Kenneth Burke’s Counter-Statement
(U of Chicago P,  1968)
Preface to the first edition: Burke begins "[p]erhaps it should be said, by way of preface, that this book does not set itself up as an ‘attack,’" but rather advocates a given principle that is "matched by an opposite principle flourishing and triumphant today" (vii). He then summarizes the content of each chapter (the last two in our addition have yet to be added).
Preface to the second edition: Burke corrects himself in an apologetic tone (e.g. "There are some youthful, jaunty, even cocksure moments here" [xi].). He then suggests the "gist of this book" is both its tentative nature and the theory of form "summarized in a few lines on page 124." He rambles on with similar observations.
I. Three Adepts of ‘Pure Literature’
A. Useful background: Burke discusses Gustave Flaubert, Walter Pater, and Remy de Gourmont
1. Flaubert (1821-1880): French realist best known for his Madame Bovary. The book embarrassed the authorities (it as about adultery) and Flaubert was tried for obscenity but escaped conviction.
2. Pater (1839-1894): English critic and essayist who is attributed with the "art for art’s sake" doctrine and often cast as a leader of the "Aestheticism" movement. He is most known for his collection of essays Studies in the History of Renaissance (1873) and the "philosophical romance" Marius the Epicurean (1885). In Renaissance he notes "All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music," a theme we encounter in Burke many times.
a) Aestheticism: late 19th century movement that stressed art exists for its own sake and beauty alone. Kant is often attributed with laying foundation in his Critique of the Faculty of Judgement (1790): "There can be no objective rule of taste which will determine by concepts what is beautiful. For every judgement from this source of taste is aesthetical; the feeling for the subject, not the concept of the object, is its determining ground. To seek for a principle of taste which will furnish, by means of definite concepts, a universal criterion of the beautiful is fruitless trouble, because what is sought is impossible and self contradictory" (par. 232).
b) Aesthetes denied any moral or practical dimension to art (although Kant did not). Oscar Wilde is another well-known writer thought to express at least the "attitude" of the movement.
3. de Gourmont (1858-1915): Novelist, poet, playwright and "philosopher" thought to be the key figure in the French "Symbolist" movement. Wrote over 50 books, most of which are collections of essays.
a) Symbolist Movement: Late 19th and early 20th century movement beginning with some poets in France and eventually spreading to America (T.S. Eliot). Symbolists stressed individual emotional experiences though the use of highly metaphorical language, often appealing the grotesque, bizarre or "decadent." The key was to break away from rigid formalisms in order to express more fully the depth of personal and individual emotions. Symbolists include such folks as Arthur Rimbaud and Stephane Mallarme.
B. Adept I: Flaubert
1. Burke identifies Flaubert as a "pure lit." groupie and catalogs the phases of his "adolescence" as series of psychological triumphs and failures (gleamed from Flaubert’s correspondences). Burke seems to argue the trials of adolescence are necessary for artistic inspiration.
2. Burke maintains Flaubert "finished each successive book with a feeling of frustration, of revulsion" because he was attempting to write "under an art-to-conceal-art aesthetic" (7). Flaubert chose an aesthetic that stressed "avoidances" rather than an aesthetic that was not so much concerned with clarity. "And the Correspondence would indicate that Flaubert was not happy with his choice" (9).
C. Adept II: Pater
1. Burke situates Pater as more mature and less tortured writer, and does a close reading of the sixth chapter of Gaston De Latour to "trace Pater’s method."
a) Pater is meticulous and wrote as a "scholar," with a "preference for artifice" (12).
b) Pater attended to details, however, only to the extent which they participated in some larger social phenomenon (13).
2. Pater is allied with Nietzsche in "one respect": "both kept the theme of transvaluation [of values] well within the sphere of ceremony"(15), meaning that Pater preferred "ceremony" to "information." Burke later seems to relate ceremony to the psychology of form.
D. Adept III: de Gourmont
1. Burke attempts to defend de Gourmont the "symbolist" from the label "decadent" by appealing to de Gourmont’s use of the label (which provided to be fatal once the critics of the symbolists found the term), then launches into de Gourmont’s famous "Art for Art’s Sake" thesis.
a) "Art was ‘justified’ because art was an appetite – in being desired it found its ample reason for existence. Art did not require defense as an instrument of political or social reform. Art was purely and simply a privilege, to be prized as a cosmic exception" (16-17).
b) de Gourmont claimed "intellectual pursuits" (art) should not be valued because of their social utility, but rather, social institutions should be valued to the extent they make intellectual pursuits possible (17).
2. Burke claims de Gourmont states "art" in the individual and vice versa, "Since art, by becoming an end in itself became a matter of the individual -- or by becoming a matter of the individual, became an end in itself" (17). This seems important to Burke’s later ruminations on the psychology of the author.
a) Since de Gourmont emphasized the "futility of the human race as a whole, he affirmed the all-importance of the individual." (19-20).
3. Burke outlines some of de Gourmont’s attitudes, which seem to illustrate a productive sort of internal "conflict" (20).
a) An admiration of Catholicism because of its preservation of "pagan institutions over and against Protestantism" (20).
b)The primacy of sex as "The only natural aim of man ...’" (21).
c) Sympathy for Epicurus (a "qualitative" hedonist of the ancient Greek sort).
d) A method of analysis termed "dissociation," which divides a concept "which we usually take as a unit" in order to draw out associative relationships that inhere in "desires" and "interests" (23). Burke remarks that it’s a shame de Gourmont "did not carry his dissociative method further into the realm of literary criticism," and argues that technical criticism of art should build on de Gourmont’s ideas. (Which is what Burke seeks to do later, of course).
e) Blasphemy, which Burke maintains "is the struggle of an emotional nature, a protest against the intellect which tends to make it sterile of religious ecstasy" (25). Religiosity requires blasphemy.
4. Burke closes by suggesting de Gourmet mellowed, and briefly discusses his writings during the war.
II. Psychology and Form
A. Burke begins with a scene from Hamlet to illustrate what he means by form:
1. Form: "form would be the psychology of the audience. Or, seen from another angle, form is the creation of an appetite in the mind of the auditor, and the adequate satisfying of that appetite" (31).
a) necessity of frustration: form involves a "temporary set of frustrations, but in the end these frustrations prove to be simply a more involved kind of satisfaction, and furthermore serve to make the satisfaction of fulfillment more intense" (31).
2. Aesthetic judgment has been sullied by the injection of "scientific criteria" (31).
a) has split "form" from content ("subject-matter").
b) has split "technique" from "psychology"
B. Burke distinguishes two types of "psychology":
1. Psychology of information: displaces the psychology of the audience with the psychology of the "hero" or subject; specific details and bits of information are valued over that of the whole. From this perspective, "one might denounce Cezanne’s trees in favor of state forestry bulletins" (32).
a) "Under such an attitude, when form is preserved it is preserved as an annex, a luxury, or as some feel, a downright affectation" (33).
b) The corresponding methods of sustaining interest "are surprise and suspense" (37).
(1) "Suspense is the concern over the possible outcome of some specific detail of plot rather than for general qualities. Thus, ‘Will A marry B or C?’ is suspense" (38).
2. Psychology of form: Eschews the informational details in favor of the whole, focuses on the desires of the audience. Information is subsumed by the form (e.g., plays a "minor" role).
a) Music is offered as the example par excellence of the psychology of form: "Here form cannot atrophy. Every dissonant chord cries for its solution, and whether the musician resolves or refuses to resolve this dissonance into the chord which the body cries for, he is dealing with human appetites" (34).
b) The corresponding method of sustaining interest is eloquence, or "formal excellence" (37).
C. Eloquence (or formal excellence) is the end of art, and therefore is also the "essence of art":
1. "Eloquence is not showiness; it is, rather, the result of that desire in the artist to make a work perfect by adapting in it every minute detail to the racial appetites" (41).
2. Corresponds to Burke’s definition of "aesthetic truth:"
a) Aesthetic truth is "the exercise of human propriety, the formulation of symbols which rigidify our sense of poise and rhythm. Artistic truth is the externalization of taste" (42).
b) Aesthetic truth is not synonymous with scientific truth, since "the procedure of science involves the elimination of taste, employing as a substitute the corrective norm of the pragmatic test, the empirical experiment, which is entirely intellectual" (42, n8).
3. Eloquence can be meticulous and precise, however, it does not (cannot) succumb to the psychology of information.
III. The Poetic Process
A. A Plea for "Psychological Universals"
1. Burke invokes the principle of crescendo (or "a general rise to a crisis") as a chief characteristic of art: "Over and over again in the history of art, different material has been arranged to embody the principle of crescendo" (45). He then confidently asserts that the "work of art utilizes climatic arrangement because the human brain" has the potential to respond ("arrested, or entertained") to climax.
2. However, the principle or concept of crescendo needs to be "individuated" in a particular work of art in order to evoke emotion.
a) Crescendo is an "innate form of the mind," as is "‘contrast, comparison, balance ...’" and so on (46).
b) "The emotions cannot enjoy these forms, or laws ... except in their concreteness ... in their specification or individuation" (46-47). The artist must individuate the form of crescendo within the context of the story ("subject-matter" or content).
3. Burke then glosses Plato’s theory of the forms as an illustration, and discusses the nominalist philosophy (which holds all one can know are "particulars"). Burke corrects the nominalists by modifying Plato’s conception of the universal forms – he sticks them in the mind: "So eager were the nominalists to disavow Plato in detail that they failed to discover the justice of his doctrines in essence. For we need but take his universals out of heaven and situation them in the human mind ..., making them not metaphysical, but psychological" (48).
B. The Poetic Process Revealed:
1. Burke uses the illustration of dreaming. While dreaming, we feel a particular emotion which then in turn finds details and assembles them into a symbol: "the details [of the dream] were not the cause of the emotion; the emotion, rather, dictated the selection of the details" (50).
2. The poet/artist does the same thing in her art: "The analogy between these instances and the procedure of the poet is apparent. In this way the poet’s moods dictate the selection of details and thus individuate themselves into one specific work of art" (51). Burke then distinguishes crescendo from the selection of details:
a) emotional form: The externalization of a mood/emotion via individuation. Attaching content to the mood in order to encapsulate the mood. The emotional form requires the details be consistent.
b) technical form: How the subject-matter chosen is arranged, the "vigor, or saliency, or power of the art-work" that arises from content arrangement (51). Technical form gives rise to two different sorts of arrangement:
(1) mannerism: "The exploitation of a few technical forms" repetitively. At this point in the book, this is an inferior sort of technical form for Burke (52, n1). In the Lexicon he will modify his views on mannerism.
(2) style: The use of many technical forms; a variety of technical devices. Burke uses Shakespeare as an example: "shifting rhythms within the blank verse, coincidences and contrasts of vowel quantity, metaphors, epigrams ...." (51-52, n1).
c) The interaction between emotional form and technical form is "the translation of [the poet’s] original mood into a symbol .... [A]nd, it is precisely this junction of emotion and technical form which we designate as the ‘germ of plot," or as an idea for a poem’ " (56).
3. Untidy sexist comment appears at the top of 53.
4. Burke comments on "self-expression" as a much broader concept than is usually thought. It is not mere utterance: "the self-expression of the artist qua artist, is not distinguished by the utterings of emotion, but by the evocation of emotion. If, as humans, we cry out that we are Napoleon, as artists we seek to command an army" (53).
a) This observation leads him to suggest the poet must negotiate two extremes: "the extreme of utterance, which makes for the idea of spontaneity and ‘pure’ emotion, and leads to barbarism in art; and the extreme of pure beauty, or means conceived exclusively as an end, which leads to virtuosity and decoration. Herein lies "the field of art," a "conflict become fusion" (56).
b) Thus, Burke comes clean on his position on "pure art" (art for art’s sake): Like the interplay between emotional form and technical form, the desire for pure expression and pure beauty are both necessary (though it does seem Burke tends toward the latter).
5. Beauty: "For beauty is the term we apply to the poet’s success in evoking our emotions." It is related to symbol insofar as such success depends on the "power of formula" symbol it encapsulates. (58). This does not make much sense to Josh, but perhaps you understand it.
C. Symbol Clarified: Burke concludes the chapter by discussing symbol.
1. Symbols are historically bound. " ... when the emphasis of society has changed, new symbols are demanded to formulate new complexities, and the symbols of the past become less appealing of themselves" (59).
2. Symbol is not outside "technical form." Since the symbol is "a principle of logical guidance" (required by the emotional form), it participates in technical form (60).
3. Thus, "we have the original emotion [or mood] which is channelized into a symbol. This symbol becomes a generative force, a relationship to be repeated in varying details, and thus makes for one aspect of technical form" (61). In other words, the consistency required by emotional form, once symbolized, requires a "logical consistency" too, which in turn is part of technical form. (Editor note – huh?).
IV. The Status of Art
A. Burke returns to the "pure art" doctrine. He argues the generative seeds of the Aestheticism, Kant’s aesthetic theory, paved the way for ensuing attacks on art. Although Kant wanted to justify art, the idea that art had no purpose outside of itself put art on the defensive (63).
1. Burke returns to a discussion of Flaubert, Pater, and de Gourmont and outlines their modification of the pure art thesis, and contextualized their writings as reflecting a social division between the artist and bourgeois (64-71).
2. Burke concludes the first section by arguing that a work of art is sometimes too narrowly grounded in particular "situations" that are socially contingent. "And thus it will serve, not in itself, but in the suggestions it gave to a writer of the day who ‘translates’ them into his contemporary conventions" (72). The art-in-itself thesis is open for attack.
B. The encroachment of "causation" theories":
1. The psychoanalytic attack: " ... the psychoanalyst’s analogies between art and dream-life, while not formulated as an attack upon art, readily came to serve as one" (72). Psychological theories placed the inspirations of the artists in his "maladjustments" (75). The psychoanalyst seeks to render art as an "experience" rather than a method, to which Burke objects. "When the appeal of art as method is eliminated and the appeal of art as experience is stressed, art seems futile indeed" (77).
2. The economic attack: Again, though not intended as an attack, the "theory of meaning" undergirding economic perspectives "devalued" art on the basis of its not being "practical."
a) Burke begins by discussion: "critics influenced by the tenets of evolutionism that held that to appreciate a work we must understand the environmental conditions out of which it arose." (77).
b) The "economic critic" converted these conceits "into a causation theory, with economic forces as prime movers and art as a mere result" (79).
c) Burke seems argue economic causation, coupled with the pragmatism of the big, bad "C" (err, capitalism, though he never uses the word), gave the "useful-useless" thesis its current (1930's), threatening tone. Herein is the exigency.
3. The historical attack:
a) Like the economic critics, the historical critics described art as a result of social and political situations.
b) To summarize, "Reduced to its essentials, the encroachment of a causation doctrine here seems to be statable as follows: Changes in art occur concomitantly with changes in political and economic conditions; therefore the changes in art are caused by the changes in political and economic conditions" (80).
4. As an illustration, Burke criticizes Oswald Spengler’s "morphology of history." According to Burke, Spengler describes cultures as undergoing a series of stages throughout history (winter, summer, spring, and fall). Burke crushes the dude’s theory: "His analogy of the seasons contains an implicit judgment," which if reversed in the negative, gives us a much different result. "... he masks his personal choice as the inescapable verdict of all history" (89).
C. Burke concludes in the third section: "Our program is simply to point out that the criterion of ‘usefulness’ has enjoyed much more prestige that its underlying logic merited" (90). He clarifies
1. "No categorical distinction can possibly be made between ‘effective’ and ‘ineffective’ art" (90).
2. "We advocate nothing, then, but a return to inconclusiveness" (91).
3. "Art needs nothing by way of ‘sanction’ but the neutralizing of its detractors. It needs no ‘dignity’ beyond the mere zero of not being glibly vilifies" (91).
V. Thomas Mann and Andrea Gide
A. Background: Mann and Gide are discussed as examples of the subversive "Bohemian."
1. Thomas Mann (1875-1955): German novelist and essayist who won Nobel in 1929. Burke is concerned with Death in Venice, "somber masterpiece" outlining the trials of the artist Gustav von Aschenbach, torn by his attraction to a teenager named Tadzio (whom he never talks to). At the end of the novel, Gustav keels over which cholera, yet only after an exchange of glances with Tadzio. Mann is the "ironic" and "melancholic" for Burke (106)
2. Andre Gide (1869-1951): Another Nobel winner, pretty much an essayist. For a time was heavily influenced by the Symbolists. Wrote much autobiographical stuff, documenting his growing awareness of his homosexuality and his dissatisfaction with Victorian ethical codes. Eventually was a vocal proponent of women’s rights. Gide is the "curious" for Burke.
B. Burke rambles through the work of Mann and Gide and explores their attempts to "humanize the state of doubt," and complixify assumed simplicities (echoes of de Gourmont’s "dissociation" here).
1. "Since the body is dogmatic, a generator of belief, society might well be benefitted by the corrective of a disintegrating art, which converts each simplicity into a complexity, which ruins the possibility of ready hierarchies, which concerns itself with the problematical, the experimental, and thus by implication the works corrosively upon those expansionistic certainties preparing the way for our social cataclysms. An art may be of value purely through preventing society from becoming too assertively, too hopelessly, itself" (105).
2. Burke concludes with a pat on the back for Mann and Gide. Chummy.
A. The Thesis: "The present Program speculates as to which emotions and attitudes should be stressed, and which should be slighted, in the aesthetic judgment to the particular conditions of today" (107). What are these conditions?:
1. Mechanization and industrialism, which "affects our political institutions, as it alters our way of living ... " and so on (107).
2. A symbolic of the "past" and "future," as represented by the "Agrarian" and the "Industrial."
a) The Agrarian is the "morally conservative."
b) The Industrialist is the progressive, yet the progressive whose agenda solidifies rather quickly and, though open to innovation "will usually be found to harbor a set of cultural retentions which completely undo" innovation (109).
c) The artist must play the intermediate.
B. More oppositions: Recasting the "bourgeois-Bohemian" dichotomy as the Practical-Aesthteic:
1. Burke assigns the practical (bourgeois) with a flood connotations: "efficiency, prosperity, material acquisitions, increased consumption ... " and so on (111).
2. Burke assigns the aesthetic with a flood of connotations: "inefficiency, indolence, dissipation, vacillation, mockery, distrust, ‘hypochondria,’ nonconformity .." and so on ("curiosity" is later mentioned as a "key-word.") (111).
C. Defending the Aesthetic: "The aesthetic is defensible because it could never triumph" (113).
1. The artist is not concerned with "specific"political issues (113); she is allowed the flexibility to engage specific political issues halfheartedly if she wants to. Why? Because the aesthetic subsumes, and is therefore superior to, the political (113-114).
2. The artist, nevertheless, assumes a corrective role in "democracy," since current social conditions (1930's) threaten to replace democracy with fascism:
a) "A society is sound only if it can prosper on its vices, since virtues are by very definition rare and exceptional" (114).
b) Democracy is, for Burke "organized distrust" (114). Those who criticize democracy "for its inefficiency" are Fascists. Inefficiency "is the one thing [democracy] has in its favor" (114).
c) The aesthetic becomes the democrat for Burke, the "hopeful, the propounders of business culture," are the Fascists (115).
d) "And so to recapitulate: The aesthetic would seek to discourage the most stimulating values of the practical, would seek – by wit, by fancy, by anathema, by versatility – to throw into confusion the code which underlies commercial enterprise, industrial competition, the ‘heroism’ of economic warfare; would seek to endanger the basic props of industry" (115).
D. Burke concludes by reformulating the same "program" in different ways (repetitive form in action here, I suppose).
VII. Lexicon Rhetoricae
A. The Nature of Form: "Form in literature is the arousing and fulfillment of desires." There are five aspects of form
1. Syllogistic progression (sub. of "progressive form"):" the form of a "perfectly conducted argument," where, "given certain things, certain things must follow, the premises forcing the conclusion" (124).
2. Qualitative progression (sub of "progressive form"): the more subtle sort of progressive form, where "the presence of one quality prepares us for the introduction of another," yet we only recognize the whole ("its rightness") after the progression is complete. (124-125).
3. Repetitive form: "the constant maintaining of a principle under new guises. It is the restatement of the same thing in different ways" (125).
4. Conventional form: "involves to some degree the appeal of form as form." There is an "element of ‘categorical expectancy,’ such that the gratifications of the reader are "anterior" to the reading" (126). Seems like the most basic of forms, simply expectations of the audience.
5. Minor or incidental forms: smaller sorts of form, such as "metaphor, paradox, disclosure, reversal, contraction, expansion, bathos, apostrophe, series, chiasmus ... " (127).
B. Burke then proceeds to further clarify (that is, complicate) the five aspects (or types) of form:
1. Interrelation of forms: The forms overlap and are not necessarily distinct in any one work (128).
2. Conflict of forms: The forms can compete, for added or destructive effect (129).
3. Rhythm, Rhyme: Burke identifies rhythm and rhyme as chiefly categorizable under the heading "repetitive form," although can be described with the other sorts of forms too (130).
4. Significant Form: Forms are not necessarily wed to any one theme; that is, there is no essential correspondence between the peticularies of the subject matter and form. "In most cases we find formal designs or contrivances which impart emphasis regardless of their subject" (135). Burke shows how "talking at cross-purposes," as a formal contrivance, yields different emotional effects in selections taken from Wilde, Wordsworth, and Racine (the former two for humor, the later for "tragic irony").
C. The Individuation of Forms: In this section, Burke further elaborates and traces how form gets individuated (as he outlined in the "Poetic Process").
1. Appeal of forms: Form is successful, or "‘correct’ insofar as it gratifies the need which it creates. The appeal of the form in this sense is obvious: form is the appeal" (138). Burke then discusses the five aspects of form in turn, fixating on the minor: " ... since the single sentence has form, we are forced by our thesis to consider the element of gratification in the sentence apart from his context" (139). Josh didn’t think we were forced to do so, but Burke does for a long paragraph or so.
a) A special status is afforded to form as "exemplified in rhythm," because "rhythm is more closely allied with ‘bodily processes.’ Systole and diastole, alternation of the feet in walking, inhalation and exhalation, up and down, in and out, back and forth, such are the types of distinctly motor experiences ‘tapped’ by rhythm" (140).
2. ‘Priority’ of forms: Though forms are not necessarily "prior to experience, they are certainly prior to the work of art exemplifying them." (141). This seems to contradict the psychological universals he posits earlier, so he poo-poos the question by saying, "so far as the work of art is concerned they simply are ... " (141).
a) He then returns to his emphasis in earlier chapters on "capacities" (as "a command to act in a certain way"). Peculiar, confusing distinctions like this were sure to cause ire of many an analytical philosopher.
b) "The forms of art, to summarize, are not exclusively ‘aesthetic.’ They can be said to have a prior existence in the experiences of the person hearing or reading the work of art. They parallel processes which characterize his experience outside of art" (143).
3. Individuation of Forms: Further explanation. "A ‘metaphor is a concept, an abstraction – but a specific metaphor, exemplified by specific images, is an ‘individuation.’" (143).
4. Form and information: Because form is "embodied" or clothed by subject-matter, certain "diseases of form" can occur. These diseases come about when the subject-matter obscures the form or out-strips its "functional uses." A balance must be struck between the intrinsic interesting effect of "information" and formal method/technique. Burke revisits the "psychology of information" and "psychology of business" stuff here. (144-145).
5. Form and Ideology: Burke vacillates between description and proscription. Ideology, because it shifts "from age to age" as well as "person to person," can render the formal universals ineffective if not used and manipulated by the artist carefully. The artist often must appeal to ideology in order to individuate form (and thereby evoke the desired emotion). (146-147).
6. Re-individuation of forms: Burke maintains that re-individuation is the "best proof that there is ‘individuation’ ...." He offers the example of a "literal translation," which basically rearticulates the form "with a complete change of matter [words]." Burke offers Joyce’s Ulysses as the "most elaborate re-individuation" of The Odyssey (148-149).
D. Patterns of experience: Burke describes the relationship between "universal experience," "patterns of experience," and Symbol.
1. Universal experiences: Burke argues capability of experiencing certain "moods, feelings, emotions, perceptions, sensations and attitudes" implies their universality (149).
2. Modes of experience: A mode, or way of being that "arise[s] out of a relationship between the organism and its environment," can reveal universal experience. Different modes can reveal the same universal experience, such as "grief at deprivation" (150).
3. Patterns of experience: An environmental condition (such as a "cruel father" or "gentle years in a garden") "calls forth and stresses certain of the universal experiences as being more relevant to it, while a slighting of those less relevant. Such selections are ‘patterns of experience’" (151).
a) Burke mentions, however, such patterns are not solely based on environmental conditions, since these conditions are a result of an organisms interaction with the environment.
4. The Symbol: Burke redefines the Symbol here in two ways:
a) "The Symbol is the verbal parallel to a pattern of experience" (152).
b) "The Symbol might be called a word invented by the artist to specify a particular grouping or pattern or emphasizing of experiences – and the work of art in which the Symbol figures might be called a definition of this word" (153).
5. Appeal of the Symbol: "The Symbol is perhaps most overwhelming in its effect when the artist’s and the reader’s patterns of experience closely coincide" (153). The Symbol "appeals either as the orienting of a situation, or as the adjustment to a situation, or as both" (156). More specifically, it has the ability to do the following wonderful things:
a) It can simplify an "otherwise unclarified complexity" (154).
b) It can help point us to accept a situation we would otherwise avoid (154). (Empowers us to confront death with dignity, etc.)
c) It can render the mundane extraordinary: "Most stories of romantic love are probably in this class" (155). Hmmm. Is this an autobiographical moment?
d) It can prompt the reader to surface patterns of experience that have been "submerged" (or deflected by one’s environmental condition). (155)
e) It can render otherwise taboo or vicious conduct appropriate, even "virtuous" by fiddling with other values in our "code." This fits with his discussion of Mann and Gide’s homosexual themes earlier (155-156).
f) It can act as a vehicle for "‘artistic’ effects," by calling attention to itself as a creation (156).
6. Ramifications of the Symbol: Ideally, the Symbol should "reveal the underlying patten of experience." To the extent it does not, it fails.
7. Complexity and Power: A Symbol vacillates between the power of its emotional underpinnings and the "logic" of its creation (recall the emotional and technical form stuff here). Each extreme flirts with failure: "The peril of complexity is diffusion. The peril of power is monotony" (160).
E. Ritual: Burke repeats and refines and defines concepts.
1. Ideology: The artist can manipulate ideology to get an effect and individuate form. Burke defines ideology as "an aggregate of beliefs sufficiently at odds with one another to justify opposite kinds of conduct" (163).
2. The Symbolicity and formally ‘charged’: Intensity can be attributed to form, symbol, or both in interaction. It’s all a matter of degree. For Burke, something is "charged" if it seems intense.
3. Eloquence: Burke redefines eloquence as "a frequency of Symbolic and formal effects. One work is more eloquent than another if it contains Symbolic and formal charges in greater profusion" (165).
4. Manner and Style: Burke mines a footnote in "The Poetic Process" and elaborates it more fully. Mostly a rehash: "In so far as a work becomes eloquent, it manifests either manner or style" (166). "Manner obviously has the virtue of ‘power,’ with the danger of monotony .... Style has the virtue of ‘complexity,’ with the danger of diffusion..." (167).
5. The ‘categorical appeal’ of literature: The categorical appeal of literature is in its drawing us to see the means as an end itself, just as music creates in us the enjoyment of musical "sound" (167-168).
6. ‘Aesthetic’ truth: A rehash of his distinction between scientific and aesthetic truth (again, drawing from something footnoted in an earlier chapter). The facticity, or seeming "truth" becomes aesthetic when it is "ritualizes" (168).
7. Eloquence and the traditionally ceremonious: A poet always risks either relying too much on traditions or too much on the contemporary situation. Either is a mistaken route for the creation of eloquence (170).
F. Universality, Permanence, Perfection: A hodgepodge of loose ends
1. Recurrent patterns of experience: "though a pattern of experience could be proved universal (common to all men) or permanent (common to some men in every age), the work of art in which it is symbolized would not be thereby proved universal or permanent" (172).
2. Fluctuant factors affecting the Symbol:
a) Variations in ideology: The codes of artist and reader may not match
b) Patterns and modes may not correspond.
c) A common symbol of a particular age or group may be unfamiliar to another age or group. A symbol may seem too obscure to some, while to others it is too over-the-top.
3. Formal obstacles: Conventional form can become maladjusted, misused, or misunderstood (by either author or reader).
4. Compensatory gains: Even when a work of art encounters all sorts of formal and symbolic obstacles, it can still appeal to readers, if only "extrinsically." For example, as a novelty, or as something of "antiquity" ("the appeal of a work removed in time"), and so on (175). In other words, "‘compensatory gains’ occur when the Symbol [or artwork] appeals for reasons extrinsic to the author’s intentions’" (176).
5. Margins of persuasion: This is a term Burke uses for "the means whereby the author can reduce the recalcitrant reader to acquiescence ... " (176). These means are chiefly three: "thoroughness manifest either as accuracy, or as profusion, or both" (178).
6. Perfection: Perfection "as applied to literature is meaningless." Only a cosmic mind-meld between readers and writers of all times could yield perfection.
a) Burke further complicates by considering what would be the "perfect reader." To have one, we’d have to identify an "ideal" pattern of experience.
b) Aristotle’s three types of audiences (friendly, hostile and "simply curious") are discussed: "To speak of a work as ‘perfect,’ we should have to establish one of these audiences as the point of reference" (180).
c) Burke plays with hypotheticals here to further illustrate the impossibility of perfection.
7. Literary virtues: There are five (181-182):
a) Eloquence: Thoroughness, the "vigor of symbolic and formal ‘charging.’"
b) Knowledge of Power and Complexity, and when they should be emphasized: "Powerful Symbol for a powerful pattern (Othello); complex Symbol for a complex pattern (Hamlet)."
c) Manner: "Power without monotony."
d) Style: Complexity without diffusion."
e) Ability to gratify specific needs and categorical needs when called for.
8. Uplift, How eloquence leads to uplift: I have no clue how Burke says this happens, since "uplift" is left undefined. But, he notes here the poet can only embody eloquence with "discipline (resistance) and exposure (non-resistance). The poet must manage exposure without collapse, discipline without exclusion" (182). By now, Josh is weary: It should be apparent Burke is Daddy-Dialectic.
9. Value of the aggregate: Art as a whole is more powerful than any one artist. They should help each other.
10. Technical: Burke slips into incomplete sentences, as if he is defining terms. "An equipment, like any vocabulary, for handing the complexities of living" (183). I have no idea what the missing clause is here.
11. Holier than Thou: The artist is humbled in the face of the looming "Art." He should be humble in front of this God.
VII. Applications of the Terminology
A. Two Bases of Critical Exhortation (184): We implore literature to:
1. Be written in view of some given "ideal situation"
a) This urging is "absolutist"
b) This urging claims "categorical superiority"
c) Burke uses the "attacks upon Rousseau" as an example of this sort of critical perspective (186).
2. Be written in view of some given "contemporary situation"
a) This urging is "relativistic, or historical."
b) This exhortation (variously, method, perspective) may seem "more readily defensible – but it has difficulties of its own ...," in that "there would still be endless bickering among the relativists, since any given situation can be interpreted in many ways...." (185).
3. Burke concludes this section with a discussion of the "classic-romantic" dichotomy, and problematizes the distinction (each contains elements of the other, each has strengths and weaknesses; 187-188).
B. Art and Life: In this section Burke discusses another exhortation, levied by both the abosolutists and relavitists, that "the artist ‘deal with life.’" Burke argues that exhortation makes no sense, because "dealing with life" is precisely what art does. He interprets the exhortation to mean a number of things depending on the critic:
1. To some, it is "an exhortation to preserve certain conventions of nineteenth-century prose fiction" (188).
2. To others, "that the artist should deal with specific ‘problems’ of the day" (188).
a) This is the proletarian critic, who falls pretty to the utility thesis – that is, for literature to be good it "must serve to eradicate certain forms of social injustice" (189).
b) Burke argues the proletarian critics are misguided, for they overlook "the fact that there is the pamphlet, the political tract, the soap-box oration, to deal with the specific issues of the day, whereas the literature of the imagination may prepare the mind in a more general fashion" (189).
c) "There must be a literature which upholds such an equipment [narrative appeals to things like ‘a desire for justice’] in the abstract, if the social reformer is to find something in us to which he can appeal when advocating reforms in the particular (189).
3. Both of the above can be read as "literature should be popular" (190). Burke then considers "the entire issue from the standpoint of the Lexicon," which means he attaches his own specialized vocabulary to it.
4. He concludes: "The most ‘unreal’ book in the world can properly be said to ‘deal with life’ if it can engross a reader .... But we must not overlook the fact that, however, ‘artificial’; such a style [e.g. "gallantry"] may be, the feeling behind it, the love of ceremony which it symbolizes, is as ‘natural’ and ‘spontaneous’ as any other emotion" (192).
C. Objective-Subjective. In this section Burke discusses whether or not the artist should be "objective" (approach from a disinterested perspective) or "subjective."
1. The "objective" method (or "dramatic method") is one where an artist composes her "symbols from the standpoint of the effect desired" (194). However, since artists rely on ideology, once that ideology is weakened, the artist "will look for some other kind of certainty to take the place of it" (194). Burke argues this when the artist turns to her own subjective "pattern of experience."
2. "... the most vigorous and enterprising artists will be found to be the ones who have manifested this ‘subjective’ tendency most thoroughly, while the hackmen, the Broadway playwrights and the writers of purely commercial fiction, will be found to rely greatly upon the vestiges of the ideology" (194).
3. Burke concludes: "the objective writer attempts to make effective Symbols; the subjective writer attempts to make Symbols effective" (195). Burke traces the objective-to-subjective trajectory in Hamlet.
D. Poetry and Illusion: Burke responds to the notion that science kills poetry. He sets up the argument this way: "Since certain things were believed, and poets used these beliefs to produce poetic effects, the beliefs become ‘poetic.’ But in the course of time contrary things came to be believed, with the consequence that the earlier beliefs were now called ‘illusions’" (198). Science, then, squashes these illusions still central to poetry.
1. Burke locates "Mr. Krutch" as one who argues poetry is distinct from science (have no idea who this fellah is), and outlines Mr. Krutch’s argument (199-201).
2. Burke then counters Krutch: "It is quite likely that for each belief science takes from us, some other belief will be placed in its stead" (203). In other words, poetic belief and illusion will never be squashed – the poet will use the new beliefs generated by science and "poeticze" them.
E. Conventional Form: In this last section Burke discusses the subtleties of conventional form (largely descriptive) and attempts to reappropriate the term "rhetoric."
1. "In summary we may note the dual aspect of conventional form: It thrives when the audience expects it and also requires the kind of effects which it is best able to produce; but it becomes an obstacle if it remains as categorical expectancy at a time when different effects are aimed at" (208). Burke continues
a) "the absence of marked conventional contrivances often leads to a kind of ‘one-time’ convention which is liked purely as an innovation" (208).
b) "Categorical expectancy does not only make for inclusions; it also makes for exclusions. In expecting how things will be, we expect by implication how they will not be" (209).
2. All literature is "rhetoric" (210). The loss of the term was simply as "mistake": As artists no longer wished to produce the kinds of effect which the devices of the rhetoricians were designed to produce, they overshot the mark – and to turn against a specific method of specific rhetoricians, they persuaded themselves that they were turning against the rhetoric in toto" (210).
IX. Curriculum Ariticum
A. Main Tack-On (1953): "Counter-Statement shows signs of its emergence out of adolescent fears and posturing, into problems of early manhood (problems morbidly intensified by the market crash of ’29)" (213). Burke’s tone throughout is similar. He basically relates the themes of the book to his later writings.
B. Another Tack-On ("Addendum"; 1967): Burke does the same things as above, however, less apologetically. This tack-on reads like an advertisement for his later work, including the fiction.
From Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke, 1924-1966. Ed. William H. Rueckert. Minneapolis, U of Minnesota P, 1969.
1. Granville Hicks, the writer (1931):
We live in a period of transition, as Burke says. People are confused in their thinking and disorganized in their manner of living; the artist cannot assume any community of ideals or of emotional habits. What are writers to do? One writer, believing that his highest aim is to arouse and satisfy an appetite, will seek a symbol and its underlying pattern, to use Burke’s terminology, in order to give full sway to his eloquence. Another writer, conceiving his business to be the discovery of a symbol which will interpret a representative and important situation – and Burke admits this is a legitimate basis of the appeal in the symbol – will plunge into this contemporary chaos, even though he thereby risks that clarity of outline and intensity of manner and style that arose and satisfy a reader’s desire. Which writer will the critic single out for praise? On Burke’s basis, the former; on some other basis, the latter. To explain what the other basis is would require a book at least the size of Burke’s; to me it would be a more interesting and more important book. (21)
2. Isidor Schneider, the review, writer (1931):
Mr. Burke’s new principle is so sane, so sure and useful a standard for esthetic judgment that one wonders how it could have been possible for the many thoughtful and brilliant writers on the subject to have avoided discovering it ....The clue to it, I believe, Mr. Burke found in I.A. Richard’s experimental studies in the psychology of reader reactions .... [The principle] is, in essence, a new view of rhetoric. Mr. Burke says that rhetoric, far from being artifice, is the most natural and constant feature of literature. (22-23)
3. Harold Rosenberg, the crusty philosopher (1932):
Mr. Burke has accepted a too naive form of the artist as craftsman and communicator idea; and this is related to the even greater ingenuousness with which he treats certain philosophical problems .... Mr. Burke’s theoretical limitations also prevent him from turning up the deeper ground of the fallacies he means to destroy, and it is unlikely that one who has been convinced by them will feel himself undermined. (29).
Summary written by Joshua Gunn.