Unending Conversations: New Writings by and about Kenneth Burke

Unending Conversations: New Writings by and about Kenneth Burke

Unending Conversations: New Writings by and about Kenneth Burke

Unending Conversations: New Writings by and about Kenneth Burke


Previously unpublished writings by and about Kenneth Burke plus essays by such Burkean luminaries as Wayne C. Booth, William H. Rueckert, Robert Wess, Thomas Carmichael, and Michael Feehan make the publication of Unending Conversations a significant event in the field of Burke studies and in the wider field of literary criticism and theory.

Editors Greig Henderson and David Cratis Williams have divided their material into three parts: "Dialectics of Expression, Communication, and Transcendence", "Criticism, Symbolicity, and Tropology", and "Transcendence and the Theological Motive".

In the first part, Williams's textual introduction and Rueckert's essay analyze the genesis and composition of Burke's A Symbolic of Motives and Poetics, Dramatistically Considered. Henderson opens part two by showing how these two essays' concerns with literary form hearken back to Burke's first book of criticism, Counter-Statement.

Thomas Carmichael discusses Burke's relationship to thinkers such as Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida, Stanley Fish, Fredric Jameson, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and Richard Rorty. Wess analyzes the relation between Burke's dramatistic pentad of act, agent, scene, agency, and purpose and his four master tropes -- metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony.

In the third part, Booth mines his unpublished correspondence with Burke to demonstrate that Burke is a coy theologian. Michael Feehan discusses Burke's revelation in a 1983 interview that rather than rebounding from a naive kind of Marxism in Permanence and Change, he was rebounding from what he had "learned as a Christian Scientist".


Unending Conversations: New Writings by and about Kenneth Burke takes its title from one of Burke's most famous topoi: the drama of human life as an unending conversation.

Where does the drama get its materials? From the "unending conversation" that is going on at the point of history when we are born. Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. in fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them had got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers, you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. the hour grows late, you must depart. and you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress. (PLF 110-11)

Though Kenneth Burke has departed, the discussion of his contribution to twentieth-century thought is still vigorously in progress, and this volume of essays seeks to contribute to the ongoing conversation by featuring essays by Burkean scholars and by Burke himself.

Part One, "Dialectics of Expression, Communication, and Transcendence," deals with the dramatistic view of poetic form and literary symbolism that is to be found in two of Burke's unpublished manuscripts—"Poetics, Dramatistically Considered" (PDC) and "A Symbolic of Motives" (SM). Following a "Textual Introduction" to these two manuscripts, substantial excerpts from each comprise the second and . . .

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