Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Edifying Arguments and Perspective by Incongruity: The Perplexing Argumentation Method of Kenneth Burke

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Edifying Arguments and Perspective by Incongruity: The Perplexing Argumentation Method of Kenneth Burke

Article excerpt

At present, relatively little has been written on Kenneth Burke's contributions to argument theory. Scholars who have explored such contributions have generally pursued one of two approaches. First, some scholars have examined how Burke's writings cast light on argumentation theory. For example, Williams has explored the troublesome foundational/anti-foundational dichotomy in contemporary argumentation theory and he has turned to Burke's "disassociation of epistemology and ontology" as a possible mechanism for overcoming this dichotomy. Following this same method, Madsen has added Burke's concepts of "euphemism, debunking and the polemical" to current argumentation theory in order to create a "dramatistic perspective on argument." In the second approach, scholars have drawn insights from Burke to help explain empirical examples of arguments that current argumentation theory cannot provide. Exemplifying this approach, Klumpp has both developed and utilized several precepts of a dramatistic or "contextual" approach to arguments in order to explain arguments from the Clarence Thomas hearings. Similarly, Birdsell has drawn from Burke to create a theory of "argument as trope" and has applied this theory to the novel arguments of Carrie Chapman Catt.

While these two approaches have certainly yielded substantial insights, they both suffer from one inherent problem: both methods involve a problematic reconstructing of argument theory from writings which show little explicit interest in argumentation. In fact, even scholars who have explored the relationship between Burke and argument have readily acknowledged this fact. Kneupper has pointed out that "argument" is not a Burkean term (894), Madsen has claimed that we can only "infer a Burkean conception of argumentation" (4), and Klumpp has conceded that apart from Permanence and Change Burke has little to say about argument through the rest of his work" (8). Argumentation's absence in Burke's lexicon is particularly noteworthy given his strong theoretical interest in language and rhetoric. After all, argument has generally held a privileged status in linguistic and rhetorical theories. Consequently, when scholars turn to Burke's writings to draw theoretical conclusions about argumentation, they are ultimately drawing conclusions on a construct that Burke seems to have consciously ignored.

In the hope of avoiding such difficulties, this essay will explore the relationship between Burke and argument from a different starting point. In particular, while it is debatable whether Burke offers a complete theory of argument, it is clear that Burke offers arguments, and any reading of Burke quickly reveals that he has a rather unique, and at times perplexing, method of argument construction. As Rueckert notes, Burke "seldom moves in a straight line in the manner of a philosophical argument or a regular orderly expository mode;" instead, he "likes detours and has a very unusual, original, and sometimes baffling way of putting things together" (7). This essay will use Burke's baffling method of argumentation as its starting point. Specifically, it will begin this essay by reconstructing two of his arguments for the comic frame in Attitudes Towards History. It will then examine how traditional argumentation theory cannot adequately account for the strength and influence of these arguments. Finally, it will suggest Burke's unique argumentative method can lead to an alternative conception of argument as edifying devices.

I. BURKE'S ARGUMENT ON BEHALF OF THE COMIC FRAME

In broad terms, an argument is commonly viewed as a "train of reasoning" that leads to a specific claim (Toulmin, Rieke and Janik 13). While Burke does not often leave such distinct trains of reasoning, one of his clearer arguments unfolds in Attitudes Toward History. In this work, Burke essentially offers two distinct arguments for the adoption of a "comic frame." In the first argument, he showcases comedy as the preferred poetic category amongst a multitude of competitors. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.