Focus of Part I
The Philosophy of Literary Form is divided into four major parts: Part 1, a lengthy exposition bearing the same name as the book’s title, Part II, a series of "Longer Articles," Part III, a series of "Shorter Articles," and Part IV, an Appendix. As Burke notes in his foreword, the works constituting The Philosophy of Literary Form are engaged in "speculation on the nature of linguistic, or symbolic, literary action—and in a search for more precise ways of locating or defining such action" (xvii). In Part I, Burke devotes much of his energy toward identifying guidelines for criticism informed by a theory of symbolic action, and in so doing, provides Burkean critics with a useful collection of insights regarding the interpretation of texts.
Outline of "The Philosophy of Literary Form"
Situations and Strategies
In his initial musings, Burke links art to situations, contending that "critical and imaginative works are answers to questions posed by the situation in which they arose" (1). Burke argues that such answers are strategic and stylized; that is, they answer situation-based questions in a particular, distinctive way. Although the responses are stylized, they might also be viewed as universal. "[I]n so far as situations overlap from individual to individual, or from one historical period to another, the strategies possess universal relevance" (1).
To illustrate, Burke asks readers to consider proverbs. A proverb can "‘size up,’ or attitudinally name" a variety of situations (2). Burke’s example: "Whether the pitcher strikes the stone, or the stone the pitcher, it’s bad for the pitcher." Burke suggests a number of situations, varying across time and space in their particularities, to which this proverb would apply. He then asks whether we might think of poetry in the same way.
Magic and Religion
Burke suggests that magic and religion, like proverbs, may provide "leads or cues, for the analysis of poetic strategy" (3). Burke describes magic as "establishment or management by decree" and conceptualizes the form it takes as the declaration of some action "in the name of" a particular power (e.g., "in the name of the Lord"). Burke notes that this power persists and brings it to mind with examples such as "in the strategic name of ‘planned economy’" or "in the name of ‘regimentation’" (4). He concludes that "The magical decree is implicit in all language, for the mere act of naming an object or situation decrees that it is to be singled out as such-and-such rather than as something other" (4).
Since magic is always present, Burke urges the search for correct magic, which he describes as
"magic whose decrees about the naming of real situations is the closest possible approximation to the situation named" (4); the test of correctness, according to Burke, would be supplied by "collective revelation." To analyze the magical utterance (a part of all verbal action), Burke recommends the following three-part analytical scheme for the interpretation of poetry: dream ("unconscious or subconscious factors in a poem"), prayer ("the communicative functions of a poem"), and chart ("the realistic sizing-up of situations"). With the notion of the chart, Burke returns to his assertion that the best interpretations (e.g., "ideal magic") are those that most closely approximate the nature of a given situation.
Burke here notes "that poetry, or any verbal act, is to be considered symbolic action" (8). In describing symbolic action, Burke observes that there is a difference between a practical act and a symbolic one (although the two may overlap). For Burke, "The symbolic act is the dancing of an attitude" (9); i.e., the enactment, through form and content, of an attitude.
For the next several pages (12-18), Burke goes into detail about the mind-body processes involved in enactment, a discussion that seems peripheral to his primary aims. Readers interested in the "poetics of sound" (14), however, may find this section interesting.
Another Word for "Symbolic"
Burke acknowledges resistance to the idea of symbolic action, positing that this resistance is linked to the notion of symbolic action as irrational. As such, Burke takes a rational term in the logical positivist’s lexicon—statistical—and links it to the word symbolic. To illustrate, Burke notes that novels, although particular individuations, may be grouped together in a class. "They are ‘all doing the same’—they become but different individuations of a common paradigm. As so considered, they become ‘symbolic’ of something—they become ‘representative’ of a social trend" (19).
Burke strengthens the connection between symbolism and statistics with his introduction of the idea of "equations" or "associational clusters"—i.e., "what goes with what" (20). Burke contends that every work contains such equations, and the reader can understand an author’s motives through the "objective citation" (what he elsewhere calls "scissor-work") of those equations. Says Burke, "The interrelationships themselves are his motives. For they are his situation; and situation is but another word for motives (20).
Burke illustrates with the work of Coleridge, a frequently recurring author in Part I. Burke’s insights about Coleridge, namely regarding the public/private nature of the associational clusters in a work, provide the context for one of Burke’s most well-known quotations: "The main ideal of criticism, as I conceive it, is to use all there is to use" (23). (In the case of Coleridge, this maxim allows Burke to use knowledge of Coleridge’s private battles with drug addiction in an analysis of his work.)
Other Words for "Symbolic"
From the idea of "statistical" comes "representative," and from "representative" comes "synecdoche," a central concept in Burke’s orientation. Burke explains that synecdoche is a figure of speech in which the part represents the whole, or the whole the part, or the container for the thing contained (e.g., "twenty noses" for "twenty men"). He then asserts that synecdoche "is the ‘basic’ figure of speech and that it occurs in many modes besides that of the trope" (26). Applied to criticism, one might see the scapegoat as representative of burdens, or any single element in an associational cluster as representative of the whole. In the remainder of this discussion, Burke illustrates synecdochic and other associational relationships with a variety of examples.
Equations Illustrated in "Golden Boy"
In an extended example of analysis through equations, Burke examines Clifford Odet’s Golden Boy. Burke identifies two opposing symbols in the work: the violin, associated with the protagonist, and the prizefight, associated with the antagonist. Burke charts "what goes with what," which produces associational clusters. From the clusters, Burke arrives at hunches about interrelationships, noting that he might pursue these hunches through a study of Odet’s other work (hence, using all there is to use).
Burke then leaves his analysis and makes a general observation about symbols and associations, noting, "The ‘symbolism’ of a word consists in the fact that no one quite uses the word in its mere dictionary sense. And the overtones of a usage are revealed ‘by the company it keeps’ in the utterances of a speaker or writer" (35). In a useful analogy, Burke suggests that "The ‘symbolic’ attribute is like the title of a chapter; the particulars are like the details that fill out a chapter. The title is a kind of ‘first approximation’; the detailed filling-out a kind of ‘closer approximation’" (35).
Levels of Symbolic Action
Burke identifies three levels of symbolic action important to analysis: 1) The bodily or biological level (e.g., "Symbolic acts of gripping, repelling, eating, excreting…; sensory imagery), 2) the personal level (e.g., "Relationships to father, mother, doctor, nurse, friends, etc.), and 3) the abstract level (e.g., insignia, such as a particular form, or a character). On this last point, Burke discusses role and identity, concluding, "Implicit in poetic organization per se there is the assertion of an identity" (39).
Aspects of the Scapegoat in Reidentification
The process of symbolic transformation, according to Burke, involves a "sloughing off," a killing of some sort, and here enters the scapegoat, that representative burden bearer who must be sacrificed in the name of purification. Burke identifies three ways in which a scapegoat might be worthy of sacrifice: 1) legalistically (i.e., he is an offender who "deserves what he gets"), 2) fatalistically (i.e., he is made a "marked man" in the plot, so readers come to expect his sacrifice), or 3) poetically, as the recipient of poetic justice (i.e., the scapegoat is "too good for this world") (40).
While on the subject of death, Burke moves from the scapegoat’s fate to symbolic parricide to suicide to incest, concluding with comments on rituals of transference. This discussion could be clearer, but it nonetheless contains some interesting observations on selfhood in the artistic work.
The Sacrifice and the Kill
Burke identifies an ambiguity between notions of the sacrifice and the kill, specifically with reference to the scapegoat. Says Burke, "In the sacrifice there is a kill; in the kill there is a sacrifice. But one or the other of this pair may be stressed as the ‘essence’ of the two" (46). Whereas the kill may be stressed in the sacrifice of an animal, the sacrifice is stressed in the killing of a Christ-figure.
Burkes then moves to ideas about criminality, asserting that "A tragedy is not profound unless the poet imagines the crime—and in thus imagining it, he symbolically commits it. Similarly, in so far as the audience participates in the imaginings, it also participates in the offense" (48). Burke closes this section by illustrating the various strategies of expiation involved with the commission of vicarious crimes, the most normal mode being socialization—"the ‘socialization of losses’" (50).
The Concealed Offense
"There are many depths still to be plumbed, in bringing up for conscious observation the many modes of criminality hidden beneath the surface of art (criminality, I repeat, that is not, in mature works, merely a criminal tendency repressed by social norms and gratified by aesthetic subterfuge, but is actually transformed, transcended, transubstantiated, by incorporation into a wider context of symbolic action)" (51-52). With this line, Burke opens a discussion of "unconscious punning" involving the substitution of indirect language for words that may be resisted (e.g., profanity; the unutterably good or bad). Burke plays with this idea, showing how slight alterations in the letters of words can disguise the unutterable. (Specifically, Burke demonstrates several variations of ablaut punning, in which the consonants of an unutterable stay the same, while the vowels are altered; see pages 52-57.)
Beauty and the Sublime
After traipsing through various elements of imaginative works, Burke states, "I should now like to draw these various remarks on tragedy, sacrifice, the kill, criminality, and obscenity together by reference to a theory of beauty" (60). Burke suggests that nineteenth-century notions of beauty emphasized the decorative (calling to mind terms such as "pretty") rather than the sublime, and thus "the whole subject of beauty became obscured in much aesthetic theory" (60). Burke attributes this condition to the tendency to see poetry as comforting, something that can protect readers. If readers are being protected, Burke surmises, there must be some threat against which they are being protected, and such is the basis of beauty.
In his explanation, Burke calls attention to notions of the sublime and the ridiculous. He describes the sublime as "vastness of power, or distance, disproportionate to ourselves [. . .]. We recognize it with awe. We find it dangerous in its fascination" (61). According to Burke, we face the sublime through piety. We are equipped to deal with the ridiculous, on the other hand, through impiety. Burke then asks, "Should we not begin with this as our way into the subject—treating all other manifestations of symbolic action as attenuated variants of pious awe (the sublime) and impious rebellion (the ridiculous)" (62)?
After briefly illustrating this approach, Burke argues that the advantage of seeing acts in terms of the ridiculous and the sublime rather than in terms of beauty is in critical emphasis. Says Burke, "Confronting the poetic act in terms of the sublime and the ridiculous, we are disposed to think of the issue in terms of a situation and a strategy for confronting or encompassing that situation, a scene and an act, with each possessing its own genius, but the two fields interwoven" (64).
For rhetorical critics, particularly those with a Burkean orientation, this section of the book (as well as the following two sections) is a must-read. Burke opens with a discussion of criticism in general, observing that "A critic’s perspective implicitly selects a set of questions that the critic considers to be key questions" (66); critical schools are differentiated based on the questions they ask.
Those questions are not neutral. As Burke avers, "All questions are leading questions" (67). Using an example of a public opinion poll, Burke points out that the questions asked "would not have to be ‘leading questions’ in the obvious sense. They would need no ‘weighting’ other than the weighting implicit in the choice of topic itself" (67). He further notes that questions lead not only toward a particular field, but away from others. "Every question selects a field of battle, and in this selection it forms the nature of the answers" (67).
Continuing his general discussion of criticism, Burke observes that "Implicit in a perspective there are two kinds of questions: (1) what to look for, and why [ontological]; and (2) how, when, and where to look for it [methodological]" (68). Burke then calls for critics to address their methodology explicitly. "After all, there are ‘laws’ (or at least, rules of thumb) implicit in the critic’s perspective—and the critic should do what he can to specify them as a way of defining that perspective" (precisely what Burke is doing in this section, in part to disabuse people of the notion that his approach is "intuitive" and "idiosyncratic").
Burke commences to set forth the "rules of thumb" of his critical method. For those who may hope to uncover THE Burkean method here, note Burke’s comment: "I am asking no one to ‘obey these rules’ (or rather these rules of thumb). I assemble them simply as a convenient way of crystallizing my exposition" (69).
Burke’s first rule of thumb: Look for "dramatic alignment" (e.g., violin vs. prizefight) and the equations that reinforce elements in "dramatic or dialectic opposition" (69). Burke urges a systematic approach to this task, saying, "We discover these [sets of equations] inductively, obediently, by ‘statistical’ inspection of the specific work to be analyzed. We should not ‘help the author out’ here" (69). In the process of charting relationships, trial equations emerge, suggesting promising directions for further exploration.
Another rule of thumb: Look for critical moments in a text—beginnings, endings, and "watershed moments" (78). Burke provides several examples of such critical moments—e.g., a switch from verse to prose in Murder in the Cathedral, or a scene in "The Ancient Mariner" in which snakes transform from malign to benign—and discusses how these moments provide clues about the motivation of a work.
A final guideline: "[S]ince works embody an agon, we may be admonished to look for some underlying imagery (or groupings of imagery) through which the agonistic trial takes place [. . .]. It is such over-all terms, I repeat, that make even the most concrete of imageries ‘symbolic’ or representative of one class or another" (83).
Form and Content
At the beginning of this section, Burke offers a concise description of the critic’s task, noting that the symbols and equations that emerge from an analysis cannot be interpreted through some preexisting "symbolist dictionary." Rather, symbols must derive meaning from the context in which they appear. Says Burke: "By inspection of the work, you propose your description of this equational structure. Your propositions are open to discussion, as you offer evidence for them and show how much of the plot’s development your description would account for. "‘Closer approximations’ are possible, accounting for more" (89).
Burke then shifts to a discussion of the pragmatic approach to poetry, which leads to a consideration of a poem in terms of its function. From Burke’s perspective, the function of a poem is captured in the unity of form and content. As Burke observes, "when you begin to consider the situations behind the tactics of expression, you will find tactics that organize a work technically because they organize it emotionally. The two aspects, we might say Spinozistically, are but modes of the same substance" (92). Burke illustrates his point with an extended analysis of Coleridge.
Restating his ideas about form and function, Burke asserts: "The main point is to note what the poem’s equational structure is. This is a statement about its form. But to guide our observation of the form itself, we seek to discover the functions which the structure serves. This takes us into a discussion of purpose, strategy, and the symbolic act" (101). Put differently: "At every point, the content is functional—hence, statements about a poem’s ‘subject,’ as we conceive it, will be also statements about the poem’s form" (102).
Ritual Drama as "Hub"
Having identified various rules of thumb, Burke addresses the broader perspective within which those rules operate. "The general perspective that is interwoven with our methodology of analysis might be summarily characterized as a theory of drama. We propose to take ritual drama as the Ur-form, the ‘hub,’ with all other aspects of human action treated as spokes radiating from this hub" (103). That is, the social world lends itself to dramatic description, in contrast to the physical world, which lends itself to mechanistic description.
Describing human action in mechanistic terms is precisely what Burke seeks to avoid with his approach. He notes that his perspective is "a calculus—a vocabulary, or set of coordinates, that serves best for the integration of all phenomena studied by the social sciences. We propose it as the logical alternative to the treatment of human acts and relations in terms of the mechanistic metaphor (stimulus, response, and the conditioned reflex)" (105-106). Burke notes that mechanistic language need not be excluded from a dramatistic perspective but that such terms may be employed to describe the ground or scene of a particular act.
Burke once again stresses the relationship between drama and dialectic, observing that "Plato’s dialectic was appropriately written in the mode of ritual drama" (107). Through "cooperative competition," ideas are refined and perfected. Opposing voices contribute to what Burke calls "collective revelation," defined as "a social structure of meanings" (108).
Burke dismisses the notion that a group’s "collective revelation" can be wrong. Returning to the idea of charting meaning, Burke reiterates that there are no right or wrong charts; rather, some charts are closer approximations of the truth than others. "And only in so far as they contain real ingredients of the truth can men who hold them perpetuate them to their progeny" (108). In other words, seriously errant charting (leading to flawed collective revelation) cannot persist for long, according to Burke.
Taking his comments on drama and dialectic a step further, Burke observes that such a perspective is well-suited to the study of history, which he describes as "a ‘dramatic’ process, involving dialectical oppositions" (109). Burke urges readers to see every historical document, such as the American Constitution, as "a strategy for encompassing a situation," produced through a dialectical process. (In a footnote to this discussion, Burke differentiates between positive and dialectical definitions, the latter of which must be defined in terms of an opposite.)
"Where does the drama get its materials?" Burke asks. Here, he introduces his well-known parlor scenario, in which readers are to imagine they have entered a parlor, wherein a group is engaged in a heated, ongoing discussion. After listening for awhile, the late arrivals jump into the conversation, offering and defending their views, participating in the oppositional contest. Burke then tells readers, "The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress" (111). So it is with the "unending conversation" of history, a constant source of dramatic material.
About midway through this section (114-116), Burke offers a ten-point explication of his position, the main points of which are as follows (directly quoted):
From this broad outline, Burke narrows his focus to poetry, specifically to the imagery found therein. Burke differentiates between two functions of imagery: "imagery as confessional" (cathartic) and "imagery as incantatory" (mimetic). Burke asserts that cathartic poetry "tries to ‘leave a spell on us’" while mimetic poetry attempts to establish "solace by magical decree" (118-119). Rather than eliminate spells, Burke suggests "a critical attempt to coach ‘good’ spells," which he illustrates with a lengthy anecdote.
Near the end of this section, Burke offers another internal summary of his dramatistic perspective (124), then segues into a discussion of realism—specifically, whether dramatism neglects realism. In answer, Burke differentiates realism and naturalism, contending that "much [of] what we call ‘realism’ in science should be more accurately called ‘naturalism.’ In the aesthetic field, ‘naturalism’ is a mode of ‘debunking’" (125). Both realism and naturalism, according to Burke, involve stylized communication strategies. Whether sentimental or brutal, "stylization is inevitable" (128).
Electioneering in Psychoanalysia
Burke concludes his essay with an illustration, "a burlesque in which a certain important faultiness of chart may be revealed" (132). The tale details life in the remote island of Psychoanalysia, where citizens are intensely interested in elections. On Psychoanalysia, elections won by a landslide produce a cathartic effect; politicians thus urge voters to swing violently from one candidate to another in the hopes of producing such an effect.
The practices in Psychoanalysia have ensured the endurance of a one-party government. As Burke relates, "Revolution is avoided by making revolution the norm." Cultural symbols (e.g., election posters; rituals) contribute to the continuing pattern. As Burke makes clear, Psychoanalysia needs a new incantation.
Outline of "Semantic and Poetic Meaning"
In this, the first of Burke’s longer articles in Part II, Burke offers "a rhetorical defense of rhetoric" (138). In his introductory comments, Burke identifies two related claims the essay is intended to support:
Burke asserts that when semantic and poetic meaning are considered opposites, rather than points on a continuum, a synecdochic fallacy—"mistaking the part for the whole" (139)— has occurred.
1. The Semantic Ideal Illustrated
To explain the ideal of semantic meaning, Burke draws an analogy to the postal system. He notes that every individual within the postal system may be identified by a combination of name and address, which he likens to semantic meaning. "And extending from that I should state, as the semantic ideal, the aim to evolve a vocabulary that gives the name and address of every event in the universe" (141). Such is the aim of the logical positivists, according to Burke.
Semantic meaning does not capture subtle shades of meaning, however. This is the realm of poetic meaning. As Burke contends, "Poetic meaning would not be the opposite of semantic meaning. It would be different from, or other than, or more than, or even, if you want, less than, but not antithetical to" (143).
2. Poetic Meaning
While semantic meaning points to a thing being named, poetic meaning conveys an attitude or emotional value about that thing. Burke notes that, in contrast to semantic meaning, poetic meaning cannot be ruled out on the basis of "correctness." His example: "New York City is in Iowa" is incorrect when measured against the semantic ideal, but it may convey important meanings poetically (144).
3. A Different Mode Proposed for the Test of Poetic Meaning
Having ruled out the either-or test of poetic meaning, Burke proposes an alternative: "The test of a metaphor’s validity is of a much more arduous sort, requiring nothing less than the filling-out, by concrete body, of the characterizations one would test" (145). The most valuable metaphors are those that have the greatest "scope, range, relevancy, accuracy, [and] applicability" (145).
4. The Moral Aspect of Poetic Meaning
Burke argues that recognizing the partial quality of description helps one avoid interpreting those descriptions as essence (i.e., making a totality out of a fragment, as mentioned in the introduction). Instead, descriptions might be interpreted as indications of "certain important things to look out for," which gives interpretation a moralistic quality (146).
In differentiating the semantic and poetic perspectives on moral interpretation, Burke explains that "The semantic ideal would attempt to get a description by the elimination of an attitude. The poetic ideal would attempt to attain a full moral act by attaining a perspective atop all the conflicts of attitude" (147-148).
Elaborating on the moral quality of poetic meaning, Burke states: "This ‘poetic’ meaning would contain much more than pragmatic, positivistic, futuristic values. A fully moral act is basically an act now. [. . .] A fully moral act is a total assertion at the time of the assertion. Among other things, it has a style—and this style is an integral aspect of its meaning" (148).
5. "Beyond Good and Evil"
According to Burke, "The semantic ideal envisions a vocabulary that avoids drama. The poetic ideal envisions a vocabulary that goes through drama" (149). Burke draws further distinctions between the two ideals, noting that the semantic ideal avoids emotional weightings and assumes an observer role in dramatic conflict, while the poetic ideal seeks "a maximum profusion of weightings" and assumes a participatory role in battles (149).
Despite its attempt to eradicate attitudes from its descriptive process, the semantic ideal is itself an attitude. Says Burke: "To the logical positivist, logical positivism is a ‘good’ term, otherwise he would not attempt to advocate it by filling it out in all its ramifications" (150). He thus concludes that perhaps "semantics itself is an attenuated form of poetry" (150).
6. Letting In and Keeping Out
Burke briefly discusses Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura as an example of the blending of semantic and poetic ideals. He contends that Lucretius, in his attempt to reveal the freedom that would result from the eradication of awe, "leaves us with an unforgettable image of the awe itself," something a semanticist would have assiduously avoided (152-153). Hence Burke’s concluding observation, "What the semanticist would put out, he never lets in" (153).
7. Aeschylus’ Eumenides to Illustrate Full Poetic Meaning
"In the Eumenides, I think, we see the poetic method in its completeness," Burke suggests. "Where the semanticist does not fight, and Lucretius fights while stacking the odds against himself, Aeschylus completely gives himself to aesthetic exposure, and surmounts the risk" (153). Burke supports this claim in the next few pages of the essay with an analysis of Aeschylus’ work.
8. "Through" and "Around"
Burke here reiterates his point about the poetic ideal being accomplished by a path through, rather than around, drama. Connecting the poetic ideal to human affairs, Burke avers: "A comprehensive vocabulary, for social purposes, will outrage the norms of the semantic ideal. It will not be unweighted; rather, it will have a maximum complexity of weightings. It will strike and retreat, compliment and insult, challenge and grovel, sing, curse, and whimper, subside and recover. Repeatedly, it will throw forth observations that are as accurate, in the realistic charting of human situations, as any ideal semantic formula" (159).
Burke takes aim at the semantic style and those who use it, noting, "The semantic style is bad style, except in those who violate its tenets" (159). Echoing comments in earlier works (e.g., Counter-Statement) about information, Burke says, "Information is quite often ‘semantically’ sound. But it is rarely resonant" (160). He argues for "a more strenuous cult of style," not style for its own sake, but rather style "as the beneath-which-not, as the admonitory and hortatory act" (161-162). Burke asserts that the prevailing norm of highlighting the trivial and superficial ("the journalistic pallor") is "an insult to democracy" (162).
Burke returns to
the idea of the moral quality of interpretation,
stressing once again that his argument with the semantic ideal is
primarily that it encourages "the notion that one may comprehensively
discuss human and social events in a nonmoral vocabulary, and that
perception itself is a nonmoral act" (164). Reiterating the idea of
semantics as a weak version of poetry, Burke suggests that it is "a
form of consolational dance, all in the tone of perfect peacefulness"
(167). It is only when that form is taken as the ideal, says Burke,
that it must be rejected.
The Virtues and Limitations of Debunking
Text of Criticism:
The Folklore of Capitalism by Thurman W. Arnold
It is Burke’s contention that "although Arnold explicitly disclaims membership in the debunking line, his two books are implicitly perfect examples of this line" (171).
"[Debunking] refers in general to that class of literature designed to show that George Washington did not cut down the cherry tree, and the highly alembicated variants of such. It counters the inflating of reputations by the deflating of reputations. It is the systematic ‘let down’ that matches the systematic ‘build up’" (168).
Origins of the Debunking Attitude:
Machiavelli: "Machiavelli tended to consider the ‘ungrateful, deceitful, cowardly, and greedy’ aspects of men not as an aspect of their ‘fall,’ but as the very essence of their nature. Lying was not a deviation from the norm, it was the norm" (169).
Hobbes: "Hobbes based his arguments for political authority upon the ‘nasty’ and ‘brutish’ nature of men, who required an absolute monarch to hold their essential meanness in check" (169).
Smith: "And finally, in Adam Smith, [the debunking attitude] becomes benign, as Smith worked out a structure whereby the sheer accumulations of mutually conflicting individual greeds added up to a grand total of social benefit" (169).
The Reflexivity of the Debunking Strategy:
"[The debunker] discerns evil. He wants to eradicate this evil. And he wants to do a thorough job of it. Hence, in order to be sure that he is thorough enough, he becomes too thorough. In order to knock the underpinnings from beneath the arguments of his opponents, he perfects a mode of argument that would, if carried out consistently, also knock the underpinnings from beneath his own argument…In short: in order to shatter his opponents’ policies, he adopts a position whereby he could not logically advocate a policy of his own" (71).
Ambiguity and Equivocation:
"I have, then, suggested, as the first mark of the debunker, the fact that, in order to combat a bad argument, he develops a position so thorough that it would combat all arguments—and then must covertly so rework this position that he may spar his own argument from the general slaughter. This he generally does, I have suggested, by an unintentional ambiguity whereby he throws something out by one name and brings it back by another name" (174).
Arnold does this, Burke claims, through the ambiguous shifting of terms. After arguing against the application of one set of terms ("principles," "rational," "abstract ideals," and "courts"), Arnold attempts to smuggle in another set that builds his position ("propositions," "sensible," "abstractions," and "administrative tribunals"). While Arnold attacks the former set, Burke argues that the latter set is merely a reapplication of the same ideas under the guise of new terminology (and thus subject to the same criticisms).
Ritual and Interests:
By shifting the organizing principle from interests to motivations, Arnold is able to divulge the contradicting motivations between members and thus claim that the group is inconsistent and incoherent in their approach to a particular problem or goal. For Burke, this shift (a shift to a ritualistic view of the group) distorts the situation. Different individuals, grouped by a particular interest, have different interests and motivations in advocating the same course of action. "Hence, the ambiguity here exploited for polemic, pamphleteering purposes resides in the fact that he simultaneously employs and discards the factor of interest, putting the group together on the basis of the interest they share in common, and then slighting this interest as an interpretation of their statements" (177-8)
Burke argues that "unless the thinker is totally antisocial, humanitarian elements must be engrafted upon modes of thinking that attribute human actions to motives low in the scale of values" (183).
for Burke "there is no need for the humanitarian afterthought at all,
making for the kind of breach between exposition and exhortation that
offers you a ‘true’ picture of mankind and then tells you that you must
act on the basis of a different, ‘illusory’ picture.
There is no need for all this overt throwing-out and covert
taking-back. People, taken by and large, are acting reasonably enough, within
their frame of reference"
(188). Burke concludes: "I see no good reason…why one should have to
treat the exposition of human motives as synonymous with the debunking
of human motives" (189).
The Rhetoric of Hitler’s "Battle"
"Hitler’s ‘Battle’ is exasperating, even nauseating; yet the fact remains: if the reviewer but knocks off a few adverse attitudinizings and calls it a day, with a guaranty in advance that his article will have a favorable reception among the decent members of our population, he is contributing more to our gratification than to our enlightenment" (191).
Aim and Purpose of Criticism (Hitler as Medicine Man and Magician):
Burke, then, will give us a more enlightening assessment and understanding of Hitler’s text: "This book is the well of Nazi magic; crude magic, but effective. A people trained in pragmatism whould want to inspect this magic" (192). "Let us try also to discover what kind of ‘medicine’ this medicine-man has concocted, that we may know, with greater accuracy, exactly what to guard against, if we are to forestall the concocting of similar medicine in America" (191).
"[T]he international devil materialized, in the visible, point-to-able form of people with a certain kind of ‘blood,’ a burlesque of contemporary new-positivist’s ideal of meaning, which insists upon a material reference" (194).
Place: Knowing that a "centralization of ideas" would not be sufficient for his aims, "he selected Munich, as the materialization of his unifying panacea" (192). This gave him a Mecca, a central point to which all of Germany could look for power and solidarity.
Knowing that a superior culture must have a culture to be superior
to. He needed "a common enemy" for
"men who can unite on nothing else can unite on the basis of a foe
shared by all" (193). Thus Hitler made a scapegoat of the entire Jewish
Hitler’s Unification Device/Formula Summarized:
Dignity and Unity:
Dignity: By dignifying the Aryan race above all, Hitler was able to use this dignity to achieve other ends. He recognized that "if a state is in economic collapse…you cannot possibly derive dignity from economic stability. Dignity must come first—and if you possess it, and implement it, from it may follow its economic counterpart" (205).
Unity: Hitler’s criticisms of the parliamentary divides of his time lead to view it quite differently: "the wrangle of the parliamentary is to be stilled by the giving of one voice to the whole people, this to be the ‘inner voice’ of Hitler…Hitler’s inner voice, equals leader-people identification, equals unity, equals Reich, equals the mecca of Munich…equals responsibility (the personal responsibility of the absolute ruler), equals sacrifice, equals the theory of ‘German democracy’…equals idealisms, obedience to nature, equals race, nation" (207).
Hitler’s criticism was "the ‘unified kind of criticism that simply seeks for conscious ways of making one’s position more ‘efficient,’ more thoroughly itself…. As a result, he could spontaneously turn to a scapegoate mechanism, and he could, by spontaneous planning, perfect the symmetry of the solution towards which he had spontaneously turned" (211). This efficiency is best seen in the "trinity of government which he finally offers: popularity of the leader, force to back the popularity, and popularity and force maintained together long enough to become backed by tradition" (213).
"Our job, then, our anti-Hitler Battle, is to find all available ways of making the Hitlerite distortions of religion apparent, in order that politicians of his kind in America be unable to perform a similar swindle" (219).
The Calling of the Tune
What is the relationship between art and society? This piece is built on the proverb "he who pays the piper calls the tune." The text discussed below give Burke "an opportunity to consider some of the specific issues involved in this vacillating relationship between the artist’s freedom and the society’s commands. The commands are given, sometimes by the direct use of policing activities, more often by the indirect effects of patronage" (221).
Texts of Criticism:
Government and the Arts by Grace Overmyer
Poetry and Anarchism by Herbert Read
Limitations in Overmyer:
Burke welcomes Overmeyer’s focus on state aid for artists, but he feels Overmeyer discussion of "art patronage in general" does not go far enough. Her main elision is private subsidies from institutions and corporations—those institutions who arm themselves artistically for "commercial warfare" (223).
"An art, to be most thoroughly integrated with the national life, must represent, form, confirm, utilize, and project the national values, ideals, and expectancies. And to do this, it must be integrated with the basic modes of livelihood" (223).
The "Whitmanesque Strategy:"
The "Whitmanesque" "focuses our attention upon the ‘human element’ in our patterns of sociality" (224). This is the strategy of idealization and humanization. But "in so far as it stresses the lamentable rather than the picturesque, it is felt to move into the suspect area of ‘propaganda’" (224).
This strategy "succeeds in offering something for everybody, making the interests of piper and tune-caller identical, hence allowing the poet simultaneously to ‘be himself’ and to act as public spokesman for his patrons, or customers" (225).
Anarchy and Identification:
Read "is against tune-calling. And since tune-callers are ‘authorities’ of on sort or another, he widens his position into a general plea for anarchism, as the only completely non-authoritarian social structure" (225). Burke criticizes this move for its lack of a discussion of "identification." Identification is here defined at length as "one’s material and mental ways of placing oneself as a person in the groups and movements; one’s ways of sharing vicariously in the role of leader or spokesman; formation and change of allegiance; the rituals of suicide, parricide, and prolicide, the vesting and divesting of insignia, the modes of initiation and purification, that are involved in the response to allegiance and change of allegiance; the part necessarily played by groups in the expectancies of the individual…" (227).
Advocating anti-authoritariansism without considering "identification" lets "the authoritarians be master of the controversy…. And an absolute revolt against authority in all its forms is as enslaving to speculation as the absolute worship of authority" (228).
Burke asks: "If one approaches the situation from a categorical rejection of all authority, does he properly equip himself and his readers for a choice among the various real structures of authority that necessarily arise whenever a ‘vision’ is given embodiment in the material organizations of ‘this imperfect world’" (228-9)?
Margins and Catacombs:
Burke claims that if there is no authority, no acknowledged group we identify with, then the artist "must rebel despite himself" (230). For "If great genius is required to write a great work embodying the values in which one does believe, think how much greater genius would be required to write a great work embodying values in which one did not believe! Hence, in proportion as dictatorship seeks to force and coach, the beset art must either move into marginal areas that are not forced and coached, or must turn to the catacombs [i.e. exile]" (230).
Suggestions of a "New Language":
Burke is "suggesting that no political structure, if continued long enough for people to master its ways, is capable of preventing forms of expression that tug at the limits of patronage. A patronage may affect the conditions of expression, but cannot prevent this pressure against its limits" (231). For Burke, circumlocutions are always possible.
The Example of Satire:
"Utopias have regularly arisen…as strategies for criticizing the status quo with immunity. And we might evens ay that the conditions are ‘more favorable’ to satire under censorship than under liberalism" (231). "In proportion as you remove these conditions of danger, by liberalization, satire becomes arbitrary and effete, attracting writers of far less spirit and scantier resources" (232).
Burke’s View of Authority and Art:
Read argues "that authority is but something to revolt against, and that good art arises only in so far as it is revolted against. On the contrary. Though I would agree that the artists will tug at the limits of authority, I still insist that his work derives its strength as much from the structure of authority as from his modes of resistance. Authority provides the gravitational pull necessary to a work’s firm location" (232).
"Begin by rejecting all authority, and you end by accepting any" (233).
War, Response, and Contradiction
Text of Criticism:
The First World War, edited by Laurence Stallings and the controversy of two opinions about the usefulness and implications of Stallings’s volume by Archibald MacLeish and Malcolm Cowley in The New Republic.
"The question of the relationship between art and society is momentous…. To an extent, books merely exploit our attitudes—and to an extent they may form them" (235). This is a concern over the "implications of books" (234). "MacLeish seems mainly concerned with the poet’s response to experience, while Cowely with the public’s response to the poet" (235). Both, however, discuss art as a means of communication, and "as such is certainly designed to elicit a ‘response’ of some sort. And the present article will attempt, by using the MacLeish-Cowely controversy as a point de depart, to offer some considerations as to the nature of human response in general" (236).
MacLeish and War:
MacLeish argues that The First World War only displays the horrors of war (eliding the heroic and adventurous). Burke argues, however, that MacLeish is assuming the book is historical—pictures telling a story about the most recent war in Europe. However, it may be the case that the Stallings collection is about future wars. Thus Burke holds "that MacLeish has been discussing a poet’s response to a past actual war whereas the question is really about an audience’s response to a future anticipated war" (238).
Response and Deterrence:
Yet Burke recognizes that "MacLeish’s plea for a total picture of the war has much to be said in its favor. There are some reasons for believing that the response to a human picture of war will be socially more wholesome than our response to an inhuman one. It is questionable whether the feelings of horror, repugnance, hatred would furnish the best groundwork as a deterrent to war" (238-9).
Furthermore, "if, by picturing only the hideous side of war, we lay the aesthetic groundwork above which a new stimulus to ‘heroism’ can be constructed, might a picture of war as thoroughly human serve conversely as the soundest deterrent to war" (239)?
The Mechanistic Metaphor:
"By this machine perspective, things may do one of two things: they either ‘go straight’ or they ‘get out of order’" (242). Yet Burke claims this creates a false dilemma: "people might go crooked and yet be in order" (242). Burke argues that psychologically man is not like a machine ("put in leather and take out leather goods, or put in iron and take out iron pots"—or "you put in war-horrors and take out antimilitarism, put in ‘human’ pictures of war and take out war-spirit") (242).
Burke asks the questions: "Does a book act precisely as it seems to do on the face of it—a pro-this book making one pro-this, an anti-that book making one anit-that? Is the machine metaphor, the assumption that we have only a choice between ‘rationality’ and ‘breakdown,’ enough toe describe the ways of biological response? And, if we do use the perspective of the factory, can we use it in this way: put humanity in, and you take culture out; put inhumanity in, and you take ferocity out?" (243).
"I wish to offer evidence for suspecting that irrationality, or contradictoriness of response, is basic to human psychology, not merely error, but for sound biological reasons; and this is particularly at those depths of human sensitiveness which are implicated in the religious, ethical, poetic, and volitional aspects of man" (244).
Capitalism: "If our capitalist social structure contains fundamental contradictions, and the poet’s imagination is piously and sensitively constructed after the environmental patterns among which he arose, how could a man born and bred under capitalism be expected to honestly and totally express his attitudes without revealing a contradiction in them" (244-5)? "Under typical industrialized capitalism, there are important influences making for acquiescence to its ways and equally important influences tending to carry one beyond capitalism" (246).
Morality: "For a morality is but a set of attitudes and ways of thinking which enable us the better to do the things we must do—and unless one happened to be supported by unearned increment from the capitalist structure, he found it imperative the either cultivate the ‘capitalist virtues’ or perish" (247).
Vacational and Vocational Moral Split:
The contradictions in capitalist morality lead to a moral split along practical and aesthetic grounds. "This contradiction led to the artistic phenomenon generally and inappropriately designated a ‘breach between art and life.’ It was naturally the field of aesthetic (the ‘vacational’) that the opposition to practical (‘vocational’) demands could best be kept alive" (248). Beyond this, however, Burke goes even further: "I propose to consider the matter from another angle, suggesting this time certain psychological or physiological contradictions so indigenous to man that they might be expected to operate even in a thoroughly homogenous economic or social order" (250).
Essaysistic and Poetic Exhortation:
Essaysistic: critical and rational, consistent.
Poetic: tragic and ethical, contradictory
The poetic, then, seen as inherently contradictory, as serving possible contradictory ends, helps to explain the fundamental artistic and contradictory nature of human beings.
"In so far as the organism attains the state of quiescence, its militaristic equipment…is threatened with decay. And in so far as this militaristic equipment is kept in vigorous operation, it makes impossible precisely the state of relaxation which it is designed to secure" (255). This is fundamental contradiction is highlighted further in the problematic distinction of altruism/egoism. "As possible confusion to complicate human response we have, then: the Bohemian-practical, the useful-sacrificial; the militaristic-pacifistic; the egoistic-altruistic, as effect through ‘devotion to work’" (256).
Freud—and the Analysis of Poetry
Overview and Goal:
"I have been commissioned to consider the bearing of Freud’s theories upon literary criticism. And these theories were not designed primarily for literary criticism at all but were rather a perspective that, developed for the charting of a nonaesthetic field, was able (by reason if its scope) to migrate into the aesthetic field. The margin of overlap was this: The acts of the neurotic are symbolic acts. Hence in so far as both the neurotic act and the poetic act share this property in common, they may share a terminological chart in common. But in so far as they deviate, terminology likewise must deviate. And this deviation is a fact that literary criticism must explicitly consider" (261).
Essentializing and Proportional Interpretive Strategies:
Burke argues that Freud uses the essentializing strategy when he sublimates all motivation under the sexual neurosis of the patient. For Burke, this oversimplifies the situation. Burke suggests the proportional strategy, which would find motivation as the interrelation of multiple elements.
Essentializing: "’explains the complex in terms of the simple’" (262). Oversimplifies by sublimating specific factors to a single general one.
Proportional: "The proportional strategy would involve the study of these [i.e. sexual importance, relationships with friends, relationship with office] as a cluster. The motivation would be synonymous with the interrelationships among them" (261).
Essentializing in Literary Criticism: Burke argues that communication can be the essentializing element for critics, but Burke also recognizes that "communication is extremely complex" and therefore its use as a "God term" is extremely limited (263).
Free Association v. Symbolism:
Burke brings the essentializing and proportional strategies to bear on a further method of interpretation. Freud’s early method of free association, Burke argues, is better, because it allows the critic to treat the individual case as unique (allowing contextual elements to influence the understanding). Symbolic strategies, however, where we create dictionaries and categories of symbols serve as interpretive short cuts. "The problem with short cuts is that they deny us a chance to take a longer route. With them, the essentializing strategy takes a momentous leap forward" (266).
The Critic’s Method: "The critic should adopt a variant of the free-association method…[the critic can] note the context of imagery and ideas in which an image takes place…[and by] noting the ways in which this crossing behaves, what subsidiary imagery accompanies it, what kind of event it grows out of, what kind of event grows out if it, what altered rhythmic and tonal effects characterize it, etc., one grasps the significance as motivation. And there is no essential motive offered here. The motive of the work is equated with the structure of interrelationships within the work itself" (267).
The Poem—Three Modes of Analysis:
Recognizing that there is more to the meaning of a poem or work of art than merely free association around its contextual elements, Burke offers us three different modes of analysis: poem as dream, poem as prayer, and poem as chart.
1. Poem as Dream
"There is [in the dream] opened up before us a sometimes almost terrifying glimpse into the ways in which we may, while overtly doing one thing, be covertly doing another" (268).
Regression and Progression:
For Burke, "regression is a function of progression" because all growth is related to and builds out of or away from an infantile level of being. "Where the progression has been a development by evolution or continuity of growth…rather than by revolution or discontinuity of growth…the archaic and the now would be identical" (268). "The ideal growth [ideal progression…]—the growth without elements of alienation, discontinuity, homelessness—is that wherein regression is natural" (269). In sum, "As we grow up new meanings must either be engrafted upon old meanings [evolutionary and natural progression] or they must be new starts [progression by revolution and discontinuity]" (271).
Burke argues that Freud’s considerable focus on the patriarchal limits his appropriation by critics in understanding the work of art. For by eliding the matriarchal elements (seen in totemistic religions and rebirth rituals) Freud "conceal[s] from us, to a large degree, what is going on in art" (273). Burke’s point is that "this assigning of a new lineage to one’s self (as would be necessary, in assigning one’s self a new identity could not be complete were it confied to symbolic patricide" (275).
Condensation and Displacement:
In attempting a revision of certain of Freud’s vocabulary, Burke argues that" we should take Freud’s key terms, ‘condensation’ and ‘displacement,’ as the overall categories for the analysis of the poem as dream. Condensation…deals with the respects in which house in a dream may be more than house, or house plus. And displacement deals with the way in which house may be other than house, or house minus" (277). We need these categories for "we must acknowledge...that the house in a poem is, when judged purely and simply as a house, a very flimsy structure for protection against wind and rain" (277). Similarly, "in so far as art contains a surrealist ingredient (and all art contains some of this ingredient), psychoanalytic coordinates are required to explain the logic of its structure" (278).
2. Poem as Prayer
"Prayer…concerns the optative. [But] prayer is also an act of communion…of petition…of communication in general. We might say that, whereas the expressionistic emphasis reveals the ways in which the poet, with an attitude, embodies it in appropriate gesture, communication deals with the choice of gesture for the inducement of corresponding attitudes. Sensory imagery has this same communicative function, inviting the reader, within the limits of the fiction, at least, to make himself over in the image of the imagery" (281).
"Here would enter the consideration of formal devices [i.e. stylistic and rhetorical devices], ways of pointing up and fulfilling expectations, of living up to a contract with the reader…, of easing by transition or sharpening by ellipsis; in short, all that falls within the sphere of incantation, imprecation, exhortation, inducement, weaving and releasing of spells; matters of style and form, of meter and rhythm, as contributing to these results…" (282).
3. Poem as Chart
Besides the above considerations of something functioning as something else, "there is also a statement’s value as being exactly what it is" (282). Similarly, we can understand the poem as chart as the poet’s contribution to an informal dictionary. "Except that his way of defining the word is not to use purely conceptual terms, as in a formal dictionary, but to show how his vision behaves, with appropriate attitudes" (283).
Summations for Literary Critics:
"The three aspects of the poem, here proposed, are not elements that can be isolated in the poem itself, with one line revealing the ‘dream,’ another the ‘prayer,’ and a third the ‘chart.’ They merely suggest three convenient modes in which to approach the task of analysis" (283). Consequently, though Burke recognizes that we owe Freud a lot, literary critics, in Burke’s opinion, "require more emphasis than the Freudian structure gives, (1) to the proportional strategy as against the essentializing one, (2) to matriarchal symbolizations as against the Freudian patriarchal bias, (3) to poem as prayer and chart, as against simply the poem as dream" (284).
Biography, Structure, and Redemption:
Freud’s consideration of biography is also key: "Only if we eliminate biography entirely as a relevant fact about poetic organization can we eliminate the importance of the psychoanalyst’s search fro universal patterns of biography…; and we can eliminate biography as a relevant fact about poetic organization only if we consider the work of art as if it were written neither by people nor for people, involving neither inducements nor resistances" (285). Burke argues that we cannot understand a poem’s structure without understanding the function of that structure, and we cannot understand the poem’s function without some notion of biography. This is because Burke sees the poem and its structure as having symbolic redemption, which is always tied to authorial redemption-seeking: "If you do not discuss the poem’s structure as a function of symbolic redemption at all…, the observations you make about its structure are much more likely to be gratuitous and arbitrary" (287).
"The Freudian procedure is primarily designed to break down a rhythm grown obsessive" (290). Burke faults Freud for giving the sedentary patient a sedentary cure. Burke argues for Marxism and Freud’s psychoanalysis work dialectically to craft a new pace and rhythm.
Literature as Equipment For Living
"Here I shall put down, as briefly as possible, a statement in behalf of what might be catalogued, with fair degree of accuracy, as a sociological criticism of literature" (293).
Burke begins this essay with a discussion and cataloging of certain proverbs. "The point of issue is not to find categories that ‘place’ the proverbs once and for all. What I want is categories that suggest their active nature. Here there is no ‘realism for its own sake,’ There is realism for promise, admonition, solace, vengeance, foretelling, instruction, charting, all for the direct bearing that such acts have upon matters of welfare" (296). Proverbs, then, as equipment for living, function as medicine. "Many proverbs seek to chart, in more or less homey and picturesque ways, these ‘type’ situations" (294). "Proverbs are strategies for dealing with situations" (296). Compare this with Burke’s consideration of motive throughout Permanence and Change.
Attitude and Strategy:
To resolve the existence of contradictory proverbs, Burke notes that "the apparent contradictions depend upon differences in attitude, involving a correspondingly different choice of strategy" (297). Again, comparing this discussion to Permanence and Change yields a further elucidation on his notion of perspectives and motives.
The Whole Field of Literature:
Question: "Could the most complex and sophisticated works of art legitimately be considered somewhat as ‘proverbs writ large’" (296)?
Answer: Yes, "a book like Madame Bovary…is the strategic naming of a situation. It singles out a pattern of experience that is sufficiently representative of our social structures, that recurs sufficiently often mutandis mutatis, for people to ‘need a word for it’ and to adopt an attitude towards it" (300). Both proverbs and literature, then, supply us with motives and attitudes that allow us to deal with certain recurring situations.
All of art "could be considered as designed to organize and command the army of one’s thoughts and images," thus providing a particular attitude and strategy for action.
Realism, Easy Consolation, and Naturalism:
Though art may have this eye towards attitudes and strategies of future action, Burke claims that it must remain "realistic." "He will ‘keep his weather eye open.’ He will not too eagerly ‘read into’ a scene an attitude that is irrelevant to it" (298). Yet unrealistic art is prevalent and comes in two forms:
Inspirational Literature: The easy consolation of this kind of writing occurs because people are eager for recipes. Yet Burke argues that the efficacy of these types of texts is not in their application but in their reading: "The reading of a book on the attaining of success is in itself the symbolic attaining of success. It is while they read that these readers are ‘succeeding’" (299).
Naturalism: In the opposite direction, certain writers will be overly scientific—ultra-realists. This occurs in two ways: "(1) an ill-digested philosophy of science, leading him mistakenly to assume that ‘relentless’ naturalistic ‘truthfulness’ is a proper end in itself, and (2) a merely competitive desire to outstrip other writers by being ‘more realistic’ than they" (299).
Sociological criticism "would seek to codify the various strategies which artists have developed with relation to the naming of situations" (301). This codification is "made on the basis of some strategic element common to the items grouped" (302).
Benefits of the Method:
"It gives definite insight into the organization of literary works; and it automatically breaks down the barriers erected about literature as a specialized pursuit" (303). "Among other things, a sociological approach should attempt to provide a reintegrative point of view, a broader empire of investigation encompassing the lot" (303-4).
Equipment for Living:
"Art forms like ‘tragedy’ or ‘comedy’ or ‘satire’ would be
treated as equipments for living, that sizing up situations in
various ways and keeping with correspondingly various attitudes" (304).
“Twelve Propositions on the Relation
between Economics and Society”
KB writes that he
offers this essay as a response to Margaret Schlauch’s critique of
Attitudes Toward History. “The following propositions briefly
state the approach exemplified in [ATH]. . . .They are an attempt to
codify my ideas on the relation between psychology and Marxism” (305).
1. “The basic
concept for uniting economics and psychology (‘Marx and Freud’) is that
of the ‘symbols of authority’” (305).
2. “The two basic dichotomous attitudes toward reigning symbols of authority are those of acceptance and rejection (with intermediate gradations, such as are to be found when any flat logical distinction is translated into the field of psychology)” (305-6).
3. “The need of rejecting the reigning symbols of authority is synonymous with ‘alienation’” (306).
4. “The purely psychological concept for treating relations to symbols of authority, possession and dispossession, material and spiritual alienation, faith or loss of faith in the ‘reasonableness’ of a given structure’s methods and purposes and values, is that of ‘identity’” (306).
5. “In this complex world, one is never a member of merely one ‘corporation.’ The individual is composed of many ‘corporate identities.’ Sometimes they are concentric, sometimes in conflict” (307).
6. “In highly transitional eras, requiring shifts in allegiance to the symbols of authority (the rejection of an authoritative structure still largely accepted, even by its victims, who are educated in wrong meanings and values by the ‘priesthood’ of pulpit, schools, press, radio and popular art) the problems of identity become crucial” (307).
7. “The processes of change of identity are most clearly revealed by analyzing formal works of art and applying the results of our analysis to the ‘informal art of living’ in general” (308).
8. “Identity itself is a ‘mystification.’ Hence, resenting its many labyrinthine aspects, we tend to call even the study of it a ‘mystification’” (308).
9. “The analysis of the ‘strategies’ by which men respond to the factor of alienation and by which they attempt to repossess their world could not be conducted without tremendous wastage of time and energy, if a writer were required, at every point, to stop and demonstrate the specific bearing of his analysis upon such matters as food, jobs, etc.” (308)
10. “’Style’ is an aspect of identification” (309).
11. “Human relations should be analyzed with respect to the leads discovered by a study of drama” (310).
12. “The difference between the symbolic drama and the drama of living is a difference between imaginary obstacles and real obstacles. But: the imaginary obstacles of symbolic drama must, to have the relevance necessary for the producing of effects upon audiences, reflect the real obstacles of living drama” (312).
KB later writes the
It is of great importance to study the various strategies of “prayer” by which men
seek to solve their conflicts, since such material should give us needed insight
into the processes of prayer. . .in its many secular aspects, not generally
considered “prayer” at all. Such insight could make precise the nature of the
resistance encountered by those interested in engineering shifts in allegiance
to the reigning symbols of authority. (313)
In her subsequent rejoinder, Margaret Schlauch takes issue with the “ambiguity” that can plague KB’s word choice, specifically noting the use of “prayer”:
One may choose to speak of legislation as “secularized prayer,” and then by a kind
of shorthand as “prayer”; this yields an arresting figurative emphasis on the
common appetitive elements in praying and law-making; but the important
difference between the two for forward social movement must also be borne
in mind when the transfer of current terminology is made. The figurative
vocabulary may constitute a hindrance to rapid and accurate thought. (251)
Schlauch comments on at least two other points that KB made in the original article that, for whatever reason, do not appear in the reprinted article in PLF (approximately the last two pages of the original are deleted). After other remarks, she ends with an admonition:
. . .but we must remember as Marxians that it was people who made the united
front, not merely an “it” or disembodied historical tendency; and they did so not
merely as pawns of the force but as conscious subjects participating in a
movement whose course they were able to control in part by understanding it.
We need to be reminded of these corporeal interventions more often, it seems
to me, while we are invited to trace the course of Mr. Burke’s “curves” and
“tendencies”; while at the same time we may freely admit the great value of his
detection of such generally valid patterns as really transcend the barriers of
formally divided disciplines. (253)
Schlauch’s review is immediately followed by another review in the same journal.
V.J. McGill likes Schlauch’s statements, but notes that they do not specifically address the “twelve propositions” (253). He would “like to make a few brief remarks, mostly methodological ones, in regard to these compact, very ingenious formulations” (253).
Here are some of them, in abridged form:
With respect to the first [proposition], it does not appear to follow from the fact
that the concept, “symbols of authority,” plays an important part in both
economics and psychology, that it is the basic concept for uniting the
sciences. . . .Mr. Burke evidently feels that the uncomfortable gap between
the two diverse sciences can be closed by the recognition of an important
concept which is homogenous with both, i.e., symbols of authority; but to
me this seems very doubtful. . . . (253)
Mr. Burke’s second proposition is, of course, unobjectionable; but the third
raises doubts of a terminological order, for the word ‘alienation’ conveys,
through its psychopathological associations, an unmistakable disparagement….
And this suggests a further objection to Mr. Burke’s use of such terms as
“alienation.” One often suspects, perhaps very unjustly, that Mr. Burke’s
term, “alienation,” really implies a spiritual law of development over and above
the specific methods of the sciences, just as it does in Hegel’s Phenomenology
of Mind. . . . (253-4)
Though most of what Mr. Burke says about “identification” seems to me true and
illuminating, his contention that “it is man’s natural tendency to make peace with
their world, to ‘accept’ it” is as questionable as any other instinct theory.
Proposition 7, that “the processes of change of identity are most clearly revealed
by analyzing formal works of art. . . .” and Proposition 11, that “human relations
should be analyzed with respect to the leads discovered by a study of drama,” are
exciting, but to my mind, doubtful assertions. With regard to the latter, Mr. Burke
seems to think that treating men as “actors and acters” is sufficient to resolve the
antithesis between supernaturalism, which abandons the individual to the
irrational claims of the group, and naturalism, which reduces the individual to
an animal or a machine. But to me it seems that an emphasis upon history, the
labor movement or the popular front would be much more to Mr. Burke’s
purpose at this point than a dramatization of society. . . . (254)
“The Nature of Art under Capitalism”
In this article, KB argues that capitalism threatens the unity “between work patterns and ethical patterns,” and therefore a persuasive art encouraging reform should be stressed over a pure art that encourages acceptance. Here are some relevant passages:
Work-patterns and ethical patterns are integrally related (314). . . .Under
capitalism this basic integration. . .is constantly in jeopardy, and even
frequently impossible (316). . . .By its emphasis upon the competitive aspect
of work as against the cooperative aspect of work, it runs counter to the very
conditions by which the combative equipment of man is made ethical—or
Such a frustration of the combative-cooperative fusion under capitalism is a grave
stimulus to wars. . . .War is cultural. It does promote a highly cooperative spirit.
The sharing of a common danger, the emphasis upon sacrifice, risk,
companionship, the strong sense of being in a unified enterprise—all these
qualities are highly moral, and in so far as the conditions of capitalistic peace
tend to inhibit such expressions, it is possible that the thought of war comes as
a “purgation,” a “cleansing by fire.” (319)
“Pure” art tends to promote a state of acceptance. . . .It enables us to
“resign” ourselves by resolving in aesthetic fusion trends or yearnings not
resolvable in the practical sphere. (320)
“Pure” art is safest only when the underlying moral system is sound. Since pure
art makes for acceptance, it tends to become a social menace in so far as it assists
us in tolerating the intolerable. . . .For this reason it seems that under conditions of
competitive capitalism there must necessarily be a large corrective or propaganda
element in art. . . .It must have a definite hortatory function, an element of suasion
or inducement of the educational variety; it must be partially forensic. Such a
quality we consider to be the essential work of propaganda. Hence we feel that
the moral breach arising out of capitalist vitiation of the work-patterns calls for
a propaganda art. (321)
Our thesis is by no means intended to imply that “pure” or “acquiescent” art
should be abandoned (321). . . .Even though we might prefer to alter radically
the present structure of production and distribution through the profit motive,
the fact remains that we cannot so alter it forthwith. Hence, along with our
efforts to alter it, must go the demand for an imaginative equipment that helps
to make it tolerable while it lasts. (322)
In his essay, “Kenneth Burke as Literary Critic, Marius Bewley takes issue with Burke’s claim in the fourth paragraph above. He is specifically responding to a passage in ATH but refers to this article also:
. . .it is not that one wholly disagrees with the idea of art as propaganda, but the
cold-blooded sacrifice of art to propaganda that is implicit here is repellent.
(Burke always keeps his way out free, however, and anyone wishing to read his
reservations on this position should look at Attitudes toward History, Volume 2,
page 110, and there is also a relevant essay in The Philosophy.) (238)
It is clear that the relevant essay he means is this one, as KB “keeps his way out free” in the fifth paragraph above when he qualifies his position by writing, “Our thesis is by no means intended to imply that “pure” or “acquiescent” art should be abandoned.”
“Reading While You Run: An Exercise in Translation from English to English”
In this essay, KB specifically analyzes the wording of a front-page article in the Herald Tribune in order to show how ordinary language is so saturated with pro-capitalist sentiments that it provides tremendous resistance to a critique of capitalism. The following is a sample of passages from the essay:
A news story on the first page of the Herald Tribune seems to me especially rich
in dramatic irony of this disturbing sort. Nearly every passage requires
retranslation. . . .My purpose is. . .to show how thoroughly the merest
commonplaces of language serve to confuse the criticism of capitalist
methods. Propaganda? Capitalist propaganda is so ingrained in our speech
that it is as natural as breathing. (323)
“Industry” is here used as the synonym of “big business” [in the headline,
“Political War Declared by Industry to Halt New Deal”]. . . .and by using
“industry” when you mean “the gatherers of excess profits,” you imply that
factories can be managed only by adepts in the art of “legal” shakedowns. (324)
Same device at work in the use of the word “manufacturers” [in the headline,
“Nation’s Manufacturers End Convention Ready to Fight for a Return to
“American System”]. It is a vital boon to capitalism—that delicate usage
(graceful and tactful) whereby the man who operates a manufacturing machine
is not a manufacturer while the man who does not operate a manufacturing
machine but juggles the dividends for himself and his kind is a
I simply thought of showing by painful literalness how incessant the barrage
against the criticism of capitalism is. . . .The surest way to balk action is to choose
words that draw lines at the wrong places. And the very core of the strategy. . .
resides in the identification of “business” with “industry.” (328)
And all the time the one basic fact goes unregarded: The fact that, if their special
interests as business men were ruled out today, our factories could resume
operation tomorrow. But once you allow a promoter to look like a manager,
once you allow the channelization of profits to mean the same thing as control
of production, you are in for the same old fabulous swing from Republicans to
Democrats and from Democrats to Republicans. (328)
“Antony in Behalf of the Play”
In this clever essay, KB shows how literature acts upon an audience by taking Julius Caesar’s Antony and turning his internal soliloquy into an external commentary, thus showing how the play produces its effects. Here are some excerpts:
This reader-writer relationship is emphasized in the following article, which is an
imaginary speech by Antony. Instead of addressing the mob, as he is pictured in
the third act of Julius Caesar, he turns to the audience. And instead of being a
dramatic character within the play, he is here made to speak as a critical
commentator upon the play, explaining its mechanism and its virtues. Thus we
have a tale from Shakespeare, retold, not as a plot but from the standpoint of the
rhetorician, who is concerned with a work’s processes of appeal. (330)
Antony: Friends, Romans, countrymen . . . one—two—three syllables: hence, in
this progression, a magic formula. “Romans” to fit the conditions of the play;
“countrymen” the better to identify the play-mob with the mob in the pit—for we
are in the Renaissance, at that point when Europe’s vast national integers are
taking shape. . . (330)
All that I as Antony do to this play-mob, as a character-recipe I do to you. He
would play upon you; he would seem to know your stops; he would sound you
from your lowest note to the top of your compass. He thinks you as easy to be
played upon as a pipe. (331)
Still, you are sorry for Caesar. We cannot profitably build a play around the
horror of a murder if you do not care whether the murdered man lives or
And when this play is over, Antony alone of the major characters will live; for
you like to have about you such a man as might keep guard at the door while you
sleep. Given certain conceptions of danger, I become the sign of safety. A little
sunshine-thought, to take home with you after these many slaughterings. . . .I
grant that on this last score I am not the perfect recipe. My author has provided
purer comfort-recipes for you elsewhere. (333)
We have clinched the arrows of your expectancy, incidentally easing our
obligations as regard the opening of Act IV. You will be still more wisely
handled by what follows, as our Great Demagogue continues to manipulate
your minds. (343)
“Trial Translation (from Twelfth Night)”
This essay is similar to the above essay in that KB is taking a character in a play (Duke), and (along with intermittent third-person explanations) having him comment on his own lines with respect to how they act upon the audience. Some illustrative passages follow:
So I shall not violate the implicit confidence of my audience, a confidence which
they place in me without their even themselves knowing that they do so. I shall
point the arrows of their expectations thus promptly: my very opening words will
proclaim an aspect of this work. . .(344)
A “dying fall” [from the line, “That strain again! it had a dying fall”] is simply a
“cadence” (from cadere, to fall)—so I here use a purely technical designation for
whatever sentimental increment it may carry. If notes drop to a semi-close, let us
drop with them—so altogether: our melody, our verbal images, and our tyrannical
yet gullible audience. (345-6)
You cannot take my gloom to mean that I am, in that which concerns me, without
a future, as there is not one single member of this entire audience that is without a
future (without an image of something like that which is, in the sixteenth century,
vaguely deemed available in America). (347)
“Caldwell: Maker of
This is an analysis of Erskine Caldwell’s work. Here is a summary of Burke’s critique:
It seems to me that Caldwell has elsewhere retained the same balked religiosity as
distinguishes “The Sacrilege,” but has merely poured it into less formidable
Here we come to the subtlest feature of Caldwell’s method. Where the author
leaves out so much, the reader begins making up the difference for himself. . . .
I suspect that, in putting the responsibility upon his readers, he is taking more out
of the community pile than he puts in. Perhaps he is using up what we already
had, rather than adding to our store. He has evoked in us a quality, but he has not
materialized it with sufficient quantity. (355-6)
We might compromise by calling him over all a Symbolist (if by a Symbolist we
mean a writer whose work serves most readily as case history for the psychologist
and whose plots are more intelligible when interpreted as dreams). (356)
The short stories. . .as a whole seem too frail. (359)
He has a sharper sense of beginnings than most writers. . . (359)
Caldwell’s greatest vice is unquestionably repetitiousness. He seems as contented
as a savage to say the same thing again and again. (360)
Sometimes when reading Caldwell I feel as though I were playing with
my toes. (360)
When evaluating Caldwell, KB also makes a couple of statements regarding method in general:
He does not merely act to outrage an old perspective by throwing its orders of
right and wrong into disarray: he subscribes to an alternative perspective, with
positive rights and wrongs of its own, and with definite indications as to what
form he wants our sympathies and antagonisms to take. Incidentally, this
development suggests the ways in which a motivation essentially nonpolitical
or noneconomic can be harnessed in the service of political or economic
A literary method is tyrannical—it is a writer’s leopard spots—it molds what a
writer can say by determining what he can see. . . (353)
“The Negro’s Pattern of Life”
This is a review of a play (Run, Little Chillun!) written by a black man, a play KB finds laudable for its artfulness (its “biological adaptation”) yet lamentable as an anachronism, in that it doesn’t fit the political and economic climate of the time. His positive commentary on the play corresponds to a pessimistic commentary on the state of society at that time. Here are some representative passages:
. . .literature is always carrying people somewhere or other, so maybe the
carrying, rather than the regression, is the important factor. . . .But the point
may serve somewhat to account for the sluggishness of the general public’s
interest in Run, Little Chillun!. . .for the new play, written “from within,” by
a Negro, Hall Johnson, brings out an aspect of the Negro-symbol with which
our theater-going public is not theatrically at home: the power side of
the Negro. (362)
No amusing picture of heaven here—nor “backward superstition” corrosively
suggested by the unending nag of a drumbeat—but an insight, a well-rounded
biological pattern, a “way of life.” (362-3)
The situation seemed, roughly, this: I had been witnessing a work which revealed
at times a remarkably complete kind of biological adaptation (for I hold sound art
to be precisely that). . . .Here was an emotional organization maintained by the
suggestiveness of pronounced muscular and neural functionings. (365-6)
I mean simply that a race gifted with such cultural emphasis is at a disadvantage
when forced to fit this wholesome pattern to an environment peopled by a race
whose imagery, training, and form of ambition are more accurately set for the
acquiring of “success” by the new rules. . . .Already the “advance guard”
of Negroes are teaching their suffering people to “organize” in ways more
suited to these nasty times—and I am sure there is much in Run, Little Chillun!
which they must consider with distrust, attempting to stamp it out of their
If they must “learn,” they will learn, burying even these profound kinds of
satisfaction thoroughly, until they have fitted themselves for forms of scheming
more serviceable to our era, focussing their imagery accurately within the
narrower range of purposes bounded on the right by anti-Marxian business and
on the left by Marxian anti-business. (367)
. . .the White ethic seems also endangered, as equipping the individual by
imaginative devices which menace both himself and his group. (368)
“On Musicality in Verse”
This is a linguistic/technical analysis whereby KB describes five subtle elements that account for the aural quality of some of Coleridge’s sentences.
Having had occasion to linger over the work of Coleridge,. . .many passages. . .
seemed to have a marked consistency of texture; yet this effect was not got by
some obvious identity of sound, as in alliteration. (369)
. . .when looking for a basis of musicality in verse, we mat treat b and p as close
phonetic relatives of m. . . .Another orthodox set of cognates is n, d, t. . . .The
corresponding aspirate of t is th as in “tooth.” The corresponding aspirate of d
is th as in “this.”. . .J is cognate with ch. . . .Hard g is cognate with k. And z is
cognate with s, from which we could move to a corresponding aspirate pair,
zh (as in “seizure”) and sh. (369-371)
We may next note an acrostic structure for getting consistency with variation. In
“tyrannous and strong,” for instance, the consonant structure of the third word is
but the rearrangement of the consonant structure in the first. (371)
This acrostic strategy for knitting words together musically is often got by less
“pure” scrambling of the consonants. The effect is got by a sound structure that
we might name by a borrowing from the terminology of rhetoric: chiasmus. . . .
It designates an a-b-b-a arrangement, as were we to match adjective-noun with
noun-adjective, for instance: “nonpolitical bodies and the body politic.” (372)
Since we are on the subject of musicality, could we not legitimately borrow
another cue from music? I refer to the musical devices known as “augmentation”
and “diminution.”. . .In poetry, then, you could get the effect of augmentation by
first giving two consonants in juxtaposition and then repeating them in the same
order but separated by the length of a vowel. (372)
As an instance of the contrary process, diminution, we have “But silently, by
slow degrees,” where the temporal space between the s and l in “silently” is
collapsed in “slow”: s—l, sl. (373)
It may be cumbersome to state these manifold interrelationships analytically,
but the spontaneous effect can be appreciated, and the interwovenness glimpsed,
by anyone who reads the line aloud without concern with the pattern as here
laboriously broken down for the purposes of anatomic criticism. (375)
“George Herbert Mead”
This is a review of Mead’s writings where, among other things, KB notes “the metaphor of conversation” as a central theme in Mead’s ideas as well as the role language plays in the role-playing social development of the individual.
But Mead, turning from a metaphysical emphasis to a sociological one, substitutes
for the notion of an Absolute Self the notion of mind as a social product, stressing
the sociality of action and reflection, and viewing thought as the internalization of
objective relationships. (380)
It is by this ability (implemented by the character of language) to put oneself in
the role of the other, that human consciousness is made identical with
self-consciousness, that the subject can see itself as object (an “I” beholding
its “me”), and that the subject can mature by encompassing the maximum
complexity of roles. (380)
The metaphor of the conversation (uniting “democratic” and “dialectical” by the
forensic element common to both) is systematically carried throughout Mead’s
view of human relations. (380)
One might conceivably sometimes want to put plusses where Mead put minuses,
and vice versa, particularly where Mead considers social developments, in
promissory fashion, as a straight line towards a kind of ideal League of Nations.
. . .But particularly in his remarks on attitudes as incipient acts, on modes of
identification, on personality and abstraction, on the relations between the
biological and the social, and on thought as gesture, his writings seem to map
out the field of discussion for forthcoming years. (381-2)
For there is another sense in which these books hinge about the metaphor of
conversation. They are composed mainly of transcripts from classroom
discussion, so that much is repeated, and said loosely. (382)
“Intelligence as a Good”
This is a favorable review of Dewey’s book, The Quest for Certainty, where KB provides a synopsis of pragmatism and a critique of metaphysics, and he examines Dewey’s proposal to posit the notion of intelligence as the basis for establishing a pragmatic process by which to evaluate values.
. . .the pragmatist will situate his knowledge, not in what the universe is, but in
how it works. . . .In the present volume. . ., Professor Dewey has traced this
course of thought with great clarity and critical keenness. (382-3)
The theological or metaphysical system gets certainty by affirming dogmatically
how things are, how they must be. . . .Whereas pragmatic knowledge is erected
out of doubt, questioning, experimentation. It has no vested interests; to have one
of its beliefs undermined is a gain, an aid in the better understanding of processes.
It defines as truth what works. (384)
Having got so far, Professor Dewey would now argue by analogy. Since the
scientific (pragmatic, experimental, instrumental) method has produced such good
results despite the many cases of misuse for private ends, he would have us apply
this same method to the criticism of values. . . .Values, in other words, are to be
tested by experiment, experiment either in actuality or in thought (since thought is
a kind of deferred, or symbolic, action). (384-5)
How do we test the success of a value? Values undeniably work, but they don’t
necessarily succeed or fail (385). . . .How does he satisfy both needs? By his
writings on the nature of intelligence, in which he praises the function of
intelligence, tact, taste in the formation of our judgements. . . .For if intelligence
is good, it will naturally choose good values. So, being a value in itself, it does
the work of a key value in grounding a criticism, for all other values can issue
from it (386). . . .It is not hard for us to accept that the Intelligence both is and
is good, for we act upon this assumption daily, and it brings results. (388)
Whether or not the scientific attitude could provide the grounding for a world of
values, once values are given it can certainly contribute to their better
“Liberalism’s Family Tree”
In this article, KB reviews Dewey’s book, Liberalism and Social Action, less favorably than he reviewed The Quest for Certainty, suggesting its metaphysical undertones. KB then applies the same critique to a couple of Dewey’s other books, including The Quest for Certainty.
Dr. Dewey’s Liberalism and Social Action is divided into three chapters: on the
history of liberalism, on the crisis in liberalism, and on “renascent liberalism.”. . .
His book is written to show with what important and desirable traits liberalism
can be identified. (388)
Now, if “liberalism,” as “intelligence,” is identified with an integrative or
meditating function that operates in every period in history, we have obviously
gone from the short family tree to the long family tree, plus extensions far
beyond or beneath Periclean Athens. The implied origin is not temporal, but
universal, as the integrative work of intelligence goes on, mutandis mutatis,
in all eras. (390)
. . .we become aware that, when applied to people, his idea of scientific method
is not merely that of a power but adds hidden connotations of charity or
solidarity usually connected with religion, ethics or poetry. (391)
As it stands, it seems essentially Ciceronian. It serves primarily as a lawyer’s
brief, in that it persuades without exposing the crucial steps in its persuasion.
. . .And certainly the present book becomes far less “Ciceronian” if one
considers it, not in itself, but as a kind of final chapter to such fuller books as
Experience and Nature and The Quest for Certainty, books that, for this reader
at least, did a lot of eye-opening. Yet some of the same ambiguity seems to lie
at the roots of these also. When one talks of “functions,” one necessarily brings
in nonhistoric assumptions of structure. (391)
The attempt to divorce philosophy from metaphysics will always, I suspect, be
merely a protective screen for the setting up of metaphysical assumptions. (391)
“Monads—on the Make”
Here KB lauds Weiss’ book, Reality, for successfully dealing with a problem that Weiss believes Dewey doesn’t deal with.
For in Reality, his ingenious work on epistemology and ontology, he would
confront the issue that he accuses Professor of slighting. He would move by
transformations from the realm of physics to the realm of biology, and would
do so without violating the lex continui (that is, without the intervention of a
miracle, a mutation veiled in an ambiguity). . . .He contrives this by treating both
physical and biological processes in terms of a biological metaphor: the metaphor
of eating, of digestion, of assimilation. Individuals, both organic and inorganic,
seek to attain self-completion by incorporating external beings. . . .Mr. Weiss
seems to remain loyal to his biological metaphor, by applying it to this third
realm [“ethics”] as well. (392-3)
Mr. Weiss. . .gives us. . .a plurality of individual universes interacting by an
overlapping of their “virtual regions.”. . .The individual’s striving is real,
independent, unique, in accordance with its intrinsic nature. Hence, these are
monads with windows, with a view, even a point of view, looking out upon a
public world, and seeking to get along in the real opportunities and resistances
that the world offers. (393)
“Quantity and Quality”
In this article, KB praises Modern Man in the Making, by Otto Neurath, as a laconic historiography measuring past and present features of life. However, KB believes that Neurath’s “statistical approach,” while a good start, ultimately can not capture the totality of a period, but only its mean.
As against a species of historiography that resembles the worst kind of naturalistic
novel (wherein two hundred thousand details are twice as great as one hundred
thousand) you have here an essay in reduction, and a splendid one. (394)
It is his intention to locate the modern world for us by comparing and contrasting
quantitative aspects of today with quantitative aspects of the past, sometimes with
intermediate points showing the rate at which these quantitative changes
The reduction to quantities necessarily eliminates important qualitative
ingredients. . . .The author, fully aware of this problem, attempts by a method
of “silhouettes” so to combine quantities as to give us an inkling of quality. . . .
But though the beginnings of a statistical approach to quality are made here, with
great ingenuity, I question whether the problem has been completely solved.
(395-6). . .we might distinguish between the kind of representation that sums up
an era and the kind that strikes the average of an era. (396)
“Semantics in Demotic”
Here KB reviews Stuart Chase’s The Tyranny of Words, noting it as an example of a new field of study—semantics. However, KB argues that Chase employs an excessively sensory sense of meaning, so KB claims that an alternative approach to the study of communication is needed.
In The Tyranny of Words, Stuart Chase has given us a very entertaining and easily
read account of a study that is still in the course of mapping out its territory, and
may some day have a chair all its own in our colleges, probably called the chair of
“semantics.” Semantics deals with the subject of communication, meaning, the
interpretation of signs. (396)
He is looking for a solvent, a corrosive, that will dispatch verbal obstacles with as
much speed as possible. . . .[H]e plunges into a varied assortment of case histories
where he debunks with zest the thinking of right, center, and left. (397)
There must surely be something wrong with instruments of analysis that can
debunk so drastically. . . .The difficulties arise, I think, from the overly empirical
bias which Chase adopts in his approach to the subject of meaning. (398) He
distrusts a concern with such matters as “purposes,” because you can’t see them,
touch them, test them “operationally.” But when he is in a normative, hortatory
mood, he writes, “The controlling issue, the real task for statesmen, is to find the
human purpose to be accomplished in a given situation.” So far as I can see, you
could not do this unless you offered, implicitly, a philosophy of human
Rather, the student of communication must evolve an explicit critique concerned
with the processes of making judgments, or rationalizing these structures (by tests
of internal consistency), of showing their scope and relevancy to human
situations, of verbalizing the role played by metaphorical migrations (transplanted
perspectives) in the interpretive process. (399)
“Corrosive without Corrective”
As the title of Burke’s article suggests, The Folklore of Capitalism is a book critiquing capitalism that KB finds more serviceable for its destruction of various assumptions than for its construction of viable alternatives.
The useful projection, for interpretive purposes, is in the amply documented
transformation he performs upon the word “government.” In the pieties of
popular usage, business and government are usually treated as opposites.
Arnold, by subjecting the words to a functional treatment, sees beyond this
He contends that history, being a dramatic process, must be approached as
drama. . . .The deception here arises, I think, from the fact that Arnold does not
base his dramatic metaphor upon a preparatory analysis of drama itself. (402-3)
Had he begun with drama, I think that both the uses and misuses of law could
have fallen into place, with more definite relation to the rational pressure of
In short, the vacillations of the book reflect the present economic conflicts, so
that The Folklore of Capitalism is more valuable in picturing for disintegrative
purposes the breach between capitalism’s slogans and capitalism’s realities than
in developing a positive program. But the main reason why I think it should be
read is for its shrewd comments on the practices of both our business leaders and
their ideological priesthood. (404)
In “A review of ‘The Philosophy of Literary Form,’” Helmut Kuhn disparages Burke’s criticism of this work as well as others by questioning its usefulness:
T.W. Arnold’s The Folklore of Capitalism and Aeschylus’ Oresteia, Clifford
Odet’s Golden Boy and the Ancient Mariner are all subjected to the same
symbolistic-psychological treatment. The discernment for symbolic associations
is sharpened in the same measure in which the sense for ranks and hierarchical
order is blunted. We are tempted to test this pragmatic criticism pragmatically
and to ask what it is ultimately good for. (139)
“The Constants of Social Relativity”
This is a favorable critique of Karl Mannheim’s Ideology and Utopia, a book that, according to Burke’s characterization, is a work of hermeneutics, or meta-interpretation.
He would begin with the fact of difference rather than with a choice among the
differences. . . .For the new perspective he offered would not be simply a rival
perspective; it would be a theory of perspectives. In so far as it was accurate, in
other words, its contribution would reside in its ability to make the perspective-
process itself more accessible to consciousness. (404-5)
He begins with the assumption that an idea must be “discounted” by the
disclosure of the interests behind it. . . .Thus, instead of being startled to find
that an idea must be discounted, and taking this fact as the be-all and end-all
of his disclosures, he assumes at the start the necessity of discounting, and so
can advance to the point where he seeks to establish the principles of
And his book presents a great wealth of material to guide the sociologist who
would define ideologies in terms of their social behavior. (405) . . .anyone
interested in the relation between politics and knowledge should find it
absorbing. Perhaps we could venture to summarize the case in this way:
whereas the needs of the forum tend to make sociology a subdivision of
politics, Professor Mannheim is contributing as much as he can toward making
politics a subdivision of sociology. (406-7)
“The Second Study of Middletown”
This is a review of the Lynds’ Middletown in Transition, a follow-up of a similar study they conducted a decade earlier examining life as a resident of a Midwestern town. KB lauds the study for its portrayal of the impact of the government on the people, but in a similar critique he offered about Neurath’s Modern Man in the Making, KB claims the methodological procedures used by the authors are inadequate.
[“The Lynds”] use the representative town of Muncie, Indiana, as their specific
field of study, and as a control, their study of the same town ten years ago. . . .
Here we get a survey of the country’s mental contours. (407)
There is one fundamental problem in a book of this sort. The investigators are,
by the very nature of their investigation, looking for the typical. And when you
have finished, you begin to ask yourself whether there might be some important
difference between the typical and history. (408) The typical is, in a sense, the
relatively inert. . . .In other words, might not the single song of one poet, under
certain conditions, put us on the track of something that the typical platitudes of
a group could give us no inkling of? (409)
A “good” state is one that can eliminate some of the obviously man-made
contradictions as contained in the capitalist distribution of profits. The others,
arising from our position as mere parts of a universal totality, will remain, to
form the stimulus for the “symbolic bridges” erected by thinkers and poets. The
Lynds show us a people. . .who know that a man’s proper enterprise must be
expended in developing modes of thought that enable him to accept the world,
but who are tragically engaged in trying to extend such modes of acceptance to
institutions that can and should be rejected. The descriptive and admonitory
value of such a study cannot be praised too highly. (410-11)
“A Recipe for Worship”
Here KB praises Lord Raglan’s book, The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth, and Drama, for locating the basis of myths not in actuality, but in “ritual dramas.” He does believe, however, that Raglan under-emphasizes the mirroring of myths to people’s experience.
It is not likely that many readers will find the primary thesis of this book. . .its
most notable aspect. The author is very eager to prove that the figures and events
of myth have no basis in history. (411)
But whether you are convinced of his main thesis or not, I think you will find that,
in the course of maintaining it, he turns up an enormous amount of valuable
material. It is his contention that the figures and events of myth owe their origin
to the ritual dramas of initiation and propitiation. . . .The origin of myth, therefore,
is in drama, and in drama of a purely ceremonial sort. . . .And he holds that
tradition was written backward, with these dramas providing the perspective
for interpretation. (412)
We should make but one major objection to his book. Noting that the details of
the hero’s life are not realistic, but ritualistic, he seems to underestimate the role
of the people in the development of mythic figures. (412) The dramas could
retain their hold only in so far as the spectators were “glued” to them—and one
is glued to a work of art only when that work is reliving for him some basic
pattern of his own experience, with its appropriate “medicine.” (413)
In this interesting article, KB favorably reviews Ludovici’s The Secret of Laughter, in which the author claims that laughter originated biologically as a show of force. KB would like to modify Ludovici’s theory a bit, however.
Mr. Ludovici. . .,having “creatively” noted the fact that we laugh or smile under
a wide range of circumstances, looks for a lex continui that might apply to all
of them. (414)
The author shows that this formula of Hobbes’ can be startlingly developed if
we supplement it with a behavioristic description of laughter. For when you have
listed the significant aspects of the act of laughing (elevation of the head, baring
of the teeth, emission of harsh guttural sounds) you have given us the symptoms,
not of laughter, but of an animal enraged. Such would suggest that laughter has a
jungle origin, in the “showing of teeth” as an indication of challenge or threat.
However “civilized” the situations at which we laugh, there will be observable in
them a pronounced superior-inferior relationship. . . (414)
It does seem to me, however, that in the interest of his thesis the author is more
thoroughgoing than he need be. . . .The socialized snarl of laughter may often be
due to what we might call “secondary” or “derived” meanings. . . .Some laughter
might then have to be explained “lexically.”. . .And once we have established a
recurrent type of situation in which laughter, by being a promise of service, takes
on connotations of the lovable, we may expect subsequently to find occasions
wherein a man, employing this derived or “conditional” meaning, will show teeth
purely as a sign that he would like to be deemed lovable. (416)
With such a minor reservation as a way of guarding against that “fallacy of
origins” to which nineteenth-century science erected all its altars, I think the
author’s thesis can be followed with much profit. (417)
“Mainsprings of Character”
In this essay, KB agrees with Chevalier (in his book, The Ironic Temper: Anatole France and His Times) that given the historical period and the writer’s character, it is entirely understandable why irony is prominent in France’s work.
In seeking a key term for the pattern of thought underlying the works of Anatole
France, Mr. Chevalier. . .holds that an insistence upon France’s irony as a central
fact makes possible “an organic account of the contradictory elements in the man
himself.” By this interpretation, not only was France ripe for irony, but the times
were ripe for irony. (418)
Mr. Chevalier’s documentation seems to me thoroughly convincing. . . .His
remarks on the nature of irony enable us to understand why the nineteenth
century, of all centuries, a century inferior in great drama, should be so
concerned with a device so integral to drama. (419)
As Mr. Chevalier points out, dramatic irony arises from a relationship between
the audience and the play. . . .The audience is powerless to affect the course of
events; at the same time, its sympathy for the characters makes it long to altar
the course of events—and this divided attitude. . ., this awareness of a breach
between one’s desires and one’s understanding, this is ironic. (419)
Here was a century in which the men of intellect saw the people headed eagerly
towards so many ambitions which these men despised. Feeling that the authority
of this movement was irresistible, yet having always a strong desire to change the
course of events if they could, they became spectators, with the divided, ironic
attitude that comes of seeing people headed with confidence towards
desolate ends. (419)
This is a glowing review of Some Versions of Pastoral, by William Empson, where “pastoral” refers to exalting those normally regarded as simple-minded or undistinguished. KB believes the book to be exemplary Marxist criticism.
William Empson’s Some Versions of Pastoral is unquestionably one of the
keenest, most independent, and most imaginative books of criticism that have
come out of contemporary England. (422)
By the “pastoral” Empson appears to designate that subtle reversal of values
whereby the last become first. They do this, not by assuming the qualities of the
first, but by suggesting the firstness implicit in their lastness. Hence, we get the
long literature of transvaluation whereby humble rustics, criminals, children, and
fools are shown to contain the true ingredients of greatness. . . .We can discern the
workings of this process in thought as superficially divergent as primitive
Christian evangelism and Marx’s “proletarian” morality. (422)
Apparently stimulated by sources so different as the propounders of “dialectical
materialism” and Frazer’s The Golden Bough, he makes explicit many of the
complex psychological ingredients implicit in “pastoral” revolutions. (423)
One will look long among the writings of most self-professed “Marxist” critics
before he finds such profoundly Marxist analysis of literature as this. (424)
This is a review of the same book above (a footnote points out that Empson’s book is entitled English Pastoral Poetry in America), although this was written for The New Republic whereas the former review was written for the journal Poetry. A list of where all of these articles were first published is on pages xxii-xxiv in the “Forward” to PLF.
His feeling for literature as a social manifestation is acute, fertile and well
documented. . . .You may legitimately complain that often his perceptions
are too refined, leading him into a welter of observations that suffer from lack of
sensitivity and drive. (424)
The underlying concern of English Pastoral Poetry reflects Empson’s response to
the salubrious effects that the “proletarian school” has exerted upon the course of
literary criticism. To turn from Empson’s earlier volume, Seven Types of
Ambiguity, to his present book, is to realize the importance of the new dimension
that the Marxist emphasis has given his work. (425)
I much prefer Empson’s way of considering the matter, by seeking the permanent
forms that underlie changing historical emphases. Indeed, I should contend that
one could not properly define the qualities of specifically proletarian works until
he had first placed them in some such genus as Empson here proposes. (426)
“Permanence and Change”
In this essay (a review of Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers), KB wonders whether “mythical precedents” can teach us anything about ourselves given the massive changes wrought by technology.
One must judge Mann, not as an adept in quickly caught and quickly forgotten
impressions—his value resides rather in a subtle, patiently and skilled evangelism
which produces changes in us capable of developing through decades. (427)
. . .we get a new understanding of the part played by precedent in the matter of
human motives. In earlier days,. . .[t]hey were mythical precedents: they were
group products—they were “right” because they took their form as a collective
enterprise. They were selective and interpretative, the results of long revision at
the hands of many people through many years. (427-8)
In the altered ways of life which technology has brought, perhaps the situations
are so radically changed from those earlier pecuniary or stock-breeding days that
we must abandon the attempt to understand ourselves by reference to the
precedents of myth. . . .Yet even for this state of affairs, perhaps, there is a
mythical parallel—for is there not everywhere the legend of the Tower of Babel
that arose to confound primitive men when they were elated by such ambitions as
have in recent centuries elated us, and the vast projects of building were confused
by a multitude of tongues quite as our specialized vocabularies continually
threaten to confuse us? (428)
It is an eschatological book, dealing with the “science of last things.” As such, it
is disturbing, and will perhaps be rightly repudiated by happier fellows who prefer
to shape their acts by contingencies alone. To live by contingencies alone is
unquestionably the most comforting way to live. . . .But the world of
contingencies is now wholly in disarray. In our despicable economic structure, to
do the things thus immediately required of us is too often to do despicable
In “Kenneth Burke and the Criticism of Symbolic Action,” Stanley Hyman comments on the anti-technology notions running throughout Burke’s writings, claiming they reach a zenith of negativity in PLF (and from which he quotes phrases from the last sentence in the above paragraph):
Burke’s social ideas, as expressed most directly in his poetry and in a more
complex fashion in his criticism, form a complicated and ambiguous pattern.
The chief element is an outspoken dislike for technology and our machine
civilization. . .;with a remarkable consistency all of his works from the
earliest to the latest have constituted a “counter-statement” to the technological
ideal, opposing it with “negativism,” “opposition,” “interference.”. . .In The
Philosophy of Literary Form they became more bitter, with references to “our
despicable economic structure” making us do “despicable things”; and more
pessimistic, with Burke seeing “a dismal political season” in store for us, the
only hope temporarily “a campaign base for personal integrity, a kind of
beneath-which-not,” which is actually Eliot’s last-ditch ideal, to “keep
something alive.” (218)
“By Ice, Fire, or Decay?”
Against several negative reviews of Paradise Lost, KB gives Odets’ play a positive review, writing that the ways other critics have approached it, such as whether it was an accurate representation of reality, were inferior to approaching it “as ritual.”
After having been led, by the explicitly formulated objections of some dissenters,
to expect that I would dislike Odets’ Paradise Lost, I finally went to see it, and
liked it enormously. (429-30) And as I had witnessed, not pedestrian realism, but idealizations of an expert stylist, I carried away something of the exhilaration
that good art gives us when, by the ingratiations of style, it enables us to
contemplate even abhorrent things with calmness. (430)
Like certain heresies, it pictures the “good” arising from the complete excess of
the “bad,” as the new growth sprouts from the rotting of the seed. (431)
Thus, I question whether we can appreciate the play by a simple “scientific” test
of its truth, as in Farrell’s naturalistic bias, Krutch’s census-taking requirements
or Burnshaw’s question of united-front tactics. A more integral test is to be
found, I submit, in a consideration of the play as ritual. And those who respond to
its ritual will be enabled to entertain drastic developments. . . (432)
“Fearing’s New Poems”
Here Burke favorably critiques Kenneth Fearing’s poems in Dead Reckoning, which for KB ably convey the alienation of living in a messed-up world, yet he cautions once again against a “statistical” orientation.
I know of no poet who can swing you into his stride with greater
There is a risk here, in the “statistical” quality of the perspective by which the
poet sizes up the “thousand noble answers to a thousand empty questions, by a
patriot who needs the dough.” There is such limitation of subject matter as may
come of taking the whole world as one’s theme. All people look like ants, when
seen from the top of a skyscraper—and the poet’s generalized approach often
seems like the temptation of a high place. Connected with this is an over-
reliance upon accumulation and repetition, traits that derive also from his
disposition to establish a very marked pattern, which he expands as a theme
with variations. (434)
The author’s rhetoric of attack ranges from the slap to a tearing of the hair. . .
and all his lines bear convincing testimony—in speech swift and clear—of
estrangement in a world awry, where many are asked to face the emptiness
of failure in order that a few may face the emptiness of success. (434)
“Growth among the Ruins”
This is a critique of “The Eternal City,” a painting by Peter Blume, which KB praises for its technical and symbolic artistry.
It has subtleties of pigment and draughtsmanship, and solidities of
architectural construction that are purely visual experiences, beyond
the reach of verbal description. (435)
When I say that “The Eternal City” is “propaganda-plus,” I have in mind the
complex way in which political means have been fused with other elements,
religious, sexual and naturalistic. . . .The possible interconnections are endless;
for there is “dream-logic” in this painting, as well as conscious ideology, and
the interaction of the two is what gives it its depth and scope. (437)
Is it not “history” too (“basic” history) that there is, in this picture, no human
figure of benignity?. . .Is this depersonalization of the benign inevitable, after
so many centuries intelligently spent upon the questioning of human
“Letters to the Editor”
“On Psychology,” a letter written to The American Journal of Sociology (xxiv), is a favorable response to Malamud, yet KB does offer some suggestions about how to conduct sociological literary criticism.
Mrs. Malamud’s article is so suggestive and engrossing that one would be doing
the right thing by simply registering his thanks and calling it a day. But I guess
all writers are ingrates. . . .So I shall shamefacedly proceed to offer some
reservations of a niggling sort. (438)
But by attempting to disclose and discuss concrete equations of value (what
specific traits equal “hero,” “failure,” etc.) we might not only disclose different
types of strategy, but might be able to adopt relevant educative measures for
bringing up for conscious criticism, and so counteracting somewhat, implicit
equations that lead to faulty means-selection. (440)
And is there not a tremendous difference in relationship, to be broadly classified
with reference to the distinction between those who can approach the
technological changes as possessors and those who must approach them as
In particular, it seems to me, the study of literary work for purposes of social
analysis should look for “equations” that reveal modes of combat and solace. . . .
(442-3) Though we might find that a charting of writer’s and audience’s
equations would in the end reveal something classifiable by the “extravert-
introvert” distinction, I wonder whether an approach to them as “strategies,”
or modes of means-selection, might not more readily invite us to disintegrate
and reintegrate equations with specific reference to criteria of social action? (443)
In “On Dialectic,” a letter written to The American Teacher (xxiv), KB vigorously champions the “dialectic process” and defends the notion of doctrine.
Thank you for inviting me to participate in the discussion of Dr. Kilpatrick’s
engrossing and stimulating article, embodying a spirit so sensitive and humane
that one could have full confidence in a world educated in its image. (443)
In conformity with Mead, as I understand him, I take democracy to be a device
for institutionalizing the dialectic process, by setting up a political structure that
gives full opportunity for the use of competition to a cooperative end. (444)
I should contend, therefore, that the dialectic process absolutely must be
unimpeded, if society is to perfect its understanding of reality by the necessary
method of give-and-take (yield-and-advance). And on the basis of this absolute,
I should next absolutely and undeviatingly place dictatorship as an imperfect
medium whose imperfections are heightened to a maximum by organizational
efficiency. . . .Dictatorships, in silencing the opposition, remove the intermediary
between error and reality. (444) Thus, when our press, radio and newsreels play
up the doctrines of some factions and play down the doctrines of others, we are
again confronting the dictatorial function, with its risks. (445)
But to attempt eliminating the problem of bad doctrine by eliminating doctrine
per se is like trying to eliminate heart disease by eliminating hearts. Only by
doctrine could one “act on thinking,” for only by doctrine could one describe the
nature of the scene in which the act is to take place. (446)
In this last writing, Burke begins with prose and ends with poetry.
A very clear way to illustrate the meaning of an act is to say, “The actor, by
this act, is saying, in effect. . .”—then give the equivalent of a declarative
sentence. . . .A declarative sentence, in turn, may often be best illustrated by
the optative, as in resolutions and petitions. Thus, the function of the statement,
“There are no hard feelings. . . etc.” can be most clearly conveyed by translation
into a different grammatical idiom, “Let there be no hard feelings . . . etc.”
In the following lines, we have tried to illustrate some key processes of
metaphysics by use of the optative style, in this case the style of prayer. Here
the distinction between belief, make-believe, and mock-belief is left
In a work of metaphysics, there is some term that has a “god-function.” That
is: its meaning derives from its role as a summation of all the other terms. In
this technical sense, the term “dialectical materialism” is no less a “god-function”
than any other title would be. (448)
In his poem, logos serves as the title, and hence is the term with the “god-function.” In his article, “Wam for Maw: Dogma versus Discursiveness in Criticism,” Knickerbocker discusses Burke’s orientation to poetry and praises the poem KB writes in this article:
Mr. Burke is no Puritan in the commonly-accepted sense of the word, but his
high reverence for the printed page is indicated in his belief that poetry is a
religious function manifested as “symbolic action.” . . . Mr. Burke’s creed is
appropriately expressed in some unforgettable verses on the last three pages of
The Philosophy of Literary Form:
Hail to Thee, Logos,
Thou Vast Almighty Title,
In Whose Name we conjure—
Our acts the partial representatives
Of Thy whole act.
May we be thy delegates
In parliament assembled,
Parts of Thy wholeness.
And in our conflicts
Correcting one another.
By study of our errors
May we give true voice
To the statements of our creatures,
May our spoken words speak for them,
That we know precisely their rejoinders
To our utterances
And so may correct our utterances
In the light of those rejoinders. (124-5)
These are the first three of eleven stanzas in the poem.
Critical Responses to The Philosophy of Literary Form
The following responses to Burke’s work have been culled from essays in William H. Rueckert’s edited work, Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke, 1924-1966 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969). The critics cited here differ in their particular emphases, but all seem to agree on two basic points: 1) Burke is an imaginative thinker who argues certain points convincingly, yet 2) his work is in some ways incomplete.
From Harry Slochower, "Kenneth Burke’s Philosophy of Symbolic Action" (130-136)
Slochower finds The Philosophy of Literary Form to be "valuable in being a kind of summary of Burke’s catholic scope" and thus valuable for "those who find difficulty with his systematic works" (130-1). Here Slochower claims that Burke is responding/answering two extremes: "the pure substance thinkers (formalists, symbolists, logical positivists), and the pure process thinkers (pragmatists, relativists, actionists)" (131), yet he also admits that Burke’s work suffers from having an insufficient frame "for encompassing the categories of what is and what ought to be" (134). Thus Burke is not normative enough for Slochower. Consequently, though Burke attempts to create a position for himself between the objectivists and the subjectivists, in Slochower’s view, he still has work to do before his position is substantive enough to be entirely tenable.
"Burke’s latest book, The Philosophy of Literary Form, ought to be of particular service to those who find difficulty with his systematic works. [. . .] This book does not demand the same unrelaxing concentration. Not that Burke writes popularly even here. His style is not ‘inviting.’ It makes no compromises, and rarely goes off guard. The argument often omits the intermediate steps which are expected to be made by the reader himself. [. . .] Once, however, one begins to catch the spirit of the argument, and continues to ‘watch his steps’ (one’s own and Burke’s), the reward is extraordinarily enriching" (130-131).
"Burke’s work still lacks a comprehensive frame for encompassing the categories of what is and what ought to be. To put it differently, his dialectic needs a substantive framework, without which it must continue to swerve between regarding the real as rational and as to be made rational. This oscillation makes it difficult to place Burke’s work. At times, it seems to be a secularization of scholastics; at other times (and more pronouncedly in his most recent persuasions), he tends toward viewing modern secular frames as aspects of religious patterns, of prayer, rebirth, and transubstantiation" (134).
From Helmut Kuhn, "A Review of ‘The Philosophy of Literary Form’"
Kuhn follows Slochower’s lead and criticizes Burke for his inability to develop a normative sense. Kuhn admits that Burke’s discussion of Hitler’s ‘Battle’ is well done, "but apart from the author’s good sense, decency, and taste there is nothing in his book in the way of reasoned convictions which entitles him to draw the division-line between good and bad" (140). Similarly, Kuhn takes Burke’s seeming semantic approach for being overly pragmatic. He claims that once the "operational or instrumental character of language is acknowledged as normal, the criticism of language in the Marx-Nietzsche-Freudian manner loses its original meaning" (137). Ultimately, without a normative sense and with an over-reliance on the pragmatic view of language, Kuhn wants to subject Burke to his own poison, asking what it is ultimately good for. Both of these critics (Kuhn and Slochower) want Burke to make some substantive progress towards a critical vocabulary that will allow us to a metaphysical base for normative judgments. Lacking this, Kuhn treats Burke metaphorically, as "the energetic swimmer, [who,] with all his sophisticated strokes, does not move any closer to shore" (140)
"The divers [sic] materials, though unequal in value, purpose, and language, have combined into some kind of unity best to be described by the words ‘While Everything Flows’—the title first contemplated by the author but then rejected. This Heraclitean label was to reflect the character of a work done in a changeable decade, the Thirties. As a matter of fact, we seem to witness an energetic swimmer, his eyes riveted to the goal, indefatigably performing uniform movements, while the torrential waters carry him—in their direction" (137).
"It is good to know that human existence is essentially a drama. But to make the assertion significant we should also be told what the drama is about. Mr. Burke, however, withholds this information" (139).
From John Crowe Ransom, "An Address to Kenneth Burke" (141-158)
"It is hard to escape the conclusion that Burke does not have a philosophy of poetry, or does not have the right one, or does not have the right one by him always" (144).
"There are two kinds of poetry (or at least of ‘literature’) and Burke analyses one kind with great nicety, and honors it, but shows too little interest in the other. The one he honors is the dialectical or critical kind, and the one he neglects is the lyrical or radical kind" (154).
"He is perspicuous
and brilliantly original, and I would venture to
quarrel with no positive finding he makes, but only with his
proportions, or his perspective" (158). Works Cited Burke,
Kenneth. The Philosophy of Literary Form. Berkeley, CA:
University of California Press, 1973. Kuhn,
Helmut. "A Review of ‘The Philosophy of Literary Form.’" Critical
Responses to Kenneth Burke: 1924-1966. Ed. William H. Ruckert.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969. Slochower,
Harry. "Kenneth Burke’s Philosophy of Symbolic Action." Critical
Responses to Kenneth Burke: 1924-1966. Ed. William H. Ruckert.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969.
Summary written by Kristine Bruss, Greg Schneider, and Tim Behme.
Kenneth. The Philosophy of Literary Form. Berkeley, CA:
University of California Press, 1973.
Kuhn, Helmut. "A Review of ‘The Philosophy of Literary Form.’" Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke: 1924-1966. Ed. William H. Ruckert. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969.
Harry. "Kenneth Burke’s Philosophy of Symbolic Action." Critical
Responses to Kenneth Burke: 1924-1966. Ed. William H. Ruckert.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969.
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