The Comic Frame as a Corrective to Bureaucratization: A Dramatistic Perspective on Argumentation

By Madsen, Arnie J. | Argumentation and Advocacy, Spring 1993 | Go to article overview

The Comic Frame as a Corrective to Bureaucratization: A Dramatistic Perspective on Argumentation


Madsen, Arnie J., Argumentation and Advocacy


Critics rely on the diverse writings of Kenneth Burke to provide an orientation for the examination of rhetoric.(1) Among the elements of Burke's dramatistic perspective applied in rhetorical studies are the pentad, the representative anecdote, form, identification, and scapegoating. While rhetorical theorists and critics have drawn upon Burke's ideas, scholars analyzing the nature of argumentation have generally ignored the utility of a Burkean outlook.(2) Even a cursory examination of contemporary texts reveals that the works of Kenneth Burke have gone relatively unnoticed in the field of argumentation theory.(3)

Several essays by Burke provide clues about his likely outlook toward argumentation. By examining elements of those essays, this paper will initially develop the relationship between dramatism and argumentation. This essay specifically examines the dangers inherent in the "bureaucratic" mindset that existing power structures exhibit as they attempt to uphold the status quo. This mindset prevents arguments leading to the creation of broader frames of reference that would better serve societal needs. The second section analyzes the task of the dramatistic critic of argument. Central to the essay is an examination of how a dramatistic perspective on argument can serve to counter the dangers inherent in the bureaucratic mindset.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DRAMATISM AND ARGUMENTATION

Burke focuses, in many of his early writings, on art and literature. It is only in his later works that he turns to explicit considerations of rhetorical practice. As a result, "argument" per se is not a Burkean term or focal point (Kneupper 894).(4) Thus, in most cases argumentation scholars must infer a Burkean view of argumentation from his various writings.

One apparent Burkean treatment of argumentative principles lies in his consideration of syllogistic progression. This is "the form of a perfectly conducted argument, advancing step by step.... To go from A to E through stages B, C, and D is to obtain such form" (Counter-Statement 124). However, Burke later argues that normal practice reverses the usual "logical progression" of moving from data to conclusion. Instead, "the conclusion had led to the selection and arrangement of the data.... From what we want to arrive at, we deduce our ways of getting there, although the conventions of logical exposition usually present things the other way round" (Permanence 98; see also 98-99).

Similarly, the response to an argument usually does not follow traditional form. One person may "logically" lay out an argument from point 1, through point 2, to point 3. However, a second person responding to that argument often answers, "not by taking up each point in turn and refuting it, but by saying simply, 'The man is a bourgeois,' or 'He has a mother complex,'--or 'He wants the job instead'" (Burke, Permanence 109).

Another treatment by Burke of argumentation principles lies in his consideration of facts. Burke's essay "Fact, Inference, and Proof in the Analysis of Literary Symbolism" considers the relationship of those three terms in analyses of literary texts (Terms 145-172). Burke argues the goal of the essay is to ask:

... how to operate with |the "facts" of a text~, how to use them as a means of keeping one's inferences under control, yet how to go beyond them, for purposes of inference, when seeking to characterize the motives and "salient traits" of the work.... (Terms 145)

Burke argues many observations normally treated as fact are actually inferences, as authors "smuggle" interpretations into their reports of the factual (Terms 147).

Beyond the specific passages identified above, Burke often instead relies on metaphors when discussing argumentation. One of Burke's metaphors for argument is that an author "exploits"a set of terms, advocating a "cause" like a lawyer would plead a case in the courtroom (Attitudes 293). A second Burkean metaphor for argument is gaming. …

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