WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:
- The White Oxen and Other Stories (New York: A. & C. Boni, 1924).
- Counter-Statement (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1931).
- Towards a Better Life, Being a Series of Epistles, or Declamations (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1932).
- Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose (New York: New Republic, 1935; revised edition, Los Altos: Hermes Publications, 1954).
- Attitudes Toward History, 2 volumes (New York: New Republic, 1937; revised edition, Los Altos, Cal.: Hermes Publications, 1959).
- The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1941; revised and abridged edition, New York: Vintage, 1957).
- A Grammar of Motives (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1945; London: Dobson, 1947).
- A Rhetoric of Motives (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1950; London: Bailey Bros. & Swinfen, 1955).
- Books of Moments: Poems 1915-1954 (Los Altos, Cal.: Hermes Publications, 1955).
- The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961).
- Perspective by Incongruity [and] Terms for Order, ed. Stanley Edgar Hyman with Barbara Karmiller (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1964).
- Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1966).
- Collected Poems 1915-1967 (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968).
- The Complete White Oxen: Collected Short Fiction (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968).
- Dramatism and Development (Worcester, Mass.: Clark University Press, 1972).
- Thomas Mann, Death in Venice, translated by Burke (New York: Knopf, 1925).
- "Fact, Inference, and Proof in the Analysis of Literary Symbolism," in Symbols and Values: An Initial Study, edited by Lyman Bryson (New York: Harper, 1954), pp. 283-306.
- "Dramatism," in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, volume 7 (New York: Macmillan & Free Press, 1968), pp. 445-452.
- "William Carlos Williams, The Methods of," Dial, 22 (February 1927): 94-98.
- "Counterblasts on 'Counter-Statement,'" New Republic, 69 (9 December 1931): 101.
- "A Sour Note on Literary Criticism," review of A Note on Literary Criticism by James T. Farrell, New Republic, 87 (24 June 1936): 211.
- "Is Mr. Hook a Socialist?," answer to Hook's review of Attitudes Toward History, Partisan Review, 4 (January 1938): 40-44.
- "On Poetry and Poetics," review of The World's Body by John Crowe Ransom, Poetry, 55 (October 1939): 51-54.
- "Key Words for Critics," review of Intent of the Critic ed. Donald Stauffer, The New Criticism by Ransom, and Reason in Madness by Allen Tate, Kenyon Review, 4 (1942): 126-132.
- "Kinds of Criticism," Poetry, 68 (August 1946): 272-282.
- "American Scholar Forum: The New Criticism," American Scholar, 22 (Winter 1950-1951): 86-104; (Spring 1951): 218-231.
- "Othello: An Essay to Illustrate a Method," Hudson Review, 4 (Summer 1951): 165-203.
- "Three Definitions," Kenyon Review, 13 (Spring 1951): 173-192.
- "The Criticism of Criticism," review of The Lion and the Honeycomb by R. P. Blackmur, Accent, 15 (Autumn 1955): 279-292.
- "The Encyclopaedic, Two Kinds of," review of Literary Criticism: A Short History by W. K. Wimsatt, Jr., and Cleanth Brooks, and Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays by Northrop Frye, Poetry, 91 (February 1958): 320-328.
- "On Catharsis, or Resolution," Kenyon Review, 21 (Summer 1959): 337-375.
- "Myth, Poetry and Philosophy," Journal of American Folklore, 72 (October-December 1960): 283-306.
- "Catharsis--Second View," Centennial Review, 5 (Spring 1961); 107-132.
- "As I was Saying," Michigan Quarterly Review, 11 (Winter 1972): 9-27.
- "Dancing with Tears in My Eyes, A Response to Wayne Booth," Critical Inquiry, 1 (September 1974): 23-31.
- "(Nonsymbolic) Motion/(Symbolic) Action," Critical Inquiry, 4 (Summer 1978): 809-838.
- "Methodological Repression and/or Strategies of Containment," Critical Inquiry (Winter 1978): 401-416.
- "In Haste," Pretext 6 (Fall/Winter 1985): 329-377.
- The Selected Correspondence of Kenneth Burke and Malcolm Cowley, edited by Paul Jay (New York: Viking Press, forthcoming in 1988).
It would be misleading to label the work of Kenneth Burke "literary criticism," for his concerns extend far beyond the confines of that discipline. Burke is the most theoretically challenging, unorthodox, and sophisticated of twentieth-century speculators on literature and culture, a surprising feat in light of his irregular career. Without a college degree, with minimal formal training in literature, philosophy, psychology, or political science, with no permanent full-time academic appointment, and with no conventional area of specialization, Burke has worked for over sixty-four years in rural New Jersey producing a body of work whose breadth, rigor, and theoretical grounding is unmatched by the work of any other American critic. Novelist, poet, translator, and philosopher, Burke is first and foremost a critic in the broadest sense of the word. Indeed his work starts from the recognition that "all living things are critics." Humans have a metacritical capacity that separates them from other organisms, for, as Burke wrote in Permanence and Change (1935), "though all organisms are critics in the sense that they interpret the signs about them, the experimental, speculative technique made available by speech would seem to single out the human species as the only one possessing an equipment for going beyond the criticism of experience to a criticism of criticism. We not only interpret the character of events ... we may also interpret our interpretations." Here Burke locates his own broadest interest, for all his theoretical and practical criticism (though he would question such a distinction) is aimed precisely at the "criticism of criticism."
Another way to approach Burke's work is to see it as a fundamental and relentless analysis of interpretive behavior. In one way or another all of his work focuses on the language, and the underlying assumptions, of interpretive systems, be they historical or sociological modes of literary interpretation, philosophical ones worked out by philosophers like Immanuel Kant , Georg W. F. Hegel, or George Santayana , or the more elaborate and central explanatory systems of Karl Marx or Sigmund Freud. Each has come under Burke's critical eye in his attempt to "interpret our interpretations." In this respect Burke's work is double-edged: he wants to identify what it is that motivates interpretive behavior of any kind and to work out a system for analyzing it. For this reason the body of his work is relentlessly interdisciplinary (a quality that has brought it much criticism). His writing broadens out from early work that is clearly literary criticism until, book by book, his focus shifts from an examination of the nature of literary communication to the nature of communicative behavior per se. Burke's project ranges over a sometimes dizzying number of disciplines, but always with its eye on two things: structure and power; structure because of his conviction that the aims of any text are embedded in its formal principles, and power because in the end it is both literature's effect on the writer and the reader and its relation to cultural and political power that interests Burke. Part formalist and part rhetorician, Burke is fundamentally a cultural critic, but one whose particular interest is in the workings of language, and whose first love is literature.
Kenneth Duva Burke was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 5 May 1897 to James Leslie and Lillyan Duva Burke. He attended Peabody High School where, along with his good friend Malcolm Cowley , he began to develop an avid interest in language and literature. His circle of friends was decidedly intellectual, and from an early age Burke was reading widely and writing stories and plays. Recalling those days in Exile's Return (1934), Cowley wrote that "we felt that we were different from other boys ... At seventeen we were disillusioned and weary ... we contributed artificial little pieces to the high-school newspaper, in which vice triumphed over virtue, but discreetly, so as not to be censored by the faculty adviser. We were launching or drifting into the sea of letters with no fixed destination and without a pilot." The group at Peabody High, which also included James Light, who would later become a director for the Provincetown Players, was avidly modern in its orientation. The degree of paradox in a writer was, for them, a measure of his modernity: "If they were paradoxical--if they turned platitudes upside down, showed the damage wrought by virtue, made heroes of their villains--then they were 'moderns.'"
Cowley records that they all read tirelessly, from Rudyard Kipling , Robert Louis Stevenson , George Meredith , Thomas Hardy , George Gissing , H. L. Mencken , Joseph Conrad , Oscar Wilde , and George Bernard Shaw , to Jules Laforgue , Fyodor Dostoyevski, and Gustave Flaubert . In the fall of 1915 Cowley went off to Harvard, while early in 1916 Burke went to Ohio State with James Light. Together they started a literary magazine, Sansculotte, and Burke took up his studies in French, German, Greek, and Latin. After his parents moved to Weehawken, New Jersey, he dropped out of Ohio State and returned home to be nearer New York City. Later in 1917 Burke enrolled at Columbia University and began to study philosophy. It is clear from his letters to Cowley that this period was an enormously productive one. But by the end of the year, Burke grew uncomfortable with the restrictions and limitations of a formal education whose scope and direction were determined by others. In January of 1918 he wrote Cowley: "I am quitting Columbia. A long story ... but the essential fact is that I am going in a new direction. Suddenly becoming horrified at the realization of what college can do to a man of promise.... I shall get a room in New York and begin my existence as a Flaubert." Burke's withdrawal from Columbia marked the end of his formal education and the beginning of his self-education. Freed from the restrictions of a college curriculum, he began a systematic study of classical and European literature, focusing at the outset on Homer, Virgil, John Milton , John Keats , Percy Bysshe Shelley , Robert Browning , Thomas Mann , Dostoyevski, and Flaubert. He continued the wideranging reading of philosophy he had begun at Columbia, wrote plays, poetry, and short stories, and translated works from the German. Once, when a publisher lamented to Burke that there was no English translation of Thomas Mann 's Death in Venice, Burke casually informed him that he had one at home in his desk. He had translated the entire novel as practice. It was published in 1925 as the first translation of Mann's novel. In 1919 Burke married Lillian Mary Batterham; they eventually had three daughters.
An important part of Burke's "new direction" announced in the letter to Cowley involved moving to Greenwich Village. It was here that Burke began the hard work of becoming a writer, working long hours on the short stories that would comprise his first published book, The White Oxen and Other Stories (1924). It was while laboring over these tales that Burke's early ideas about aesthetics and literary form began to develop, ideas that would come to form the substance of his first book on literature and criticism, Counter-Statement (1931). The more carefully he worked on revising and restructuring his stories, especially during the years 1921-1923, the more interested he became in formulating the structural principles of narrative that he had discovered for himself. The longer he worked on his stories, the more interested he became in the nature and function of form in fiction. Although he continued to write fiction for another ten years, so strong was this interest in form that by February 1922 his real vocation seemed clear to him. In that month he wrote to Cowley that "I shall surely become a writer on aesthetics."
When Counter-Statement appeared in 1931 it was, in fact, the culmination of ten years' work in the area of aesthetics. This work led Burke into an often uneasy alliance with the 1920s avant-garde movement. He had reservations about Dadaism and surrealism, but he felt that it would be out of such radical impulses that a revitalized American literature would emerge. Burke's interest in Dada was spurred by the fact that in the early 1920s Cowley was in France, writing to him often about his involvement with the Dadaists. Burke was fascinated by Cowley's reports, but wary. His letters to Cowley are full of warnings about the dangers of remaining abroad when there was so much work to be done on American soil in the name of American literature. Thus, Burke remained in New York. He did, however, become active in a number of avant-garde publications, contributing stories and reviews, and helping to edit modernist magazines like Broom and Secession in 1920-1923.
During this period Burke also became friends with a number of writers and critics in New York City, including E. E. Cummings , William Carlos Williams , Hart Crane , Van Wyck Brooks , Waldo Frank , and Paul Rosenfeld. When Burke and his wife moved to the New Jersey countryside and began commuting to New York City, Williams and other writers would congregate on weekends at Burke's place in Andover, where animated discussions of fiction, poetry, and criticism would be mixed with tennis playing, long walks, drinking, and dancing. At the Dial, where he had obtained work as an editorial assistant, and where from 1927 to 1929 he was the music critic, Burke was able to meet a wide range of writers, including Marianne Moore . His practical experience at the Dial ran from writing book reviews to helping prepare T. S. Eliot 's The Waste Land for the printer. Almost miraculously Burke was beginning to make it as a writer on his terms, supporting his family as an editor, translator, writer, and reviewer. The family lived frugally, in a small home, sustaining themselves with an elaborate vegetable garden, many fruit trees, and a highly organized canning operation each fall.
By 1932, after the publication of Counter-Statement and his novel, Towards a Better Life (1932), the direction of his work turned decidedly toward criticism. His novel had done poorly, and writing it had taken a tremendous toll on him, as had the financial pressures brought on by the Depression. Burke divorced his wife and in 1933 married her sister Elizabeth, by whom he had two sons. After the cool critical reception and low sales of Towards a Better Life, he began to build on the work he had started in Counter-Statement. By 1941 he had published three more books, one on literature and literary criticism, The Philosophy of Literary Form (1941), and two with a more general focus on communication, interpretation, and meaning. These two books, Permanence and Change (1935) and Attitudes Toward History (1937), marked the beginning of Burke's massive interdisciplinary project, which he would come to call "dramatism."
Although published in 1931, Counter-Statement had been mostly written in the early 1920s and had been published in essay form. While the early essays elaborate a theory of literary form, the later essays focus on the relationship between art and ideology and elaborate an oppositional program for both creative writers and literary critics. There is, then, something of a split in the book that reflects Burke's changing orientation as he moves, under the influence of Marxism, away from conceptualizing art in aesthetic terms as self-expression and toward viewing it as a socially symbolic act.
As an embodiment of his work on literary form in the 1920s, Counter-Statement seeks both to define what constitutes form and to elaborate a critical method for analyzing it. Burke begins with the key supposition that "form in literature is an arousing and fulfillment of desires. A work has form in so far as one part of it leads a reader to anticipate another part, to be gratified by the sequence." Form is determined by the effect the writer seeks. Its relationship to psychology has to do with the fact that, for Burke, form is determined by the author's effort to move the audience, or reader, through a sometimes complex series of expectations and fulfillments. Form, in this respect, is tied to the mental and emotional state of the audience/reader, and "psychology," as Burke uses it here, is "the psychology of the audience" because it denotes "the creation of an appetite in the mind of the auditor, and the adequate satisfying of that appetite."
Forms in literature, Burke argues, come from the forms of our own experience and therefore have an a priori existence. Moreover these forms are transhistorical, universal. This kind of formulation represents a Kantian tendency in Burke's work that persists through most of his books, through in a continually diluted form. As Burke describes it in Counter-Statement, "a form is a way of experiencing," and there are formal patterns which distinguish our experience, such as "the accelerated motion of a falling body, the cycle of a storm, the gradations of a sunrise, the stages of a cholera epidemic, the ripening of crops." These forms, along with more abstract ones such as the gradual rise to a crisis or crescendo, are for Burke, recurrent, universal forms of experience: "We 'think' in a crescendo, because it parallels certain psychic and physical processes which are at the roots of our experience." Burke's method of formal analysis involves categorizing such forms and examining how they function in any given work, but the theory upon which it is based views these forms as reflections of forms in experience which "seem to be inherent in the very germ-plasm of man," as "innate forms of the mind"--which is precisely why they work on the psychology of the audience.
This theory of form would seem to suggest that literary works are essentially ahistorical, that they partake of, and continually perpetuate, universal, transcendent forms of experience that are beautiful and moving because they stand outside time, history, and particular cultural moments. However, Burke anticipates this critique and incorporates his response to it in his theory of form. This response is important to recognize, since if it is missed we will mistake Burke as simply a protoformalist or protostructuralist. He is both, but he is more.
"Art," Burke writes in Counter-Statement, "is 'eternal' in so far as it deals with the constants of humanity ... the recurrent emotions, the fundamental attitudes, the typical experiences.... But art is also historical--a particular mode of adjustment to a particular cluster of conditions." This view is incorporated into his approach to form by his postulating the principle of "individuation." This principle insists that while art takes the form of a priori structures, innate arrangements of experience, each particular work of art is an "individuation" of such structures. The specific individuations of a form of experience "change greatly with changes in the environment and the ethical systems out of which they arise."
Burke's discussion of "individuation" and its sources in changing environmental and ethical systems leads him to a discussion of the relationship between form and ideology. This discussion grows out of his recognition that "the artist's manipulations of the reader's desires involve his use of what the reader considers desirable." The writer's form will engage the psychology of the audience to the extent to which he or she draws on what Burke calls the "vocabulary of belief" in any given culture. The correctness and the efficacy of the form will depend, then, upon the shared ideology of the writer and the audience/reader. Simply put, "if people believe something, the poet can use this belief to get an effect."
"Ideology" is a concept that recurs again and again in all of Burke's books; its workings are one of his central preoccupations. In later books the concept surfaces under the heading of a number of different terms--orientation, attitude, frame--and is defined in an ever-expanding way. What Burke means in Counter-Statement "by an ideology is ... the nodus of beliefs and judgments which the artist can exploit for his effects." He does not so much see ideology as a unified, monolithic structure but as an "aggregate of beliefs sufficiently at odds with one another to justify opposite kinds of conduct." For Burke form is generated in a literary work by the stressing of a particular aspect of ideology as a pattern of experience. He sees the writer's use of ideology in terms of his or her exploiting or discrediting certain assumptions and beliefs in order to contribute "to the formation of attitudes, and thus to the determining of conduct." Burke's early discussion of ideology clearly has limitations which, for the most part, are dealt with in later books as the concept is refined. Due to Burke's emphasis in Counter-Statement on the author's manipulation of shared ideas and beliefs, his concept of ideology does not explore how those ideas and beliefs come to be thought of as "natural," "self-evident," or derived from "common sense."
In the chapter called "The Status of Art," Burke wants both to acknowledge the importance of understanding a literary work in terms of its specific historical context and to argue that the historical moment can never be simply thought of as the cause of the work. What he rejects here is any view of art which sees the literary work as simply a by-product of material or social forces, "the result," as he puts it, "of more vital and important forces." On the one hand, Burke holds "irrefutable" the idea "that to appreciate a work we must understand the environmental conditions out of which it arose," that "insofar as a social context changes, the work of art erected upon it is likely to change in evaluation." On the other hand, he belies the notion that because a literary work arises out of a specific social or economic context (how could it not?) that context causes the work, or that the work is a mere reflection of its social or economic context. For Burke art reflects a particular social situation in the way it deals with that situation, not in the way it mirrors or reproduces it. In this sense, as Burke explains in one of his more fundamental axioms, "art is not experience, but something added to experience."
Such a formulation marks off Burke's work from the formalism of the New Critics, or from structuralist approaches to literature that follow it. The political "Program" announced in a Counter-Statement chapter by that title does more than anything in the book to belie the notion that the early Burke was simply interested in aesthetics, literary form, and art for art's sake.
Burke's program builds on his insistence that his aesthetic orientation as a critic constitutes a political attitude which is meant to be part of an intervention in history:
The "Program" proposes to trace the possible political and economic implications of an attitude which--so far as our primary concerns go--is not political or economic at all ... the "Program" seeks to consider, in a general way, what this social structure would have to become if our principles were to prevail.Burke's program makes it clear that his interest in aesthetics is not just an elaborate response to his own attachment to literary beauty, but an interested and willful attempt to act on prevailing social and political attitudes. Whether any literary critic, especially one as highly theoretical as Burke, can have this kind of impact is, of course, questionable, but the important thing is that Burke is working out of such a conviction, that he sees his work in these terms.
In the program he outlines, Burke juxtaposes his aesthetic attitude against what he calls the "practical" attitude that has accompanied rapid industrialization, mechanization, and the rise of science. In so doing he makes it clear that something like a social vision drives his formalist bent, and that the attitude underlying it is decidedly oppositional. The aesthetic attitude Burke seeks to foster is called a "means of reclamation," for the aesthetic must serve as antimechanization, the corrective of the "practical." By "practical," Burke means "efficiency," "material acquisitions," "increased consumption," "power," "energy," "sales drives," and "ubiquitous optimism." By "aesthetic," he means "distrust," "non-conformity," "bad sportsmanship," "experimentalism," "risk," "dislike of propaganda" and "certainty," and "the redistribution of wealth by some means." The program here insists that the aesthetic nature of Burke's critical orientation is a response to the historical moment and a practical act of resistance. For the aim of both writer and critic, as he sums it up at the end of his program, is to institute a "process of disintegration," to make "propaganda difficult" by "fostering intellectual mistrust," in the end, gravely interfering "with the cultural code behind our contemporary economic ambitiousness."
Burke's program in Counter-Statement, though based on what he calls an aesthetic attitude, actually represents his move away from an analysis of literature as aesthetic self-expression toward an interest in communication per se. This shift, this widening of his interests beyond an analysis of the forms of literary discourse to an examination of language as symbolic action in a much broader social and political context, was due in large measure to two things: the Depression and his reading of Marx. Burke had come to realize in the late 1920s that what he has recently called "those run-down movements," like Dadaism and surrealism, left "no place else to go." Moreover having invested during this period in a theory of art as self-expression, he was at first "forlorn" when he saw Marxist-influenced criticism taking hold among friends of his like Malcolm Cowley .
However in the early 1930s Burke began a careful reading of Marx, something he had not done before completing Counter-Statement. Marx's influence on him can be seen in Permanence and Change (1935), which Burke described in a letter to Cowley as "concerned with Marxian criticism," but "independently--in neither total agreement nor total disagreement." What interested Burke about Marx's writings was not his social vision (which he thought to be idealistic and utopian) but the dramatic and rhetorical features of his work. Permanence and Change is Marxian in that Burke translates some of those features into his own terms. Marx's critique of ideology, for example, Burke saw as an exemplary rhetorical analysis, and it clearly informs his discussion of the relationship between a person's ideological "orientation" and how that person interprets the world around him.
Of all Burke's books, Permanence and Change and the one that quickly followed it, Attitudes Toward History (1937), are the least concerned in an explicit way with literary criticism. However they are both crucial to understanding the course his literary-critical investigations took in the ensuing years, since in these two books Burke begins to formulate the theoretical principles upon which his later literary criticism and theory are based.
In Permanence and Change Burke, in effect, attempts to work out a philosophical grounding for the program he elaborated in Counter-Statement. He extends the analysis of motive begun there, but this time within a more general analysis of human, rather than strictly literary, motivation. The first part of the book focuses on the role of ideology ("orientation") in the interpretation of "reality," the second contains a more sophisticated reprise of his call in Counter-Statement for a new, aesthetic orientation (here called "poetic"), and the third continues that reprise in conjunction with a discussion and critique of important nineteenth-century philosophical systems.
In his long opening section, "On Interpretation," Burke insists that experience does not have absolute meanings, but that "any given situation derives its character from the entire framework of interpretation by which we judge it." There are, therefore, no self-evident meanings, only interpreted ones. Moreover interpretations are crucially determined by what Burke calls "orientations," the term he uses in place of ideology. By "orientation" he means "a bundle of judgments as to how things were, how they are, and how they may be." Thus meanings are not self-evident precisely because people produce them as they interpret events in terms of their presuppositions about them. For Burke an "orientation" works like a vocabulary, providing a serviceable schema for making sense of the world. Furthermore if people are motivated to make certain kinds of interpretations in light of their orientations, they are simply using the only vocabulary they have to explain experience to themselves. For this reason Burke sees explanations and interpretations as essentially human utilization (whatever the nature of those interpretations might be) of the only social codes people know. Thus his analysis of the relationship between reality, orientation, and interpretation leads Burke to his first important insight about motive, a term that forms the focus of the two books he was to write in the 1940s, A Grammar of Motives (1945) and A Rhetoric of Motives (1950). "A motive," he writes, "is not some fixed thing, like a table, which one can go and look at. It is a term of interpretation." One's motives, in other words, are not natural, but are motivated by the interpretive framework through which one views experience. Burke goes on to examine how interpretive vocabularies both authorize and delimit one's views of reality and how explanatory accounts of human motivation are motivated by interpretive frameworks.
As the title of Burke's book indicates, he is centrally interested here in the tension between states of permanence and states of change. A particular orientation or interpretive framework, to the extent that it remains unquestioned, creates a kind of static view of things in which reality seems fixed (a specific interpretation of reality being mistaken for the permanent, natural state of things). In Burke's view, in order for there to be change--social, political, economic--one's orientations must change. Here is an aspect, of course, of Burke's neo-Marxism. Base and superstructure are reversed, in Burke's formulation, as he argues that changes in consciousness must necessarily precede material and economic ones. The argument in Permanence and Change, which sometimes seems overwhelmed by Burke's theoretical formulations, is an extension of that presented in Counter-Statement's program. Again he is insisting on the necessity of what is here called a "reorientation" away from a practical and toward an aesthetic attitude. What was described as an aesthetic orientation in his earlier book is here called a poetic one. The aim, in Permanence and Change, is to elaborate a "corrective philosophy with poetic standards" so that society can begin "to revise the productive and the distributive patterns of our economy to suit our soundest desires, rather than attempting to revise our desires until they suit the productive and distributive patterns." The "center of authority" for such a change, he insists, "must be situated in a philosophy, or psychology, of poetry."
Burke's "corrective philosophy" has a poetic orientation that sets it in explicit opposition to a mechanistic one, and out of it he elaborates a "dramatic" method of critical analysis. This method uses a language which is based on a poetic operation and an essentially dramatistic system of analysis. Burke proposes the use of a particular kind of terminology, one that will yield what he calls a "perspective by incongruity." He derives this kind of terminology, which involves "extending the use of a term by taking it from the context in which it was habitually used and applying it to another," from Nietzsche and Spengler. His description of such terms or phrases as constituting a "methodology of the pun" is itself a good example of what he means by a perspective by incongruity, since the word "methodology" provides an incongruous perspective when juxtaposed with the word "pun."
Underlying Burke's claims for the productivity of poetic language in analysis is his insistence that all truth claims are made by the substitution of a metaphor for a fact. He denies any essential difference between abstract and metaphorical language in this regard: "when we describe in abstract terms we are not sticking to the facts at all, we are substituting something else for them just as much as if we were using an out and out metaphor." As far as Burke is concerned, the poet's metaphors and the scientist's abstractions are both examples of substitution, the discussing of one thing in terms of another. So when he utilizes the methodology of the pun by coining perspectives by incongruity, Burke is not seeking to get beyond the workings of ordinary language, but simply to exploit to the maximum its inherent resources. Such phrases, which constitute much of Burke's critical terminology ("bureaucratization of the imaginative," "socialization of losses," etc.) are readings or interpretations in miniature, and they are meant to have a radical and disruptive, as well as an enlightening effect: "planned incongruity should be deliberately cultivated for the purpose of experimentally wrenching apart all those molecular combinations of adjective and noun, substantive and verb, which still remain with us. It should subject language to the same 'cracking' process that chemists now use in their refining of oil."
Dramatism thus grows out of Burke's insistence that forms of experience exist prior to their material embodiment (a position he works out in Permanence and Change in the context of a critique of Marx's materialism). As it is elaborated in his later book, A Grammar of Motives, this method will be developed as a way to analyze the ways in which these forms emerge, and the nature of their interaction. At the end of Permanence and Change, such a method is loosely sketched in. Here Burke notes that the vocabulary of tropes as formulated by rhetoricians is ready-made to "describe the specific patterns of human behavior," since like art, social life is a "problem of appeal." A dramatistic analysis, informed by rhetoric, will examine what he calls the informal art of living by measuring motivation less in terms of utility than "with reference to the communicative, sympathetic, propitiatory factors clearly present in the procedures of formal art." With his choice of a dramatic metaphor for his analytical system, and his glimpse of the importance of rhetoric, Burke charts the central emphases of his work for the next fifteen years, culminating with A Rhetoric of Motives in 1950.
Burke's first sustained attempt to apply the dramatic method outlined in Permanence and Change came in his next book, Attitudes Toward History, which he began to write immediately after finishing the former book. Attitudes Toward History uses what Burke calls "poetic categories" to examine historical change. These categories correspond to a set of conventional literary-critical terms: the epic, tragedy, comedy, the elegy, the satiric burlesque, the grotesque, the didactic, and the comic. Burke employs these categories convinced that they illustrate "major psychological devices" by which the human mind "equips itself to name and confront its situations." In what amounts to a dramatistic analysis of the relationship between ideology and change, he describes these categories collectively as frames and attitudes: "Each of the great poetic forms stresses its own peculiar way of building the mental equipment (meanings, attitudes, character) by which one handles the significant factors of his time."
These poetic categories are used to characterize the general orientation of each of the five eras of Western history Burke goes on to analyze in the next part of the book: "The Curve of History": "Christian Evangelism," "Medieval Synthesis," "Protestant Transition," "Native Capitalism," and "Emergent Collectivism." This section of the book extends Burke's analysis of the dynamic relationship between permanence and change, employing a dramatic metaphor to chart historical change by explaining history in terms of its unfolding as a five-part drama. What emerges is a long analysis of historical change as a series of ideological transitions and syntheses.
The curve of history is characterized, in general terms, by what Burke calls shifting "frames" of acceptance and rejection. By "frame," he means "the more or less organized system of meanings by which a thinking man gauges the historical situation and adopts a role with relation to it." A variant of what in Counter-Statement he called "ideology," and in Permanence and Change he called "orientation," frames of acceptance and rejection are organized systems of meaning that regulate individuals and communities. Burke's discussion of historical change is preceded by an analysis of the personal "frames" of rejection and acceptance he detects in William James, Walt Whitman , and Ralph Waldo Emerson . In his much longer discussion of historical change, the transitions Burke charts from era to era are collective changes in organized social systems, such as what he calls the "shift from the classical emphasis upon resignation to the liberal ('Faustian') emphasis upon freedom." Thus a thinker like Marx, who, according to Burke, was "born into the great century of rejection philosophies," laid the "foundations for a vast public enterprise out of which a new frame of acceptance could be constructed."
Together, Permanence and Change and Attitudes Toward History represent a turn in Burke's work away from the literary and critical concerns of Counter-Statement toward a much broader and more ambitious attempt to work out a critical theory of historical change, human motivation, and the role of language in collective behavior. This cross-disciplinary orientation characterizes the rest of the Burkean project as it unfolds in the 1940s. However literary criticism, and the theory behind its practice, will remain a central part of that project. Indeed while Burke was busy writing his second and third theoretical books, he was also producing a number of essays on literature and criticism, which were collected and published as The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action in 1941. During this time he also began to accept what would over the years become a number of part-time teaching positions, first at the New School for Social Research (1937), then at the University of Chicago (1938), and for eighteen years (1943-1961) at Bennington College in Vermont.
In the essays comprising The Philosophy of Literary Form, Burke extends in a more sophisticated and refined way the discussion of the nature and function of literary form he began in Counter-Statement, linking this discussion to his evolving method for the dramatistic analysis of discursive forms. Where his earlier interest was in the psychology of form, and in what form was, his interest now had become the philosophy of form, elaborating, that is, a theory and method for its analysis. Form in these essays is treated as internal structure, and the aim of Burke's analytical method is to examine how internal structure produces meaning in literary works. This method grows out of Burke's desire to know "what is going on" in a literary work, to chart its action as a verbal construct, and to examine the interaction of internal structures, symbols, metaphor, binary oppositions, and key words.
Such an analysis relies particularly on the identification and interpretation of symbols. In The Philosophy of Literary Form the emphasis is on interpreting symbols by paying attention to how their significance or meaning in a text is generated by internal associations. He insists on distinguishing between his use of the term "symbol" and "Symbolism" as it is associated with the late nineteenth-century movement in poetry. He does so because he feels "symbol" in this context implies "the unreality" of the world, suggesting nothing can simply be what it is but "must always be something else." Since for Burke all discursive action is symbolic action he wants to avoid the connotations of unreality and irrationality he feels traditional conceptions of symbolism have.
With his interest in the way symbols are generated within literary works by a network of internal associations, Burke proposes an analysis of symbolism which is keyed to internal organization, rather than to an external "pool" of symbols: "To know what 'hoe, or house, or bridge'" symbolizes in a work, he writes, "you don't begin with a 'symbolist dictionary' already written in advance. You must, by inductive inspection of a given work, discover the particular contexts in which" these words appear in order to understand what they symbolize. In this way the critic interpreting symbols in a literary work is faced with "a problem in bookkeeping." Burke explains this conception in "Freud and the Analysis of Poetry." He points out that in the early years of psychoanalysis Freud did not work with a preconceived set of ideas about the absolute meaning of symbols, but interpreted them in the context of a patient's dreams and free associations. Burke's approach, with its stress on examining a work's internal structure of references and associations, is meant to be true to Freud's early method.
Such a blend of symbolism and formalism, as critics like Frank Lentricchia have begun to point out, also anticipates aspects of structuralist-oriented literary criticism as it developed in the mid 1960s. Burke's structural analysis of a Clifford Odets play in The Philosophy of Literary Form, for example, looks forward to the transformational structuralism of Claude Lévi-Strauss , and the semiological analyses of narrative of Roland Barthes. Burke's reading of Odets's Golden Boy shows how its verbal action is determined by the associations clustered around two opposing principles, the one symbolized by a violin, the other by a prizefight. Each stands as one term in a binary opposition, the violin being the "symbol" of the protagonist and signifying "cooperative social unity, disdain of money, staying home, not needing the girl," while the prizefight stands as the "symbol" of the antagonist, signifying "competition, cult of money, leaving home, getting the girl." Burke's theoretical point here is that neither a violin nor a prizefight are symbols drawn from a symbolist dictionary: they do not, in and of themselves, have any symbolic meaning. Rather that meaning is generated within a network of signification; it is generated by a network of associations internal to the play itself.
With its focus on form in literature as internal structure, and with its insistence that "meaning" is generated in and by those structures, Burke's critical method here seems to recall the essential formalism of Counter-Statement and to look forward to the New Criticism. However, as he did in his earlier book, Burke pushes his critical system well beyond the bounds of a simple cataloguing function. Formal analysis again becomes incorporated into a more ambitious explanatory project, one which seeks to identify a cathartic function in writing and reading and to propose a "sociological" literary criticism.
Form remains an embodiment of the psychology of the audience in The Philosophy of Literary Form, but it also is seen to embody the psychology of the author. Burke begins to draw together a number of disparate observations he had been making since Counter-Statement about language, form, symbolism, and catharsis into a theory of literature as symbolic action, action, that is, which embodies a symbolic presentation of real personal and social contradictions. It is based on the crucial idea that the writer's subject is first and foremost his own maladjustments, and that in the act of writing those maladjustments are treated (in both senses of the word) in terms of social issues that correspond to them. Thus Burke wants to understand "the psychology of the poetic act" because "if we try to discover what the poem is doing for the poet, we may discover a set of generalizations as to what poems do for everybody. With these in mind, we have cues for analyzing the sort of eventfulness the poem contains. And in analyzing this eventfulness, we shall make basic discoveries about the structure of the work itself," and about how it mediates between the personal and the social.
Burke's focus on the psychology of the poetic act grows out of the conviction expressed in Counter-Statement that writing is an "efficient" business to the extent to which the writer can perform "a ceaseless indwelling, a patient process of becoming expert in himself." He argues that art's "spontaneous subject" is the artist's own "maladjustments." Burke does not simply mean that artists write about their own problems, but that their own problems are expressed symbolically in their art, that there is always an attempt to use art to represent and resolve contradictions. In Permanence and Change this process is given the name "hypochondriac incentive" (another of Burke's perspectives by incongruity), and it is inspired by Thomas Mann . Burke writes that Mann understood that the "hypochondriac's preoccupation need not by any means be confined to his own personal symptoms, but may merely serve to force integrity of outlook upon a man." Such an incentive, he continues, "will transcend its beginnings in that the thinker attempts to socialize his position, and in doing so must include areas of symbolization not at all local to himself." What is particularly valuable about the thinker's "disease" is that it can lead to larger insights "precisely from the fact that the diseased man's burden sharpens him to some corresponding issue involving society at large."
It is the artist's use of symbols to "socialize his position" that leads Burke to view literature and, indeed, language itself as symbolic action. Outlining a method in The Philosophy of Literary Form that seeks to analyze "tactics of expression" and the "situations behind them," he argues that readers "will find tactics that organize a work technically" because they "organize it emotionally." His formalist readings of individual works, in this book and others, invariably focus on analyzing this dynamic; some examples include his reading of "The Rime of The Ancient Mariner" in The Philosophy of Literary Form, his discussion of Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn" in A Grammar of Motives, and his analysis of Milton's "Samson Agonistes" in A Rhetoric of Motives. The form of symbolic action in each of these works, according to Burke, is ritual catharsis, a kind of poetic unburdening in which tactics of expression are formulated by the writer to organize emotion and socialize a position. Burke's central point about literary form in Counter-Statement--that "form is the psychology of the audience"--acknowledges his debt to Aristotle 's idea that drama is always structured to create a cathartic or purifying experience in the audience. He does not abandon that point in the essays included in The Philosophy of Literary Form, but he does shift his emphasis by insisting that literary works are also structured to achieve a catharsis or purgation for the author. This shift involves his reading such works as Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" or Milton's "Samson Agonistes" from a kind of autobiographical perspective, on the assumption that their action is symbolic of the writer's inner, private drama, and that the action represents an attempt to purge or resolve contradictions that are very real to the author. Burke thus changes the emphasis of Aristotle 's theory of catharsis from the psychology of the audience to the psychology of the writer. Essentially he blends Thomas Mann 's hypochrondriac method with Aristotle 's ideas about ritual catharsis to produce a theory of form that takes account of the fact that writing usually is meant to do something for the writer as well as for his audience. Whether manifested in poetry, fiction, or on the stage, Burke argues that "ritual drama" is the "Ur-form" of human action. Creating a foreground to drama in this way may seem purely strategic on Burke's part, since it too exquisitely fits his critical method, dramatism. But the method itself grew out of Burke's analysis of drama, and out of his conviction that it was the most effective metaphor for talking about human relations.
Burke's focus on catharsis and symbolic action, then, tends to separate his critical method from a formalism which concentrates wholly on the workings of internal structure, to the exclusion of whatever we might deem to be "outside" the text. The other aspect of the method, as presented in The Philosophy of Literary Form, that separates it from formalism is Burke's attempt to define its aim as ultimately sociological. Such an objective is the result of his assimilating analyses of internal structure into an essentially rhetorical investigation of literary meaning, an investigation that is based on the assumption that literary works always constitute "strategies for dealing with situations" that are "typical and recurrent in a given social structure." There is no "pure" literature, Burke writes, because literary works can always be seen to be designed in strategic ways to a particular purpose, developing names for situations in order to dramatize strategies or attitudes for handling them. From this point of view, literary art is always socially purposeful.
Formal analysis in this mode has the further aim to identify and examine strategy and purpose. Linguistic, symbolic, and dramatic elements in any given literary work should be classified, according to Burke, in terms that suggest their "active nature," or which are based on "some strategic element common to the items grasped." Acknowledging that the formal aspects of a literary work can be classified in any number of ways, Burke proposes doing so with reference to a work's strategies in the social sphere out of his conviction that literature is first and foremost a form of action with purpose and power. It also has the virtue, he notes, of satisfying both the requirements of "technical criticism" (by "discovering important facts about literary organization") and "sociological" criticism (by viewing such facts in terms of their cultural and social function). "It automatically breaks down the barriers," he writes, "erected about literature as a specialized pursuit." Indeed it "would derive its relevance from the fact that it should apply both to works of art and to social situations outside of art." Burke points out, in conclusion, that such sociological categorizing as he proposes would "lie on the bias across the categories of modern specialization," implying the need for a "new alignment" among traditional disciplines and faculties. Such an alignment might "outrage good taste," he admits. But "good taste" has become "inert": "The classifications I am proposing would be active. I think that what we need is active categories."
"Literature as Equipment for Living," in The Philosophy of Literary Form, provides a brief sketch of the kind of rhetorical criticism Burke elaborated in detail a few years later in A Rhetoric of Motives. As such it exemplifies how in each of his books Burke tends to build on a previous insight or proposal, evolving a sophisticated method or theoretical statement from a line of thought in one of his earlier books. What seems to be repetition is often in fact refinement and systematization. Such is the case with Burke's next book, A Grammar of Motives (1945), where his earlier ideas about a dramatic or poetic metaphor for the formal analysis of discourse becomes fully and systematically realized as dramatism.
The Grammar of Motives was begun as part of a trilogy, to be rounded out by A Rhetoric of Motives and by a "Symbolic of Motives," which was never completed for publication. Nonetheless the Grammar of Motives is something of a watershed in Burke's work, for it is here that he draws together and "methodizes" his earlier theoretical work on the psychology of form, his speculations about essential categories of human thought, and his definition of language as verbal or symbolic action. The book was conceived most explicitly as an attempt to give his sometimes diffuse critical project on motive and behavior a grounding in formal considerations that are prior to both rhetorical and symbolical considerations.
Burke states at the outset that "the book is concerned with the basic forms of thought which, in accordance with the nature of the world as all men necessarily experience it, are exemplified in the attributing of motives." It seeks in general to answer the question "What is involved, when we say what people are doing and why they are doing it?" The word "say" is the operative one here; Burke's focus, as it was throughout the essay on interpretation in Permanence and Change, is metacritical. He insists that he is not trying to isolate "forms of experience," but to elaborate a method for analyzing "forms of talk about experience." Dramatism posits five terms necessary for any complete analysis of motive. Burke calls these terms, collectively, his Pentad: a term for what was done (act); a term for when or where it was done (scene); a term for who did it (agent); a term for how he or she did it (agency); and a term for why (purpose). Recalling the Kantian treatment of form in Counter-Statement, A Grammar of Motives insists that these terms are "'transcendental' rather than formal," since they are "categories which human thought necessarily exemplifies." Again, however, it is important to remember the metacritical orientation of Burke's project, for the terms, as forms of talk about experience, are derived from an "analysis of language rather than" from an "analysis of 'reality.'" Dramatism does not equip us to analyze the reality of our experience, it equips us to analyze and criticize our experience of reality, and the ways in which we talk about that experience. What "transcends" the particular in Burke's formulation are the forms for representing experience it has isolated.
At the beginning of the book Burke explains that as a grammar of motives his method for analyzing motivation is going to be concerned with the "terms alone," his Pentad, rather than with "actual statements about motives." Thus in practice, the terms serve as a critical vocabulary for isolating motivation in discourse, that is, for measuring the extent to which, say, in a given narrative an act is motivated by some aspect of the scene, the agent, an agency, a purpose, or some combination of one or more of them. Moreover, to stress one particular term (or combination of terms) is to produce a different interpretation of motive. That is, an explanation of an act that focuses on the "agent" might interpret motivation in terms of the power of an individual to act, one that focuses on the "scene" might interpret motivation as having a social origin, and one that focuses on "agency" or "purpose" might produce a religious or theological interpretation of motive. Burke's analysis of philosophic schools (including sections on Aristotle , Aquinas, Hegel, Marx, Santayana, and others), which takes up some two hundred pages of A Grammar of Motives, proceeds along such dramatistic lines.
Burke views philosophical explanations of motive as modes of action, and dramatism begins by analyzing them in terms of their internal structural relationships. With his focus on their active nature and their purposefulness, Burke's method looks forward to the rhetorical emphasis of his next book, as well as back toward the kind of "sociological" criticism outlined in "Literature as Equipment for Living." In fact Burke's entire project since the essay on interpretation in Permanence and Change focuses on the reality of rhetorical tactics rather than the (illusory) notion that statements about experience contain some immanent reality or truth. In A Grammar of Motives, Burke notes that as statements about "observable realities" all "theology, metaphysics, philosophy, criticism, poetry, drama, fiction, political exhortation, [and] historical interpretation" could simply be construed as "nonsense." But what would be real, would make nonsense words "real words, involving real tactics," are their strategies.
While the attitude motivating dramatism is "linguistic skepticism," Burke writes, such skepticism is synonymous with "linguistic appreciation." Thus while his focus throughout is on an analysis of language rather than reality--since he is convinced that language does not reflect so much as it interprets experience and motivates us to deal with it in certain ways--that analysis focuses on the resourcefulness, rather than on the undecidable nature, of discourse. The linguistic skeptic in Burke knows that competing statements about the truth are in fact competing interpretations, various metaphors which, as Nietzsche insisted, individuals have forgotten are metaphors. But the rhetorician in Burke, insisting that language is the "'critical moment' at which human motives take form," insists on the reality of words and the tactics they reflect. He insists, then, that dramatism's central orientation be rhetorical rather than epistemological, and that his criticism be productively engaged in a discussion of social forces. This is why his critical categories must be active.
With this kind of emphasis running through A Grammar of Motives, it is not surprising that Burke's next book would be A Rhetoric of Motives (1950). This volume represents another moment when a long-standing, but diffuse, interest is treated in a sustained, systematic, and methodical way. A Grammar of Motives performed the function for Burke of "methodizing" his ideas about form, its relationship to transcendent categories, and the semantically productive nature of its internal relationships. A Rhetoric of Motives , on the other hand, performed that same function for Burke in terms of his longstanding interest in form as the psychology of the audience, the strategies and tactics of symbolic action, and the relationship between language and ideology.
Burke's aim is one of "reclamation." He wants to show "how a rhetorical motive is often present where it is not usually recognized, or thought to belong.... We would but rediscover rhetorical elements that had become obscured when rhetoric as a term fell into disuse." More than simply reclaim rhetoric (which became overshadowed, he argues, by the rise of specialized academic disciplines), Burke wants to develop a method for the analysis of discourse beyond the traditional bounds of rhetoric, to "contemplate" the basic principles of rhetoric "for their bearing both on literary criticism in particular and on human relations in general."
Burke divides this contemplation into two parts, the first focusing on "The Range of Rhetoric" within discourse and as a tool for its analysis, the second on "Traditional Principles of Rhetoric." (A third section of the book, "Order," contains a more disparate group of essays.) Burke subscribes to the Aristotelian definition of rhetoric as "speech designed to persuade," but he insists that it would be more accurate to speak of rhetoric as "persuasion 'to attitude,' rather than persuasion to out-and-out action.... Insofar as a choice of action is restricted, rhetoric seeks rather to have a formative effect upon attitude." This refinement of Aristotle is important for Burke's desire to use rhetoric as a tool in literary criticism, since "the notion of persuasion to attitude would permit the application of rhetorical terms to purely poetic structures; the study of lyrical devices might be classed under the head of rhetoric, when these devices are considered for their power to induce or communicate states of mind to readers, even though the kinds of assent evoked have no overt, practical outcome."
In trying to "systematically extend the term 'rhetoric'" for the kind of wider application he envisions, Burke refines the term by pointing out the role of identification in the workings of rhetoric. "Here is perhaps the simplest case of persuasion," he writes: "You persuade a man only insofar as you can talk his language by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying your ways with his." For example, in Othello, Iago is what Burke calls a "demon of Rhetoric," systematically building up by the sheer power of his words and actions a set of false identifications in the mind of Othello that creates, first, the attitude of jealousy, and later, induces him to the act of murder.
Since Burke sees all active forms of identification as embodying a rhetorical purpose aimed at changing attitudes and inducing action, he argues that the principle of identification is at work not only in literary discourse, but in the discourse of religion, magic, witchcraft, politics, psychoanalysis, philosophy, economics, and science. Thus A Rhetoric of Motives ultimately proposes rhetorical analysis as a kind of cross-disciplinary critical tool for examining the relationship between language and motivation per se. Burke wants to extend rhetoric as a critical term into these discourses because, in effect, it is already there. "Identification" lies, for Burke, at the very heart of socialization itself. "Belonging," Burke writes, "is rhetorical" in the sense in which it is based on identification, the process by which a "specialized activity makes one a participant in some social or economic class." Rhetoric as identification shades into ideology, for Burke insists that we must think of rhetoric not just as "one particular address, but as a general body of identifications that owe their convincingness much more to trivial repetition and dull daily reinforcement than to exceptional rhetorical skill."
For Burke there is an element of mystification at work in the way a rhetoric of identification socializes individual attitudes and behavior, since what is repeated and reinforced is an explanatory vocabulary that necessarily interprets or frames reality in a certain way. Burke sees Marx's critique of capitalism as essentially "a critique of Capitalist rhetoric," for example, one designed to "unmask" the "'factional' interests concealed in the bourgeois terms for benign universal interests." This is the element of mystification Burke sees working in ideology (or in a body of identifications). A state of things having its roots in material, historical, or economic forces is approached rhetorically (by a ruling class) as an expression of some other, "higher" immaterial force, such as "spirit," "consciousness," "the absolute." The mystification here--for Marx and Burke--is the translating (or identifying) of material relations into "products" of a "Universal Spirit." Such mystifications have the effect "of imputing ... universal or generic motives" to particular material ones, which Burke sees as the "concealment" of a "specific motive." The Marxist analysis of such mystification, Burke argues, is a contribution to rhetoric because it "admonishes us to look for 'mystification' at any point where the social divisiveness caused by property and division of labor is obscured by unitary terms."
All told, Burke argues, such rhetorical mystifications reverse the actual relationship between matter and spirit, "treating ideas as primary where they should have been treated as derivative." Burke refers to the words for these ideas as "godterms," since they sum up a whole cluster of ideas and associations in the expression of what is essentially a metaphor for something not present to consciousness at all. Such terms stand at the top of a kind of terminological hierarchy in Burke's view, with a word like "spirit" seeming absolute and unconditional when in fact it is a summarizing term or "title for all the conditions" it is used to comprehend. Such summarizing terms make clear, Burke points out, that language is essentially "a means of transcending brute objects," and that in this process there is a built-in "'temptation' to come upon an idea of 'God' as the ultimate transcendence." He calls this "the dialectical transcending of reality through symbols."
This process becomes the focus of Burke's next book, The Rhetoric of Religion (1961). Picking up on his discussion of "god-terms," he is concerned in this book not with religion per se, but with the language of religion and theology, "not directly with man's relationship to God, but rather with his relationship to the word 'God.'" Religion is treated rhetorically because Burke views it as a language designed to persuade, to work by a complex series of identifications to motivate individual and collective behavior, grounding or authorizing attitudes in and by a language based on a hierarchy of terms.
Burke's approach in this book bears some relationship to structuralism, for he examines both motivation and meaning as they are generated within a formal, grammatical system of differences, where the "truth" is not immanent but based on conventions. "God" is treated here as "a formal principle," with any "thorough statements about 'God' ... expected to reveal the formality underlying their genius as statements." From this point of view, Burke can analyze theological statements about the nature of God in "their sheer formality," as "observations about the nature of language." The premise of the study, then, is that an examination of the forms of theological language will present the best possible understanding of "the nature of language itself as motive."
Two of the more important aspects of Burke's investigation of the rhetoric of religion are: his stress on the dialectical borrowing that goes on between secular and religious terms, and his description of how logical or moral principles get transposed into the form of narrative. Consistent with his focus on the nature of language rather than the nature of reality, Burke points out that whether or not there are transcendent, supernatural states of being, there are words for them. Obviously these words are borrowed from the realm of everyday experience, borrowed, that is, from secular terminology and raised up to the level of a religious vocabulary. This borrowing ultimately works, Burke writes, because it can be reversed. That is, once a secular word has been "borrowed" or "developed for special theological purposes," it is inevitably borrowed back, but transformed in its transit from the secular to the theological and back again, carrying now "supernatural connotations." Thus the meaning of religious words is not immanent in the words themselves; it is generated by a system of borrowings. He points out here that terms for the supernatural are "derived by analogy from the empirical realm," and when they are borrowed back their meaning is based on the analogy they suggest between the supernatural and the empirical realms. For example, Burke points to the transformations undergone by words like "grace," "create," and "spirit," "Create," he notes, originally came from the Indo-European root meaning "to make." Borrowed by theology, it came to have the meaning of production ex nihilo. Borrowed back again into the secular world, but infused with supernatural connotations, it gives rise to something like Coleridge's view of poetic creation as a "dim analogue of Creation."
When Burke goes on to discuss the way logical or moral principles become transposed in the rhetoric of religion into temporal, and ultimately into narrative forms, he focuses on the first three chapters of Genesis. Here he examines how one theological idea implies another, and how, out of such a web of implications, an explanatory and didactic narrative can evolve. Briefly put, the idea of a covenant implies the possibility of a fall; a fall implies the possibility of the creation of a second realm, which in turn implies the existence of a set of conditions and the likelihood of a punishment or banishment if they are not kept, which in turn implies the need for some kind of grace or redemption. Such an account of the story of the Creation is an interpretation of it in terms of its dealing primarily with "principles." "That is," Burke writes, "the account of the Creation should be interpreted as saying in effect: This is, in principle, a statement of what the natural order must be like if it is to be a perfect fit with ... conditions that come to a focus in the idea of a basic Covenant backed by a perfect authority." We should note that this Covenant, embodied in the principle standing behind the story of the creation, is analyzed dramatistically, with Burke focusing on the way in which a purpose implies an agency, a scene, an agent, and an act.
The Rhetoric of Religion is important both as a theoretical study of the nature of language and for its exemplary readings of the first three chapters of Genesis and of "Verbal Action in St. Augustine's Confessions" (a dazzling essay that takes up nearly 130 pages of the book). Burke's next--and to this date his last--book of criticism borrows its title from a course on literary criticism Burke taught for many years at Bennington. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method (1966), has as its centerpiece a dozen essays on particular literary works and writers. These essays demonstrate the kinds of readings produced by analyses of literary works in terms of the "symbolic action(s)" they seem to be enacting. The book has two major aims: "to define and track down the implications of the term symbolic action," and to reveal such action at work in a number of specific literary works. To this end, the book is divided into two sections on the theory of symbolic action, and one long section where Burke analyzes particular works and authors in one of the largest single collections of his analyses of specific literary texts: three essays on Shakespeare (Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, and Timon of Athens), two on Goethe's Faust, one on the Oresteia, another on Emerson, one each on the poetry of Coleridge, Theodore Roethke , and William Carlos Williams , and discussion of E. M. Forster 's A Passage to India and Djuna Barnes 's Nightwood. With its sustained discussions of dramatism and symbolic action, and its essays demonstrating his theories in practice, Burke's final book of criticism stands as a kind of summarizing text for the literary/critical aspects of his project.
The book begins, in fact, with a group of what are called "Summarizing Essays." This section contains one of Burke's fullest and most important statements about the activity of literary criticism. Built around a careful discussion of Edgar Allan Poe 's essay, "The Philosophy of Composition" (which purports to describe how he wrote his poem, "The Raven"), Burke's essay argues that the critic's fundamental role should be to "formulate the critical precepts implicit in [a] poet's practices." What interests Burke about Poe's essay is not that it may be an accurate narrative account of how Poe wrote his poem (Burke acknowledges that as a story it may be a lie), but that it exemplifies the essential nature of a formalist critical procedure. Poe's attempt in the essay, as Poe himself put it, was to show that "'The Raven' proceeded, step by step, to its completion with the precision and rigid consequences of a mathematical problem." Burke's analysis of Poe's explanation is based on the assumption that the principles of the poem's composition, formulated after the poem's completion as the story of how it was written were, in fact, logically prior to that explanation. That is, what Poe did, in Burke's view, was to inspect his poem, formulate the principles by which it appeared to have been composed, then translate those principles into a narrative history of its composition.
Poe's procedure (which Burke also sees exemplified in Wordsworth's "Preface" to the Lyrical Ballads) is invoked here as the "ideal procedure for critics to follow": "In sum, the poet as poet makes a poem; and his ways of making the poem are practices which implicitly involve principles, or precepts. The critic, in matching the poetry with a poetics, seeks to make these implicit principles explicit." Thus a criticism based on poetics would follow Poe's example in that from inspection of the poem as an aesthetic object the critic would formulate the principles by which it was composed. Then, reversing the process, he or she would test the reading it produced "by 'deducing' or 'deriving' the poem from its principles." Tongue in cheek, Burke calls this kind of critical theory "prophesying after the event."
How can this critical method be reconciled with the kind of sociological criticism Burke proposed in the "Literature as Equipment for Living" essay, or with the kind of structural analysis of symbols exemplified in his discussion of the Odets play? Part of the seeming differences between these approaches can be accounted for by noting that the critical procedure outlined in the essay on Poe is based explicitly on poetics, whereas the other two are based on rhetoric and symbolism. It is derived from a discussion of poetic principles by a poet and treated by Burke, in the main, as the basis for an analysis of poetry. Even so the difference between what Burke proposes in this essay and what he has proposed in the earlier ones is not as great as it seems. For his proposal for an exacting study of a poem qua poem is meant to illustrate the beginning of a thoroughgoing criticism, not the end of one. As such it is consistent with the fundamental axiom in A Rhetoric of Motives that "the ability to treat of form is always the major test of a critical method." Burke conceives of this ability or procedure as a necessary preliminary step to other modes of literary analysis: "The very thoroughness of the critic's attempt to discuss the poem exclusively in terms of Poetics should help us realize the points at which the poem requires analysis not just in terms of Poetics ... [but] as the product of a citizen and taxpayer"; that is, the very severity of the analytical procedure he outlines should make clear that it is not enough. At the very end of his essay on Poe, Burke insists that such a method is one step in "inquiring humanistically into the poem's full nature as a symbolic act." Such an inquiry is only possible, he continues, if the critic follows two steps and integrates them. The first is to say "only what could be said about a work, considered in itself," and the second is "saying all that might be said about the work in terms of its relation to the author, his times, etc." Formalism, in and of itself, Burke calls an "error," an error which has its sources in "an attempt to get a kind of criticism as different as possible from Marxism." Marxism "has many faults," he writes, "but it also has many virtues. And it can be wholly rejected only at a great sacrifice of intelligence." Conventional formalism--the New Criticism--"sets up antithetical demands" to Marxism's overriding interest in the relationship between a literary work "and the non-literary context from which it arose." The value Burke sees in a Marxian perspective is thus integral to his critique of the New Criticism. Whenever he elaborates what seems to be a formalist or structuralist approach to criticism it is inevitably presented as preliminary to a critic's accounting of a work in rhetorical, "sociological," and historical terms.
Since the publication of Language as Symbolic Action, Burke has continued to publish a number of these "summarizing essays." A book-length manuscript, "Poetics," conceived as a "Symbolic of Motives" to complement the Grammar and Rhetoric, remains unpublished. In the essays, he continues to refine both dramatism and logology. His 1969 essay on King Lear demonstrates the analytical usefulness of dramatism in the linked examination of internal literary structures and the social realities they mediate. "Theology and Logology" (1979) emphasizes how the logological scheme he developed in The Rhetoric of Religion can be extended to analyze the general role that language plays in the constitution and perpetuation of what any given culture takes to be its "reality." As he does in his earlier essay, "(Nonsymbolic) Motion/(Symbolic) Action" (1978), Burke here uses the distinction between nonsymbolic motion (body, matter) and symbolic action (mind, spirit) to chart the "verbal transformations by which we extend the world of symbolic action" from birth to adulthood. Many of these essays also contain a thoroughgoing critique of technology (which Burke calls "counter-nature") and its impact on contemporary life.
Burke argues that dramatism--a critical vocabulary that focuses specifically on the complex of motives animating any symbolic act--uniquely possesses "the philosophic character adapted to the discussion of man in general." Burke claims what he calls "special favors" for dramatism because he believes it is specifically equipped to analyze and explain symbolic action, or more specifically, to analyze language and thought as modes of action rather than simply as the means for conveying information. This claim is worked out through what Burke sees as a series of implications. If action is to be the key term for analyzing human behavior and the motives behind it, then that implies the presence of drama, since it is "the culminative form of action." Drama, in turn, implies conflict, which for Burke leads to the idea of victimage and the necessity of scapegoating. In this series of logical implications Burke is essentially reiterating the assertion he made in The Philosophy of Literary Form that "ritual drama" is the "hub" or "Ur-form" of action, with "all other aspects of human action treated as spokes radiating from" it. Since Burke views such ritual drama as the Ur-form of human action, dramatism--which analyzes symbolic action as a kind of poetic unburdening where tactics of expression organize emotion and socialize a particular position--emerges with special claims as an explanatory system.
The special favors Burke wants to claim here for dramatism are clearly linked to his strategic assertions about the primacy of ritual drama and the way in which it authorizes the kind of critical procedure he has developed to deal with it. There is, of course, something unavoidably circular about this argument, and it has to stand, finally, as an assertion. That is, Burke's definition of what is essential about human behavior has to be accepted in order to grant his method of analysis "special favors." Yet that primacy cannot, by Burke's own conception, be anything other than an interpretation of action and what is essential about it. Dramatism directs our attention, as Burke says all terministic screens do, toward one phenomenon rather than another, and it does not seem able, finally, to avoid his further point about how explanatory observations are inevitably a product of the terminology by which they are made. If we think of the reading that a dramatistic analysis produces as a narrative about a text, we can see that that narrative is produced in a way analogous to how Burke argued the first three chapters of Genesis were created: by taking a logically prior set of "special" principles (in the case of Genesis, action, drama, conflict, victimage, and scapegoating) as the essential "hub" of human action, and then finding them operative in the narratives and plays being analyzed. The principles seem to direct the inquiry toward certain kinds of texts, and the results of the inquiry end up reinforcing the usefulness of the principles for those texts. But in looking at dramatism critically, it is difficult to tell which came first, the principles, the explanations it produces, or the things that are being explained. Saying that dramatism can demand special favors as a critical system because it is especially equipped to analyze the symbolic action the system itself posits as the Ur-form of human action comes close to the kind of "prophesying after the event" Burke refers to in his essay on Poe.
In part it has been Burke's insistence on dramatism's "special favors" as a form of analysis, and the seemingly circular relationship between the claims of his theory and what it discovers in practice, that have contributed to the mixed reaction his work has always elicited. Reviewing A Rhetoric of Motives in 1951, for example, Kermit Lansner worried that "we are never quite certain whether Burke's literary criticism is determined by his general theories or these theories by his practice of criticism." In an earlier review of Permanence and Change, Austin Warren questioned the theoretical grounds upon which Burke argued for the primacy of the dramatic metaphor, suggesting that Burke falls into "the universal trap" of first making his reader "conscious of how inevitably we look through our own professional pincenez," then looking through his own as if they were less distorting than any others.
Burke's place in twentieth-century literary criticism, and his place in American intellectual life in general, has been an enigmatic one for a number of reasons. He has no formal training in the conventional disciplines his work engages, and until he began teaching at Bennington in the early 1940s, he had no ongoing academic affiliation. More and more his marginal status has come to seem an advantage rather than a disadvantage, but for many years it contributed to a studied disinterest or hostility on the part of many critics--or a tendency to incorporate his insights without ever referring to him. One of the central ironies of Burke's career, it seems, is that remaining outside of the mainstream of American academic publishing has allowed him to produce wide-ranging work, but it has severely limited the reception of that work by academic critics.
The critical reception of Burke's work has, in general, focused on its interdisciplinary range and Burke's unconventional critical style. Beyond the repeated criticism that Burke focuses too exclusively on language and rhetoric at the expense of "reality," the bulk of what has been said against him has concerned the style of his writing, the method of his inquiries, and the ways in which his books are organized. The complaint that most frequently recurs in the critics who have written on Burke is that his style of writing is too abstract, technical, and opaque, full of proliferating sets of terms. Often, critics have pointed out that this tendency is a result of two of Burke's real virtues: his philosophical grounding and his skepticism. Charles Glicksberg made the observation in 1937, for example, that Burke's work "suffers--and was bound to suffer--from the defects of its primary virtues. It is too technical and abstract in its operations to reach a wide audience. Every sentence posits a problem, forms a link in a closely-knit logical chain, intrudes a doubt, shatters a privileged truth."
Other critics have complained that Burke's abstract, technical language conflicts with the essentially poetic and dramatic orientation of his method, or that his style is too literary for the treatment of a grammar or a rhetoric of motives. Still others have complained that Burke's books have organizational problems, that they are digressive or weak in structure. The cross-disciplinary nature of Burke's work, of course, and his ultimate aim of generating a broadly applicable system of analysis, make some of his books seem disorganized, though this may in part be because they try to achieve an unconventional kind of synthesis.
An important part of that synthesis involves the willful combining of philosophical analysis and poetry. The alternating complaints that Burke's work is either too technical and abstract, or too literary and creative, stems from Burke's attempt to create this synthesis at the level of critical style. His method of generating "perspectives by incongruity," for example, is a stylistic one, and so his insights often move by way of association rather than logic (a trait he sometimes shares with the French philosopher and critic Jacques Derrida ), or are based on etymological research and an ensuing series of observations grounded in the methodology of the pun. This aspect is another element of the language-oriented nature of Burke's work that has annoyed more empirically oriented critics. Burke's style, of course, is founded in his fundamental insistence that there is no essential difference between abstract and metaphorical language.
For all of these reasons Burke has remained an enigmatic and much-criticized writer. But he has not been without his admirers. Reviewing A Grammar of Motives in 1948, Bernard Duffey wrote that while it must be admitted that "Burke has produced a very impure philosophy" it must also be said that "he has formed something like the fullest and most independent theory of literature in existence, and that he has done this in an age which has witnessed almost a plethora of brilliant literary theory." Since the publication of his first book, Burke's work has received much praise and positive attention, especially for its reassertion of the role of rhetoric in literary studies, its approach to poetry and narrative as an act, and for the value of its creator's skeptical attitude. Since the mid 1930s, he has also received a good deal of attention beyond the field of literary studies. The value of his insights for work in rhetoric, history, sociology, philosophy, psychology, and, more recently, the teaching of composition are recorded in the impressive number of articles on Burke by writers in these fields.
Nevertheless, unable to place or explain Burke with much ease, historians of twentieth-century literary criticism have tended until very recently to either ignore or dismiss him. W. K. Wimsatt and Cleanth Brooks , for example, in their Literary Criticism: A Short History (1957), leave Burke virtually unmentioned, save for one short quote reproduced without comment. René Wellek's chapter on Burke in volume 6 of his A History of Modern Criticism: 1750-1950 (1986), on the other hand, is a disparaging and unsystematic dismissal of Burke as an eccentric skeptic, indifferent to aesthetic values, who moves in a "self-created verbal universe where everything may mean everything else." It is difficult for someone who has actually read Burke with any care and understanding to decide which is more lamentable, Brooks and Wimsatt's complete omission of Burke, or Wellek's mean-spirited skewering of him. Brooks and Wimsatt's approach to Burke has the virtue, by not saying anything at all about him, of not caricaturing him. Wellek, on the other hand, in a strategy that becomes apparent not far into his chapter, threads together many of Burke's more outrageous asides and treats them as if they formed the core of Burke's method, all the while failing to give any sense of what his various books are about.
The kind of criticism Burke's work has elicited since the mid 1930s, with its mixture of praise, puzzlement, bemusement, and dismissal, has recently begun to give way to decidedly more positive and appreciative assessments of his contributions to literary and critical theory. Indeed in the wake of recent developments in the theory and practice of literary criticism, principally, the impact of structuralism, deconstruction, reader-response, psychoanalytic, and Marxian criticism on American critical theory, Burke has emerged as something of a model and a pioneer.
The great paradox in Burke's shifting fortunes is that he is now embraced for the very qualities in his work which for nearly forty years brought him the kind of scorn Wellek's chapter epitomizes. Criticized for decades for his relentless focus on the relationship between language, reality, knowledge, and power, for the cross-disciplinary nature of his work, the eclectic dialogue he has always created between Marx, Freud, rhetorical theory, and literary criticism, and for the creative, associative style of his writing, Burke is now being praised by contemporary theorists for just these qualities in his work.
The first sign of this interest in Burke might be dated by the publication in 1982 of Representing Kenneth Burke: Selected Papers from the English Institute, edited by Hayden White and Margaret Brose. The essays in this volume, covering a range of topics which include Burke's theory of catharsis, his discussions of ideology and history, and his work on St. Augustine, are incisive and appreciative. Since the publication of Representing Kenneth Burke, both Geoffrey Hartman and Fredric Jameson have written on Burke, Hartman praising the creative critical style of his writing in Criticism in the Wilderness (1980), Jameson using Burke's theory of symbolic action in The Political Unconscious (1981). More recently Frank Lentricchia 's Criticism and Social Change, (1983) has become the first in what will no doubt be a growing number of books tracing the congruity between Burke's work and contemporary literary and critical theory. Lentricchia contrasts the social and political dimensions of Burke's rhetorical theory with that of Paul de Man , whose work as a rhetorician and critic was profoundly influenced by deconstruction.
Burke's importance for many contemporary critics has its source in the fact that his work pays close and systematic attention to language as a purposeful and powerful act. The rhetorical orientation of Burke's critical theory provides a starting point for rethinking the relationship not only between literature and other related disciplines but between literature and culture. Lentricchia is one among a number of critics, including Terry Eagleton and Gerald Graff, who want to move literary criticism away from its traditionally narrow (and some argue, benign) focus on the appreciative reading of canonical "great books," toward its broad reformation along the lines of what is usually called "cultural criticism" or "cultural studies." When, at the end of Literary Theory: An Introduction (1983), Eagleton describes what he means by cultural studies (a form of criticism which would focus less on literature as a specialized, expressive kind of writing, than on the various discourses that cultures produce), it turns out to be just the kind of rhetorically oriented criticism Burke has been practicing for sixty years. Eagleton wants to return to "Rhetoric" because it "examined the way discourses are constructed in order to achieve certain effects. It was not worried about whether its objects or enquiry were speaking or writing, poetry or philosophy, fiction or historiography: its horizon was nothing less than the field of discursive practices in society as a whole, and its particular interest lay in grasping such practices as forms of power and performance." Eagleton's proposal provides a succinct example of why Kenneth Burke is receiving so much attention among contemporary theorists, for Burke's project is precisely the one Eagleton describes. Eagleton's proposal also serves as a reminder of how European critics are continuing to neglect Burke; his name goes unmentioned in Eagleton's book.
Twenty years ago, Alvin Kibel, in a review of an edition of some of Burke's essays, perceptively observed that "Burke's intention ... is to provide a philosophical basis for the practice of 'cultural studies.'" Kibel's insight is proving to be prophetic. He understands, along with more recent critics, that to criticize Burke, as R. P. Blackmur did in 1935, because "his method could be applied with equal fruitfulness either to Shakespeare, Dashiell Hammett , or Marie Corelli ," is to miss one of the central strengths of that method. What Wellek says in damning Burke--that "art with Burke cannot be distinguished from persuasion, from rhetoric"--Lentricchia would say in praising him. Wellek says that because Burke's work lacks this distinction literature, as Burke defines it, "has really no relation to reality." What Wellek does not see in Burke is that in not dismissing the elements of rhetoric and persuasion in literary language and form in the interest of practicing an idealized aesthetic formalism Burke defines literature's relationship to what can be called reality perhaps more acutely than any other twentieth-century American critic. For this reason Burke's work will no doubt continue to gain the kind of positive attention it has so long deserved. If criticism until lately has missed Burke, it is perhaps simply because it has taken so long for it to catch up with him.
Burke's papers are dispersed through some twenty-eight publicly held collections. Among the largest of these are at the Newberry Library, Chicago; the Beinecke Library, Yale University; the Morris Library, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale; Washington University, St. Louis; the Fred Lewis Patee Library at Pennsylvania State University; and the Suzallo Library, University of Washington, Seattle.
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR
- "A Conversation with Kenneth Burke: On Literature in a Scientific Age," Riata (Winter 1963): 45-50.
- "Counter-Gridlock: An Interview with Kenneth Burke," All Area, No. 2 (Spring 1983): 4-33.
- W. H. Auden, "A Grammar of Assent," New Republic, 105 (14 July 1941): 59.
- Marius Bewley, "Kenneth Burke as Literary Critic," in his The Complex Fate (London: Chatto & Windus, 1952), pp. 211-243.
- Malcolm Cowley, "Prolegomena to Kenneth Burke," New Republic, 122 (5 June 1950): 18-19.
- Bernard Duffey, "Reality as Language: Kenneth Burke's Theory of Poetry," Western Review, 12 (Winter 1948): 132-145.
- Francis Ferguson, "Kenneth Burke's Grammar of Motives," in his The Human Image in Dramatic Literature (Garden City: Doubleday/Anchor Books, 1957), pp. 193-204.
- Armin Paul Frank, Kenneth Burke (New York: Twayne, 1969).
- Charles I. Glicksberg, "Kenneth Burke: The Critic's Critic," South Atlantic Quarterly, 36 (January 1937): 74-84.
- Robert L. Heath, Realism and Relativism: A Perspective on Kenneth Burke (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1986).
- Laura Virginia Holland, Counterpoint: Kenneth Burke and Aristotle's Theories of Rhetoric (New York: Philosophical Library, 1959).
- Stanley Edgar Hyman, "Kenneth Burke and the Criticism of Symbolic Action," in his The Armed Vision (New York: Knopf, 1948), pp. 347-394.
- Fredric Jameson, "The Symbolic Inference; or, Kenneth Burke and Ideological Analysis," Critical Inquiry (Spring 1978): 507-523.
- Ronald C. Kimberling, Kenneth Burke's Dramatism and Popular Arts (Bowling Green, Ohio: Popular, 1982).
- William Knickerbocker, "Wam for Maw, Dogma versus Discursiveness in Criticism," reviews of The New Criticism by John Crowe Ransom, and The Philosophy of Literary Form, Sewanee Review, 49 (October-December 1941): 520-536.
- George Knox, Critical Moments: Kenneth Burke's Categories and Critiques (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1957).
- Kermit Lansner, "Burke, Burke, the Lurk," review of A Rhetoric of Motives, Kenyon Review, 13 (Spring 1951): 324-335.
- Frank Lentricchia, Criticism and Social Change (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983).
- Gorham B. Munson, "In and About the Workshop of Kenneth Burke," Destinations (New York: Sears, 1928), pp. 136-159.
- Pretext, special Burke issue, 6 (Fall/Winter 1985).
- William H. Rueckert, Critical Responses to Kenneth Burke: 1924-1966 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969).
- Rueckert, Kenneth Burke and the Drama of Human Relations (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963).
- Rueckert, review of The Rhetoric of Religion, Nation, 194 (17 February 1961): 150.
- Austin Warren, "Kenneth Burke: His Mind and Art," Sewanee Review, 41 (April-June 1933): 225-236; (July-September 1933): 344-364.
- Warren, "Skeptic's Progress," American Review, 6 (December 1935): 193-213.
- René Wellek, American Criticism, 1900-1950, volume 6 of his A History of Modern Criticism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986).
- Hayden White and Margaret Brose, eds., Representing Kenneth Burke: Selected Papers from the English Institute (Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982).