Language as Transmission of Information Edappel8 at
Sat Jan 6 01:15:32 EST 2001

First, thanks to Robert for his very helpful post on the "Supreme 
Miscarriage."  His questions and Levine's answers home in on the most risible 
aspect of the Court's lawless "legal" act.  This injudicial piece of work is 
going to keep commentators and scholars in many fields busy for some time to 
come.  It will not be forgotten.

As for Jim's comments and questions on Burke's "priorities" in respect to 
issues of ontology vs. epistemology, or dramatism vs. logology, let add a 
thought or two:

First, I personally don't want to prioritize any one book or idea or period 
in Burke's' corpus or career and say, "This is the essence of Burke's 
philosophy.  Everything else merely builds up to it.  Or everything else is 
kind of an elaboration or afterthought."  We all know that Burke was not 
systematic in the presentation of his philosophy.  At best, he was 
elliptical.  Users of Burkology can take any parts of it they want to use and 
ignore the rest.  Their obligation is to justify with sound reasons what they 
are doing with Burke's notions.  As Jim Chesebro once said to me, with some 
validity, "Burke is preparadigmatic.  You provide the paradigm."

Taking this tack, interpreters are justified in privileging the earlier, 
so-called "dramatistic" period, or the later, so-called "logological" period, 
Burke's ontology or his epistemology.  Burke's lack of system absolves us 
from any obligation to privilege one part over another.

Second, I modify the later logological/epistemological period with the verbal 
modifier "so-called" because, as I see it, the ontological ramifications of 
the ideas Burke highlights in his later works are just as patent, or 
virtually just as pronounced, as the epistemological ones.  Surely, the 
hortatory negative, the motive of pefection or entelechy, and the terms of 
the guilt-redemption cycle have much to do with a philosophy of being as it 
relates to humankind.  When was it, after all, that Burke proposed his 
"definition of man [sic]," a notion supercharged with ontological overtones.

It's very hard to pigeonhole Burke, in my judgment, in respect to various 
angles of approach.  Several Burke scholars have called Burke a "realist," 
notably Brockriede and Fisher in an article published back in the '70's, I 
believe.  Brock has denominated Burke a "critical realist" in the intro to 
Kenneth Burke and Contemporary European Thought.  I don't take issue with 
either of these conclusions per se.  What I would add is: Burke is also a 
pragmatist, an idealist, a materialist (in the sense in which Burke defines 
the term in GM), and a mystic.  The standards of "truith" Burke directly 
proposes or implies in P & C, CS, and PLF are distinctly pragmatic, in my 
judgment.  His emphasis on the motivational power of the scene-act ratio is 
notably "materialist."  His accentuation of the negative, the empirically 
empty content of the abstractions that are symbols, and the controlling 
influence of theological motivations in human life can fairly be described as 
"mystical."  And although his "idealism," or stress placed upon the agent-act 
correspondence, might not get as much play in his thought as the other four 
philosophical stances, it is there to be reckoned with in the Grammar and in 
Burke's overall treatment of the terms of the pentad as coequal motivational 

As for Burke's "realism," by the way, Crusius argues in Kenneth Burke and the 
Conversation After Philosophy that Burke didn't necessarily believe in the 
actual reality of human action in the "free moral agent," or partially "free 
moral agent," sense.  Crusius takes issue with Lentricchia and Rueckert on 
this point.  Tim had lots of conversations with Burke.  He says only that 
Burke's "bottom line," as set forlth in "Terministic Screens" in LASA, is 
that human beings can't "get along" with one another on any other assumption 
than that they, in some sense, freely act rather than blindly succumb to 
chemical, biological, and environmental forces over which they have no 

Dramatism/logology appears to be a "meta-philosophy," operating on a high, 
high level of abstraction that serves as a source of critique and means of 
analysis of various other systems of thought.                 

As for whether such seeming definitional "indeterminacy" places Burke and his 
philosophy squarely within the realm of postmodernism, I'll leave that up to 
Jim, an "Encyclopedist" of the postmodern, for whom my question would be: Is 
the Encyclopedia of Postmodernism out yet?  The last time I asked about it at 
Borders, they couldn't find it in their computer.


More information about the KB mailing list