Academic journal article Communication Studies

An Other-Burkean Frame: Rhetorical Criticism and the Call of the Other

Academic journal article Communication Studies

An Other-Burkean Frame: Rhetorical Criticism and the Call of the Other

Article excerpt

In a relatively recent article of Communication Studies, Murray (1998) employs the philosophy of ethics of Emmanuel Levinas to offer a critique and extension of Kenneth Burke's rhetorical theory. Continuing the work of some feminist scholars, (1) Murray notes that these challenges to Burke's rhetorical theory raise an ethical question by identifying a patriarchal bias that silences the voices of women. Murray goes on to suggest that there may be a more general silencing of the Other in Burke's rhetorical theory. Specifically, Levinas's philosophy of ethics is used to demonstrate the ways in which key Burkean concepts tend to deflect the Other. Murray characterizes those deflections as an "ethical deficiency" (1998, p. 29) and offers a reformulation of Burke's "definition of man" (Burke, 1966b) and an extension of his dramatistic pentad (Burke, 1969) into a dramatistic nonad. These amendments are made with the goal of locating the Other more centrally in Burke's dramatistic philosophy, thereby mobilizing his philosophy of language and communication for "an ethical-rhetorical criticism focused upon the position and positioning of the Other in discursive interactions" (Murray, 1998, p. 30).

This essay evaluates these reformulations of Burke's rhetorical theory through their critical application to rhetorical texts. Murray's article primarily focused on the development of theory and provided no extended illustration of how the proposed supplements to Burke's dramatism might function. Consequently, Murray's reformulated Burkean frame must be put through a more rigorous critical test in order to evaluate more adequately the potential contribution to the field of communication studies.

Please note that for present purposes the validity of Murray's indictment against the adequacy of Burke's dramatism is less important than the task of evaluating the potential utility of the proposed reformulations. In other words, several theoretical questions remain open for continued debate: first, whether there is, in fact, an ethical deficiency in Burke's "definition of man" and dramatistic pentad?; second, whether those alleged deficiencies are reflective of a broader deflection of ethics throughout Burke's work or simply fail to account for other Burkean concepts that deal more adequately with ethics?; and third, whether it is fundamentally unfair to compare Levinas's metaphysical orientation and phenomenological methodology to Burke's dramatistic orientation and logological methodology? Yet the immediate practical question, notwithstanding these lingering theoretical concerns, is whether the critical framework resulting from a synthesis of Levinas and Burke may provide useful tools for the rhetorical critic. (2)

To that pragmatic end, this essay begins with a brief review of the philosophy of ethics of Levinas and a discussion of how a synthesis of Levinas's ethics and Burke's dramatism suggests an alternative, Other-Burkean framework for rhetorical analysis. In doing so, the validity and necessity of Murray's (1998) critique, as it relates to the development of a supplemental critical methodology, is addressed. Then, a brief rhetorical analysis of a familiar text, Nazi discourse, through the critical lens of the Other-Burkean frame is provided to clarify and illustrate that methodology. Finally, the potential value of the Other-Burkean frame is demonstrated by applying it to a less familiar and more contestable text, Senator Edward Kennedy's "Chappiquiddick" speech (1992). These critical exercises suggest that a synthesis of Levinas's philosophy of ethics and Burke's critical apparatus can supplement the available resources for rhetorical analysis and contribute to a richer understanding of rhetorical texts.

Certainly, Burke's rhetorical theory and critical methods continue to be widely used by scholars in the field of communication studies. Consequently, attention to any proposed corrections to or extensions of his work seems warranted. …

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