[KB] Question about Resistance to Burke

Herbert W. Simons hsimons at temple.edu
Fri Dec 7 14:13:08 EST 2007

Herb Simons wrote:

Ed and All:

Several threads here and I'll weave my way through a few of them.

(1) Re Ed on Jim Chesebro:
I was pleased to see him back in the Burkean fold.  He had contributed 
so much to Burke scholarship and the establishment of the Burke Society 
itself.  Could we say that Jim was the leading influence in respect to 
what happened on the "society" front at Philly in 1984?  (I'm not 
talking about that conference overall: That was the work of Herb Simons 
and Trevor Melia, who co-edited the book that grew out of that wonderful 
gathering.)  Didn't Jim write the founding document/bylaws for our 

My response: KB would have had a field day with this never-ending matter 
of "foundings." Here, with a bit more information on the matter, is my 

a. Chesebro deserves a lot of credit for his organizing efforts, most 
notably the creation of national and regional chapters of the KB 
Society. In that sense he was a founder.
b. The idea for a KB Society was mine and in 1983, I incorporated it 
into a grant proposal to the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, which was 
turned down. I recently re-discovered a copy of the proposal along with 
a grant, dated March 23, 1983, from the Speech Communication 
Association, of $2,000.
c. Trevor Melia and I proceeded with the plan for a KB Society and 
discussed it further with Richard Thames. We first contacted Phil 
Tompkins in 1984 with a request that he become its interim president or 
chair of whatever. He said he was too busy and recommended instead Don 
Burks, who, at the conference, chaired the first KB Society meeting. 
Burke was present. (So too, as I recall were, members of his family 
who'd come in for that last night of the conference and stayed over for 
the closing banquet.)
d. Don ran the meeting. Shortly thereafter an agreement was reached 
whereby he would edit the KB Society newsletter and Jim would do the 
subsequent organizing. I think this proved to be a good fit.
e. Months after the conference Trevor and I received a letter from 
Burke, dated August 2, 1984, which I'll be passing on to David Cratis 
Williams. Addressed "Dear Enterprisers Extraordinary," it began: "You 
who so promoted the KB Conference that it became a K*nn*th B*rk* Society 
whereby I became an Organization Man after all the mean things I had 
said about the Bureaucratization of the Imaginative." It ends "And I 
hope to write youenz later about the possible drive for more members in 
the Society of which I am the eponymous Author (the poor thing is now so 
wankly the mere thought of it brings tears to mine eyes). [NB: Another 
sense of "founding"?: that by the "eponymous Author." HWS]. Burke ends 
the letter: "May youenz, my Joshuas, bring it to a Promised Land."
f. I retain another page of credit-giving from Burke--undated, perhaps 
an addendum to his letter of August 2. {DCW, please help.] Here Burke 
recalls the founding as having had a "Genesis" in the KB Conference, an 
"Exodus" when the KB Society was formally inaugurated, and a "Leviticus" 
when the 70+ paper were contributed to the conference, Burke goes on in 
O.T. fashion to describe the task of organizing the K.B. 
Society:..."about what kind  of promised land taken by what  kind of 
Jericho when what kinds of walls are broken down? I'm at least enough of 
a Moses never to see it. But Moses was an organizer in a big way, 
whereas I never e'en tried to organize anything practically." He goes on 
to distribute "the principle" of Joshua "among such stalwarts as Herb 
Simons, Trevor Melia, Jim Chesebro and Bill Rueckert" and then adds, as 
a way to "solve the Feminist problem," such "valiant ladies" as Jane 
Blankenship and Kathleen Jamieson.

(2) Re Ed on criticisms of Burke in QJS

       I am in no way criticizing Jim and Celeste for their "attack" of 
a kind on Burke.  I disagreed with much, if not most, of what they had 
to say, but hey, it's a free country!  What I'm saying here, on behalf 
of John's quest and query, if you want to locate a case against Burke 
made by potent voices in our field, read those articles in QJS.

My response:
I agree with Bill Balthrop that "'attack'"--even in quotes--is too 
strong a word.

(3) To me the best evidence of "resistance to KB" was the refusal by the 
gatekeepers of the Wingspread and Pheasant Run conferences [leading to 
Black and Bitzer's The Prospect of Rhetoric] to invite KB to either 
conference. Part of their motivation, I' suspect, was concern that Burke 
might present boozy rambles in place of coherent talk. He did that all 
too often, he himself acknowledged. So Hugh Duncan was invited in 
Burke's stead. But that's not the whole of the story. Burke threatened 
the neo-A Establishment. He was an upstart, an interloper, a Marxist--a 
general pain in the Ass. Marie Hochmuth Nichols was supportive. Most of 
the neo-A's weren't.

Herbert W. Simons, Ph.D.
Professor of Communication
Director of NCA Forum
Dep't of Strategic and Organizational Comm.(STOC)
Office 218 Weiss Hall 13th St and Moore Ave
Temple University, Philadelphia PA 19122
215 204 1880 (O); 215 204 8543 (F)


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