercised about the necessary suasive nature of even the most unemotional scientific nomenclatures” (45).


“Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality”(45).


This is what Burke means by “terministic screens.”  “[A]ny nomenclature necessarily directs the attention into some channels rather than others.”  This can be obvious, such as how different academic subjects direct the attention, or more subtle.  Burke illustrates the latter point with an example of how photos of the same objects using different color filters reflected and deflected his attention in different ways, depending on the filter (45).


II. Observations Implicit in Terms


“In brief, much of what we take as observations about ‘reality’ may be but the spinning out of possibilities implicit in our particular choice of terms” (46).


“Logology” is “the systematic study of theological terms…purely for the light they might throw upon the forms of language” (47). 


Logology can be applied to the secular study of terministic screens.  “Pick some particular nomenclature, some one terministic screen.” Then, you “may proceed to track down the kinds of observations implicit in the terminology you have chosen, whether your choice of terms was deliberate or spontaneous” (47).


III. Examples


Burke illustrates, via a passage, that “much of our ‘Reality’ could not exist for us, were it not for our profound and inveterate involvement in symbol systems” (48).


Using three philosophical terminologies as examples, Burke illustrates that “‘behavior’ isn’t something that you need to observe; even something so ‘objectively there’ as behavior must be observed through one or another kind of terministic screen, that directs the attention in keeping with its nature” (49).


There are two kinds of terms: those that “put things together, and those that pull things apart” They can lend themselves to feelings of identification or disassociation (49).


These terms are mobilized according to the agenda they serve.  Darwin, for example, stressed terms of continuity to highlight our similarities to animals.  Theologians, conversely, focus on our discontinuity from animals and continuity between humans and God (50).


Burke uses logology to note that employing discontinuous terms to distinguish human from beast need not be “haughty.” For example, he points out, what other animals have yellow journalism, corrupt politics, pornography…and bacteriological war?” (50).


“We don’t need theology, but merely the evidence of our characteristic sociopolitical disorders, to make it apparent that man (sic), the typically symbol using animal, is alas! something special” (50).


IV. Further Examples


Terministic screens are necessary.  “We must use terministic screens, since we can’t say anything without the use of terms; whatever terms we use, they necessarily constitute a corresponding kind of screen; and any such screen necessarily directs the attention to one field rather than another” (50).


Burke contextualizes by noting how usage of discontinuous terms appears during political elections to stress division amongst the citizenry.  Further, both continuous and discontinuous terms are employed to mobilize the population in rallying against “a common enemy” (51).


Is there a general terministic screen that could “supply an adequate definition for the discussion of man (sic) in general?” (51).


V. Our Attempt to Avoid Mere Relativism


“[S]trictly speaking, there will be as many different world views in human history as there are people” (52).


However, “[A] Dramatistic screen does possess the philosophic character adapted to discussion of man (sic) in general, as distinct from the kinds of insight afforded by the application of special scientific terminologies” (53).


“Basically, the Dramatistic screen involves a methodic tracking down of the implications in the idea of symbolic action, and of man (sic) as the kind of being that is particularly distinguished by an aptitude for such an action” (54).



4.  Chapter Four: Mind, Body, and the Unconscious



“The issue: If man (sic) is the symbol using animal, some motives must derive from his animality, some from his symbolicity, and some from a mixture of the two” (63).


Burke distinguishes between a general, Dramatistic, understanding of symbol systems and the specific one used by Freud.  Freud’s model, Burke argues, is particular and only deals with symbols as they relate to repressed, unconscious experiences (63).


The Dramatistic terminology is a midpoint between the computer and the neurotic (63).


“In Freud’s sense an action is ‘symbolic’ when, as interpreted in terms of his particular ‘terministic screen,’ it reveals the presence of a neurotic motive involving ‘repressions’ due to the particular kind of ‘Unconscious’ which he postulates as a locus of motives (64).


Dispacement and Condensation manifest in other areas than dreams, and thus are applicable to the notion of symbolic action in general.  For example, the mathematician displaces symbols, and we all condense terms when we refer to “parents” instead of “mother and father” (66).


II.Varieties of the “Unconsious”


1. We are unconscious of various bodily processes (67).


2. Memories, dreams, and other past experiences are also repressed into the unconscious (68).


Burke continues to generalize his application of Freudian terminology by arguing that the U.S. Constitution consists of various proclaimed wishes regarding concepts like individual rights.  “[L]egal conflicts arise because, in particular cases, this “id”-like wishing on the part of the Constitution fronts problems of denial.  In gratifying one Constitutional wish, the courts must frustrate or ‘repress’ another” (68-69).


3. Some memories, facts, and other bits of information are ostensibly “forgotten,” yet “recallable on demand” (69).  Burke relates his notion of perspective by incongruity to this notion, in particular the way that poets “bring together terms which we had unconsciously classed as mutually exclusive” (72).

4.     Relationships among personae might prompt one to recall characteristics suppressed while acting in another role (69).

5.     “[T]he ‘Unconscious’ implications may not be made conscious until one has methodically devoted oneself to the task of inquiring into the fulfillment of a given symbol system as such.” Burke calls this process the “entelechial motive” (70).  This could be thought of as the unconscious absorbing of rules.

6.     The construction of dualisms: “any conscious nomenclature gives rise to a corresponding realm of the ‘unconscious’” (70).


Burke notes that “[w]e here confront kinds of attention that often are not reducible to terms of repression” (71).


7.     Often, we can substitute intuition or instinct for unconscious, although in the former two modes of discovery no repression is involved (71).

8.     Further, decisions can often be attributed to ignorance rather than unconscious processes (72).


III. The Five Dogs


Dramatistically, all of the possible species of dog reduce to the following five:


1.     The primal dog, which is the first one who loved you, scared you, or otherwise made an impact (73).

2.     The “jingle” dog, which is the word itself (73).

3.     The “lexical” dog, which is the dictionary definition (73).

4.     The “perfect” dog, exemplified by the dogs of animal stories.  They are “perfect” embodiments of certain traits (74).

5.     The “tautological” dog, which can be understood in terms of the “associations which, in a sense, reproduce his spirit.” For example, the dog’s favorite toy (74).

The purpose of the “five dogs” list is to recognize “the terministic situations when each is most directly to be considered in its own right, though we should always keep the whole lot in mind, when inquiring into the relationship between the overt symbol and its possible dissolvings into the ‘Where is it?’ of the Unconscious” (74).


5. Chapter Five: Coriolanus-and the Delights of Faction




Burke’s “job” in this chapter is to “ask how…Coriolanus ‘ought to be.’ And we can check on the correctness of our prophecies by consulting the text” (81).


“Since the work is a tragedy, it will require some kind of symbolic action in which some notable form of victimage is imitated” (81).


Burke details the ways that the play sets up Coriolanus’ traits to establish him as a victim.  “Coriolanus is excessive in ways that prepare the audience to relinquish him for his role as a scapegoat, in accentuating a trait that the audience shares with him, though seldom avowedly” (83).


Identification is part of this process, as is sympathy (83).


The “paradox of substance” is also an integral facet of character development.  Basically, a character cannot “be himself” without numerous others to enable his development (84).


Burke uses an example of this paradox at work to illustrate “just what we mean by ‘prophesying after the event’ in order to ‘derive’ the play in terms of poetics (85).




“Fundamentally, then, the play exploits the ends of dramatic entertainment, with corresponding catharsis, the tension intrinsic to a kind of social division, or divisiveness, particularly characteristic of complex societies, but present to some degree in even the simplest modes of living” (88).


Burke explores the four “loci of motives” at work in this play, which are “nation, class, family, [and] individual.”  Each has its own terministic screen (90-91).




Burke locates the “grotesque” character of the play in the fact that Coriolanus is “not being satirized” (92).




“We have been considering Coriolanus’ qualifications as a scapegoat, whose symbolic sacrifice is designed to afford an audience pleasure” (94).


Burke wraps up with a “final formula for tragic catharsis,” a general principle derived from studying Coriolanus (95).






            1. Chapter One: Shakespearian Persuasion: Antony and Cleopatra




“Every writer has some fixed ideas, favorite images, or recurrent manifestations of one sort or another, that are analogous to a psychological tic.” Although Burke acknowledges that, owing to the Bard’s cleverness, it will present a daunting task, he nonetheless strives in this chapter to discover Shakespeare’s “tics” (101).


Burke offers some notes on the play to help demonstrate how persuasion will “shape up, with regard to the question of poetics” (102).


As a means of amplification, Shakespeare reverses the standard order and designates love as primary, politics as secondary (103).


Burke argues that Shakespeare wishes to persuade the audience that, “implicit in human relations under conditions of emergent empire there are the forms of empire as such.”  The love affair of the play, set in an imperial context, prompts the audience to understand it in terms of imperial relations (104).


The eunuchs are a terministic screen that direct attention toward Antony’s virility without jeopardizing the audience’s ability to identify with him (105).


“Identification is quite easy here, since anyone can understand the capriciousness of rulers, insofar as everyone has experienced the capriciousness of either children with regards to parents or parents with regards to children…the infantile and the absolute being enough alike for one to seem like the other” (106).  Although the setting is grand, the pretentiousness is oddly mundane and relatable.


The end sought, Burke argues, is for the audience to see “this lowly vision in terms of vast pretentiousness” (107).


“The two titular figures illustrate to perfection the ‘paradox of substance’” (107).


The moral lesson of tragedy, argues Burke, involves identifying with the tragic hero and then learning renounce our similar tragic flaws.  “[T]he tragedy can enable us to simultaneously to ‘identify ourselves’ with the imitation and to disclaim it.  The process involves redemption through vicarious victimage, since we acquiesce to the sacrifice of the persons who were entrusted with the role of imitating our weaknesses in an amplified form” (109).


Burke offers several examples, and sums up by stating that “one can see their general tenor, as modes of persuasion” (113). 


2. Chapter Two: Timon of Athens and Misanthropic Gold



Burke understands this play as a story about “golden misanthropy” and “absolute corruption,” the tale of a man who is generous to a fault, which lands him in massive debt.  His former friends desert him when he reaches to them for help, leaving him an angry, stingy misanthrope (115). 


Burke lists the particular strategies, character types, foreshadowing, and terministic screens that lend themselves to this particular play’s tale of excess (117).


One strategy of eliciting sympathetic response to a tragic hero, for example, is to have a very likeable character like him or her.  Burke calls this “sympathy by contagion” (117).


“Supernumerary,” or minor, characters move the plot in various ways.  For example, the flatterers and deserters reveal “the currish nature of mankind generally,” and the prostitutes’ interest in gold help establish how the play sets up money as dirty and corrupt (118).




“We are now in a position to consider a question we mentioned earlier, concerning the nature of Timon as a dramaturgic invention.  This question has to with Timon first of all as vilifier in the absolute, regardless of what he may happen to be vilifying” (120).


Timon’s tragic fall also advances the notion of “predicament of substance,” or the problems that arise from trying to bond with others.  “[T]he attempt to please or reward friends can become but a way of attracting parasites” (121).


Ultimately, Shakespeare illustrates a universal principle by way of specific examples, argues Burke.  In the case of Timon of Athens, the principle is the Marxist notion that “private property severs one’s bond with others, while also putting a person in constant jeopardy of loss” (122). 


Similarly to Antony and Cleopatra, the grand tale of Timon is applicable “in principle” to “Everyman (sic) in his relation to others” (122).


“Beastly,” “fecal” and “destructive” images all supply “misanthropic metaphors” to advance the play’s persuasive end (123).


3. Chapter Three: Form and Persuasion in the Oresteia



Burke is going back to some of the ground covered in Counter Statement, namely pertaining to the analysis of form “as the arousing and fulfilling of expectations” (127). Now, however, he is chiefly concerned with “the Great Persecutional Words” in the Oresteia (127).


Form can evoke images of bodily processes, as is the case with the “Demonic Trinity” of pity/erotic, fear/diuretic, and pride/anal (126).




The “dog image” “represents a basic ambiguity of social relations: the wavering line between loyalty and subservience” (129).


Women represent the Unconscious, the Underworld and “submerged motives” by virtue of their association with the home and private spaces (130).


The subjugation of women in the play relates back to “the thinking of the body” in that readers are moved to associate women with internal spaces and “motives of internality” (130).  There is terror “ingrained in the very behavior of the drama via the internality images.  “That is, the drama does not merely make us afraid; rather, it itself is afraid.  And inchoately it calls forth appropriate movements from the innermost recesses of the frightened mind, as reflected in a correspondingly frightened body” (130).




“The method points beyond purely aesthetic form, as usually conceived, to the view of the plot as being, in essence, not just this story or that, but a viaticum that carries us through the process of ritual initiation or cleansing proper to any such specific plot…”(131).


The choruses represent motives, such as the “very principle of conscious itself” (134).


Transforming the personal into the political, and underlying civic motives, are at work here as well.


 “[T]he transformations of conscience are, with astounding accuracy, related to emergent political institutions.  As we have seen the primal curse translated previously translated into terms of personal relationship, it is now to be treated explicitly in terms of civic relationship” (135).


These tragedies, “in their motivations,” are not “reducible to terms so biologically absolute” (136).


“[T]he great Greek tragedies were devices for treating of civic tensions (read: class conflicts), and for contributing to social amity by ritual devices for resolving such tensions” (137).


4. Chapter Four: Goethe’s Faust, Part 1


Burke lists the four “offices” “essential to the analysis of poetic symbolism,” and his intent of focusing on “personality” in this chapter.  Specifically, Burke wants to deal with the ways that a work’s “personality” “symbolizes perfect victimage as it relates to the entelechial principle nature of the genius of language” (139).


I. The Outline of the Work, as Pointed for Our Purposes


Burke summarizes the story as a tale of how a wealthy man seduced a naive girl, how his wealth enchanted her, and how he was transfixed by her “guileless ways”(139).


II. Negatives (or, rather, a Few of the More Notable Ones)


Mephistopheles “calls himself the spirit that always denies” (140).


“[T]he nature of the motives in the Witches’ Kitchen is epitomized in the crazy mathematical design that nonsensically adds up to nothing” (140).


“Gretchen’s first words are negatively couched” (140).


Faust contemplates nothingness.  Mephistopheles, however, is the most important symbol (140).


III. Striving


“With this reference to striving we have not only a theme but more specifically a term that we can trace in zigzags throughout the entire work” (141).


IV. In Sum, On the Play as “Characteristic


“The courting of Gretchen, we take it, translates the “courtly” motive into sexual equivalents” (143)..


Another way to look at it is in terms of human shortcoming.  Humans are constantly erring and striving, and thus, by nature, incomplete and imperfect.  “And we are thus suggesting that the inadequacy connoted by either term is categorical or “original”(144).


“[A]t the very least, secular poetry should mirror (or be the sign of) categorical guilt in the merely political or sociological sense” (144).


V. Heroine as Perfect Sacrificial Victim


“First of all, we must believe that [Gretchen] possesses all of the virtues of malleability generously attributed to her by the man who would mold her.” “His designs adding up to guile, she is reciprocally a delightful vessel of guilelessness” (147).


“While trying to characterize Gretchen as a person, we do so not in the interests of character portraiture as such but with reference to problems in the diplomacy of poetic symbolization.  For instance, as a figure designed to arouse our sympathies, the child who later drowns her own illegitimate child is seen to have been a virgin mother to her own sister” (148).


Burke calls this a character’s “spiritual inheritance” (148).


VI. The “Flower” Image, and Ramifications


“The flower theme (read: the “deflowering theme”) obviously fits well with the theme of Faust’s magically regained youth” (150).


However, the youth theme underscores a greater political and sociological principle.  “[B]y approaching the youth-age alignment as we have, we hope to have provided the means of making clear how ‘politically’ or ‘sociologically’ tinged this biological imagery is” (150).


“We are trying to suggest that, once a social order has attained its scrupulous analogues in modes of ‘self-control’ or ‘mortification,’ then imagery of youth can stand for general principles of resistance, however roundabout, symbolizing political or social motives not intrinsic to the biological condition as such” (150).


“Gretchen’s seduction becomes an imaginal substance for the principle of riot.”  “Poor Gretchen was, indeed, the sacrificial vessel of the negativistic principle, itself not essentially ‘sexual’ or ‘biological’ at all, but shaped by the thou-shalt not’s of governmental order” (150).


“[S]exual fantasies are…a displacement of political motives” (151).


“In so far as one’s perceptions of a ‘natural hierarchy’ or ‘order’ are imaginative responses to the morality of a given social order, there is a respect in which poetic ‘nature’ is but the incipient manifestation of society” (151).



VII. Walpurgis Night


Certain principles manifest in alternative forms.  For example, “it could be the kind of political subterfuge we have already mentioned, an imagery whereby the principle of revolutionary overthrow could be expressed, but in a safer form, a form that turned the imagination away from explicitly political considerations” (152).


This can also have the effect of sexualizing politics in the audiences’ interpretations.  Also, depending on the political and historical context, authors may adopt this strategy as means of avoiding risk (152).


“[T]he great man wanted not Gretchen, but what the sacrifice stood for: namely, riot, as revealed in the episode of Walpurgis Night” (153).


Burke posits that Goethe espoused an “idealistic philosophy of the becoming,” symbolized by the flower, and thus “anticipated Hegel and thereby anticipated both communism and Nazism” (155).


VIII. Concluding Comments


“Intrinsic to symbol-using as such there is the ‘principle of perfection’” (155).


“Extrinsically, the practical limitations of a given social order and of the given poet variously burden or complicate the search for perfect form in this purely technical sense” (155).


Thus, dramatic form is a useful vehicle for smuggling in potentially dangerous social and/or political views.  Metaphor is a useful disguise to cloak these sentiments in.  Further, “the playwright can dramatically attribute to a ‘fool’ or a ‘villain’ some attitude which he might not be otherwise able to voice” (156).


A purpose of this strategy can be “catharsis” (159).  “[T]here is certainly a sense in which, for a typically symbol-using animal, there would be a kind of ‘cleansing’ got by the sheer fact of ‘getting something said’” (159).


“We believe that the analysis of poetic forms, when approached from this attitude, points to the essential motives of both poetry in particular and human relations in general.  Such an approach would by no means deny the role of material factors in the shaping of human relations; but it would seek to analyze the modes of ‘magic’ by which material elements become inspirited, when the quests for truth, goodness, and power…are translated into the corresponding quest for beauty” (162).




Prepared by Emanuelle Wessels 10/17/06





The outline after this point prepared by Justin Killian 10/21/06


Chapter Five:  Faust II—The Ideas Behind the Imagery


  1. The specific subject matter of the subject will be the second part of Faust.
    1. Burke provides a lengthy explanation of Goethe’s work ethic, and he discusses the time frame for the composition of each section of the text. 

                                                    i.     The first part of Faust was written in 1808.

                                                  ii.     Part II of Faust was written between 1824-31.

    1. Burke makes note that many of Goethe’s other writings “shed light” on Faust.
  1. Burke follows what he terms a “logological” method to find key terms or “terministic functions” to show how the main lines of Faust Part II “should follow” (LASA 164).
    1. Burke writes, “In general. I shall proceed along the lines of an essay on “The First Three Chapters of Genesis,” in my book The Rhetoric of Religion.  I refer in particular to a chart entitled “Cycle of Terms Implicit in the Idea of ‘Order.’”
    2. Burke ends the introduction to this chapter by suggesting that theology, philosophy, political systems, and dramas are all alike in that each involves a cycle of configuration of organically interrelated terms.

                                                    i.     Burke argues that by featuring the interrelated terms and “considering their implications” the critic can understand the logic of the structure.

  1. Burke then moves to the actual analysis of Faust II, and he opens with a citation from an essay by Santayana that discusses the nature of beginnings and Goethe.
    1. Burke makes it clear that in studying the beginnings sometimes it is just as important to look at the prefix of a word as the first word of a sentence.

                                                    i.     For example, Burke provides a lengthy explanation of the various ways the German prefix Ur changes the meaning of many German nouns.

                                                  ii.     Ur technically translates as pre or fore- but it when added to many words it takes on a different meaning.  Consider the German word, mensch (man) with this prefix.  The word no longer means pre-man but now translates as primordial man.

    1. Burke makes note that in his scientific studies Goethe was concerned with the ideas rooted in this prefix.  For example, Goethe looked for an Ur-plant when studying Botany.
    2. In much the same way, the critic or reader of Faust is to look for “Ur-motives” or “Ur-situations.”
    3. Burke also suggests that suffixes carry as much meaning as prefixes, and the study of these word components is just as important as the study of beginnings.
  1. Burke summarizes the point behind the prefix/suffix distinction by arguing that Faust exists to introduce Faust Part II. 
    1. Burke writes, “Part II will involve the successive explicit disclosures, or revelations, of motives that were but implicit in Part I.  Thus there is a sense in which the truly Ur-motives lurking behind Part I should be sought in Part II, if they are to be found anywhere” (LASA 166).
    2. For Burke, the motives of Faust will most clearly be located in Faust Part II.
  2. Before engaging in his critical analysis, Burke offers one point of clarification about the obvious relationship between the writings of Kant and Goethe.  The two writers represent German idealistic romantic philosophy.
    1. Burke reminds the reader that Kant’s scheme distinguishes between phenomenon (the sensible) and noumenin (the intelligible). 
    2. Thus, the main distinction is that as a lyric poet or a dramatist (depending on which characteristic should be ascribed), Goethe could only work within the realm of the noumenin.
    3. From this distinction, Burke offers the meaning behind the title of the essay.  Ultimately, it is rooted in the notions of an Ur-phenomenon and the fact that Goethe writes in a manner that plays with the noumenin or the realm of experience.

                                                    i.     Burke writes that ur-phenomenon as a term “gives a clue to the subtitle of this essay.”  For Burke, the term shows where a “sheerly poetic search for Ur-motives is concerned, they must remain in a stage translatable into terms of imagery” (LASA 166).

                                                  ii.     Burke argues that Faust’s journey to the realm of “The Mothers” is the equivalent of Goethe’s philosophical search for an ur-phenomenon.

  1. Burke transitions to the second German term that gets at the “essence” of German idealism.  For Burke, this term is “Geist” or spirit.
    1. Burke argues that if this one term were taken from the German language all great works, especially Marxism, would collapse.
    2. Burke offers many examples about the complexity of the word, and he shows that it cannot be properly translated into an English equivalent.
    3. Burke shows that the term pervades the entire section of the work, and it often exists in its synonym form.
    4. Goethe also places the term in a dialectical possibility with the phrase “nature.”
  2. Burke then transitions to the next section of his analysis by applying terms from the pentad to the above-mentioned German words.
    1. Ur becomes a scenic word, and Geist is a word for agent.
    2. Burke then offers the word “streben” or striving as the act that is taking place in the scene. 

                                                    i.     For Burke, this term is in an interesting relationship with other German words that are used in the text.

                                                  ii.     Streben rhymes with leben “to live” and schweben “to soar,” and Goethe cleverly invokes these terms to depict Faust’s redemption.

    1. Burke then offers a lengthy discussion of the relationship between various German words to remind the reader that the ultimate critical move of the essay is to locate the Ur-motive in Faust Part II.
  1. Burke later transitions to “foretell” the second part of Faust by suggesting how he believes it should be based on the “UR-Geist-Streben” nexus.
    1. To accomplish the above task, Burke engages in a very detailed accounting of specific textual elements.
  2. Burke then moves into a discussion of the dramatical and lyrical in Act I of Faust.  He also branches into his own form of hermeneutics throughout the section.  Those interested in the workings of this text might find these pages (LASA 171-6) interesting.
  3. Part VII discusses Act II and talks about he Ur-situation that takes places.
  4. Burke then provides a lengthy textual analysis of Act III, which is entitled the Helena.
  5. Finally Burke provides a close reading of the final act, which looks at the cycles of terms in the text that imply each other.
  6. Burke ends with the one question that seems to be unresolved in the work, that is the two grand sexual principles of the work must be molded into one.


Chapter Six:  I, Eye, Ay- Concerning Emerson’s Early Essay on “Nature,” and the Machinery of Transcendence


  1. Burke proposes to offer a discussion of Emerson’s essay “Nature” through the standpoint of transcendence.
  2. Burke admits that dialectical transcendence and dramatic catharsis overlap in many ways. 
  3. He then proceeds to offer some clarification about the way the two terms and procedures differ.
    1. For Burke, catharsis involves purgation by the imitation of victimage.  It is a form of social medicine.
    2. Transcendence becomes a form of rival medication for Burke, and Emerson’s essay provides a description of the brand of transcendentalism that is difference from dramatic catharsis.

                                                    i.     Transcendence is similar in that it has traces of victimage.  It also has elements of catharsis. 

                                                  ii.     Although Burke is concerned with symbolic operations, he notes that the process of transcendentalism has an institutional process as well.

    1. To discuss the institutional process, Burke references the article “The Seven Offices: in the appendix of Attitudes Toward History.

                                                    i.     In the essay Burke outlines the seven functions people provide one another.  The first six are: govern, rule, defend, teach, entertain, and cure.

                                                  ii.     There was still a seventh role that had to be “dealt with” for Burke.

1.     After considering the role of the priest, Burke decided that the seventh role was to “pontificate” or “build a bridge” for others.

2.     Ultimately, transcendence becomes the seventh role.  For Burke, transcendence is about building a terministic bridge to transcend one realm by a realm beyond it.

  1. Burke then offers a discussion of catharsis that centers on the way an audience purges itself by identifying with the excess of the tragic hero.
    1. Burke moves the reader beyond an Aristotelian understanding of catharsis, and he brings attention to the idea that often the mere act of saying things brings forth catharsis.
    2. Burke then shows how drama and dialectic are alike.  Both attempt, through competition, to lead to a view that transcends the partial views of the participants.
  2. Burke then makes it clear that at their extremes, he feels there are notable differences between tragic catharsis and dialectical transcendence.  He suggests that the Emerson essay is a “delightful illustration of this difference” (LASA 189).
    1. Emerson’s essay is characterizes as an idealistic exercise in “transcendence up.”
    2. For Burke, tragic catharsis and dialectical transcendence both give kinds of “transformation” (LASA 189).
    3. In dialectical transcendence, the principle of transformation operates in terms of a “beyond.”  Burke relates this to the seventh office of man or the priestly function.
    4. For Burke, the Emerson essay is a “delightful example” of this terministic process.
  3. Burke then returns to a lengthy description of Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy.
  4. Finally, Burke tells use the essay will attempt to do three things.
    1. First, it will “build up a contrast between transformation by victimage (dramatic catharsis) and transformation by dialectical “transcendence” (modes of “crossing” whereby something here and now is interpreted in terms of something beyond (LASA 191).
    2. Second, Burke wants to show that the same principles are involved every time an author, no matter how empirical his claims, tries to reach a higher level of generalization for claims.
    3. Finally, Burke argues that within the essay “while spontaneously shifting back and forth between different levels of generalization, might incline not to see that all such procedures are operating within the same rules, though in a fragmentary way” (LASA 191).
  5. Burke concludes this section by giving the essay immense praise and noting that both Emerson and Whitman, “loved the gesture (if whistling is a gesture)—and it is an appealing gesture, albeit a gesture much more plausible then than now” (LASA 192).
  6. Burke then moves into section four of the essay where he claims that the form of the essay treats society in terms of nature.
  7. Section five of the essay takes up the relationship between the Hic et Nunc and they “beyond.”
  8. Finally, the essay ends with a look at discipline and a return to theorizing about victimage.


Chapter Seven:  “Kubla Khan,” Proto-Surrealist Poem


  1. Burke opens the chapter by claiming that he thinks Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” is both a marvel and finished.  Coleridge thinks the poem is a fragment.
  2. Burke believes that whatever was lost, the three stanzas in their “overall progression tick off a perfect form” (LASA 201).
    1. Stanza One (thesis) amplifies the theme of beatific vision
    2. Stanza Two (Antithesis) introduces the countertheme
    3. Stanza Three fuses the two motives in terms of a beatific vision
  3. Burke then references an essay by John Livingstone Lowes that attempts to trace the words in Coleridge’s writings to phrases in other great literary works.  It is believed that all of Coleridge’s phrases are references to other things he was reading. 
  4. Burke thinks Coleridge is actually referencing his own words, not others, in the poem being analyzed.
    1. Burke argues, “The student of any poet’s nomenclature has mote to learn from a concordance of his work (a purely internal inspection of a term’s “sources” in its own range of contexts) than from an inspection of possible borrowings (LASA 203).
  5. Burke argues that much of Lowe’s evidence for external references might be read as indication that Coleridge was responding to the “implications of such imagery” (LASA 203). 
  6. For Burke, Lowe’s essay provides two insights that Lowe was not interested in documenting.
    1. First, the essay provides material that shows the association between terms and their mythic or archetypal forms.
    2. Second, the essay shows a nomenclature that may be uniquely Coleridgean.
  7. Burke then conducts a reading of the poem that looks for “archetypal” sources.
  8. Burke argues that despite Coleridge’s claims about the poem’s origins, the poem should be viewed as a work of art.  Thus, Burke sets out to discover the “kind of effect it aims to produce” (LASA 204).
  9. Burke cites the Aristotelian claim that tragedy will make use of the marvelous.  For Burke, the specific poem in question, as well as others written by Coleridge, is a strong example of this literary technique.
  10. Then Burke begins his reading of “Kubla Khan.”
    1. The first stanza is read as a beatific vision of an Edenic garden, enclosed in a circle of protection.
    2. Burke provides a lengthy explication of each word, a look at the use of color, references to fountains, mention of the forest.  For a detailed account of this read see LASA pages 206-208.
  11. Burke then provides a read of the poem’s second stanza.
    1. Burke opens the read by writing, “though you may have felt that I was straining things as regards the ambiguities of “sacred” in the first stanza, surely you will grant that in this middle stanza such disturbances come to the fore, as regards the synonym “holy with reference to  “A Savage place!…enchanted” (LASA 208).
    2. Burke then praises Coleridge for beautifully waving together descriptions of “natural motions” with “human actions.”
    3. There is also reference to the second stanza being saturated with narrative, which brings a sense of personality to this section of the poem.
    4. Based on a series of textual examples, Burke argues that, “the poem could be viewed as a highly personal, poetic analogue of Kantian transcendentalism, which sought conceptually to think about itself until it ended in a schematization of the forms necessarily implicit in the very act of thinking” (LASA 209).
  12. Burke then stresses that the image of the “sacred river” in the poem is tied to the psychology of idealism.
  13. By providing examples from the poem “Dejection” by Coleridge, Burke argues that Coleridge’s own vocabulary gives more insight to the meaning of the poem.
  14. From 211-14 Burke then provides specific references to certain words in “Kubla Khan” that can be found in other writings of Coleridge.
  15. After his lengthy word for word analysis, Burke writes, “We expect that final stanza to “synthesize” the two movements that have gone before.  It does so” (LASA 214).
  16. Burke then writes, “the vision of the ‘Abyssinian maid’ is clearly beatific, yet the beholder of the vision (as presented in terms of the poem) is also to be identified with sinister connotations (as with those that explicitly emerge just after a recurrent reference to the “caves of ice”) (LASA 214).
  17. Much like the other three stanzas, the third portion of the poem gets a close letter-by-letter read.
  18. After this, Burke decides to consider the argument that the poem is finished even though the author class it a “fragment”  (LASA 216).
    1. To make this argument, Burke cites a passage from the Philosophy of the Literary Form that discusses plot and lyrical style.  (Vintage edition pages 26-27)
    2. Burke argues, “I believe that, in principle at least, Coleridge actually did dream all hose lines, and transcribed them somewhat as an amanuensis might have done” (LASA 217).
    3. In arguing that the poem is a finished product, Burke returns to his concern that the poem is actually best understood by looking at Coleridge’s own nomenclature.
    4. Burke makes the argument that many of the words have sinister connotation, as regards their uses in other contexts.
  19. Burke Offers an Addendum that was developed after several of his students provided readings of the poem without his influence.  Below is a list of the critical elements that changed for Burke based on these readings:
    1. Many of the students provided psychoanalytic readings of the poem that spoke to the phallic imagery and the underlying currents of homosexual and heterosexual desire that are embedded within the poem.
    2. Burke makes sure that all psychoanalytic reads need to pay attention to the familial aspects of the poem.  He argues that many were too quick to jump to the sexual, and they wrongfully overlook the role family roles play in the poem.
    3. Burke also mentions Kathleen Raine’s 1964 essay in the Sewanee Review that speaks of the symbolic motives implicit in Coleridge’s thought and the association between “abyss” and “Abyssinia.”  Burke is accepting of her reading.
  20. Burke ends his chapter with a discussion of Raine’s comments on “anamnesis,” and he notes that until critics take his point about “temporizing of essence” (as discussed in the Grammar of Motives) they will not fully grasp the linguistic principles underlying the relationship between the “mythic” and the “philosophic” terms for “beginnings” (LASA 221).


Chapter Eight:  Social and Cosmic Mystery: A Passage to India


  1. Burke opens with what he class preparatory definitions.  He argues that he will treat E.M. Forster’s novel A Passage to India as social comedy rather than in terms of cosmic mystery.  He also suggests that his analysis will somewhat qualify the formula.
  2. Burke suggests that there are three ways to begin this argument, and opts to approach the analysis by proposing a “tentative definitions of the book as a literary species,” and then he will “work into it concretely by considering the various clauses of the definition” (LASA 223).
    1. Burke is not concerned with this being a style that would cover many books or whether this is a treatment of this book as a “sui generis.”
  3. Burke then offers four numbered claims about the work.
    1. First he calls it a long, realistic prose narrative tinged with mystery.  He notes that it employs “dialogue and description.”
    2. He then notes that the Forester relies on geological, historical, psychological, and sociological observations used for poetic purposes”  (LASA 223).
    3. Finally, he argues that the five paragraphs of Chapter 12 “form an especially remarkable progression” (LASA 223).

                                                    i.     The first paragraph deals with the region in the most general sense.

                                                  ii.     The second paragraph is sprinkle with the negative and imagines a time when India might be covered by water.

                                                iii.     The third paragraph deals with the appearance of the caves.

                                                iv.     The fourth paragraph considers how light behaves when is mirrored on its polished walls.

                                                  v.     The final stanza culminates in as much an absolute as one can by using images.

    1. He suggests that the book is told in a comic mood that is “essentially humane” and that transcends the perspective of any one character.
  1. Burke then offers a section labeled “situation.”  Of the four claims mentioned above, he decides to begin with the final statement concerning the comic mood of the book.
    1. Burke claims that the plot and the situation line up provide the reader with the “material” needed to see the book as an “ironically sympathetic contemplation” (LASA 225).
    2. Burke notes that in the novel everyone is pitted against someone else so as to create a scene of conflict.
    3. At this point Burke shows that the novel can be read in two different ways.

                                                    i.     First, it could be seen as a narrative about a young girl who visits a colony.

                                                  ii.     The second way to consider the book is to see it as a story of the elderly Mrs. Moore who accompanies the young girl making the trip.

    1. Although Burke argues that both of the ways to see the story are present, the novel should actually be seen in terms of the embarrassments that are brought due to the differences in social statuses of the characters.

                                                    i.     The differences in social status allow the author to experiment with different types of gallantry.

    1. Burke also emphasizes that there is a comic stress upon the dislocation of society and there are traces of a transcendental dialectic.
    2. The driving force of the novel becomes the author’s use of a poetic style to show social embarrassments and corresponding reports of things that go wrong.
  1. Burke then moves to a discussion of the “Cast of Characters” (LASA 228).
    1. Burke argues that in the novel the most “obvious human problem” is turned into a source of poetic pleasure.
    2. Burke then provides a list of conflicts that occur between the character Adela and various other British officials and Indian characters.
    3. After the plot analysis, Burke then states, “In this work there is no villain.  There is only a comic scale of errors.  Thus, though it has no driving sexual love (no amor, or eros) it is essentially charitable (it has contemplative brand of charitas, which the Latin equivalent of agape).  Thus, for these mean days, it is good medicine (LASA 229).
    4. To prove the above point, Burke provides character analyses of the many competing personalities in the book.
    5. In the final analysis of the punkah wallah, Burke notes that many psychoanalytic critics would be quick to highlight erotic connotations but this would be a huge jump from dramatis persona to the symbol the figure actually embodies.
  2. Burke then offers a discussion of attendant terms.  He notes that “it will be a troublesome section for readers who hurry on” but he argues that it is “necessary, since it throws light on ways whereby recurrent terms help establish the internal consistency of the novel, and internal consistency that prevails at a level not likely to be noticed at a first, unanalytic reading” (LASA 232).
    1. Burke shows that the term “extraordinary” appears in both the opening and closing sentences of the first chapter.
    2. Burke shows that there is a strong preference for negative terms in the book.
    3. Burke also shows that term “half” frequently shows up in the text.
    4. Burke continues to trace terms in the same way and show the internal symbolic relationships.  This can be found from 234-237.
  3. Burke then transitions to a discussion of the supernatural in the novel in a section that he titles “Mystery.” (This section starts on pg. 237)


Chapter Nine: Version, Con-, Per-, and In- Thoughts on Djuna Barnes’s Novel Nightwood


  1. The chapter opens with Burke saying that what follows relates with his recent work on the problems with the relationship between rhetoric and poetics.
  2. Burke notes that these issues are directly related to Cleanth Brooks’s recent work on Faulkner.  Burke highlights that Brooks was once a proponent of Formalistic Criticism but seems to have distanced himself from this version of analysis in his later work.
  3. Burke is happy that Brooks steps outside the confines of Formalistic Criticism, but he feels that that Brooks’s critical project must be judged with the same lens that Brooks used to judge other critics.
  4. In this contrast between rhetoric and poetics Burke claims that there are two types of bookkeeping that are available to the critic.
    1. First, if an author uses violence in the text and discusses this as representative of the “region” in which the plot takes place, then they can be critiqued for overlooking the sheer formalistic element that violence is a means of story telling.
    2. The second issue concerns the use of poetics, and it is discussed through an analysis of Djuna Barnes's Nightwood.  However, Burke notes that “its stylistic tactics raise a Rhetorical problem, due to the nature of its theme” (LASA 241).
  5. Burke then begins his analysis of the novel with a section titled with the roman numeral I.
    1. Burke starts the section by calling James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as Young Man the bible of Aestheticism.  He then argues that “though the aesthetic doctrine itself would come closer to a Poetic than to a Rhetoric, it has all the accoutrements of a gospel, with Stephen as the logos, plus corresponding history and passion” (LASA 241).
    2. For Burke, Nightwood also moves from book to Bible.

                                                    i.     To begin this discussion Burke reminds the reader of his three freedoms of speech that are discussed in the “Laurel edition” of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens

1.     The three freedoms are: freedom of praise, freedom of invective, and freedom of lamentation

2.     Burke argues that these forms off speech can be grounded in our earliest preverbal expressions.

    1. Burke then shows the difference between a Biblical and literary jeremiad, and he argues that a literary jeremiad must be fun.
    2. Burke then suggests that it is also important to consider the purpose of lamentation.
    3. He also argues that the book “will be one more of the many works designed to celebrate the grave responsibilities that Love places upon its votaries.  And its plot will gravitate about a conversion to perversion, or inversion” (LASA 242)
  1. Burke then moves through a lengthy explanation of how derivates of the Latin word vert appear throughout the Bible, other literary works, and Nightwood.
    1. The above discussion makes little sense to the reader of the essay as all the textual examples have been omitted due to limitations placed on the novel by the publisher.
  2. In the section marked as two, Burke starts with a discussion of the novel’s plot.  In its simplest form, the plot concerns a woman in a love triangle with two other women.
  3. Burke starts to analyze the plot, but he reminds the reader that when analyzing literary tactics the critic should look for an “author’s modes of ‘dignification’” (LASA 245).
  4. Burke shows that in the book he finds two basic kinds of dogs (the book ends with Robin on all fours in a doglike state).
    1. The two types of dogs are “put on dog” and “go to the dogs.”
  5. The remainder of the section provides a plot analysis of the entire novel and provides a brief description of the above themes.
  6. In Section III, Burke puts together “various passages that most directly indicate the book’s terministic tactics” (250).
    1. Burke first opens with a discussion of the theme of blood in the book.
    2. Ultimately Burke’s analysis aims to show that the essence of motivation has always been since the beginning.
    3. Burke analysis leads the reader through the complicated sexual relationships between the characters.
    4. He then offers another version of the motivation in the book that causes him to revisit his reading of Hitler’s Mein Kampff.  Ultimately, Burke shows how the theme of blood worked in Hitler’s work, and he then compares this to the theme that is found in Barnes’s novel.
  7. Burke then moves to conclude the essay.
    1. First, he argues that cause can be recommended in terms of expediency, “by showing the advantages to be gained it the proper policies are adopted” (LASA 253).
    2. Second, cause can be recommended in terms of “tragic dignification,” by showing people who are willing to sacrifice for their cause.


Chapter Ten: The Vegetal Radicalism of Theodore Roethke


  1. Burke offers several passages from Roethke’s poems as a way “in” to his coming argument.  He starts with the thirteen flower poems from the first section of The Lost Son.
  2. Burke argues that the many phrases he has highlighted show that Roethke can “endow his brief lyrics with intensity of action” (LASA 255).
    1. Burke argues that the poems allow the reader to enter at a specific place, travel a long winding path, and exit at a totally different place.
  3. Burke gives beautiful descriptive analysis of Roethke’s poems.
  4. After discussing the poems of The Lost Son, Burke then shows how the poem “The Visitant” contains three movements: anticipatory, reminiscent, and theophany.
    1. Burke provides more descriptive analysis that shows these three elements in the poem.
  5. After using argument by antithesis that employs the work of Eliot, Burke then suggests, “to characterize Roethke’s verse, you could profitably start from considerations of vocabulary.  The motive we have in mind is by no means peculiar to this one poet.  It runs through modern art generally” (LASA 258).
  6. Burke then moves through a discussion Kantian philosophy as it relates to the sensations that the poetry might evoke. 
    1. In particular, “intuitions” and “concepts” as they relate to Kant’s Aesthetic and Analytic realm are used to understand how the poem is composed.
    2. For Burke, the distinctions Kant makes show the directions poetry might take to look for notable “purifications of language.”
  7. Burke then moves to analogies that can be drawn to Dante’s Infantile.
  8. Following this section, there is a lengthy analysis of Wordsworth.
    1. Burke notes that by the time of Wordsworth’s preface, the search for a principle of selection for a “purified speech” involves a romantic reversion to “low and rustic life” (LASA 260).
    2. Burke also shows that Wordsworth is concerned with the journalistic idiom.
    3. In short, Burke shows that Wordsworth is concerned with the technological idioms and the purification of language.
    4. Burke shows how many technical languages take the communicator back to a pure, childlike form of communication.
    5. Burke then shows how this doctrine infuses Lawrence’s writings.
  9. All of these musings through many different literary giants, Burke finally comes to his main point.  He writes, “All told, we can see in Roethke’s cult of “intuitive language: a more strictly “infantile variant of the Dantesque search for a “noble” vernacular; a somewhat suburban, horticulturist variant of Wordsworth’s stress upon the universal nature of rusticity; and a close replica of Lawrence’s distinction between the physical and the “abstract” (LASA 263).
  10. Burke then moves to discuss the selectivity that is implicit in Roethke’s flower images.
    1. He writes, “What roughly, then, is the range of meaning in Roethke’s flowers?  In part, they are a kind of psychology, an emphatic vocabulary for expressing rudimentary motives felt, rightly or wrongly, to transcend particular periods of time” (Burke, LASA 265).
    2. Burke also offers a discussion of four poems that Roethke called the four experiences that show the struggle from the slime.  The four poems are “The Lost Son,” “The Long Ally,” “A Field of Light,” and “The Shape of Fire.”

                                                    i.     Burke argues that the four poems represent the two motives “regression” and “fulfillment” (LASA 266).

    1. After a lot more descriptive work, Burke makes the claim “Roethke’s vegetal radicalism is not the place one would ordinarily look for comments on the economic motive.  Yet you can take it as a law that, in our culture, at a moment of extreme mental anguish if the sufferer is accurate there will be an accounting of money too” (LASA 269).
    2. After offering some other critical work and making references to Shakespeare’s MacBeth Burke offers reads of “A Field of Light” and “The Shape of Fire.”
    3. Burke then highlights another “rhetorical device” that can be found in Roethke’s work.

                                                    i.     Burke writes, “Whenever there is no specific verb required, Roethke resorts to some word in the general category of communication.”

                                                  ii.     Thus, in the poem spiders “cry” and weeds “whine.”

    1. Burke shows that similes are used very sparingly in Roethke, and the word “like” appears three times in the entire poem.
    2. Burke then approaches the question of human motivation, and he offers speculation about how much motivation should influence the poet’s work.

                                                    i.     Burke does not think it is the critic’s responsibility to legislate for the poet and give them a motivation in their work.

                                                  ii.     The critic is to characterize.

                                                iii.     Burke states that Roethke’s work offers one example of how motivation can become evident in a poem.

  1. Burke ends with general praise for the Roethke poem.


Chapter Eleven: William Carlos Williams, 1883-1963


  1. Burke opens with the claim that to read the work of Williams is to find him warmly in his work.
  2. He makes it clear that both his role ass doctor and poet are evident in his works.
  3. After a lengthy story about walking with Williams along the beach, Burke finally offers a thesis which reads “For Williams any natural or poetic concern with the body as a sexual object was reinforced and notably modified by a professional concern with the body as a suffering or diseased object” (LASA 284).
    1. Burke acknowledges that the theme of bodily elements shows the influence Whitman had on Williams.
    2. Burke is also careful to acknowledge that the theme persists in the later works of Williams, primarily in The Collected Later Poems.
  4. Burke then moves to a discussion of the “sentimental” and he argues that Williams’ s use of imagery does “not involve false or forced sentiment” (LASA 286).
    1. For Burke, Williams is sentimental because his poetic descriptions are not descriptions of things but they are instead “portraits of personalities” (LASA 287).
    2. The primary point of discussion for Burke is a work by Stevens who has many contrasting views on the purpose and style of Williams’s sentimentality.

                                                    i.     Burke argues, “Stevens’ use of imagery is more airy than Williams’, quite as the world of part-time insurance man differs from the world of a part-time medical doctor, though each of these poets in his way is strongly aware of the appetites” (LASA 288).

  1. Burke ends the chapter with another personal anecdote about Williams and then he provides reads of a few other poems.


Part III:  Further Essays of Symbolism in General


Chapter One: Rhetoric and Poetics


  1. Burke opens this chapter with a brief discussion of Aristotle and language.
    1. Burke mentions that he has recently listened to a lecture on the poetics of film.
    2. He then reminds the audience that Aristotle should be the starting point of this discussion, and he makes vague allusions to his own work concerning man being the “symbol-using animal.”
  2. Burke then makes clear that his discussion will attempt to trace out some of the various uses of the terms rhetoric and poetic.  He writes, “terms like poetic and rhetoric having been used in many different situations, one cannot expect them to stay put, since it is a sheer fact of history that their meanings have shifted, we must admit as much, then try to show the logic of their transformations” (LASA 296).
  3. Burke then reminds the reader that forms of expression are universal whether they are poetic of rhetorical.  This is an argument he builds in Rhetoric of Motives.
    1. For Burke, rhetoric was “developed by the use of language for purposes of cooperation and competition.  It served to form appropriate attitudes that were designed to induce corresponding acts” (LASA 296).
    2. Poetics by contrast concern symbolic action for symbolic action’s sake.  In sum, rhetoric is practical, but the poetic is not practical.
  4. Burke then moves to a discussion of Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Poetics.
    1. Burke shows that in terms of the poetic, Aristotle encourages a turn to the rhetoric to see what a person should say in a certain situation.
    2. Burke also shows that many rhetorical situations employ the tactics that are usually associated with the poetic.
    3. Ultimately, there is overlap between the two terms even in Aristotle.
  5. Burke then suggests that even thought there is overlap between the two terms, the discussion must consider Aristotle’s definition of tragedy which reads, “through pity and fear effecting the catharsis of such emotions” (LASA 297).  Burke moves forward with this comment.
    1. Burke’s suggested starting point for the discussion about the overlap between rhetoric and poetics is to be found in Aristotle’s Politics.  He writes, “in the Politics that the subject of catharsis is to get further treatment in the Poetics, I assume that there was such a section, and that the two are closely related” (LASA 297).
  6. Burke then offers what he labels an “aside” and discusses the etymology and the translation of Aristotle’s definition of tragedy.  He calls for the creating of an English verb that means something like “go beyond.”
    1. This becomes important for both rhetoric and poetics in that both are asking the audience to go beyond something.
  7. Burke then offers a discussion of how rhetoric and poetics differ.
    1. Burke then offers very little commentary that teases apart the differences between these two terms.
    2. On page 300, Burke proposes to approach the differences between the two terms through a discussion of formalist criticism and Faulkner, but instead he offers allusions to Greek tragedy and Shakespeare.
  8. Burke then proposes to end with a question that deals primarily with rhetoric.  He encourages the reader to return to a discussion of “identification” and administrative rhetoric” that he offers in the Rhetoric of Motives.
    1. Burke uses the example of Theordore Roosevelt taking the American fleet to Germany as a goodwill mission.  In sum, this is a classic example of administrative rhetoric for Burke.  Administrative rhetoric becomes directly persuasive aims that have means that are not completely verbal.
  9. Burke then relates the above concept to notions of identification and the problems with this strategy of persuasion.
  10. Burke then provides a crystallization of how he would have individuals view the relationship between rhetoric and poetics.
    1. He argues that the two fields are becoming confused because of their overlapping subject matter.
    2. He decides to end with an illustration and not an argument.

                                                    i.     He discusses his attempt to write a satirical poem.

                                                  ii.     He then provides a lengthy excerpt from a lecture given by Dr. Wilbur S. Howell on the difference between the two terms.

                                                iii.     After discussing Howell, Burke argues that he began writing his poem in terms of self-expression (the poetic) but things started moving when he started writing in terms of “communication.”

  1. Taking issue with many of Howell’s points, Burke provides the most logical summary of the entire chapter. 
  2. Burke writes, “the rise of aesthetics, with the corresponding exile of literary and academic traditions that had placed the stress upon Rhetoric, Poetics and Dialectic.  The exiled subjects found asylum in the “new sciences,” so that many of the older concepts now have new names—and often the new names open up implications not discernable in the old names.  The job here is not to be simply “purists,” but rather to ask just how much of the new material should be added to the study of Rhetoric, Poetics, and Dialectic—and how much should be definitely abandoned to the jurisdiction of the “new sciences” themselves” (LASA 306).  This seems to be the clearest summary of the entire chapter.


Chapter Two: The Thinking of the Body: Comments on the Imagery of Catharsis in Literature


  1. Burke opens by noting that catharsis is usually considered in the “grand style,” but he stresses that there are humbler modes of “mortification” available to imaginative writing (LASA 308).
  2. Burke offers five case studies, plus examples from his own work, that stress the range of imagination and “good writing.”
  3. The first case study offered is a discussion of Alice in Wonderland.
    1. Burke offers discussion of various scenes in the novel that show the presence of an anal-oral reversibility in the work.
    2. Ultimately, Burke points out the use of puns and phrases that allow for this reversibility to take place.
  4. The second case study is an analysis of Wagner’s Ring.
    1. Burke opens with a description of the opera Das Rheingold, and then ties in discussions of a letter Wagner wrote on January 25, 1854 that provide insights into the meaning of the opera.
    2. The majority of this section is related to Burke’s notion of purification, and he offers a quite intriguing discussion of original sin.  In all, this is mainly another descriptive analysis that shows a use of redemption, ideas of the negative, and sin.
  5. The third case study looks at Flaubert’s Temptation of St. Anthony.
    1. Burke returns to his ideas of body and the body and flesh distinction in this case study.
    2. Through beautiful and thorough descriptive analysis of the various scenes in the work, Burke sets out to suggest that “in Flaubert’s fertile phantasmagoria Anthony’s temptations would take the form of ‘body thinking’ that lured him in the other direction, from “spirit” to “Matter” (LASA 314).
  6. Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound is offered as the fourth case study in the essay.
    1. Burke opens with Freud’s reading of the drama.  Burke reminds the reader that in “The Acquisition of Power over Fire,” Freud sexualizes the fire and draws attention to its extinguish.
    2. Burke offers an alternative reading of the play, but he recognizes the strengths in Freud’s account.
    3. For Burke, “the play seems to offer an almost schematically clear instance of fear expressed in terms of micturition.”

                                                    i.     The remainder of the chapter discusses the evidence for this reading.  These are found in LASA pages 320-2.

  1. Finally, Burke offers the “Pure” poetry of Mallarme as the final case study.
    1. Burke arguers that Mallarme’s standards of stylistic elegance take the issues at hand in the essay the furthest.
    2. Burke writes, “His [Mallarme] desire to write the perfect poem led him, in reflexive self-involvement to write poem after poem about the process of writing a poem.  Thus, he confronted such absolute tests as come nearest to fulfillment when they contrive, however maturely, to reaffirm the motivational design on the infantile” (LASA 322).
    3. Burke introduces the argument by Fowlie that the poems of Mallarme deal with angelism, hermeticism, and narcissism.  Burke adds that beyond these, the critic should look for elements of the demonic trinity in the poems.
    4. Burke then walks the reader through the various poems to show these literary elements in what he considers their “pure form”
  2. The chapter concludes with Burke referencing his own work, a discussion of the conscious and unconscious in sonnets, and reflections on remarks a colleague gave Burke on this chapter.


Chapter Three: Somnia AS Urinandum: More thoughts on Motion and Action


  1. Burke opens with talks of Freud and Jung’s different views on the dreaming.  For Freud, dreams allow the dreamer to escape censorship that has been placed on motives.  For Jung, dreams concern archetypes.  Burke hopes to offer a third, alternative view.
  2. Burke writes, “A wide range of analogies, more or less adequate as judged by conscious, critical tests of representation, can serve to symbolize a motive.  But in sleep, when the critical faculties are less exacting than during times of maximum alertness, a dreamer might be temporarily “satisfied” with any mode of representation that remotely resembles the motive or complex of motives with which his dream happens to be preoccupied” (LASA 345).
  3. For Burke, the point of discussing dreams is to show that analogies are not an adequate means of interpreting dreams.  However, for Burke this also suggests that analogies are bad representations for all arguments and concepts because they cannot sustain a point-for-point analysis they are meant to contain.
  4. Burke offers an anecdote of Mr.V who often had dreams of urination, oracles, climbing, heavy rain, and many other subjects.
    1. Burke walks the reader through the various analogies Mr. V placed on the dreams to understand their meaning.  These include: notions that words are blocked.
    2. After showing Mr. V using various analogies to explain dreams, Burke provides the overarching argument behind the anecdote.  He notes, “In sum, if dreams are condensations of several motivational strands (and they almost inevitably are, since the material they adapt for their analogies obviously comes from many sources, some accidental and some integral to both superficial and profound problems of the personality), there is all the more cause for the analogies to be inadequate, as regards the representation of any one motive.  And insofar as the dreaming mind rarely meets the tests of rationality that a wholly awakened critical mind would demand of an analogy, there is all the greater likelihood that any analogies (for which the uncritical dreamer fins pro tem use) will be confused) (LASA 351).
  5. After the discussion of Mr. V, Burke returns to his discussion of the motives behind religion.
    1. Burke reminds the reader that that religion serves a redemptive function and operates as a means off social control.
    2. Burke argues that the orthodox theorist of the psychoanalytic want to question the very assumptions on which the guilt is based, and they offer a completely different form of redemption according to Burke.
    3. Burke does not mean to repudiate Freud, but instead he asks, “Might the pressure for dramatic dignification often lead to a greater stress upon serious causes than is actually the case?” (LASA 353).
  6. Burke then returns to a dramatization that he thinks is “heroic.”  This requires him to return to the dreaming patterns of Mr. V.
  7. Finally, Burke ends with an addendum that responds to the comments many experts in psychoanalytic criticism provided him.


Sean Larson prepared the remaining portion of the outline.




4.)   Chapter 4: What Are the Signs of Man?


I. Things are the “signs” of words.


“[T]he ‘same’ act can be defined ‘differently,’ depending upon the ‘circumference’ of the scene or overall situation in terms of which we choose to locate it” (360).  Burke uses the example of the word ‘hammer’ to illustrate how different experiences may imply a different set of terms.


In contrast to a commonsense idea of language, which states that “’words are the signs of things,’” perhaps “’things are the signs of words.’”  “If such verbal spirits, or essences, were enigmatically symbolized in nonverbal things, then their derivation (so far as causes within the natural world are concerned) could come both from the forms of language and from the group motives that language possesses by reason of its nature as a social product” (361).


One should think of speech as “the ‘entitling’ of complex nonverbal situations (somewhat as the title of a novel does not really name one object, but sums up the vast complexity of elements that compose the novel, giving its character, essence, or general drift).”  Furthermore, “the things of the world become material exemplars of the values which the tribal idiom has placed upon them” (361).


 “[F]or man, nature is emblematic of the spirit imposed upon it by man’s linguistic genius.”


II. This idea may provide a modification, not a refutation, of the commonplace theory of language.


Augustine’s Confessions demonstrate the commonsense relationship between words and things (362-363).


This “experiment” might “supply a needed modification of that view, like adding an adjective to a noun” (363).


III. The Theory of Origins would be a translation from logical terms into corresponding narrative or temporal terms.


“[A] theory of origins would not serve as adequate grounds for any purely logical or linguistic speculations; but the logical position might serve as its grounds.  Or, more simply: the theory of origins would be a translation from logical terms into corresponding narrative or temporal terms” (364).


As an example, Thomas Jefferson’s narrative/temporal statement “all men are created equal” stems from the logical statement “resolved: that within this universe of discourse, all men are to be considered in terms of ideal equality, or of equality ‘in principle’ (quite as, at other times in history, men have been asked to consider their sociopolitical relations in terms of ideal inequality).”


“the terministic proposition has its corresponding translation into the style of narrative, the temporal, the story, or myth” (364).


A set of terms may “mutually or circularly imply one another.”  “For as we read an account of interrelationships among terms, we go from one term to the next in a succession of unfoldings or disclosures---and in this sense the exposition follows a narrative course.”  This process “is a stage midway between logical implication and temporal narrative” (365).


                        IV. ‘Dramatism’ states that language exists as a kind of symbolic action


“We view language as a kind of action, symbolic action.”  To provide further specification, one may view ‘action’ as that which “encompasses the realm of entities that respond to words as such.”  In contrast, “‘motion’ encompasses the realm of entities that do not respond to words as such” (366).


There can be motion apart from action, but no action without motion (366).


Dramatism is especially concerned with the evolution of language.  “A Dramatistic approach to the analysis of language starts with problems of terministic catharsis (which is another word for ‘rebirth,’ transcendence, transubstantiation, or simply for ‘transformation’ in the sense of the technically developmental, as when a major term is found somehow to have moved on, and thus to have in effect changed its nature either by adding new meanings to its old nature, or by yielding place to some other term that henceforth takes over its functions wholly or in part)” (367).


“[A] Dramatistic approach to language vows us first of all to considerations of pure verbal internality, as we seek to chart the transformations within the work itself” (369).


V. One may explore the relationships between verbal and nonverbal situations in which words are used by examining concepts of titles.


Rather than assuming that things are ‘things’ and words are the ‘signs’ of things, “we start with the verbal expressions (even whole sentences) that are to be treated as ways of entitling, or of summing up, nonverbal situations” (370).


Just as one may abbreviate the meaning of a nonverbal situation within a single sentence, one may further condense meaning by seeking out “for terms that abbreviate the title” (371).


“such a process of abbreviation, whereby some one element of a context can come to be felt as summing up a whole, is no rarity.  It is a normal resource of the representative function that the old rhetoricians called synecdoche, the resource whereby a part can come to stand for a whole” (371).


                        VI. Abbreviated entitlements may lead to ‘universal forms.’


“Such shortcuts give us ‘universals,’ such as ‘man,’ ‘dog,’ and ‘tree’ in general, without reference to any particular man, dog, or tree” (372).


There are 4 pyramids or orders of words: 1.) natural order (words about nature, i.e. “motion and position”), 2.) verbal order words about words (words about words, i.e. symbolism, rhetoric, poetics, etc.), 3.) sociopolitical order words about “personal and social relations” (words about “personal and social relations,” i.e. justice, right, obligation), and 4.) supernatural order (words about the “supernatural”) (373-374).


The verbal order is “foremost among the equals.  For though all four pyramids are orders of words, this one is an order of words about words” (375).


With respect to the natural order, “words of this sort allow for the kind of definition per genus et differentiam” (375).


Terms in the sociopolitical order, as they describe human relationships in social and political contexts, derive their meanings from both the verbal and natural order (375-376).


Terms in the supernatural order must derive their existence “from the terms prevailing in the three worldly orders” (376).


                        VII. Entitling may explain the bond between humans and nature.


Burke describes the essence or nature of langauge “as a means of entitling, since a god-term would be an overall title, or title of titles” (378).


Burke compares the relationship between theologians and ‘The Word,’ as a mediation between our world and the supernatural, to “a mediatory principle between ourselves and nature” (378).


“But if the things of nature are, for man, the visible signs of their verbal entitlements, then nature gleams secretly with a most fantastic shimmer of words and social relationships.  And quite as men’s view of the supernatural embody the forms of language and society in recognized ways, so their views of the natural would embody these same forms, however furtively” (379).


5.)   Chapter 5: Myth, Poetry, and Philosophy


I. ‘Folkloristic’ views of the ‘combat myth’ are contrasted with a ‘Poetic’ view.


The history of the term mythos, originally signifying “but ‘word’ (being the Homeric equivalent for logos),” is a necessary criterion for Burke’s purposes because “it came to mean a tale, story, fable, a narrative form” (380).


Although the theme of poetic v. folkloristic does not always use those terms, Burke makes both the terministic and thematic difference clear in this chapter: “The study of the ‘combat myth’s’ emergence in history would be ‘folkloristic’ or ‘anthropological.’  The study of the motives involved in such paradigms (the principles of the myths’ structure as progressive forms having beginning, middle, and end) would belong to Poetics” (382).


Apart from its literary importance, a myth has an aetiological function as well: “a myth is said to be a traditional story having beginning, middle, and end, and purporting ‘to tell of the occasion on which some religious institution, a cult or certain of its rites and festivals, had its beginning’” (383).


II. The main themes of the combat myth are examined through various tales from Greek mythology.


This section opens with a list of 10 basic themes which may occur in the combat myth ranging from particular qualities of the Champion and the Enemy as well as possible interaction between the two (383).


After examining these thematic characteristics of the combat myth, one must ask how the myths may function entelechially: “to what extent does the paradigm give us, not some ‘first’ story from which the many versions and variants were derived, but rather a ‘perfect’ form towards which such a story would ‘naturally’ gravitate?  And could we so define its nature that such an ‘entelechy’ would seem natural?  In brief, Poetics would ask: In order to be a ‘perfect combat myth,’ what form ‘ought the story to have?” (384).


This section closes with a discussion of the logic for including each theme in a possible version of a combat myth (384-386).


III. The principle of negative is translated into terms of rival temporal purposes


If one understands a combat myth as a “tale of conflict between order and disorder, chaos and cosmos,” one may see that these terms mutually imply their opposites (386).


When translated into terms of mythic narrative, however, such opposition can become a quasi-temporal ‘combat’ between the two terms, with the corresponding possibility that one of the terms can be pictured as vanquishing the other” (387).


This narrative combat need not be a simple case of one opposite fighting the other; Burke argues that they are teleologically implied in each other. “[O]nce you have translated the logical principle of antithesis into terms of narrative combat, by the same token you have set the conditions for a purposive development.  Thus, for instance, the principle of disorder can be pictured as aiming to win over the principle of order, and vice versa, so that the purely directionless way in which polar terms imply each other can be replaced by schemes intensely teleological…” (387-388). This antithesis is explored between the competing concepts of Eros and Thanatos (388).


IV. A dialectic of Love and Death is explored with the combat myth explained as ‘cause’ or aition of a cult’s origins.



“Yet insofar as the term timelessly implies its opposite, we could say that the ‘slain’ term remains ‘immortal,’ and though vanquished, is ever ready to make a comeback if the opportunity offers, like Typhon fuming beneath Aetna.  For insofar as narrative implies action and action implies purpose, the relation between the terms would remain one of purposive combat” (389).


The aition, or teleological purpose of myth, establishes both the history of a cult and a justification for its current practices.  The aiton’s main duty is to “function as a story to account for the cult or services associated with it.”  Furthermore, “such an account of ‘origins’ is also a way of establishing sanctions.  Its narrative stating how things were in the past thereby substantiates the principles of governance to which the faithful should be vowed in the present” (390).


V. The folkloristic and entelechial ways of viewing variations on a theme are contrasted.


One may distinguish the poetic treatment of myth from the anthropological or folkloristic one because “[s]uch an ‘entelechial’ perspective…would locate the ‘principles’ of a form not in temporally past moments that a form develops from, but in possibilities of perfection which reside in the form as such and toward which all sorts of stories might gravitate” (390-391).


When one examines myth from the entelechial perspective, the text of the poem will derive general principles about the ‘perfect’ myth.  Burke explains that myth, viewed through a poetic reading, “naturally expresses its ideas in terms of imagery and personification.  Thus, the idea of death will be replaced by the imagery of a realm in which the dead reside and which can be duplicated in terms of a supernatural power presiding over this realm” (391).


                        VI. The folkloristic and entelechial views seem similar, but present different implications.


Burke explains how temporality figures into the distinction between the folkloristic and entelechial perspectives.“the folkloristic stress upon temporal priority keeps the entelechial aspect of the paradigms from attaining its full rationale, and makes it look as though the ‘variants’ were descended from ideal prototypes which came first in time, whereas actually the paradigms are prototypes only in the sense that they possess the ‘perfection’ of overall generalizations or schematizations (394-395).


                        VII.  One must ask a different set of questions depending on the ‘perfection’ of the story as story or the ‘perfection of the story as aition.


Because the myth creates sanctions and reinforces the authority of a particular cult, “this aetiological factor complicates the entelechial perspective by so localizing the tests of a myth’s ‘perfection’ that a version which would best sanction one authority would need revision if applied to the sanctioning of a different authority” (395).


The entelechial, or poetic, perspective must engage a myth’s perfection in two ways: 1.) “perfection simply as a story that translates polar opposition into terms of narrative” and 2.) “its perfection as an instrument in the establishing of a cult’s authority” (396).


The importance of victimage as relevant to both the Champion and the Enemy in the myth is discussed at length (396-397).


In order to accurately account for the “’teleological perfection’” for a “given version of a myth,” one must delve into the relationships between religious and secular authorities, “local conditions of a given cult through the various stages of its history,” as well as “its relation to different economic systems” (397).


                        VIII.  Since the combat myth contains the designs of both tragedy and comedy, the problem of these species is introduced.


When one discusses myth as aition applied in different historical contexts, Poetics alone cannot account for all consideration; one also needs “the categories of classical education” that “would fall under rhetoric” (398).


“There are two major ways of distinguishing between comedy and tragedy: (1.) Tragic characters are said to be ‘better’ than ordinary people, comic characters ‘worse”; (2.) Comedy has a plot that builds towards a ‘happy’ ending, tragedy towards an ‘unhappy’ ending” (398).


In addition “to the test by endings and the test by character we might add the related test by response” because “tragedy naturally attains its culmination in tears, comedy in laughter”  (400).


                        IX.  One may compare the combat myth, tragedy, and comedy through the entelechial perspective.


When choosing language to describe the Champion and the Enemy, one inevitably must consider one Positive and the other Negative.  The entelechial perspective would then ask “how things should be if both sides were perfect examples of their kind” (402).


“[T]he principles of perfection shaping the combat myth are found to differ intrinsically from those shaping shaping tragedy and comedy, though there are also overlaps, quite as Aristotle recognized overlaps between the principles of drama and epic despite the considerable differences between these poetic species” (404).


However, the combat myth is similar to comedy in terms of its celebratory ending, but similar to tragedy in terms of the nature of its characters (405).


In deriving principles about the ‘perfection’ of a literary/rhetorical form, one must acknowledge that “the problem of man as the symbol-using animal is not a subject to be treated as settled.  And the risk in the ‘entelechial’ approach is that it may maneuver us into too great love for the ‘finishedness’ of such a method” (405-406).


                        X.  Burke discusses dialectics of monotheism and polytheism, the perfection in which problems of generalization concerning the combat myth would culminate


Burke is not interested in theology at this point, but does concern himself “with the turn from mythos to logos…and thus from mythology to logology.”  With respect to the relationship between labeling gods in a monotheistic or polytheistic manner, “[w]e are trying to show how, as the approach through mythology led to overall generalizations in mythic terms of Love and Death, so an approach through logology leads to overall generalizations in dialectical terms of composition and division, as shaped by the role of the negative and its translation into quasi-temporal terms of narrative combat” (408).


6.)   Chapter 6: Medium as “Message”


I. McLuhan emphasizes media as instrumental extensions of the human body.


“McLuhan’s book on ‘media’ necessarily puts the main emphasis upon the role of instruments (means, agencies) in shaping human dispositions, or attitudes and habits” (410).


“Instruments prior to the ‘electric’ age are said to have been extensions of particular bodily parts (such as eye, hand, or foot), but the inventions of the new ‘electric age’ differ from those to the extent that electricity is viewed as an extension of the ‘central nervous system’” (411).


II. Burke criticizes McLuhan for excessively emphasizing the medium over the message.


Burke’s main criticism of McLuhan stems from his most memorable slogan and the undue emphasis put on medium.  “If the medium is the message, obviously the important thing is not what somebody says in a given medium, but what medium he uses, regardless of what he says.  Since this oversimplification is the very soul of his message, we must never let it get out of sight when considering his book.” Burke posits that if medium is the most important concern, it must come at the cost of evaluating content.  “The medium is the message.  Hence, down with content analysis” (413).


In response to McLuhan’s theory that specialists would be eliminated with new media, Burke asks “[i]nsofar as technology, under any form, produces a great diversity of media, must there not be a corresponding diversity of occupations concerned with the production, distribution, and servicing of such varied devices (whether they are in the realm of communication specifically or are to be classed as economic commodities in general)?”  (415).


III. The medium is important insofar as it privileges or favors certain content over others.


Burke’s solution to this problem is that “McLuhan could have systematically asked himself just what kind of content is favored by the peculiar nature of a given medium” (416).


“The point is not that a given medium (in the sense of a directly communicative form) does its full work upon us without the element of ‘content.’  Rather, [Lessing’s] study of the difference between painting (or sculpture) and poetry indicates how expert practitioners of a given medium may resort to the kind of contents that the given medium is best equipped to exploit” (416).


To illustrate this artistic divide, the “static” media, such as painting or sculpture, make direct appeals to the audience as actual performances.  In contrast, “codes of literary or musical notation” provide “instructions for performing” and thus do not need “the ‘tactility’ of painting and sculpture” (417).


7.)   Chapter 7: A Dramatistic View of the Origins of Language and Postscripts on the Negative


                        I. The Negative as a Marvel of Language (First Chapter of Section One)


Because the negative is a singularly linguistic feature, and humans use language, one must pay “especial attention to this distinctive marvel, the negative” (419).


“The essential distinction between the verbal and the nonverbal is in the fact that language adds the peculiar possibility of the Negative” (420).


                        II. Verbal Realism and the Negative


One finds the existence of the negative not so much in a thing’s nature, but in one’s expectations of nature.  “Since language so often applies the negative to physical conditions, we tend to think that the conditions really are a kind of ‘negative’ in their actual nature.”  “[I]f you are expecting something to be damp and it is found to be dry, then its dryness is expressible not just as dryness, but as the negation of your expectation” (420).


Many polarized terms imply the negation of their opposites “where intention or expectation is involved” (421).


                        III. The Perfect Dramatistic Starting Point


Burke contrasts his approach with Bergson, who “approaches the problem of the negative in terms of the negative proposition;” Burke, however, “would approach it in terms of the negative command” (421).  The negative “must have begun as a rhetorical or hortatory function, as with the negatives of the Ten Commandments” (421).


Bergon makes the mistake of emphasizing “the admonitory function of the negative” without examining its perfect exemplar, the “thou-shalt-not’s of the Decalogue” (422).


IV. The “Positive Pre-Negative”


Burke hypothesizes that a pre-linguistic negative may have existed as a verb with “strongly imperative or hortatory connotations” (423).


Before it became a formal negative, “this ‘verbal demonstrative’ for ‘attitudinally calling-attention to’ had come to signify attention in the specifically sinister sense,” similar to sentiments such as “Beware! Or Caution!” (424). In this way, the word would have an implicit negative tone while still having an explicit positive sense.


V. Later Steps in the Development of the Negative


Burke uses Latin syntax to argue that “the implied negative in connotations of deterrence” preceded statements of fear, which themselves derived from hortatory clauses (424).  The fear clause was followed by doubting clauses, which led to “the out-and-out propositional negative” (425).


“When you get to doubt, you’re within the scientist area of information.  So your next step is the outright No of ‘negative propositions’ that affirm a ‘negative fact’” (425).


VI. “Behavioristic Pre-Language”


As Burke makes clear in this chapter, there is a clear difference “between the motives of pre-language and those of language” (426).


Exploring this idea further, Burke examines language acquisition between parent and child, hypothesizing that “’entelechy-wise,’ we would incline to believe that no was the peculiarly ‘mature’ contribution to language, the ‘moralistic’ non-sensory ‘idea’ that adults imposed upon children” (427).


Once no is added to one’s vocabulary, it begins to spread and reproduce itself in one’s other terms.  “[T]here must be the ‘entelechial’ factor that made the ‘evolution of no’ possible.  And once this feeling for the linguistic no is present, all sorts of words can become permeated with its genius as they accumulate with the gradual growth of language” (427).


The scientist theory of language origin would argue that “sensory abstraction would yield the simple positives, a language of things and of doings and of the sensations that we typically experience in connection with them.  Dramatistic generalization would yield the ‘idea of the negative,’ the ‘ability to distinguish between the yes and no of ‘right and ‘wrong’” (428).


VII. Image and Idea


Burke describes the story of a cat toying with a chipmunk to illustrate the “qualitative distinction between the sensory (rooted in the images of ‘behavioristic pre-language’) and the rational (rooted in the ideas of language proper)” (429).


“Though idea and image have become merged in the development of language, the negative provides the instrument for splitting them apart.  For the negative is an idea; there can be no image of it.  But in imagery there is no negative” (429-430).


“The negative is not picturable, though it can be indicated---as by a headshake, or the mathematical mark for minus, or the word no.  It is properly shown by a sign, not by an image.  For a ‘negative image’ would be a contradiction in terms” (430).


Although sensation is related to motion as ideas to action, the two cannot be held completely distinct.  Burke provides an example to illustrate this concept: “though the injunction ‘Though shalt not kill’ is in essence an idea, in its role as imagery it can but strike the resonant gong: ‘Kill!’” (431).


VIII. Reason, Understanding, Imagination, Fancy


There is one significant difference between reason and imagination.  “Reason is the ability to use the negative qua negative, the moralistic equivalent being ‘the ability to distinguish between right and wrong.”  Furthermore, it is either present or absent, “it either is or is not.”  “But imagination, having no negative, induces or deters by changes of intensity; its presence or absence are thus a matter of degree” (431).


IX. In Sum


By describing the poem of a clock striking midnight in Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, Burke illustrates the idea that “the astounding genius of the negative includes its ability to manifest itself in disciplinary disguise” (433).


He elaborates using the the term “freedom” to demonstrate how the negative can be hidden in seemingly positive words: “any authoritative constraint, willingly accepted, that negates guilt or temptation by a regimen of ‘positive Law…’can be felt as ‘freedom.’  And freedom is the most ‘positive’ of all experiences, despite the obvious negatives in the word itself, which should prompt us always to ask, ‘Freedom from what?” (435).


Burke also discusses how a victim, as “symbolically or ritually laden by the victimizer with the guilt of the victimizer,” demonstrates a seemingly-positive aspect as the recipient of the victimizer’s guilt and a seemingly-negative one from the guilt itself (435-436).


X. Dramatistic Introduction to Kant (First Chapter of Section Two)


Of all Kant’s Critiques, the Critique of Practical Reason is the most similar to Dramatism (436).


One may best summarize Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason through the dramatistic terms of act, agent, and scene: “An act is by definition ‘free,’” hence it cannot be only in the realm of motion.  “Terministically, the possibility of an act is grounded in the ‘will’ of an agent.”  The will must itself “be grounded in the ‘idea’ of an ultimate scene that lies outside the compulsions of strict causality” (436).


“The scene of causality is the totality of conditions and conditionings we call ‘nature’” (436).


“If ‘nature’ equals ‘causality,’ then ‘freedom’ must derive its grounding from a realm beyond nature.”  Unfortunately, if human senses are equated with the ability to ‘know,’ then we cannot know anything about the realm beyond nature.  We might, however, “have an ‘idea’ of some ultimate realm” beyond nature (436).


“[T]he negative is an ‘idea’ in the verbal sense, an act.  One never expects to see a verb ‘exist’ as such.”  One may picture any number of houses, but it is impossible to picture the idea of “housiness” because it is the name for “an ideal ‘way of being house’” (438).


Burke briefly discusses how the “Categorical Imperative” uses the negative in ways similar to the form of the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments (438).


XI. Language and the Ethical


Kant’s terminology appears “almost resonantly positive,” but a dictionary entry for the word “freedom” reveals a series of negative entries---“[e]xempt from subjection…not under restraint, control, or compulsion…not dependent…” (438-439).


However, synonyms for those negative definitions may present “more positive-seeming” entries, such as “able to follow one’s own impulses…capable of voluntary activity…frank…familiar…” (439).


Although humans are driven by “’desires and inclinations,’” they are also capable of ideas, language, and hence the negative.  “[T]he idea of freedom, itself grounded in the idea of a world beyond natural compulsions” allows for a “higher, moral realm” that “is available only to” humans” (439).


“[B]y its very nature, language also drives toward the ‘ultimate’ of itself.  And the ultimate is ‘Justice,’ a kind of completion whereby laws are so universalized that they also apply to the lawgiver” (440).


XII. “Negative” and “Positive” in Kant’s Ethics


“According to Kant, ‘What is essential in the moral worth of actions is that the moral law should directly determine the will.’’  If the will is moved by “motives of justice and duty, it is being moved by moral law and awakens respect.”  “Respect for the ‘moral law in its solemn majesty’ is ’the one indubitable moral motive’” (441).


The moral law is negative insofar as it restrains inclinations, “including selfishness.”  It is positive, however, because it is an intellectual cause.  “’[P]ractical esteem for the law itself on the intellectual side’ is a ‘positive feeling,’ thus whenever the moral law causes pain and curbs inclinations it is said to be positive (441).


Quoting Kant again, Burke elaborates that “the ability to respect is a ‘positive.  It is ‘positive’ in the sense that it makes an ethical affirmation.  It affirms the superiority of ‘duty’ over every other motive.  But it makes clear that such duty is a ‘command,’ founded on ‘obligation,’ not ‘inclination.’  Respect ‘demands obedience to the law” (442).


“’The consciousness of having voluntarily subjected oneself to the spirit of a code of don’ts can be subjectively called a ‘positive’ motive.”  Of especial note is that “Kant himself explicitly situates the beginning of the process in a command (The Categorical Imperative)” (443).


Kant’s moral law does not allow one to use “love” or “inclination” as the basis for the will to law because morality would become holiness and “would cease to be virtue.”  Holiness is the unattainable end goal toward which all virtue strives.  “The law of duty which commands does not allow us to choose what may be agreeable to our inclinations” (444).


XIII. Arts of “the Senses”


The poet William Ernest Henley’s work “Invictus,” a theological poem thanking God for the preservation of the poet’s soul, serves to illustrate how a negative command may transform into an attitudinal positive (444).


Burke lines up ten explanations or strategies based on the poem that turn negatives into positives:

1.) “The poem is designed…to build affirmatives out of negatives” (446).

2.) It begins “by countering fears (negatives) with reassurances (positives)” (446).

3.) In addition to this “moralistic positivizing,” the poet is able “to express the ethical ideas in terms of sensory images” (446).

4.) “The poet will thus proceed from images suggesting fearsome struggle to images suggesting release” (446).

5.) “The ‘idea’ of release is here translated into the ‘positive image’ of a flooding” (446).

6.) If scenic details are related to “purely bodily processes,” “what would be the bodily equivalent of release by ‘flooding’” (446-447).

7.) Such cathartic, scenic imagery must correspond in some way to “diuretic release” (447).

8.) “But since such release is purely imaginal, it would transcend ‘the senses,’ being in the realm of ‘idea’ rather than in the realm of outright bodily behavior,” hence it differs significantly from “an actual micturition in fear” (447).

9.) “This incipient bodily correspondence is further transcended by being stated not directly in biological terms at all, but in terms of natural scene, whereby the ‘shameful’ symptoms are made grand, and so universalized as to be obvservable ab extra” (447).

10.) The final stanza of the poem takes the reader from a flood of water to a flood of light (447).  “The negativity of ‘shame’ is transcended, though implicit, in the ecstatic vision of a clean landscape, bathed in light” (447).


Other artistic media, such as painting, can also display negative amidst the positive.  Cézanne’s painting, “The Black Clock,” shows a clock with no hands.  This notable absence demonstrates that the clock “did not aim to establish any precise time, but even deliberately flouted such purposes,” especially compared with the impressionistic work of Cézanne’s contemporaries (448).


Burke concludes that “[t]he more zealously a positive is proclaimed, the more we are admonished to inspect it for evidence of its guidance by a set of thou-shalt-not’s” (449).


XIV. Negative and Positive in a Bossuet Sermon


An Easter Sermon by Bossuet also provides a notable example for embodying “all the major motives relating moral idea and bodily imagery” (449).


After examining the text, Burke concludes 3 things about the sermon:

1.) “There is the distinction between abandonment to “the senses” and the saying of nay to such a realm of sheer bodily positives” (450).

2.) “There is an implied likeness between the inevitability of physical death and the inevitability of social burdens” (450).

3.) “’[T]he senses’ reinforce commands physically and are themselves legislated against morally” (451).


The concept of Christian love reaches its highest positive point “in the promise of eternal salvation,” which “itself motivates the thou-shalt-not’s directed against ‘the senses’” (451).


With respect to the grand style of speech as described by Cicero and later in Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana, “[the grand style] operates in the regions of the fearsome, the ‘negative’ realm from which the idea of deterrence, of the thou-shalt-not, is never absent.  To make this moral negative effective, the speaker may conjure up a set of purely ‘imaginal positives,’ sensory details designed to bring the fearsome condition ‘before our very eyes’” (452).


The power and great potential for power underlying the negative is “not disclosed until we stop to realize that any promise is in function a threat if it can be withheld” (453).


Behind any ‘positive’ style or moral advocacy lies a negative without which great art has no meaning (453).


XV. Negative Theology (First Chapter of Section Three)


Burke briefly returns to the contrast between the motions of a non-linguistic species and the actions of a language-using species.  “In sum: Once you have a word-using animal, you can properly look for the linguistic motive as a possible strand of motivation in all its behavior, even in such actions as could be accounted for without this motive in the corresponding motions of a nonlinguistic species” (456).


“the only way to say ‘No’ systematically is to say ‘the godly’ (as a word for the ultimate ground), so the only way to speak of ‘the godly’ systematically is to say ‘No’ (as with negative theology, or the negatives essential to Kant’s categorical imperative)” (456-457).


XVI. General Survey of Negatives


Along with the hortatory, attitudinal, and propositional negative, one also comes to observe “the zero-negative (including ‘infinity’), the privative negative (like blindness in an organism with eyes), and the minus-negative (which presumably owes its origin to ideas of financial debt and moral guilt” (459).


Because “’positive’ acts can negate the guilt-negatives, we move thereby into the class of positive-seeming motives negatively infused,” such as “penance, mortification, victimage, property...sexuality...neoprimitivisism” (459).


Oneo of the necessary criteria for any language-user is to have at least some feeling for the negative: “[a man] may not know that he is ‘negating’ a situation itself partly nonlinguistic or nonsymbolical; but in order to use language at all, he must have a spontaneous feeling for the negative” (461).


Language also benefits from “its progressive enrichment by metaphor,” an act that “relies greatly on the ‘feeling for no’” (462).


These metaphors can complicate our understanding of the negative because “[i]nsofar as terms, metaphors, ‘models,’ fictions generally, are positive, they may compel us despite our genius for the negative; that is, we may not ‘discount’ them enough, not fully recognizing how imaginally positive they are” (462).


XVII. Positive Aspects of Language


Despite the pervasive presence of the negative in language, “all language is positive, in the most positivistic sense of the term.  For the structure of each sentence is positively what it is, even though the sentence itself might be nonsense or a lie” (463).


Burke does not wish to dwell excessively on the positive in this chapter.  However, he does wish the reader to “consider [the positive] ‘in principle,’ lest our stress upon the ubiquity of linguistic negativity leave the reader with the impression that we would reduce language to ‘nothing but’ the negative” (464).


The negative is not the only cause for linguistic change.  “Once language is developed to any extent, all sorts of evolutions are possible that need not or can not be referred to the negative,” such as the shift from interrogative pronouns to relative pronouns, or demonstrative adjectives becoming definite articles, etc. (464).


XVIII. Dramatistic Theory of Definition


Language can make our meaning precise in three distinct ways: by order (as in the sequential order of words), differentiation of grammatical function, and by growth of vocabulary (“either through new words or through the metaphorical extension of old words”) (464-465).


These criteria comprise the Dramatistic “version of the classic formula: per genus et differentiam” 465).


Once one chooses from a number of linguistic resources, those “selections are related to one another by an order; and each selection is to the others as if this one selection were the widest field and each of the others contributed to the narrowing of that field: (465).


“Insofar as the field of available terms was not wide enough to begin with, it must be extended by new terms or by the metaphorical extensions of old terms” (466).


A sentence has an established order because “once an order is chosen, through it, in its temporizing, we can readily move beyond it, to the fixing of an essence (the meaning that the sentence adds up to, or rather, narrows down to)” (466).


Burke uses a spatial metaphor of cutting a field into successive portions in order to narrow down and specify the meaning of a sentence based on its order (468).


The terms of a definition are like characters who have a certain field of expertise or authority that may overlap with the expertise of other characters.  However, “[b]y appearing in a certain order, the terms can contribute functionally to a definiteness that they do not possess individually.  Such order is positive, but it is guide by a feeling for the negative” (469).


XIV. Postscripts on the Negative (Only Chapter of Section Four)


This section is a hodgepodge of isolated comments regarding the negative, some of which are restatements of comments from earlier chapters, others of which offer new insight into the Negative.


Burke reaffirms the analogic relationship between negative language and negative theology: “just as theorizing about God leads to so-called ‘negative theology,’ so theorizing about language heads in the all-importance of the Negative” (469-470).


The scientist or empiricist approach to language has clear limitations when compared to the poetic or entelechial perspective.  “Empiricism seeks to approach reality through sheer sensory immediacy, rather than through the stress upon the symbolic element that, like ‘godhead,’ inevitably infuses all experience possible to man, the essentially symbol-using animal.  In this regard, the empiricist approach to reality would be as close to the empiricist could come to the kind of perception we have attributed to animals just before they get run over” (472).


“Whether or not Heaven and Hell literally exist, their linguistic function, their nature as terms in language, is this: Both are ‘positive’ or scenic counterparts to the Negative; for both, in their way, provide ultimate kinds of law enforcement---that is, they provide verbal backing for the negative command” (474).


One may find linguistic examples dating back to antiquity that highlight the idea of a positive acting as the negation of a negative.  “Those who think we are excessive, in approaching ‘yes’ roundabout, as the negating of ‘no,’ might well recall that the Greek word for ‘truth’ explicitly employs the a-privative.  Truth is aletheia, the ‘non-Lethe,’ or unforgotten.  Incidentally, might not the thought of this etymology suggest why Plato’s theory of ‘discovery’ was also a theory of ‘remembering,’ of ‘being reminded’ about things known in the previous ideal existence, and now dimly recalled?” (476).


“Crossing the continent in a car, after having written a long article on the Negative, the fellow mumbled: ‘Think of all the swamps and deserts, and wasted areas generally, all positively there, and capable of removal or improvement only by a vast extension of the domain of human negativity” (478).


Burke relates the use of the negative with tangible, material powers, questioning how they should be used in society?  “In their positive, material nature as powers, our many mighty new technological devices call for a corresponding set of admonitory controls, or negatives, which are best sanctioned how?” (479).


8.)   Chapter 8: Formalist Criticism: Its Principles and Limits


This chapter looks at Formalism as exemplified by Cleanth Brooks, critiquing Mr. Brooks’ claim to be a Formalist critic when he appears to use decidedly non-Formalist methods.


I. The Poetic Motive


A ‘thing’ in nature is certainly not the ‘symbol’ used to describe it.  “If we employ the expression ‘symbolic action’ to designate the use of symbol systems generally…we can safely say that isofar as any symbol system refers to any aspect of the nonsymbolic realm (the realm of sheer motion and position) there is a qualitative difference between the symbol and the symbolized” (480-481).


Any set of human vocabularies is replete with its own limitations and advantages; no one vocabulary can effectively describe all human experience.  “Each matches the defects of its qualities with the quality of its defects.  Each, to be reflective, must be selective---and in being selective it is to some extend deflective” (481).


Motion is a necessary prerequisite for action.  “Though symbolic action is a realm of its own, a realm not reducible to terms of sheer motion, empirically it cannot exist without a grounding in the realm of motion” (482).


Burke considers the possibility of an antithetical relationship between the poetic (or aesthetic) motive and the utilitarian motive, grounding his thoughts in the example of a person assisting a truck drive looking for directions (482-483).


The idea that a person might make a statement simply for its own sake and not for any practical reason belongs in the realm of the poetic.  Burke asks “why should we not love symbolic action purely for its own sake?  And the greater the range and intenseness of the opportunities for exercising our symbolic prowess, the greater might be our delight in such modes of action” (484).


These are the very concerns of Poetics, “[f]or Poetics inquires into the kind of symbolic action that is undertaken purely through love of the art, to gratify our nature as symbol-using animals” (484).


II. Mr. Brooks’s Formalist “Articles of Faith”


Burke argues that 1.) Formalism should be considered in very narrow, strict terms, 2.) the strictness of those terms compel the critic to look beyond the realm of Formalism, as Burke has himself been forced to do (485).


To this end, Burke lists Brooks’ 10 Formalist “Articles of Faith” and comments on how valid he considers their contribution to a definition of Formalism.  Even where Burke agrees with Brooks’ position, he often presents elaborations or additions that further explicate the utility of the ‘Articles’ to Formalist criticism.


Burke agrees “that literary criticism is a description and evaluation of its object” and that criticism’s greatest concern is with the “problem of unity” (485).  For the question of unity, Burke reprises his definition of form from Counter-Statement in its conventional, repetitive, and progressive aspects (485-486).


Burke further agrees “that the formal relations in a work of literature may include, but certainly exceed, those of logic” and “that in a successful work, form and content cannot be separated” (487).


The idea that “form is meaning” is problematic to Burke because he believes that the statement is not “distinct enough so far as Formalist criticism is concerned.”  According to Burke, one may interpret this statement in any number of ways without fully understanding what Brooks intended, hence this clause is not strict enough to define Formalist criticism (487-488).


Brooks’ idea that “literature is ultimately metaphorical and symbolic” is not wholly consistent with Burke’s definition of “literature as a form of symbolic action, undertaken for its own sake,” and that “metaphor rates high among the sources of stylistic appeal” (488).


Burke also agrees “[t]hat the general and the universal are not seized upon by abstraction, but got at through the concrete and the particular,” as exemplified in the Latin phrase “universale intelligitur, singulare sentitur” (488).  Although he agrees with the position that “literature is not a surrogate for religion,” Burke sees many similarities between the two from which the critic may profit (489).


The idea that “’specific moral problems’ are the subject matter of literature, but that the purpose of literature is not to point a moral” (489) is a Formalist criterion deeply esteemed by Burke.  He elaborates with the statement that “literature transforms moral problems into sources of aesthetic entertainment.”


The final tenet of Brooks’ Formalist criteria argues “that the principles of criticism define the area relevant to literary criticism; they do not constitute a method for carrying out the criticism” (490).  Burke takes issue with this statement because he believes that “if man is the typical symbol-using animal, and his love of symbolicity for its own sake is grounded in his human nature, then the method of ‘description and evaluation’ (if we may revert to clause one) is, or should be, implied in this definition” (490).


III. Problem of Locating Mr. Brooks’s Reservations


In this section, Burke explores the possible areas of disagreement between him and Cleanth Brooks.


Brooks indicates in vague terms that he has “several rather important reservations” about Burke’s work, but never specifies them in any detail (491-492).


Burke examines an essay by René Wellek to find the possible answer to this question.  With respect to his later work, Wellek accuses Burke of writing “a baffling phantasmagoria of bloodless categories, ‘strategies,’ ‘charts,’ and ‘situations.’”  With respect to Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn, Wellek describes how Burke “interprets the ode ‘in terms of the identity of love and death, or capitalist individualism and Keats’s tubercular fever, in almost complete disregard of the text” (493).


Although Burke disputes that point, he does agree with Wellek that his work seeks to “’devise a system of human behavior and motivation which uses literature only as a document or illustration” (494).  Burke says that this idea is but one of many aspects to his work (just as Poetics is but one of his four categories of language) (495).


As for the accusation of bloodlessness or superficiality, Burke argues that any works of criticism can be judged as “either ’superficial’ or ‘bloodless,’ quite as all literary criticism could be called superficial, or even ‘bloodless,’ when viewed from the standpoint of the original text itself.  For by the very nature of the case, unless you happen to love criticism for its own sake, you can view every comment on a text as little more than a departure from that text” (495).


IV. Likely Source of Mr. Brooks’s Unstated Reservations---and Corresponding Statement of My Position


Burke articulates that the point of overlap between his position and Mr. Brooks is “in viewing this [Beauty is truth, truth beauty] as a statement properly prepared for within the conditions of the poem, and not to be read simply as a ‘scientific’ or ‘philosophic’ proposition equally valid outside its context” (496).


The Burke procedure outlined in his Keats’ article presents a series of steps that begin with ‘Poetics in Particular’ and end with ‘Language in General.’ “First, say what can be said of the work if you had nothing but it, and didn’t even know who wrote it.  Here, necessarily, your analysis would be internal, wholly in the realm of Poetics.  Next, if you can place its authorship, and you have other poems written by the same author, examine these on the assumption that the recurrence of the same terms elsewhere may throw additional light upon their nature as a special nomenclature...”  “Finally, in the attempt wholly outside the realm of Poetics proper to study the ways of symbolic action in general, introduce any kind of available evidence (such as letters, diaries, notebooks, biographical data) that might indicate how the terms within the poem link up with problematical situations (personal or social) outside the poem” (496).


Thus, when employing Poetics in the interpretation of a work, no biographical information about the poet would be acceptable.  The only exception to this rule is if a term notably changes meaning in different time periods, in which case Burke would “subscribe to Croce’s admonition that unless such changes are taken into account, the critic’s analysis of an ancient text will be an unintended ‘palimpsest” (497).


Furthermore, “[t]he work would be judged not by tests of ‘truth,’ ‘scientific’ or ‘factual’ accuracy, but on the basis of ‘verisimilitude.’  The truth of the ‘data’ in a literary production by no means guarantees its artistic appeal.  But to appeal it must have some kind of verisimilitude” (498).


Burke seems to discount the intentional fallacy, arguing that “[r]egardless of what the author may or may not have personally intended, the Formalist critic fulfills his ‘proper’ task by imputing to the work whaterever design, or intention, he thinks is best able to account for the nature of the work.”  If another critic posits a different set of theories for the design of the work, one “that will account for more aspects of the work,” then it is his job to do so (498).


Burke notes at the conclusion of this section that Brooks’ work on Faulkner in particular displays many commendable Formalist traits, and that it could have possessed even more if not “partially obscured by accidents of emphasis” (500).


The point of Burke’s criticisms for Brooks is not to object to Brooks’ style of Formalism, but “simply to show how ‘reservations’ that he applies to other critics might also apply to himself” (501).


V. Related Remarks on Faulkner


This section highlights Burke’s continuing discussion of Formalism, particularly its limitations.


An author may use material from a particular geographical region, creating characters who may appear outrageous and excessive in certain qualities.  In this case, “[the appeal of the work] will depend upon the work’s verisimilitude, regardless of the degree to which such verisimilitude may correspond with the ‘actualities’ of the given situation” (502).


There is a paradox for the critic espousing Formalism and Regionalism because “one [stresses] form for its own sake, the other [stresses] the independent validity of the nonpoetic matter the Regionalist adapts for poetic purposes” (503).


“It is perfectly reasonable, on non-Formalist grounds, to introduce such considerations as Faulkner’s statement that he considered himself a Christian.  But Formalistically the only proper question is not whether or not he thought himself a Christian, but exactly how his books used religion for their particular poetic effects, regardless of what Faulkner said about his beliefs.”  To engage in this kind of study falls not in the realm of “’Poetics in particular’ but ‘Language in general’” (504).


One may equate the regionalist approach with an empirical perspective because “[i]ts kind of ‘verisimilitude’ is strongly influenced by modern, scientific concepts of realism, which have dispensed with much of the ritual in older forms.”  “Fiction is often made to look not just like an artistic ‘imitation,’ but rather as having the quality of a documentary ‘record’” (505).


This “difference is so great, one can readily understand why Formalist criticism should fly out the window when Regionalist love comes in the door” (506).


Reviews of Language as Symbolic Action


Smith, Nelson S. III.  “Burke’s Language as Symbolic Action.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 1.3 (1968): 187-189.


“In many respects Language as Symbolic Action presents Burke at his best.  IN these essays he is most completely his own man and least dependent on his sources; these essays demand less prior knowledge on the part of the reader” (187).


“Those of us wh know Burke’s work must regret the inclusion in this collection of parts of the ‘Poetics Dramatistically Considered.’ His apparent fragmentation of the book by pullingo ut the section on poetics, ‘The Thinking of the Body,’ and ‘Form and Persecution in the Oresteia’ suggests that he may never complete this work.  If thise suggestion is correct and we lose Burke’s ‘Poetics’ and the projected ‘A Symbolic of Motives,’ the body of man’s knowledge will be diminished” (188).


“In his investigation of the linguistic vagaries of the ‘Human Barnyard,’ he has exposed for us many of the details of the ideological sructures on which the rhetorician must draw in order to construct communicative systems ( 188-189).


“The American Jitters.”  The Times Literary Supplement 8 June, 1967: 508.


With respect to the definition of man, “[e]ach of these phrases is expunded with the aid of reflections which would be delightful even if they were less significant than they are.  Burke is not a poet, novelist, a rhetorician, for nothing” (508).


“The third part of the book brings together a number of essays on symbolism.  Of these, the longest and the most important is an essay on the origins of language.  If Burke took the hint from Bergson, he found the development in himself” (508).


“Rounding out the meditation with analyses of certain passages in Augusitne, Bossuet, and Kant, he brings the whole discourse to a conclusion which would be called triumphant if triumph were Burke’s object.  But the object is enlightenment, contemplation, good will: not a place in which to sink to rest, but a condition of maximum consciousness” (508).


The outline was completed by three graduate students at the University of Minnesota: Emanuelle Wessels, Justin Killian, and Sean Larson.