Burke, K. (1969). A rhetoric of motives. Berkeley: University of California Press. 


Part I: The Range of Rhetoric


I. The “Use” of Milton’s Samson


 Burke notes Milton’s version of the Biblical Samson as “literature for use” or in modern parlance, “propaganda” (p. 4). Burke notes that the poem can be studied and appreciated as a “structure of internally related parts, without concern for the correspondence that almost inevitably suggests itself: the correspondence between Milton’s blindness and Samson’s, or between the poet’s difficulties with his first wife and Delilah’s betrayal of a divine ‘secret’” (p. 4). Burke calls this the “individual identification” of an author. There is also “factional identification,” which he notes can be a type of “moralistic prophecy” and is another form of literature for use.


II. Qualifying the Suicidal Motive


Burke wishes to stress the reflexive nature of Samson’s act, or the destruction of the self to vanquish the enemy. This technique can be seen as justifying suicide. Burke notes how this technique can be seen as a literature for use: “The poetic reenactment of Samson’s role could give pretexts for admitting a motive which, if not so clothed or complicated, if confronted in its simplicity, would have been inadmissible” (p. 5). The dramatic context allows Milton the license to write about suicide. Burke urges us to avoid reducing a reflexive element of an author in a text to a single motive. In this fashion Milton’s poem should not be read as a “recipe for suicide.” Burke warns of reducing a total motivation of a poetic work to a mere “gist.”


III. Self-Immolation in Matthew Arnold


Burke explores Matthew Arnold’s “Empedocles of Etna” for its rich suicidal imagery and argues that it is far more apparent than in Milton’s Samson. Burke then compares “Empedocles of Etna” with Arnold’s “Sohrab and Rustum.” Burke notes, “Our knowledge of Matthew Arnold’s relation to his father suggests an extra-literary “use” for the imagery of self-effacement in both these poems. Despite their many differences, both are acts of the same poetic agent, sharing the common substance of the one authorship. And both can be seen as aspects of the same attitude towards life” (p.8). Both poems emphasize patricide in which the hero returns to a presumably maternal source.


IV. Quality of Arnold’s Imagery


Burke explains his analysis of the previous poems as an attempt to demonstrate the instance of the same motivation, or “common character” between suicide and death in war. Yet Burke argues that the context of each poem make the motive different in each case.


V. The Imaging of Transformation


A. Continuing his discussion on the imagery of killing, Burke references Coleridge’s “Religious Musings” and notes that murder and suicide “can become convertible, each in its way an image for the same motive” Though “murder” and “suicide” might appear to be mutually exclusive, a dialectical poem, such as Coleridge’s, cannot be reduced to a gist, as motives become interchangeable. Burke explains that readers need to look for a “motive that can serve as a ground for both these choices, a motive that, while not being exactly either one or the other, can ambiguously contain them both” (p.10) Such a term would need to transcend both terms. Burke refers to a battlefield as a something that transcends warring sides, thus being superior to them. Similarly, a poet identifies with suicide or murder from a “neutral” point of view, concerned with locating a term for “transformation in general” (p.11). 


B. Different kinds of images can perform the function of transformation. These binaries, such as exile and homecoming, are not merely placed in opposition to one another, but represent in the poetic context “a development from one order of motives to another” (p.11). Though the poet has free license to use any imagery s/he sees fit, Burke notes the nature of existence favors some over others, particularly images of Life and Death. The desire to kill another is ultimately misguided. Burke urges his readers to translate the desire to kill as a “desire to transform the principle which that person represents” (p.13).


VI. Dramatic and Philosophic Terms for Essence


A. Burke notes the imagery of death gives rise to dramatic intensity as thoughts of death are basic for human motivation. He notes, “But if there is this ultimate of beginnings, whereby theological or metaphysical systems may state the essence of mankind in terms of a divine parenthood or an originating natural ground, there is also an ultimate of endings, whereby the essence of a thing can be defined narratively in terms of its fulfillment or fruition” (p.13).


B. Aristotle’s notion of entelechy is the metaphysical expression of the ultimate of endings. Entelechy classifies a thing according to the perfection of which it is capable. The imagery of death is the “narrative equivalent” of entelechy. Burke notes, “The poet could define the essence of a motive narratively or dramatically (in terms of a history) by showing how that motive ended: the maturity or fulfillment of a motive, its ‘perfection’ or ‘finishedness,’ if translated into the terms of a tragic outcome, would entail the identifying of that motive with a narrative figure whose acts led to some fitting form of death” (p. 14).


VII. “Tragic Terms for Personality Types


Here Burke is taking exception with the “pseudoscientific” categorization and classification of personality types. Burke laments humanity’s desire for “all sorts of manufactured and ‘processed’ things (p. 15). As a corrective, Burke refers to his pentad, noting how the scene-agent ratio allows an individual to “identify himself (sic) with the character of the surrounding situation, translating one into terms of the other; hence a shift to a grander order, the shift from thought of one’s own individual end to thoughts of a universal end, (which) would still contrive to portray the character of the individual, even while acquiring greater resonance and scope and enabling men (sic) to transcend too local a view of themselves” (p. 16). Burke likens science to something sadistic, something that obscures our understanding of our world.


VIII. Recapitulation


Burke warns that one must consider the “proportions of a motivational recipe” and avoid reducing the totality to the gist. The motivation as a whole is more sophisticated than such overly simple readings reveal. Burke reviews entelechy and explains that “the depicting of a thing’s end may be a dramatic way of identifying its essence” (p.17)


IX. Imagery at Face Value


Imagery invites the audience to respond in accordance with its nature. Burke laments how many violent images youth watch in films and that these images are rendered with excessive naturalism so as to diminish any artistic of fictive elements. Burke asks, “Why must any imagery of killing, even when explicit, be taken as ultimate, rather than as an ‘opportunistic’ terminology for specifying or localizing a principle of motivation ‘prior’ to any imagery, either scenic or personal?” (p. 19).


X. Identification


The imagery of death is an example of transformation. Burke notes that “the killing of something is the changing of it, and the statement of the thing’s nature before and after the change is an identifying of it.” (p. 20). Burke explains the use of a dialectical device to “shift to a higher level of generalization” so that identification is emphasized over war—that war is seen as a perversion of peace.


XI. Identification and “Consubstantiality”


A. This is an important section and I will quote liberally from it. Burke is establishing the principle of consubstantiality. He notes, “A id not identical with his colleague, B. But insofar as their interests are joined, A is identified with B. Or he may identify himself with B even when their interests are not joined, if he assumes they are, or is persuaded to believe so…In being identified with B, A is “substantially one” with a person other than himself. Yet at the same time, he remains unique, an individual locus of motives. Thus he is both joined and separate, at once a distinct substance and consubstantial with another” (pp. 20-21).


B. We must remember the how identification and division invite comparisons with one another. Burke writes, “Identification is armed with earnestness precisely because there is division. Identification is compensatory to division. If men were not apart from one another, there would be no need for the rhetorician to proclaim their unity. If men were wholly and truly of one substance, absolute communication would be of man’s very essence” (p.22).  Rhetoric “leads us through the Scramble” and is that which attempts at unity.


XII. The Identifying Nature of Property


Things are identified by their properties. Burke notes that identification should be considered the key term for rhetoric. Burke synthesizes the previous section by noting that rhetoric finds its place through the tension between identification and division. He writes, “But put identification and division ambiguously together, so that you cannot know for certain just where one ends and the other begins, and you have the characteristic invitation to rhetoric” (p. 25). Burke cites Aristotle’s assertion that rhetoric “proves opposites” in this manner. It is difficult vis-à-vis capitalist rhetoric to determine the line between one person’s cooperation and another’s exploitation.


XIII. Identification and the “Autonomous”


All activities are open to identifications with other orders of motivations. Burke cites the example of shepherds tending to their flock to protect them, though they are identified with the “project” of fattening them for market. Burke notes, “Any specialized activity participates in a larger unit of action. “Identification” is a word for the autonomous activity’s place in this wider context, a place which the agent may be unconcerned” (p. 27). Burke cites textual analysis as being a good form of autonomous identification for it avoids historicization and the subordination of a text to its background.


XIV. The “Autonomy” of Science


Burke debunks science’s claim to autonomy from the values of the day. Burke adds, “Rhetorical concern with identifications whereby the principles of a specialty cannot be taken on their face, simply as the motives proper to that specialty. They are the motives proper to the specialty as such, but not to the specialty as participant in a wider context of motives” (p. 31).


XV. “Redemption” in Post-Christian Science


Here Burke builds on his claims from the previous section. He describes laboratories and clinics as “secular temples” that in spite of terminologies to the contrary are places where “ritualistic devotions” take place.


XVI. Dual Possibilities of Science


Intentions and good will aside, science can and will be used for purposes of war and mass killing. Again, Burke is highlighting the sinister motive present in society. Science can be used to advance knowledge, but is too frequently given to evil. Burke adds, “In the past, the great frankness of science has been its noblest attribute, as judged from the purely humanistic point of view. But any tendency to place scientific development primarily under the heading of ‘war potential’ must endanger this essential moralistic element in science, replacing the norms of universal clarity with the divisive demands for conspiracy. Insofar as such conditions prevail, science loses the one ingredient that can keep it wholesome” its enrollment under the forces of light. To this extent, the scientist must reject and resist in ways that mean the end of “autonomy,” or if he accepts, he risks becoming the friend of fiends” (p. 35). The wider context of motives in which science participates determines the necessity of considering the moralistic motives in which science participates.


XVII. Ingenuous and Cunning Identifications


Burke writes, “Hence, the persuasive identifications of Rhetoric, in being so directly designed for use, involve us in a special problem of consciousness, as exemplified in the Rhetorician’s particular purpose for a given statement” (p. 36). Here Burke is trying to uncover the “sly design” of rhetoric wherein audiences create false identifications by being deceived.  The problem of consciousness is that which allows a rhetor to protect an interest “merely by using terms not incisive enough to criticize it properly” (p. 36).


XVIII. Rhetoric of “Address” (to the Individual Soul)


A. This section highlights Burke’s concern with Rhetoric as something that is pointedly addressed to someone. Burke writes, “A man (sic) can be his own audience, insofar as he, even in his secret thoughts, cultivates certain ideas or images for the effect he hopes they may have upon him…and in this respect he is being rhetorical quite as though he were using pleasant imagery to influence an outside audience rather than one within” (p. 38)


B. In socialization rhetoric is a moralizing process. An individual conforms to the ways of society by identifying with those ways. Burke concludes, “If he (sic) does not somehow act to tell himself (as his own audience) what the various brands of rhetorician have told him, his persuasion is not complete. Only those voices from without are effective which can speak in the language of a voice within” (p. 39).


XIX. Rhetoric and Primitive Magic


Rhetoric is described as “word magic” and as a process used in political persuasion that is akin to primitive magic. Burke explores the role of persuasion outside the “strictly scientific vocabularies of description.” The analogy of magic inducing motion to things is applied to rhetoric’s attempt to induce action in people.


XX.  Realistic Function of Rhetoric


A. Burke notes, “For rhetoric as such is not rooted in any past condition of human society. It is rooted in an essential function of language itself, a function that is wholly realistic, and is continually born anew; the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols,” (p. 43). Rhetoric is a linguistic function that is just as “realistic,” though in a very different way, than scientific realism.


B. Burke writes about “proving opposites” as an inevitable function of rhetoric. Burke adds, “For nothing is more rhetorical in nature than a deliberation as to what is too much or too little, too early or too late; in such controversies, rhetoricians are forever ‘proving opposites’” (p. 45).


Part II: Traditional Principles of Rhetoric


I. Persuasion


A. Burke reviews the classical definitions of rhetoric put forth by Aristotle, Quintillion, Cicero and St. Augustine. To these he appends attitude to the process of persuasion. “Persuasion involves choice, will; it is directed to a man (sic) only so far as he is free” (p. 50). Because agency is restricted, rhetoric seeks to affect attitude. Burke stresses the “agonistic” element of rhetoric; one in which the rhetor assumes an adversarial threat.


B. Burke extends his discussion on rhetoric proving opposites by discussing the relationship between rhetoric and dialectic. Burke contends that both rhetoric and dialectic begin with opinion. He notes, “Because the verbal ‘counterpart’ of dialectic, rhetoric, was likewise said to deal with ‘opinion,’ though without the systematic attempt to transcend this level” and then later “The kind of opinion with which rhetoric deals, in its role of inducement to action, is not opinion as contrasted with truth” (p. 54). Opinion matters only in the “moral order of action” and not in the “scenic order” of truth.


II. Identification


Burke begins his definition of identification: “You persuade a man (sic) only insofar as you can talk his language…identifying your ways with his” and then later as the “translation of one’s wishes into terms of an audience’s opinions” (pp. 55, 57). Burke discusses Aristotle’s list of formal devices, before arguing that formal devices should be “functional” in that an audience is not merely receiving an assertion, but collaborating in it. Burke describes such formal elements as awakening “an attitude of expectancy in us” whereby “yielding to the form prepares for assent to the matter identified with it. Thus you are drawn to the form, not in your capacity as a partisan, but because of some ‘universal’ appeal in it. And this attitude may then be transferred to the matter which happens to be associated with the form” (p. 58).


III. Other Variants of the Rhetorical Motive


Burke emphasizes the importance of considering advantage in the rhetorical motive. Advantage is useful for it “subsumes” all drives and urges. Human strive to gain advantage and all doctrines of human motives can corroborate this maxim. Rhetoric attempts to gain advantage through consubstantiality, the appeal of identification. The contemporary situation, argues Burke, is akin to marketing. He notes of the contemporary audience that there is “a systematic attempt to carve out an audience, as the commercial rhetorician looks not merely for persuasive devices in general, but for the topics that will appeal to the particular “income group” most likely to be interested in the product, or able to buy it” (p. 64).


IV. Formal Appeal


Burke describes how the appeal of a universal form can be viewed poetically. All utterance fall into a pattern, yet no matter how showy, each form has a particular function vis-à-vis the audience. The most useful of all the devices is “amplification” as it “seems to cover a wide range of meanings, since one can amplify by extension, by intensification, and by dignification” and in this way amplification “can come to name a purely poetic process of development, such systematic exploitation of a theme as we find in lyrics built about a refrain” (p. 69). 


V. Rhetorical Form in the Large


A. Burke notes Aristotle’s three modes of proof—the deliberative, the forensic, and the epideictic—in terms of an audience’s purpose in listening: to hear advice about the future (deliberative), to pass judgment on something in the past (forensic) or merely for the sake of interest in a subject (epideictic). The modern epideictic is the “human interest” story that celebrates selfless, brave citizens.

1. The epideictic is prominent in periods of “rhetorical decay” for it allows eloquence in times of upheaval, when deliberative discourse fails.

2. This form of epideictic has the most “essential” motive through its use of persuasion by words rather than through force.

3.  Epideictic also permits the selection of topics “halfway between rhetoric and poetic” (p. 72)


B.  Epideictic has as its style the process of moving an audience. Augustine notes that eloquence should not be equated with moral excellence. To this Burke responds that the “notions that the power of truth transcends the limitations of the personal agent who propounds it…finds its ironic counterpart in a situation today, when the ‘truth’ of the Christian terminology has found its materialistic counterpart in the terminologies of science” (p. 76). To this Burke warns that while truth can transcend vice, it just as easily can transcend virtue that “threaten the existence of mankind.”


VI. Imagination


A. Burke defines the imaginative as that which “can be thought of reordering the object of sense, or taking them apart and imagining them in new combinations (such as centaurs) that do not themselves derive from sensory experience. It can thus become ‘creative,’ and even visionary of things forever closed to sense, as with the language of the mystic, who would express his intuitions in images meant to transcend imagery” (p. 79). Citing Longinus Burke notes that rhetoric uses imagination to convince the audience of “the truth” or “the real.”


B. Representations of passion, actions or moods in rhetoric are likely to be viewed as images, which, Burke notes, ultimately involve the imagination. He refers to imagination as “the awareness of distinctions and discriminations not yet reduced to the systematic order of a filing system” (p. 82). Imagery is not simply a sensory representation of things in the practical realm, but that which actually transcends the mundane.


VII. Image and Idea


A. The poetic image can “stand for things that never were or never will be.” In this way the poetic image is built on identifications. Burke uses the example of a house, which may equal different things at different stages of life.


B. Burke notes, “Insofar as a poet’s images are organically related, there is a formal principle behind them. The images could be said to body forth this principle. The principle itself could, by a properly discerning critic, be named in terms of ideas (or one basic idea with modifiers). Thus, the imagery could be said to convey an invisible, intangible idea in terms of visible, tangible things” (p. 86). Images do not have necessarily have a corresponding idea, but can contain a “whole bundle of principles” even ones that are mutually contradictory.


C. Following Liebniz, Burke notes that images may anticipate historical ideas. One can “imagine some character or act before clearly diagnosing the motivational ideas which it stands for” (p. 87).


D. Burke explodes the distinction between image and idea. The idea of viewing the two as antithetical has “given us a frequent distinction between imagery (a cluster of interrelated images) and ideology (a structure of interrelated ideas). And though ‘ideology’ originally meant but the study of ideas in themselves…it usually refers now to a system of political or social ideas, framed and produced for ulterior purpose. In this new usage, ‘ideology’ is obviously but a kind of rhetoric (since the ideas are so related that they have in them, either explicitly or implicitly, inducements to some social and political choices rather than others). Images can become ideological when they serve as models for ideas.


VIII. Rhetorical Analysis in Bentham


A. Burke notes an applied rhetoric that uses “poetic resources” to affect judgments, hence “attitudes and actions.” Burke explains that “once you think of the imaginal, not as inducement to action, but as the sensitive suspension of action, invitations that you might fear in rhetoric can be enjoyed in poetry” (p. 91).


B. Bentham believed that there were no neutral terms. Citing Aristotle, Burke notes that virtue is the happy medium between two extremes, known as vices. Burke notes, “ ‘Courage’ is a virtue midway between the vicious extremes, cowardice and rashness…here the middle terms are themselves ‘eulogistic,’ striking a balance between extremes that would be ‘dyslogistic’” (p. 92).


C. All language use is rhetorical. Burke further his critique of positivism and the General Semantics Movement by positing, “Where inducement to action is concerned, a genuinely neutral vocabulary would defeat its own ends: for there would be no act in it” and then later, “For however ‘neutral’ a terminology may be, it can function as rhetorical inducement to action insofar as it can in any way be used for monetary advantage” (p. 96). Neutralization is an attempt to reduce dyslogistic terms to value-neutral or eulogistic terms in the service of some particular end.


D. Burke concludes by describing a “conjuct action of motives” whereby a speaker chooses between competing motives, choosing one motive as important to the neglect of others. He notes, “Such a procedure is inevitable, since any decision usually sums up a complexity of motives” (p. 99).


IX. Marx on “Mystification”


A. Marx attempts to ground art in science, which Burke terms “dialectic.” The dialectic is rhetorical in that “natural reality” yields “judgments, choices and attitudes deemed favorable to Communist purposes” (p. 102). Burke highlights the distinctions between factional and universal interests. The factional includes the “ins” and “outs” whereby the “ins” have possession, and the “outs” have expectancy. Burke believes the distinction to be very important. The critique of capitalist rhetoric, then, “is designed to disclose (unmask) sinister factional interests concealed in the bourgeois terms for benign universal interests” (p. 102).


B. Burke details the rhetorical critique of Communism in which the hegemony of history unfolds: “Private property and the division of labor are identical. This is an important situational fact, since it leads to ‘illusions’ or ‘mystifications’ in the realm of ideas. The ideologists inclination to consider ideas in their ‘purity’ makes for an approach to human relations in terms of such over-all god-terms as ‘consciousness’ or ‘the human essence,’ whereas the typical conflicts of society are rooted in property” and then later “At every significant point where there is an economic factor to be faced, your ‘ideology’ introduces an ‘illusion,’ a purely spiritual ‘appearance’” (pp. 107-108). Burke concludes that the Marxist perspective, as an ideological approach to social relations establishes a “fog of merger-terms where the clarity of division-terms is needed.”


X. Terministic Reservations (in View of Cromwell’s Motives)


Burke notes that any umbrella term for motivation (honor, loyalty, equality) is a “summing up of many motivational strands. And though on its face it reduces a whole complexity of terms to one apparently simple term, the people who used it may have been quite aware of many other meanings subsumed in it, but not explicitly proclaimed” (p. 110). God-terms such as “honor” can be unpacked through “nontheological” understandings of the term. Burke concludes that “a meaning can be omitted from an expression either because those who used it were unaware of the meaning, or because they were aware of it but wanted to conceal it, or because it was so obvious to them that it did not need mention” (p. 111). The “context of situation” is key to understanding a term, for the “documentary” survival of a term after its historical context may appear to be much more “spiritual” that it was. Burke explains that “in the books, it is but a spirit; yet those who used it when it flourished may have recognized it rather by its body” (p. 112).


 XI. Carlyle on “Mystery”


A. Burke defines mystery as that which “arises at that point where different kinds of beings are in communication. In mystery there must be strangeness; but the estranged must also be thought of as in some ways capable of communion” (p. 115). The rhetoric of mystery is analogous to sexual expression for the “relations between the classes are like the ways of courtship, rape, seduction…” The conditions of mystery are “sets by any pronounced social distinctions” such as a manager and a clerk, what Burke calls the “pudencies of intercourse between the classes” (p. 116).


B. Burke amplifies his definition of mystification as seen in terms of “one class struggling to possess the soul of another class.” Everyone operates under the classification of age, generalized in the difference between adults and children. Burke notes of this distinction, “a classification ‘prior’ to sex, and leading into the mysteries of ancestor worship, and thence into the strong feeling for social differentiation that goes with ancestor worship” (p. 117).


C. The “Symbol as Enigma” is, to Burke, the ultimate mystery for it brings both “clarification and obfuscation, speech and silence, publicity and secrecy. For it simultaneously expresses and conceals the thing symbolized” (p. 120).


D. For both Carlyle and Marx there is a “mystifying condition” in “social inequality. This condition can “elicit ‘God-fearing’ attitudes toward agents and agencies that are not ‘divine’” (p. 123). The utility of these authors allows us to locate expressions that “reveal and conceal” an aspect of consciousness.


XII. Empson of “Pastoral” Identification


A. Burke describes the pastoral as a genre that is implies a “beautiful” relation between rich and poor. The work of Empson concerns itself with expressions that “while thoroughly conscious of class differences, aims rather at a stylistic transcending of conflict. We might say that he examines typical social-stylistic devices whereby spokesmen (sic) for different classes aim at an over-all dialectic designed to see beyond the limitations of status” (pp. 123-124). Marx critiques such a perspective as a mystification of class. The important consideration, notes Burke, is a concern with “politeness or humility” resulting from “the conventions of love poetry and the mimetics of social inferiority” (p. 124).


B. Empson is not just writing about an inferior’s fear of a superior, but rather the “magic of the hierarchic order itself, which imposes itself upon superior and inferior both, and leads them both to aim at a dialectic transcending their discordancy of status” (p. 124). Empson identifies a “cosmic primness,” which is “an attitude characterizing a member of a privileged class who somewhat questions the state of affairs whereby he enjoys his privileges; but after all, he does enjoy them, and so in the last analysis he resigns himself to the dubious conditions, in a state of ironic complexity that is apologetic, but not abnegatory” (p. 126).


XIII. The “Invidious” as Imitation, in Veblen


Veblen’s term “invidious” is synonymous with the “competitive,” the “sportsmanlike” and the “pecuniary.” Veblen  notes that “an invidious comparison is a process of valuation of persons in respect of worth” (p. 128).  Burke complains that anthropological terminologies of motives mislead because “they slight the role of money in human relations.” Burke continues, “This objection seems particularly important, as regards the contemporary rhetoric of advantage, since the divisive aspects of money pervade the modern rhetorical situation with an especially urgent need for ‘mystifying’ terms that proclaim the ideal unity of people thus set apart” (p. 129). Burke notes “When Veblen reduces to the ‘invidious,’ we believe that this expression in turn should be reduced to imitation” and then later “In showing how this ‘invidious’ stress, in conjunction with identification and the vicarious, makes for roundabout manifestations, he would give us the valuable insights into rhetoric which he now gives” (p. 132).


XIV. Priority of the “Idea”


A. In this section Burke terms occupational psychosis as designating the “same ‘imaginative’ transference of principles from one field to another” (p. 133). Contemplations of  philosophy and the general character of things “distorts and colors” those observations in “obedience” to former fancies. For Burke there are three orders of associations that explain a principle from which expressions radiate.


B. Accident or mechanical association, which is a response of signs as signs. Burke cites the example of a child whose clothing gives him/her a “mysterious” sense of class distinction.


C. Analogizing associations explains how terms get transferred from one order to another. Burke notes, “ a business culture may become much exercised over a work’s ‘value’ as an estheticized equivalent of ‘price’” (p. 135).


D. Burke identifies the third type as ideological. Burke adds, “ There are distinct, specialized expressions, all derived from the same generating principle, hence all embodying it, without the need of direct ‘interactive’ borrowing…given such sufficient discernment and expressiveness on the part of the critic, such a unitary principle should lend itself to statement in terms of an idea. And it would be ‘prior’ to the economic in the sense that it would be more general, so that the economic behavior, like all other modes of expression, would in its peculiar way manifest this same character” (p. 135).


E. Burke writes that “Man  qua man (sic), is a symbol user. In this respect every aspect of his ‘reality’ is likely to be seen through the fog of symbols” (p. 136). In this way symbolic motives are inherent to humankind.


XV. A Metaphorical View of Hierarchy


A. Burke discusses the hierarchic principle of a child wishing to return to the womb. He notes, “For the hierarchic principle is complete only insofar as it works both ways at once. It is not merely the relation of higher to lower, or lower to higher, or before to after, or after to before. The hierarchic principle is not complete in the social realm, for instance, in the mere arrangement whereby each rank is overlord to its underlings and underling to its overlords. It is complete only when each rank accepts the principles of gradation itself, and in thus ‘universalizing’ the principle, makes a spiritual reversal of the ranks just as meaningful as their actual material arrangement” (p. 138). In this way all ranks share and share alike in the principle of hierarchy, even though hierarchy is itself exclusive. The entelechial tendency is to view the top as the best image of the idea.


B. Burke notes the formation of the scapegoat as a process of status moralizing. He adds, “And as the principle of any hierarchy involves the possibility of reversing highest and lowest, so the moralizing of status makes for a revolutionary kind of expression, the scapegoat. The scapegoat is dialectically appealing, since it combines in one figure contrary principles of identification and alienation. And by splitting the hierarchic principle into factions, it becomes ritually gratifying; for each faction can then use the other as katharma, the unclean vessel upon which can be loaded the dyslogistic burdens of a vocabulary…” (p. 141).


XVI. Diderot on “Pantomime”


Burke here addresses the pantomime function of outwitting a censor. Using Diderot’s use of “Moi” and “Lui,” Burke attempts to describe how the pantomime function allows the author to turn against him/herself. Burke notes, “In this sense, the mere choice of the dialogue form can be rhetorically motivated. In dividing his thoughts between a ‘Him’ and a ‘Me,’ the author could let ‘Him’ voice brightly certain dangerous opinions or attitudes which could be somewhat ploddingly and not too convincingly approved by ‘Me.’ But there is a profounder working-at-cross-purposes here than can be explained by the mere pragmatic need to outwit a censor. There is the conflict within, leading the author at times to say things so perverse and antinomian that they could not possibly serves as alignments for the next phase” (p. 142).


XVII. Generic, Specific, and Individual Motives in Rochefoucauld


Burke argues that ideology cannot be understood solely from economic considerations. It also derives from “man’s nature as a symbol-using animal.” Burke notes, “For, behind the theology, there is the perception of generic divisiveness which, being common to all men (sic), is a universal fact about them, prior to any divisiveness caused by social classes. Here is the basis of rhetoric. Out of this emerge the motives for linguistic persuasion. Then, secondarily, we get the motives peculiar to particular economic situations” (p. 146). Thus, the individual motive is prior to the social one.


XVIII. De Gourmont on “Dissociation”


A. De Gourmont stressed division, emphasizing disassociation as the mark of intelligence. Burke notes that such an emphasis on division allows us better to understand identification. De Gourmont sees the truth as a “worn-out image,” a “fact and an abstraction.” Burke observes of De Gourmont, “He describes the rhetorical commonplaces as associations which resist disassociation because of the part that special interests play in human thinking…He is here using ‘truth’ in the sense of ‘opinion,’ associations people accept without question” (p. 150).


B. De Gourmont’s “program” is a critique of idealism. Burke explains, “In the course of his essay, he proceeds to ‘liberate’ various commonplaces that men (sic) have lived by. That is, he methodically questions the assumption that the conditions in which an abstract ideal is materialized are inherently identified with that abstract ideal…In effect, he discovers that the pattern of the god incarnate lurks in every single commonplace, which links some particular image, or set of worldly conditions, with some abstract principle or idea” (p. 151). While De Gourmont’s perspective “liberates” old associations, it simultaneously gives rise to new ones, though these may be subject to the same scrutiny as “older” associations.


XIX. Pascal on “Directing the Intention”


A. Casuistry is the “application of abstract principles to particular conditions, the relation is essentially like that of mind and body, spirit and matter, God and God’s descent into Nature. Or the abstract principle could be considered as the means for embodying the end. But means are necessarily ‘impure,’ from the standpoint of any one purpose, since they have a nature of their own. This nature allows them to be used for many purposes; but they are ‘impure’ as means to the extent that their intrinsic nature is not wholly formed for any one such purpose” (p. 155). Pascal attacks the perversion of casuistry, in particular corrupt theological logic.


B. Burke notes that people will choose the “purest means available in the given situation,” much like the model of rhetoric in Aristotle. Here Burke notes that the moral question involves the “selection of means.”

1. Humankind can choose inferior means whereby they can justify any means not corrected by a hierarchy of means. Inferior means selection results in a “eulogistic covering” of means alien to the stated end. Burke notes “we can choose inferior means, and quiet the conscience by assuring ourselves that they were the best means available” (p. 155).

2. The other “caricature” of means is when we do what we want to do, then assign a purpose to our act, selecting some intention “socially approved.” Burke notes, “And we can ask that the act be considered as a means for carrying out this avowed intention” (p. 156).


XX. “Administrative” Rhetoric in Machiavelli


A. Burke views Machiavelli’s The Prince as rhetorical for it produces and effect upon an audience. Human vulnerabilities can be manipulated, yet their resistances to certain modes of persuasion should be expected. Burke typifies Machiavelli’s approach as “rhetoric of advantage” one which uses “principles of amative persuasion rely rather on fraud than force.”


B. There is an “administrative” ingredient to rhetoric, which is “a mixture of symbolism and empirical operations” (p. 161). Burke explains further, “We might put it thus: the nonverbal, or nonsymbolic conditions with which both lover and ruler must operate can themselves be viewed as a kind of symbolism having persuasive effects…nonverbal acts and material instruments themselves have a symbolic ingredient. The point is particularly necessary when we turn to the rhetoric of bureaucracy, as when a political party bids for favor by passing measures popular with a large bloc of voters. In such a case, administrative acts themselves are not merely ‘scientific’ or ‘operational,’ but are designed also with an eye for their appeal” (p. 161).


C. Burke argues that science must be rhetorical and should be considered methodologically with rhetoric. He argues that “the use of symbols to induce action in beings that normally communicate by symbols is essentially realistic in the most practical and pragmatic sense of the term. It is neither ‘magical’ nor ‘scientific’ (neither ritualistic nor informational) for one person to ask help of another. Hence, in approaching the question through a flat antithesis between magic and science, one automatically vows himself to a faulty statement of the case” (p. 162).


XXI. Dante’s De Vulgari Eloquentia


This section addresses the crossing between the poetic and rhetoric. Specifically, the point where the rhetoric of ‘identification’ merges with the unconscious. Dante sought “natural” speech emerging out of infancy. Burke points out that there are several “infancies.” The first, is the speechlessness of the nonverbal, described as the “quality of a sensory experience is beyond language, requiring immediate experience” (p. 167). There is also speechlessness of the unconscious, regarding “complexities vaguely intuited but not yet made verbally explicit…the symbolically ‘enigmatic’” (p. 167). The merging of identification and the unconscious leads Dante to search for a nobler language learned in childhood.


XXII. Rhetoric in the Middle Ages


A. Burke notes that Richard McKeon mentions an important aspect of rhetoric, one that it is partially in the administrative rhetoric of Machiavelli. In particularly, the linking of rhetoric and medicine. Burke elaborates, “we could observe that even the medical equipment of a doctor’s is not to be judged purely for its diagnostic usefulness, but also has a function in the rhetoric of medicine. Whatever it is as apparatus, it also appeals as imagery” (p. 171). Burke mentions that a patient who submits to doctor’s exams with the aid of various instruments and tools will feel as if s/he has participated in “histrionic action,” though little has materially been accomplished. Conversely, one might feel cheated if s/he were given an actual cure, but without the “pageantry.”


B. The rhetorical ingredient in medicine leads to the conclusion that in partly verbal, partly nonverbal rhetorical devices like medicine, the nonverbal element can also persuade symbolically. Burke famously notes, “By this route something of the rhetorical motive comes to lurk in every ‘meaning,’ however purely ‘scientific’ its pretensions. Wherever there is persuasion, there is rhetoric. And wherever there is ‘meaning,’ there is ‘persuasion’” (p. 172).


XXIII. “Infancy,” Mystery, and Persuasion


A. Mystery has a place “both as a passive reflection of class culture and as an active way of maintaining cultural cohesion” for in every expression “there is a convergence of unexpressed elements” (p. 174). Burke continues, “Hence, even in the unformulated appreciation of the purely linguistic principles underlying imagery, there is the mystery of infancy. ‘Infancy’ figures all the more in theories of correspondence whereby empirical objects are treated as symbols of a generating principle itself invisible” (p. 175). Such imagery can be seen as social imagery.


B. There are also “natural” mysteries, reducible to the “infancy of intuitions.” As an example Burke uses “springtime,” for people can debate for what a particular image of springtime stands. But the image is more than just a positivistic fact. Burke explains, “An ‘intuition’ of spring is not a mere passive perception…an acting with a wider orbit of meanings, some of them not intrinsically ‘spring-like’ at all. The ‘mystery’ here centers in the fact that the articulate tonal image stands for a partly inarticulate act. The principles of such a contemplative act we may seek to formulate as idea, since in idea there is action, drama. It would thus seem more correct to say that, when intuitively acting-with the bird’s song, we respond to the idea of spring. And this idea, in its completeness, will probably comprise personal, sexual, social, and universal promises” (p. 175).


C. Ideological mystification is really just a “dyslogistic appellative” for the process of persuasion. The ability to use language precedes the ability to use it. Thus, for Burke “spirit” precedes “body.” He notes “And the feeling for dialectic is ‘spiritual’ at least in the sense that the acts of expression and interpretation are not ‘objects’” (p. 176). Burke details ten steps for noting how the “ideological priority” is inherent in persuasion.

            1. Persuasion is a kind of communication

            2. Communication is between different things.

            3. Difference is felt “this kind” of entity and “that kind” of entity.

            4. A persuasive communication between kinds is the abstract  paradigm of courtship.

            5. Courtship is a mystery.

            6. Courtship in group relations manifests itself in class distinctions.

            7. Ironies accompany intercourse between classes.

            8. Persuasion is spiritual, not just material.

            9. Spiritual communication is abstract.

            10. There is no message without science. “And so, out of persuasion, we can derive pure information, which is usually contrasted with persuasion” (p. 177).  


--Responses to A Rhetoric of Motives, Parts I and II—




Rueckert, W. (Ed.) (1967). Critical responses to Kenneth Burke. Minneapolis: University of         Minnesota Press.


 Kermit Lansner, Burke, Burke, the Lurk


“Burke, with his extraordinary preoccupation with opposition and antitheses, would understand me when I say that his writing is such a strange mixture of sense and nonsense that it is almost impossible to give a coherent discursive account of what he really means.”


“He says somewhere that the topics the poet uses are charismatic, for they glow. This is a good appreciation, if the word bears that meaning; it may be that poetry is the proper residence of charisma. The experience of our time has led us to distrust it in men (sic).”


“Burke’s master term (he tells us again and again) is ‘identification’; ours must be division. Nor must this antithesis be dissolved by a Burkean sleight of hand into a synthesis between ‘identification’ and division.”


“Poetry, drama and rhetoric may be the great abode of identification, for there are the worlds of figure and trope moving to a logic of their own; there language and symbol flourish most powerfully. Yet who else but Burke has taken literature so seriously that it could become the ground which underlies all human activity? The analysis of tropes, which he performs with great fecundity and insight, becomes, by his peculiar transformation, the foundation for the analysis of human motivation and the means for its redirection.”


“Burke may be amusing when he speaks of the social implications of science or the manners of scientists, but when he deals with the method and language of science itself he is simply


Marie Hochmuth Nichols, Kenneth Burke and the “New Rhetoric”


“As has been observed, the breadth of Burke’s concept results ‘in a similar embracing of trash of every description…For purposes of analysis or illustration Burke draws as readily on a popular movie, a radio quiz program, a Herald Tribune news item about the National Association of Manufacturers, or a Carter Glass speech on gold as on Sophocles or Shakespeare. There things are a kind of poetry too, full of symbolic and rhetorical ingredients, and if they are bad poetry, it is a bad poetry of vital significance in our lives.’”


“All told, persuasion ranges from the bluntest quest of advantage, as in sales promotion or propaganda, through courtship, social etiquette, education, and the sermon, to a ‘pure’ form that delights in the process of appeal for itself alone, without ulterior purpose.”


“The difference between the ‘old’ rhetoric and the ‘new’ rhetoric may be summed up in this manner: whereas the key term for the ‘old’ rhetoric was persuasion and its stress upon deliberative design, the key term for the ‘new’ rhetoric is identification and this may include partially ‘unconscious’ factors in its appeal. Identification, at its simplest level, may be a deliberative device, or a means, as when a speaker identifies his (sic) interests with those of his (sic) audience.”


Burke affirms the significance of identification as a key concept because men (sic) are at odds with one another, or because there is ‘division.’”


“As a philosopher and a metaphysician Burke is impelled to give a philosophic treatment to the concept of unity or identity by an analysis of the nature of substance in general. In this respect he makes his most basic contribution to a philosophy of rhetoric.”


Part III: Order


I. Positive, Dialectical, and Ultimate Terms


A. Positive terms “name par excellence the things of experience” (p. 183).  By things of experience Burke is referring to that which is unambiguously verifiable as a thing that exists that can be empirically verified.  In the statement ‘this is a house,’ the house may be understood to be a positive term.  ‘Positivism,’ on the contrary, is not a positive term (p. 184).  These terms may be defined logically per genus et differentiam.  


B. Dialectical terms “have no strict location as can be assigned to the objects named in words of the first order [i.e. positive terms]” (p. 184).  Dialectical terms are of the order of action and idea rather than motion and perception (the latter two relate to the positive order of terms).  Essential, here we are referring to terms that have no positive referent—Burke’s examples are ‘Elizabethanism’ and ‘capitalism.’  These terms may be defined by paraphrase and association.  Dialectical terms are pervasive and infuse the vocabulary of positive terms, hence their rhetorical character.  Dialectical terms do not yet confront each other through hierarchy. 


C.  The ultimate order of terms places the competing terms of the dialectical order “in a hierarchy, or sequence, or evaluative series, so that, in some way we went by a fixed and reasoned progression from one of these to another, the members of the entire group being arranged developmentally with relation to one another” (p. 187).  Ultimate order enlists a “guiding idea” or unitary principle” to order terms.  The ultimate order is mystical because it seeks a unity between term of different orders where previously there was only conflict (p. 189). 


II. Ultimate Elements in the Marxist Persuasion


A.  Burke notes Marx’s critique of Hegel’s concept of history in The German Ideology: “by the use of an ultimate design for interpreting moments along the path of history, later history can be made to look like the goal of earlier history” (p. 190). 


B.  Burke faults Marx’s inversion of Hegel for reinstating an ultimate order, this time based upon class and consciousness: “precisely by reason of this ultimate order, a spokesman for the proletariat can think of himself as representing not only the interests of that class alone but the grand design of the entire historical sequence, its final outcome for all mankind.” (p. 191).  To wit, Marx is rhetorical: “Marxist hierarchy may go not from a science of nature to a science of society, but from an ultimate dialectic of social development to a corresponding dialectic of natural development.” (p. 191). 


C. Positive terms should not be improperly used to describe motivation and rhetoric.  The rhetorical advantage of ultimate terms is to communicate a transcendental purpose (dialectical materialism) to local actors (e.g. the proletariat).   


III. “Sociology of Knowledge” v. Platonic “Myth” 


A. Mannheim’s “sociology of knowledge” is described as “a methodology that aims at the neutralizing and liberalizing of the Marxist rhetoric” (p. 197); thus is “pro-ultimate” because it is a study of the relationship between positive and dialectical orders.  More generally, sociology of knowledge accumulates knowledge about the universalizing gestures of the ultimate order.  


B.  Elements of Marxism such as demystification may be identified with the sociology of knowledge.  So too are some elements of a Platonic dialogue.


C.  For Burke, “in the Platonic dialogue, the step from pure abstract ideas to imaginal [sic] myth had been simultaneously a step down and a step up.  It was a step down, because it descended from a purity of abstractions to the impurity of images.  It was a step up, because it here introduced a new level of motivation, motivation beyond the ideas, not present in the dialectical reduction to pure ideas” (p. 200). 


D. Even the pro-ultimate order of terms expresses some motivation and therefore cannot be understood as laying claim to purely positivistic realm of knowledge. 


IV. “Mythic” Ground and “Context of Situation” 


Myths may not explicitly express a rhetorical character but nevertheless participate in the order of ultimate terms which always functions rhetorically by virtue of the construction of unifying order (either as goal or as origin).  “Obviously,” Burke states, “no matter how ‘mythic a reference to the ‘ultimate’ ground may be, it itself arose out of a temporal ground, available to sociological description” (pp. 204-205).  The temporal and spatial ground (context of situation) is an extraverbal rhetorical circumstance (p. 206). 


V. Courtship


The principle of courtship refers to “the use of suasive devices for the transcending of social estrangement.  There is the ‘mystery’ of courtship when ‘different kinds of beings’ communicate with each other” (p. 208). 


VI. “Socioanagogic” Interpretation of Venus and Adonis


A.  This is a poem of sexual courtship that makes social identifications (of sexual courtship) explicit.  I cite Burke’s classic analysis at length for its perspicuity:            

            A sexually mature goddess ardently courts a sexually immature male.  He resists, saying that he is interested only n the hunt.  However, the alternatives are not so great as they             might at first seem.  For he says, ‘I know not love…nor will not know it, unless it be a             boar, and then I chase it’ –and the boars fatal attack upon him is described in imagery of         love, thus:

                        He ran upon the boar with his sharp spear,

                        Who did not whet this teeth at him again,

                        But by a kiss thought to persuade him there;

                                    And nuzzling in his flank, the loving swine

                                    Sheath’d unaware the tusk in his soft groin

            If, following the poet’s leads, we treat the hunt and its hazards as a form of courting too,     

            We find three major characteristics in this dramatic narrative, each of them at different             qualitative stage in the hierarchy of motives: a goddess (‘sick-thoughted Venus’), a             human (‘rose-cheek’d Adonis’_...’the tender boy’), and an animal (‘this foul, grim, and             urchin-snouted boar’).  Would it then be excessive to say that each of these major figures             in the action is of a different class? 

Why, “no,” we are prompted to answer Burke’s rhetorical question. 


B.  Spinoza’s Deus Sive Natura is said to employ a term ‘or’ as courting between two realms. 


C.  Viewing these examples “socioagagogically” allows us “to disclose…a variant of revolutionary challenge.  By proxy it demeans the old order, saying remotely, in sexual imagery, what no courtly poet could have wanted to say, or even have though of saying, in social or political terms” (p. 217). 


VII.  The Paradigm of Courtship: Castiglione


This text, The book of the Courtier, “by its gradations…builds a ladder of courtship dialectically, into a grand design that, in its ultimate stage, would transcend the social mystery, ending Platonically on a mystic, mythic vision of celestial mystery” (p. 221).  In this book, women and men “confront each other as classes, considering questions of advantage, in a war of the sexes reduced to dance steps” (p. 227); therefore the book is rhetorical.  A theory of education comes out of the practice of courtship as well, namely the courtiers educate the prince on the “mysteries” of their code (of courtship). 


VIII. The Caricature of Courtship: Kafka (The Castle)  


A.  The Castle is a grotesque novel.  Kafka is religious “in his concern with the ultimate mystery, the universal ground of human motives.  But his account of the religious motives is ‘humorous’ because he never forgets how the terms of the social order incongruously shape our idea of God, inviting men to conceive of communication with God after the analogy of their worldly embarrassments” (p. 234).


B.  Kafka’s life as a Jew in Austria where he “was never quite blackballed, never quite admitted” (p. 234).  


C.  Kafka conveys  the grotesque through mixing ultimate terms of order (sexual, bureaucratic, religious) in his novels.

IX.  A “Dialectical Lyric” (Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling)


A. Kierkegaard’s leap of faith is a method (a dialectic) for introducing the incommensurate by crossing two different orders (finite/infinite). 


B. Kierkegaard introduces his own problems with “Regina” into the biblical story of Abraham. 


C.  Kierkegaard psychologizes [sic] the story of Abraham rhetorically.  Burke states that “if one [Kierkegaard] would court forever, whereas the object of one’s courtship [Regina] is not only willing to yield, but even becomes importunate in yielding, then the goodly dialectician must supply resistances of his own, from within himself, out of his own ‘inner check,’ and by setting up a situation, both emotional and practical, that would restore the necessary distance” (p. 249). 


Abraham follows the same movements.  The distance between desire and fulfillment relies absolutely upon belief in the possibility of fulfillment which is an impossibility. 


One problem:

Abraham may only have his son by absolutely believing himself as ready to slay him.  If Abraham knows this (that by genuinely preparing to slay Isaac he can regain him) then faith is ultimately cheap and not really faith but the morality of religion, as faith, is restored—faith depends upon belief in the impossible.  But if Abraham is truly surprised that he regains his son the articulation of religion and morality is severed.  This is absurd.  But this is “pure persuasion” which “is an absolute, logically prior to any one persuasive act.  It is the essence of language” (p. 252).  Pure persuasion deals with motives in the realm of the infinite.           


X.  The Kill and the Absurd


A.  The story of Abraham is a story “of a father who was allowed to substitute a purely vicarious victim” (p. 252).  God did not want Isaac but rather a sign of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice.  Abraham signified his willingness and thus regained his son: “God’s way here was in perfect keeping with the theory of ‘topics in Aristotle’s Rhetoric.  He chose the very place which, in the realm of ‘opinion’ then current, would stand most persuasively for the principle of supreme sacrifice” (p. 253).  “And God,” Burke says with tongue planted firmly in cheek, “not absurdly, but like a good Aristotelian, was working this topic for all it was worth” (p. 253).  For indeed, Burk is employing a rhetorical read of the bible, suggesting that the presence of motive, of persuasion, reflects nothing on the nature of God, but rather, on the situated and historical character of the Pentateuch.  It is absurd to claim God made man in his image.  If a triangle could speak it would say God looks like triangle.  Man made God in his image, hence God’s rhetorical character (cf. Spinoza Theologico-Political Treatise). 


B.  The divine shares taboo in common with excrement: “ironically, the very ‘seat of highest dignity’ can become furtively one with the human posterior, in a rhetorical identification between high and low, since both can represent the principle of the tabu [sic]” (pp. 256-257).  Burke quotes Marx to prove his point: “they would like to persuade themselves that the world from which they derive their subsistence could not continue without their holy excrement.  As soon as this idealistic folly is put into practice, its malevolent nature is apparent: its charlatanry, its pietistic hypocrisy, its unctuous deceit.  Miracles are the asses’ bridge leading from the kingdom of the idea to practice” (p. 258).  Any philosophy whereby the material (the lower) is a manifestation of spirit (the higher) there is the externalization of the internal, holy shit. 


C.  The main point is that the absurd can be made rational through rhetorical practices: the magical need for a ruling elite, man as image of god, etc. 


XI. Order, the Secret, and the Kill


A.  Abraham is consubstantial with Isaac: “by thus ‘killing himself’ vicariously, the father could simultaneously be destroyed and be saved” (p. 261).  Burke shifts the emphasis from “the killing” to motive.  Why, for example, are “’four letter words’ for a few humble bodily functions…’indecent’ and ‘obscene,’ [while] the four letter word for the taking of a human life is quite ‘neutral’” (p. 262)?  When killing is “devotional…the proscription against bodily uncleanness and the proscription against killing may give us some clue to the motives [involved]” (p. 263).  Killing for god is, in this sense, like shit [sic] and “is in contrast with life-giving oral-edible” (p. 263) and is a psychic problem of social proportions associated with potty-training (p. 263).        


B.  The best military training begins with children: “instilling in them an almost mystic horror of befouling themselves” (p. 263). 


C.  Peace then is opposed to religion, despite explicit doctrine to the contrary (in Jesus or whatever).  Religion and war are bedmates. 


D.  Burke makes a rare statement of clarity: “Order, the Secret, and the Kill.  To study the nature of rhetoric, the relation between rhetoric and dialectic, and the application of both to human relations in general, is to circulate about these three motives.  The appeal of Kierkegaard…may derive from the fact that his Cult of the Absurd (his word for the Secret) so profoundly involves the other two, Order and the Kill.  Starting from any one of them, you find a vast network of dialectical possibilities in the offing, whereupon you may tend to see the whole of the dialectic itself in terms of this starting point, thereby being conservatively slavish to Order, morbidly fascinated by the Secret, militantly envenomed for the Kill…here would be the outer reaches of rhetoric” (p. 265). 


E.  The crucifixion of Christ is compared to killing a rattlesnake. 


XII. Pure Persuasion


A. Pure persuasion is the farthest one can go in matters of rhetoric (p. 267). 


B. Alice in Wonderland as example of courtship between different orders not involving sexuality.  “Thus,” says Burke, “we may think of social or literary courtship as pure persuasion, when we contrast it with direct bid for sexual favors, or with commercial advertising.  Similarly, education in contrast with debating might be called pure persuasion” (p. 268).


C. Pure persuasion is not instrumental language but language for the sake of itself, it requires interference, and is implicit in all language.  It involves “god terms as the completion of the linguistic process” (p. 276).


D. Burke reflects on man projecting himself in religion and bureaucracy: hierarchy is inevitable and we must govern ourselves pragmatically: “in any order, there will be the mysteries of hierarch, since such a principle is grounded in the very nature of language, and re-enforced by the resultant diversity of occupational classes.  Tat claim is the important thing, as regards the ultimate reaches of rhetoric.  The intensities, morbitities [sic], or particularities of mystery come from institutional sources, but the aptitude comes from the nature of man, generically, as a symbol-using animal” (p. 279). 


E. Animal sounds have elements of grammar, rhetoric, and the symbolic: “thus, the dog dances ‘I will eat’ by salivating now, and ‘I have eaten’ by curling around three times now and settling himself to sleep” (p. 288).  Humans use symbols in a secondary sense, “as when external agencies are used to produce other external agencies” (p. 288). 


F. “’Man’ arises out of extrahuman [sic] ground.” (p. 289).  This extrahuman is ultimate and super-verbal.  We use order to make sense of the extra human.  This order is ultimately human.  The more logical the order is the more persuasive it is as ultimate or pure persuasion. 


XIII. Rhetorical Radiance of the “Divine”


A. [1.] Henry James on the Deity of “Things”


The divine radiates through things in Henry James: the enigmatic mystery of capitalism.


B. [2.] “Social Ratings” of Images in James


A “bridging device” communicates between different orders (pontification).  Objects as presented have a hierarchic content. 


C. [3.] Rhetorical Names for God 


Insofar as we define god in transcendent terms than knowledge of god is mystical and happens through revelation.  Mysticism is thoroughly human.  God is rhetorical.  Burke goes on to define god through a number of slogans including “principle of language,” “race supremacy,” “excremental,” “pure persuasion,” “an honorific name for oneself,” “a slogan of the Extreme Right,” and perhaps most simply, “grounds for doing what one wants to do,”—in other words, god means not having to say your sorry. 


D. [4.] The “Range of Mountings


Burke’s hilarious discussion of mounting.  Coleridge suggests the mountainous potential of intensity through paradox of substance (kinesthetic appeal).  Coleridge opium habit makes him susceptible to this type of mounting.  The Alpinist climb involves a symbolic and actual mounting.  There is obvious sexual mounting (Prufrock, et al.).  Maternal mounting involves erotic mounting and may be expressed through such “naturalist” mountings of Mother Earth.  Material advantage mounting means capitalist mounting where the entire social structure is the mounting implement.  As there is always hierarchy in mounting, there is religious mounting: mystic participation in the mounting experience.  There is moral mounting in Kant.  The fecal design of the ancient Egyptian burial mounds may be mounted along with the alluvial soil of the Nile.  Shepherds moral duty to protect sheep has fecal connotations as well as sexual implications.  The entire range of mountings could express a total mounting as part of the ultimate order of transcendence, a “maximum vibrancy” (p. 313).   


E. [5.] Elation and Accidie [sic] in Hopkins


The poetic analogue of mystical exaltation. 


F. [6.] Yeats: Byzantium and the Last Poems


Yeats as prime instance of mystical poetry. 


G. [7.] Eliot: Early Poems and “Quartets”


Burke notes that “in the case of Eliot, we might note a reverse direction, not to any great extent, but enough to be observed and discussed.  That I the poet later uses with fuller connotations images that were at first used somewhat sparsely, as regards the ‘range of mountings’ that seems to be contained in them” (p. 318). 


H. [8.] Principle of the Oxymoron


The oxymoron is a figure that “combines contradictory elements within a single expression” (p. 324).  This is the communicative norm of the mystic: mystic poetry expresses this; “the ineffable.” 


Identification and transcendence: “the individual is to some extent distinct from his group, an identifying of him with the group is by the same token a transcending of his distinctness.  Hence, just as persuasion terminates in the ‘meta-rhetoric’ of pure persuasion, so identification attains its ultimate expression in mysticism, the identification of the infinitesimally frail with the infinitely powerful.” (p. 326).  Christ as oxymoron: victim and victorious. 


I. [9.] Ultimate Identification


Description of mystic testimony.  Mystic testimony has bodily counterpart.  Mysticism as not rare: “the itch” for it is everywhere: religion, war, bureaucracy, class, language.  Hierarchy intensifies mysticism. 


--Responses to A Rhetoric of Motives




Rueckert, W. (Ed.) (1967). Critical responses to Kenneth Burke. Minneapolis: University of         Minnesota Press.


R. P. Blackmur: The Lion and the Honeycomb

“The feeling of spate, of copiousness, you get in Burke is because of this abstract neutrality; he has no need to stop and there is nothing to arrest him: there are no obstacles he cannot transform into abstract or reduce neutral terms in his rhetoric.”


“It is a natural sequence to move from art for art’s sake to criticism for criticisms sake [in



Malcolm Cowley: Prolegomena to Kenneth Burke

“By touching and asking questions and taking nothing for granted he has come to be one of the few truly speculative thinkers of our time.”


“Burke…has the habits of thought that make him hard to follow.  He is a dialectician who is always trying to reconcile opposites by finding that they have a common source.  Give him two apparently hostile terms like poetry and propaganda, art and economic, speech and action, and immediately he looks beneath them for the common ground on which they stand.  Where the Marxian dialectic moves forward in time from the conflict of thesis and antithesis to their subsequent resolution or synthesis –and always emphasizes the conflict—the Burkean dialectic moves backwards from conflicting effects to harmonious causes.  It is a dialectic of peacemaking and not war.” 


Richard Chase: Rhetoric of Rhetoric

[Burke’s Rhetoric] indicates that the trilogy will be prime handbook for those who now join in the abandonment of our naturalist and humanist inheritance in favor of the charismatic glamour of ultimate politics and ultimate metaphysics”


[This book] is less a rhetoric that what might be called a substance metapolitics.  It is a vast and centerless [sic] farrago which…draws attitudes of linguistic analysis from Marx, Bentham, Carlyle, Veblen, and Empson, and, from the whole, attempts to evolve a universal ‘purification’ of language with the help of the ‘ultimate vocabulary’ of Marxist dialectic and of the anagogic method of the medieval writers.” 


“One will be disappointed if one expects from Mr. Burke as rhetorician a firm and adequate idea of politics…the author, like so many of his admirers, and so much of the modern world, is beyond politics.  He has no idea of man as a social animal, no idea of the state, no idea of democratic, socialist, or even aristocratic institutions, and no idea, in any concrete form, of either the philosophy or the rhetoric of politics.  He has ‘purified’ politics and political man out of existence.” 


“Also unconvincing are Mr. Burke’s attacks on technology and bureaucratization, since his thought so plainly issues from the intellectual mystique of these phenomena – a mystique which in our time has evolved into a secular religion philosophically supported by the rags and tatters of western thought thrown together in an obscure jargoning dissonance entirely bereft of emotional innerness, rational tact, and humane purpose.” 


Hugh Dalziel Duncan: A Review of “A Rhetoric of Motives”

“Sociologists who are interested in communication will find this a very valuable work.  Of all his works, the Rhetoric is of most specific interest to sociologists, for here Burke is stressing the social components of verbal action.”


Outline Prepared By Sam Boerboom & Matt May (October, 2006)