An other-burkean frame: Rhetorical critism and the call of the other

Murray, Jeffrey

This essay extends the work of Murray (1998), which used the philosophy of ethics of Emmanuel Levinas to critique the rhetorical theory and critical methods of Kenneth Burke. This essay evaluates that critique by analyzing Nazi propaganda and Senator Edward Kennedy’s “Chappiquiddick” speech through the critical lens of a revised Burkean frame. These analyses demonstrate that an Other-Burkean frame can supplement existing resources for rhetorical criticism and contribute to a richer understanding of human communication.

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. But moreover, such attention is justified insofar as an alternative Burkean critical apparatus may contribute to the larger project of emancipation from discrimination, oppression, and victimization. Indeed, the work of Condit (1992) and Foss and Griffin (1992), intended to revise and extend Burke’s rhetorical theory in light of feminist concerns regarding the oppression of women, has contributed significantly to our understanding of the ways in which theoretical constructs and discursive practices can function politically to preserve existing power relations within society. And insofar as this larger project of human emancipation was Burke’s ultimate commitment-as attested by his frontispiece to A grammar of motives (1969): ad bellum purificandum [to the purification of war]-continued attention to Burke’s rhetorical theory and critical tools is an obligation that should not be ignored.


In Totality and infinity, Levinas (1969) charges that the Western philosophical tradition has been self-centered and develops an alternative approach, which is Other-oriented. Levinas argues that the Western philosophical tradition has been obsessed with ontology, which is concerned with subjectivity and Being. By contrast, Levinas attempts to recover metaphysics, which is concerned instead with what is “otherwise than being”-i.e., the Other.3 Furthermore, Levinas claims that all attempts to know the Other result in reductions of genuine otherness, that which is not the same, to the terms of the same. Western thinking has not been a relationship of openness with otherness, but the attempt to reduce anything alien or “other” into one’s own terminology and conceptual apparatus. The attempt to know the Other is imperialistic and potentially violent insofar as any description or categorization of an other person is always a reduction of their full and unique otherness.

As an alternative, Levinas develops his “metaphysics of the Other,” in which the relationship with otherness is more important that the attempt to unravel the mysteries of Being. Levinas insists that one’s relation with an Other always exceeds one’s ability to know or contain the Other. The encounter with an Other transcends perception or comprehension; there is an ethical dimension that cannot be contained within the confines of understanding. Levinas argues that a reorientation is needed: “ontology before metaphysics . . . is a movement within the same before obligation to the other. The terms must be reversed” (1969, p. 47).

At this point, Levinas offers a phenomenological account of the presence of the Other. Phenomenology, broadly defined, is the careful study and description of lived experience, of things as they present themselves to consciousness. Accordingly, Levinas seeks to describe the Other as a phenomenon, a lived experience. In particular, Levinas seeks to reveal the nature of one’s relation to an other person through a portrait of the way in which that Other presents itself and is encountered. And Levinas finds that the experience of the Other is not one of knowing, but is instead one of ethical obligation.

So Levinas does not concentrate on how the Other can be known or contained-the move toward totality-but contemplates how otherness always exceeds the reach of knowledge-the move toward infinity. Levinas asserts that “Metaphysics . . . is the relation with the other” (1969, p. 300). This kind of relationship does not seek to contain or control the Other, but is open to the Other’s radical alterity and to the possibilities of being “for the Other.” Quite simply, Levinas’s philosophy is a phenomenological investigation of the experience normally called ethics, and Levinas’s claim is that the encounter with an other person is the experience of ethical obligation.

Arising out of this phenomenological description of the Other, Levinas discovers that the Other is the source of ethics. Ethics is defined as a relationship of responsibility for the Other. But that responsibility belongs to the Other and emanates from the “call” of the Other’s “face.” “The Other becomes my neighbor precisely through the way the face summons me, calls for me, begs for me, and in so doing recalls my responsibility, and calls me into question” (Levinas, 1989a, p. 83). Ethical responsibility does not originate in the self. Instead, the self is summoned to ethical responsibility by the Other, by the primordial first word of the Other, the “thou shall not kill” (Levinas, 1985, p. 87). According to Levinas:

My responsibility for the other man . . . does not originate in a vow to respect the universality of a principle, nor in a moral imperative. It is the exceptional relation in which the Same can be concerned with the Other, without the Other’s being assimilated to the Same. (1989b, p. 245)

Rather than conceiving that the self brings an intrinsic ethical nature to its meeting with the Other, or that ethics originates from a transcendent principle or suprasensory realm, Levinas conceives that it is the concrete other person who brings ethical obligation to the meeting. Responsibility for the Other is not an attribute of one’s own being, but is rather an attribute of the Other who calls one to responsibility. The Other is the source of ethics.

Please note that for Levinas, an other person is also a “trace” of the absolute Other, i.e., God, and of ethical responsibility as such. In this sense, the Other points back to ethical obligation rather than being its ultimate source. But this essay is concerned with the immediacy of ethical obligation in the face-to-face encounter with concrete others. Hence, the aforesaid characterization of the Other as the source of ethics is a pragmatic matter: the way in which actual persons summon one another to ethical obligation has immediate implications for communicative practices. In addition, an advantage of foregrounding the concrete other person as the source of ethics is that it avoids the need to postulate a “metaphysic” (in the traditional sense), such as the existence of God. The addition of such a “metaphysic” does not negate Levinas’s primary insight that ethics comes from outside the self. Irrespective of whether the Other is the trace of a more ultimate ethical reality, Levinas’s phenomenological description establishes the Other as an immediately experienced summons to ethical responsibility.

By conceptualizing ethics and responsibility in this way, Levinas makes a radical departure from many traditional conceptions of ethics. Levinas’s conception of ethics might be summarized as follows: in contrast to the Golden rule-“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”-or the Kantian categorical imperative-“Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law’ (Kant 1964, p. 88)-a Levinas-derived “ethic” would maintain that one should do unto an Other as he/she would have you do unto him/her. The essential distinction is that in the first two formulations of moral law, the focus is on the moral agent or self, while in the latter formulation, the focus is on the Other from whom the original summons to ethics emanates.4

Levinas does not therefore offer a rule for ethics. Ethics is ultimately a matter of form-i.e., the posture of response-rather than content-i.e., prescribed moral action. In Otherwise than being or beyond essence, Levinas (1991) develops his distinction between the “saying” and the “said” of discourse in order to stress that ethics occurs in the approach of the one to the Other (see pp. 5-7 and 45-49). While the “said” is defined as the content of communication, the “saying” is “antecedent to . . . linguistic systems . . . . it is the proximity of one to the other, the commitment of an approach” (Levinas, 1991, p. 5). The act of saying, then, is more important ethically than what is said-much like the adage regarding gift giving, that it is the thought that counts. This is because the said of discourse can never fully represent the infinity of the Other’s being; the said is always a distortion or “betrayal” (Levinas, 1991, p. 6) of the Other’s call. Thus, one is obligated to respond to the Other through the saying of discourse, which precedes the said and which is the very (pre)act of calling out. So the Other, as the source of ethics, obligates one to respond but does not necessarily dictate how one is to respond. Ethics consists of the obligation to respond to the saying, to respond to the Other’s “Where art thou?” with “Here I am.” Ethics consists first and foremost of the obligation to acknowledge the Other.5


Incorporating Levinas’s philosophy of ethics into Burke’s dramatistic model of human symbolic action yields an alternative, Other-Burkean framework for the examination of rhetorical texts. Most importantly, Levinas’s Other-centered theory of ethics foregrounds the question of how a rhetorical text responds to the calls of its numerous Others. According to this alternative frame, neither the mechanics of rhetorical effectiveness nor truthfulness is the primary criterion guiding analysis. Instead, of primary concern is whether and how the text is responsive to the summons to ethical responsibility that comes from the Other.

In evaluating Burke’s “definition of man”-which begins “Man is a symbol-using animal” (Burke 1966b, p. 16)-Murray (1998) claims that the definition is problematically centered on the agent and on agency. Murray argues that “There is no explicit mention of the dialogic Other in this particular formulation of the communicative encounter, and ethical questions surrounding the rhetorical practices of the symbol-user, as exercised over or against the Other, are de-emphasized” (p. 37). Murray’s recommendation is to amend Burke’s definition to more clearly reflect the Other’s role in the process of symbol-sharing. This recommendation does not suggest that the Other is wholly absent from Burke’s definition or that Burkean dramatism wholly excludes the Other. The recommendation is only intended to indicate points of emphasis and de-emphasis in key concepts and to explore the implications for rhetorical analysis of alternatives.

The reorientation invited by Levinas’s account of ethics makes the Other the guiding issue for rhetorical analysis. Within the communication ethics sub-field, a rhetorical text is examined typically to see whether it complies with a certain ethical norm or principle (see Johannesen 1996). But if ethics is grounded in the call of the Other rather than in a universal principle or transcendent source, then an ethical analysis of rhetorical practice should evaluate the rhetorical text as a response (or failed response) to the calls of Others. Such an evaluation must consider not only the Other qua addressed audience, but also all other interested and affected Others. An ethical analysis of rhetorical practice, which understands ethical obligation as a summons from the Other, needs to consider not only whether a particular rhetorical text was ethically responsive to the Others to whom it was already obligated. It also needs to consider whether there was in fact an absence of rhetorical texts that would constitute an ethical response to those Others.

Similarly, Murray (1998) claims that Burke’s dramatistic pentad (1969) also foregrounds the agent while reducing the Other to an aspect of scene. Murray’s solution is to extend the dramatistic pentad into a dramatistic nonad. This proposed nonad is composed of the following nine terms: scene, act, pre-act, agent, pre-agent, purpose, call, agency, and responsibility. Supplemental to Burke’s pentadic terms are: (1) pre-act, which describes the actions of the Other without reducing them to a passive aspect of scene; (2) pre-agent, which similarly avoids the danger of reducing the Other to a “co-agent” or “counter-agent” (Burke, 1969, pp. xix-xx), terms that constrain the Other as “derivable” from the agent (Burke, 1966a, pp. 84-88); (3) call, which exists as a moral summons and ethical constraint upon the purpose guiding the agent’s act; and (4) responsibility, through which the Other preemptively constrains the power/agency of the agent.

Most important are call and responsibility. Discussing the term call, Murray states that:

even to discuss the “purpose” of the Other in addition to that of the self is to miss the relationship between the “purpose” of the Other over against the purpose of the self. The application of the pentad, in turn, to both self and Other would still miss the specifically ethical relationship between the self and Other, as each exists for the other. . . . the tension between self and Other is not a tension between two wills, but rather a tension between the will (to purpose) of the agent/self and the call to responsibility of the Other. For Levinas, “ethics is not forceful because it opposes power with more power . . . but rather because it opposes power with . . . responsibility.” (1998, p. 40-41)

Within the drama of human action, one’s purpose is always in tension with and answerable to the call of the Other. And in discussing the term responsibility, Murray states that:

the exercise of agency by the self is (quite often) the exercise of power over or against some Other. This is not to say that agency always constitutes a violence, only that the nature of agency can be discussed in terms of power. Against this power, the Other is exposed, vulnerable and often silenced. But according to Levinas, the Other preemptively constrains this power with the call to responsibility. (1998, p. 41)

Within the drama of human action, one’s agency or power is always in tension with and answerable to one’s responsibility to Others.

Please note again that the development of an alternative Burkean frame does not indict Burke’s original frame as wrong. Nor does the development of an OtherBurkean frame indict Burke’s original frame as wholly lacking a theory of ethics. Indeed, the allegation that dramatism is ethically deficient may seem either false or irrelevant. On the one hand, such a charge may appear irrelevant insofar as Burke’s philosophy was not intended to be an explicit theory of ethics. If Burke’s philosophy is an epistemology, such a charge seems contrived. Yet Burke’s notion of “comic correctives” (Burke, 1984a, pp. 166-175), discussion of the “egoistic-altruistic merger” (Burke, 1984b, pp. 201-204) and of “metabiology” as a foundation for values (Burke, 1984b, pp. 232-236), investigation of the evolution of the linguistic and hortatory negatives (Burke, 1966c), apparent incorporation of ethics into the grammar of motives (see Kenny, 2000), and ethically-charged indictment of Hitler’s rhetorical practices (Burke, 1973), all betray Burke’s strong ethical sensibility and (at least implicit) incorporation of ethics into his dramatistic philosophy. And so, on the other hand, such a charge against Burke may appear false insofar as Burke’s philosophy does include an explicit, if not pervasive, theory of ethics.

This essay proposes that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Burke was undeniably an ethically committed critic and his major works reveal consistent attempts to discuss the place of ethics within his philosophy. Yet Burke’s work is also undeniably engaged primarily with epistemology and with explaining the functioning of symbols, giving far less attention to any systematic attempt to develop a uniquely Burkean theory of ethics.6 The problem, then, is one of dissemination. Ethics does not find its way into all corners of Burke’s corpus. The dramatistic pentad, for example, is more amenable to descriptive rather than prescriptive rhetorical analysis, as in Ling’s (1992) evaluation of the effectiveness rather than ethicality of Kennedy’s “Chappiquiddick” speech (1992). The question of whether the pentad is inherently ethically deficient is of less immediate concern than the challenge to redeploy the pentad for ethical rhetorical criticism. Even if otherness is fully implicated in Burke’s dramatistic philosophy, otherness is not always on the surface, not always obvious.

For the purpose of doing ethical rhetorical criticism with attention to whether and how a text responds to its obligations to Others, the theme of otherness should be accentuated in some of Burke’s most powerful concepts and critical tools. Even where ethics is dealt with more explicitly, as in Burke’s discussions of metabiology and the hortatory negative, the precise application of those concepts as critical methodologies for textual analysis remains unclear. Ethical rhetorical criticism requires either the translation of Burke’s ethical concepts into precise and practicable critical tools or the integration of a theory of ethics into Burke’s critical tools. This essay is engaged in the latter pursuit.

In the end, the justification for using Levinas to revise Burke lies less in any systematic disregard for ethics on Burke’s part than in an opportunity to examine the potential benefits of an alternative “terministic screen” (Burke, 1966d). While Murray (1998) offers a compelling critique of Burke’s rhetorical theory as ethically deficient in certain regards, more important is that a synthesis of Levinas and Burke will yield new insights by selecting, reflecting, and deflecting different aspects of a text (see Burke, 1966d). As will be shown below, there are important differences between the respective “occupational psychoses” (Burke, 1984b, pp. 37-49) of the original Burkean frame and an Other-Burkean frame.

Indeed, Burke’s philosophy of language as symbolic action argues precisely that different terministic screens provide unique but partial framings of reality. The dramatistic pentad, for example, when used as an apparatus for textual analysis, can provide only a partial perspective, one framing or interpretation of the text. Similarly, the dramatistic pentad, when used by the rhetor as an epistemological device, can provide only a partial perspective, one framing or interpretation of the world. According to Burke, a situation will always be described in terms of five questions: “what was done (act), when or where it was done (scene), who did it (agent), how he did it (agency), and why (purpose)” (1969, p. xv). These five issues comprise the drama of human symbolic action, or pentad, and the way in which these five terms are ordered is decisive in revealing both a person’s view of the situation and broader worldview or philosophy of life.7

Any critical methodology, then, will spotlight different aspects of a text. But why use a Levinas-Burke approach? Why not pursue a synthesis of Burke with any random theorist in order to yield a unique foregrounding of issues? Just as Burke’s occupational psychosis is a concern with the functioning of symbols, Levinas’s occupational psychosis is a concern with otherness and ethics. Levinas is chosen because a renewed commitment toward tolerance, political equality, and social justice, and a renewed commitment against imperialism, colonialism, and ethnic hatred, is necessitated by the many injustices and atrocities that continue to afflict our world. In short, Levinas’s emphatic, if not myopic, ethical orientation is needed, and it promises to complement Burke’s own ethical commitment: ad bellum purificandum [to the purification of war] (1969).

The corollary, of course, is that Burke’s attention to the functioning of symbols complements Levinas’s philosophy of ethics by constructing a critical apparatus for the analysis and evaluation of texts. Without that, Levinas’s ethics remains relatively powerless to combat oppression, as manifested in cultural texts and discursive practices. This essay’s goal is neither to replace Burke’s apparatus of rhetorical criticism nor to correct Burke’s philosophy of symbolic action. Instead, this essay’s goal is to pursue the critical implications of an alternative Burkean apparatus, a dramatistic model of human symbolic action that foregrounds the questions of whether and how a text is ethically responsive. The attempt is made to refashion Burke’s critical tools by highlighting the Other and by making primary the question of how a rhetorical text responds or fails to respond to the calls of its Others.


To clarify and illustrate the critical methodology that results from a synthesis of Levinas’s ethics and Burke’s dramatism, this essay now offers a brief ethical rhetorical analysis of a familiar text, Nazi discourse. This analysis demonstrates how an Other-Burkean critical frame approaches a text. By foregrounding the Other, from whom one is called into ethical obligation, an alternative set of Other-Burkean critical tools may illuminate heretofore deflected features of Nazi rhetoric and reveal more of the ethical texture of Nazi discursive practices.

Nazi Discourse as Propaganda

The majority of Nazi discourse can be characterized as “propaganda,” defined as a form of rhetorical practice that intentionally manipulates, fabricates, or misdirects information in order to gain adherence from an audience. Derived from the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide [Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith], the term propaganda was originally used by the Roman Catholic Church in the non-pejorative sense of spreading the faith (Chernow & Vallasi, 1993, p. 2227). But in modern usage, the term propaganda is almost synonymous with “lies, distortion, deceit, manipulation, mind control” (Jowett & O’Donnell, 1999, p. 3) and the like. Although there are many different definitions of propaganda (see Jowett & O’Donnell, 1999), most include the distortion of information and/or manipulative intent as distinguishing features.

Jowett and Donnell (1999) define propaganda as “the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist” (p. 6). Jowett and Donnell go on to note that the motives of the propagandist are selfish and that “the elements of deliberate intent and manipulation . . . distinguish propaganda from a free and open exchange of ideas” (p. 11). But propaganda must not be narrowly conceived as simple lying. Welch (1983) warns against thinking “that propaganda consists only of lies and falsehood. In fact, it operates with many different kinds of truth-from the outright lie, the half truth, to the truth out of context” (p. 2).

By such a definition, communication cannot be considered propaganda simply because one disagrees with the message. That would make virtually all discourse propaganda in someone’s opinion. Instead, propaganda is defined as a form of communication that violates specific rules of engagement. Any intentional manipulation, fabrication, or misdirection of information is considered unethical insofar as it hinders a free and open exchange of ideas and violates the audience’s right to make up its own mind. Such a definition respects an individual’s right to speak his or her mind while establishing ground-rules for public communication. For example, it is not communicatively unethical for white supremacists to voice their opinion in public, but it is communicatively unethical to alter statistics, manufacture evidence, or misrepresent others’ views.

Accordingly, a great majority of Nazi discourse can be classified as propaganda, as unethical communication. On March 17, 1933, Adolf Hitler established a Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda designed to manufacture, monitor, and regulate public opinion in Germany. Doob (1935) recalls the power wielded by director of the Ministry, Joseph Goebbels:

the organs of public opinion are the keyboard on which he produces a hymn of Nazi nationalism. This hymn is played and no other because he alone is able to enforce a complete censorship. The Germans have been isolated from the rest of the world; they hear and they see only what the Minister intends them to hear and see. (p. 286)

Nazi propaganda was typically unethical because it consciously distorted and manipulated information to serve the ends of Nazism. Such propaganda violates the most basic principle of truth-telling, as well as a commitment to open public dialogue. Nazi propaganda did so through a sustained effort to guarantee that only one voice was heard, the voice of Hitler’s Nazism.

In terms of an Other-Burkean frame, which locates the Other more centrally and primordially in the process of human symbol-sharing, the principle of truth-telling is itself derivative from the presumption that the addressed Other does not wish to be lied to. Nazi rhetoric did not ask and did not care if German citizens wanted to be told the truth. Hitler’s discussion of propaganda in Mein kampf clearly reflects this attitude: “the goal of propaganda consists solely of calling the masses’ attention to those facts that best serve the party” (1971, p. 179-182). Propaganda is a tool with which to manipulate the masses. The “ethics” of its use is wholly subordinate to the political agenda of the Nazi party. For Hitler, “Success is the one earthly judge concerning the right or wrong of [a political reform movement]” (1971, p. 343). Goebbels shared Hitler’s conception of propaganda. In an address to the press on March 15, 1933, Goebbels declared that “It is not enough to reconcile people more or less to our regime . . . we want rather to work on people until they are addicted to us” (cited in Welch, 1983, p. 5). Nazi rhetoric did not engage its addressed Other in dialogue because it presumed to know what was in their best interest. Nazi rhetoric spoke for Germans more than it spoke with them.

The excessive paternalism of Hitler’s rhetoric resulted from his view that the audience’s “intelligence is small” and that “all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan” (1971, pp. 180-181). Hitler justified his rhetoric with the presumed stupidity and irrationality of his audience and invoked a most pernicious form of the “reasonable person standard” to justify his complete failure to dialogically engage the addressed Other. But as Bok warns, “the appeal to ‘reasonable persons’ never has protected the interests of those considered outsiders, inferiors, incompetents or immature” (1978, p. 218).

Nazi Discourse and the Call of the Other

In addition to finding Nazi propaganda unethical in relation to its target audience, the Other-Burkean frame highlights a second, deeper dimension of Nazi propaganda’s unethicalness. Not only did Hitler fail to communicate honestly and respectfully with his addressed Other, Hitler also failed entirely to communicate with those Others who were not part of the target audience. Hitler was, in fact, adamantly opposed to the very idea that his enemies had any rights:

The function of propaganda is . . . not to weigh and ponder the rights of different people, but exclusively to emphasize the one right which it has set out to argue for.

Its task . . . is to serve our own right, always and unflinchingly. (1971, p. 182)

Remember that Hitler was not simply promoting a Machiavellian preference for pragmatism. Insofar as success is the only measure of right and wrong, Hitler was depicting propaganda both as an effective rhetorical strategy and as an ethical rhetorical strategy.

Unsurprisingly, Nazi propaganda was marked by a disregard for Others. Nazi rhetoric did of course have a keen sense of audience, as it appealed to various constituents. For Goebbels:

The propagandist must understand not only how to speak to the people in their totality but also to individual sections of the population . . . . The propagandist must always be in a position to speak to people in the language that they understand, (cited in Taylor, 1983, p. 38)

The first ethical failure of Nazi rhetorical practice, then, was not that it had no sense of its addressed Other, but that it spoke to and for its addressed Other and not with them. German citizens were repeatedly addressed in rhetoric, but rarely engaged in dialogue.

The second ethical failure of Nazi rhetorical practice was its failure to acknowledge other Others. In fact, Nazi propaganda went far beyond a simple failure to acknowledge these other Others-the communists, trade-unionists, Jews, etc.-as dialogical partners. Nazi propaganda took positive steps to objectify them, as in the systematic mobilization of anti-Semitism to dehumanize Jews. Hitler’s Mein kampf for example, is replete with virulent anti-Semitism and discusses Jews as racially inferior, as a biological and racial threat to the health of the German nation, and as parasites upon German culture (see Hitler, 1971, pp. 75, 305, and 325, for example). This use of anti-Semitism was not limited to Hitler’s own writings and oratory. There were also the Nazi-controlled newspapers Der stuermer and the Voelkischer beobachter, for example, which continually featured anti-Semitic stories. Bosmajian (1983) cites several stories from Der stuermer, one of which claimed that “the Jew was the demon who took blood from Aryan children and mixed it into his wine and bread” (p. 28).

Various elements of the Nazi propaganda machine were designed to objectify and vilify the Jew-and other Others. These distorted images of the Jew were of course unethical according to several standards of ethical communication, most notably the injunction to tell the truth. But perhaps more important in an ethical rhetorical analysis of Nazi discourse from an Other-Burkean perspective is the fact that the Jew qua Other was for all intents and purposes never addressed. The Jew was a subject of Nazi discourse and was objectified in that discourse as an enemy and threat to the German nation and to German race. But the Jew was never the addressed Other of Nazi discourse. This Other was never acknowledged or engaged through rhetoric.

Stated differently, there is simply no reflection in Nazi discourse of the Other’s important role in the process of symbol-sharing or of the Other’s important role in human sociality. Nor is there any sense that it is the Other who is the ultimate source of ethical responsibility, of the primordial “thou shalt not kill.” Nazi discourse violated the basic principle of truth-telling, but it more primordially failed to respond dialogically to the calls of its (unaddressed) Others.

The Terms of the Nonad and the Elimination of Ethics

Burke’s (1973) essay “The rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle” offers a brilliant critique of many of Hitler’s rhetorical strategies. Burke examines those strategies that served to unify the nation, including Hitler’s corrupted use of religious symbols and ideas. The first unifying strategy discussed is Hitler’s “selection of an ‘international’ devil, the ‘internationalJew,'” offered up as a “common enemy” and as a “scapegoat” (Burke, 1973, pp. 193-195). Burke’s analysis does much to explain precisely how Nazi propaganda objectified and dehumanized its Jewish Other.

Indeed, Burke’s analysis concentrates on the mechanics of Hitler’s rhetoric, having presumed the basic immorality of his message. Burke notes, for example, that the uneihicalness of Hitler’s rhetoric ultimately lies in its irrationality (1973, p. 199) and its falsity-its “fictitious devil-function” and “bastardization” and “distortions” (1978, pp. 218-219) of religious patterns of thought, for example. The bulk of Burke’s essay is then dedicated to an elaborate analysis that centers on Hitler as rhetorical agent and upon the impact of Hitler’s rhetorical choices.

Burke’s analysis does not dwell upon the question of whether Hitler’s rhetoric is ethically responsive to its Others. In attending to the rhetorical mechanics of Hitler’s discourse, Burke’s critical perspective necessarily features the impact of Hitler’s rhetoric upon his audience. Burke explains how Hitler rhetorically managed to swing “a great people into his wake” (1973, p. 191). But in focusing upon Hitler’s text, Burke does not interrogate what is absent from Hitler’s text. Recall that an Other-Burkean frame begins with the question of ethics and with the call of the Other rather than with the question of effect or with the agent or text itself. Although Burke does not explicitly deploy the dramatistic pentad in this particular essay, Burke’s analysis of Mein kampf clearly foregrounds the issues of agency and purpose in Hitler’s rhetoric. Not foregrounded are the issues of call and responsibility. As a supplement to the pentadic questions of what was done, who did it, etc., the expanded nonad asks first: who demands a response?

As was discussed in the previous sub-section, the Other-Burkean frame concentrates upon the ethical failure of Nazi propaganda to acknowledge and respond to its numerous Others. Antecedent to Nazi propaganda’s failure to communicate truthfully, Nazi propaganda forbade and obstructed any dialogical engagement with capitalists, Marxists, non-Aryans, etc., and sought to disallow the possibility of mutual understanding or cooperation through public debate. Beginning with the question of who demands and conditions a response, the Other-Burkean frame finds what is missing from Nazi propaganda even more troubling than its lies and distortions. Nazi propaganda is a soliloquy of Hitler’s Ubermensch, or racially-purified “superman.”

Again, the preceding discussion does not claim that Burke’s analysis is wrong or that an Other-Burkean analysis is more complete. Rather, each approach to Mein kampf brings unique questions to bear and yields distinct insights. According to Burke (1966d), each conceptual apparatus will select, reflect, and deflect particular features of Hitler’s rhetoric. The goal of an Other-Burkean frame, therefore, is to operate in conjunction with the Burkean frame to yield a richer and more complete understanding. Indeed, the more primordial ethical failure of Hitler’s rhetoric, emphasized by an Other-Burkean approach, is implicit in Burke’s opening characterization of Hitler’s rhetoric as a “sinister unifying,” “a grand united front of prejudices” (1973, p. 192). Hitler’s central rhetorical theme and tactic, that of “‘curative’ unification” (Burke, 1973, p. 218), can be understood, then, not only as a symbolic means of unifying the German populace. This symbolically-induced unification was also a systematic effort to silence the Other, premised upon an existing racial-biological prejudice against any form of otherness.

The foregoing clarification and illustration of the Other-Burkean critical frame suggests an amendment to the definition of propaganda with which this section began. In addition to a variety of definitions of propaganda are a variety of distinctions between different types of propaganda. For example, propaganda has been taxonomized into agitative and integrative; white, black, and gray; misinformation and disinformation; and subpropaganda (Jowett & O’Donnell, 1999, pp. 11-23). Another useful distinction might be between a type of propaganda that is manipulative of its audience and a type of propaganda that attempts to eliminate a particular group or faction from participating in public dialogue-unethical versus annihilative, perhaps. Indeed, a significant feature of Nazi discourse was its methodical attempt to deny its alleged enemies the opportunity to participate. Not all propaganda, by any of the available definitions, does this.

With respect to Jews, Nazi meetings simply banned them from attendance. Bytwerk (1975) notes that Nazi meeting posters typically included a “stipulation that Jews would not be admitted” (p. 309). Bosmajian (1966) cites a typical advertisement for a meeting in 1928: “Mass meeting. Adolf Hitler to speak. Jews not allowed” (p. 332). Any others who dared speak out against the Nazis were simply shouted down or thrown out (see Bytwerk, 1975, pp. 313-315). The result was that Jews and other “enemies” of the Reich, in addition to not being addressed in the rhetoric itself, were literally not allowed to be in the audience.

Of course, there have been innumerable examples of propaganda that “attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior” (Jowett & O’Donnell, 1999, p. 6) by deliberately manipulating and distorting information. Such instances include subpropaganda, disinformation campaigns, psychological warfare, and advertising (see Jowett & O’Donneli, 1999). But perhaps more inconspicuous (if not ubiquitous) are examples of communication that function to silence the voice of the Other without deploying the resources of overt manipulation and distortion. According to the Other-Burkean frame, such instances of communication, which fail to acknowledge the Other, should perhaps be reclassified as a type of propaganda.

At a recent Sierra Club lecture, titled The last great wilderness project, Lenny Kohm (2001) discussed the history of proposed oil drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. In the 1980’s, Kohm attended a public hearing held by congressional representatives to hear testimony from local residents concerned with the proposal. Kohm told of how, after listening to the speech of one village elder and half of its subsequent translation, the head of the delegation interrupted to announce that the hearing had to be cut short in order to stay on schedule. While this episode does not have the traditional markings of propaganda, i.e., no intentional withholding or distorting of information, it does fail in its primordial obligation to listen to the Other. Such communication is unethical not on account of what it does, but on account of what it fails to do. And to the extent that the term propaganda is a tool for the identification and critique of unethical communication, such public “hearings” may be classified productively as a type of propaganda no less pernicious than outright lying, disinformation campaigns, and so on.

By such a classification, Nazi discourse was propagandistic insofar as it ignored the primordial obligation to answer the call of the Other. While Nazi propaganda was unethical in dealing with its audience of German citizens, that audience was at least acknowledged as an addressable Other. By contrast, wholly absent from Nazi discourse was an ethical rhetoric that sought to better understand and more fully acknowledge the Jew as Other. From an Other-Burkean critical frame, such an omission fails to acknowledge the Other’s role in the process of symbol sharing and in the very constitution of being(-together). More importantly, such an omission fails to acknowledge the Other as the ultimate ground and source of ethical obligation. Without a dialogical engagement with its Others, Nazi discourse sought, in effect, to disclose the very possibility of ethics through the disregard and elimination of otherness.


Having clarified and illustrated the Other-Burkean critical methodology upon a relatively familiar text, the potential value of this Other-Burkean frame can now be examined by application to a less familiar and more contestable text. Under consideration is Senator Edward Kennedy’s (1992) widely known “Chappiquiddick” speech. Guiding the analysis is the question of how particular Others are positioned within and responded to by Kennedy’s text. Supplemental is the question of whether the dramatistic pentad or expanded nonad is better equipped to interrogate the text on that guiding question.

The “Chappiquiddick” Speech as Effective Rhetoric

On July 25, 1969, in a televised statement to the people of Massachusetts and to the nation, Senator Edward Kennedy (1992) offered a description of the events that occurred on the night of July 18, 1969, leading up to and following the drowning death of Mary Jo Kopechne. Kennedy also discussed his future, responding to “the question . . . of whether my standing among the people of my state has been so impaired that I should resign my seat in the United States Senate” (1992, p. 251).

Ling (1992) employs Burke’s dramatistic pentad7 to examine Kennedy’s rhetorical choices and to “speculate on the possible impact that those choices may have on audience response to the speech” (p. 253). Ling’s conclusion is that “the speech functioned to minimize Kennedy’s responsibility for his actions” and “to place responsibility for Kennedy’s future on the shoulders of the people of Massachusetts” (p. 256). In this context, the speech was a resounding -though qualified (Ling, 1992, p. 259-260)-success. Following the speech, “thousands of letters of support poured into Kennedy’s office,” which was “the kind of immediate and overt response necessary to secure his seat in the Senate” (Ling, 1992, pp. 259-260).

Of course, Ling’s analysis reflects certain elements of Kennedy’s speech and deflects others. For example, Ling describes the scene as “the events surrounding the death of Miss Kopechne” (1992, p. 256) rather than the event of her death itself. Kennedy himself called the situation a “tragedy” (1992, p. 249), but Kennedy depicted that tragedy less as the death of Kopechne than what the events of that evening “means to me” (p. 249). In fact, Kopechne’s death is never explicitly mentioned in the speech. Kennedy refers to her death only vaguely, as “this tragic incident” and as a “loss” (p. 251). Kennedy was very careful to distance himself from Kopechne’s death and from a possible allegation of negligent homicide, and to depict himself instead as a victim of circumstance. This strategic avoidance of the subject of Kopechne’s drowning death certainly contributed to the speech’s success. But this avoidance is also the first of numerous indications of Kennedy’s disregard of the suffering of Others and failure to respond to the calls of significant Others.

Kennedy and the Call of the Other

The tragedy, it seems, had stricken Kennedy rather than Kopechne. Kennedy wondered “whether some awful curse did actually hang over all the Kennedys . . . [and] whether somehow the awful weight of this incredible incident might in some way pass from my shoulders” (1992, pp. 250-251). Kennedy’s near total silence about Kopechne’s death is disturbing. Even when Kennedy did allude to the “tragic incident” of her death, it was to indicate the “terrible pain and suffering I feel” and how “this last week has been an agonizing one for me and the members of my family” (p. 251, emphasis added).

Undoubtedly, that week was at least as agonizing for the family of Kopechne. These Others certainly wished to know what happened that evening, including Kennedy’s culpability in causing the accident and in failing to contact emergency personnel as quickly as possible-or at all. Nowhere in the speech did Kennedy directly address these Others. Kennedy seems to be deaf to their call. Yet Kennedy was not deaf; he heard the “innuendo and whispers” (1992, p. 251) of his constituents all too clearly. The speech was explicitly addressed to that audience, as Kennedy offered a defense of his actions as a plea to retain his seat in the U. S. Senate. This too reflects Kennedy’s view of the nature of the tragedy, which was not Kopechne’s death but the lack of “confidence” (p. 251) that his involvement in her death might cause. Those mourning the tragic and avoidable death of Mary Jo Kopechne were never addressed by Kennedy, never consoled. In fact, Kennedy’s prayers were offered neither for Mary Jo nor for her suffering family. Kennedy prayed instead for “the courage to make the right decision” (p. 252) and sought the nation’s prayers to help him “put this most recent tragedy behind me” (p. 252).

Mary Jo Kopechne was for Kennedy an annoying element of the dramatistic scene. At the close of the speech, Kennedy discussed how “a man does what he must in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles” (1992, p. 252) and lamented “the sacrifices he faces . . . the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow man” (p. 252). The fact that Mary Jo Kopechne is dead is either ignored or trivialized throughout Kennedy’s speech. Kopechne is depicted as an obstacle in Kennedy’s way, as a sacrifice he must bear. Kopechne’s call is muffled by Kennedy’s own political aspirations.

Kennedy failed to openly discuss Kopechne’s death, to minimize his present troubles in comparison to her death, to offer condolence to and ask forgiveness from her surviving loved ones, and to petition for and submit prayer for the deceased and her family. These ethical failings are overlooked by Ling, who attends instead to an evaluation of the effectiveness of Kennedy’s speech. Ling uses Burke’s pentad to reveal Kennedy’s view of the situation and to evaluate the “appropriateness and adequacy” of that description (1992, pp. 254-255). But Ling does not evaluate the ethical responsiveness of Kennedy’s speech to the calls of Others who have a different view of the situation. For Ling, “the pentad can be used as a means of examining how the persuader has attempted to achieve the restructuring of the audience’s view of reality” (p. 255). By contrast, an Other-Burkean frame would be used as a means of examining how the persuader has attempted to respond to the calls of Others.

Perhaps Ling gives Kennedy too much latitude. Ling’s analysis does go far toward explaining the effect of Kennedy’s rhetorical choices upon his audience. But Ling never questions the adequacy of Kennedy’s selection of audience. Kennedy’s speech was clearly addressed to his voting constituents and Ling’s analysis is undertaken on that basis. There were, however, other Others to whom Kennedy was obligated to respond. In the end, Kennedy’s ethical failings arose insofar as he only heard an obligation to his own political career, which necessitated a public defense of his actions. The speech betrays that Kennedy heard no obligation to the memory of Kopechne or to her mourning loved ones- or at least that he failed to respond to that call. Instead of apologia, would not a more ethically responsive speech have been a eulogy? At the very least, should not Kennedy have paid tribute to the deceased as much as he defended his actions? Is not this omission, rather than Kennedy’s consultation with advisors in writing the speech (Ling, 1992, p. 259-260), the more significant cause of lost credibility? Is not Kennedy’s lack of sorrow ultimately more disturbing than the “lack of detail” in his testimony (Ling, p. 260)?

The Terms of the Nonad and Polyphonic Discourse

The ethical tenor of Kennedy’s speech can be summarized in terms of the expanded dramatistic nonad as follows. Using Burke’s dramatistic pentad, Ling identifies the scene as the controlling element in Kennedy’s description of events: “Kennedy ordered the elements of the situation in such a way that the scene became controlling” (1992, p. 256). Ling then catalogues various parts of the speech that “function rhetorically to minimize his role as agent” (p. 257) and argues that Kennedy “was not in control of the scene, but rather its helpless victim” (p. 257).

As a supplement to Ling’s characterization, there is a noticeable lack of emphasis in Kennedy’s speech upon the nonadic terms preact, preagent, call, and responsibility. Accordingly, the principal preagent is Kopechne, and the preact is her death. While the events surrounding and following that preact may constitute Kennedy’s larger scene, the death of Kopechne should, above all else, condition Kennedy’s response. It may be tempting to subsume the preagent and preact under the category of scene, i.e., “the events surrounding the death of Miss Kopechne.” But this subjection risks a violent reduction of Kopechne’s infinity to an objectified element in Kennedy’s totalization of events. Even when Kennedy speaks of Kopechne as “a gentle, kind and idealistic person” (1992, p. 249), it is within the context of her relationship to the Kennedy family (p. 250). In Burke’s terms, Kopechne is at best a “co-agent” whose being is “derivative” of and “contributory” to that of the agent, Kennedy (Burke, 1966a, p. 85). Mary Jo Kopechne does not exist in Kennedy’s speech as an Other apart from the Kennedy “curse.”

Even more startling is the absence of the nonadic terms call and responsibility. The only call that Kennedy appears to have heard is that of his (confidence-lacking) voters. Kennedy’s two-fold purpose, to defend himself against allegations of wrongdoing and to protect his seat in the U. S. Senate, is singularly responsive to that call. The calls of other Others do little to challenge or condition Kennedy’s unwavering pursuit of that two-fold purpose. Similarly, Kennedy’s agency seems unchallenged by his responsibilities to these other Others. Although Kennedy depicts agency as being in the hands of the people of Massachusetts (Ling, 1992, p. 258), Kennedy nonetheless commands forensic rhetoric and pathos appeals to defend his actions and garner sympathy from his audience of Massachusetts voters. Kennedy goes so far as to petition their prayers to help him through the difficult ordeal. But where are these strategies tempered by prayer for Kopechne rather than for himself, by an offering of sympathy to her family rather than a request for sympathy for himself?

The only place where “responsibility” appears as a significant issue in Kennedy’s speech concerns Kennedy’s rhetorical strategy to displace responsibility for his future onto the people of Massachusetts (Ling, 1992, p. 258). The protection of that future, however, is Kennedy’s ultimate purpose rather than one of his moral obligations. Kennedy’s gesture toward the Other is, in fact, a reflection of self. If the dramatistic pentad reveals the scene as the controlling element in Kennedy’s speech, the dramatistic nonad reveals the call-responsibility ratio as conspicuously absent. Grimly ironic is the fact that Kennedy’s two primary objectives were to escape responsibility. According to Ling, “the speech functioned to minimize Kennedy’s responsibility for his actions” and “to place responsibility for Kennedy’s future on the shoulders of the people of Massachusetts” (p. 256)

Before concluding this section, a brief point of contrast to Kennedy’s speech may further illustrate how the additional terms of the dramatistic nonad can elucidate quickly the ethicality of a text, as a measure of its responsiveness to the calls of Others. As shown above, Kennedy’s speech is self-centered. Addressed are his actions, his failures, and his crisis; not addressed are several significant Others. Kennedy’s rhetoric fails to respond to the call of the Other. By contrast, the rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr. reflects not only the agency and purpose of King, but the call of and responsibility to King’s numerous Others.

The scene of King’s (1992) “I have a dream” speech is the long history of racial injustice and a defaulted promise of equality. According to King, “Five score years ago, a great American . . . signed the Emancipation Proclamation . . . . But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free” (1992, p. 214). King then defines his purpose in response to this scene of continued injustice and oppression as the goal of achieving racial equality and of fulfilling the promise that “all men . . . would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (p. 214). In addition, agency is featured as King discusses his method of nonviolent social protest: “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence” (p. 215).

Consideration of the supplemental terms of the dramatistic nonad quickly reveals significant differences between the rhetorics of Kennedy and King. In contrast to Kennedy’s speech, which addresses only the voting public, King acknowledges, addresses, and welcomes numerous preagents who have called upon King to respond to their concerns. First are those who have suffered oppression, those who have “come here out of great trials and tribulations” (King, 1992, p. 216). King has heard the call of the Negro community. But King has also heard the calls of other Others and his rhetoric is responsive throughout. King addresses whites sympathetic with the Negro cause, welcoming those who “have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom” (p. 215). King addresses his critics and opponents, arguing that the “new militancy” threatens to “degenerate into physical violence” (p. 215) and against those who advocate “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism” (p. 215). And King addresses those who are losing hope as a result of their suffering, urging them to “Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive” (p. 216).

King’s rhetoric is marked by the voices of numerous Others and is in this way strikingly different from the rhetoric of Kennedy. The multilateral responsiveness of King’s “I have a dream” speech is evidence of a previous acknowledgment of the calls of numerous Others. King’s purpose is infused with the hopes and fears of his Others. Similarly, King’s agency-nonviolent protest-develops out of his responsibilities to those Others, including his enemies. In the “view of reality” (Ling, 1992, p. 255) generated by King’s arrangement of the terms of the dramatistic nonad, there exist a multitude of preagents whose calls challenge and inform King’s purpose and to whom King’s agency must answer responsibly. In his conclusion, King reveals most powerfully his dialogical sensitivity to the voices of Others:

From every mountainside, let freedom ring, and when this happens . . . all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! (1992, pp. 216-217)

King’s rhetoric is an exemplar of a dialogical form of rhetoric, a rhetorical practice that is permeated throughout with the voices of Others and that seeks at each juncture to be ethically responsive to those voices. Nonadic analysis easily reveals the respective ethical postures of Kennedy’s and King’s rhetorics. The difference lies in how those rhetorics acknowledge, engage, and respond to the voices of Others. In contrast to King’s rhetoric, Kennedy’s speech is monological. Everything is framed in terms of the Kennedy “curse” and the Senator’s career. In the end, Kennedy addresses only his own concerns. In addition to lingering questions regarding its veracity, Kennedy’s speech is lacking in rhetorical response and in moral responsibility.


As a result of the preceding ethical rhetorical analyses of Nazi discourse and Senator Edward Kennedy’s “Chappiquiddick” speech, this essay finds promise in an Other-Burkean critical frame. The synthesis of Levinas’s philosophy of ethics and Burke’s philosophy of language yields a tenable critical apparatus that foregrounds ethics and the call of the Other. The most significant contribution that Levinas makes to humanistic inquiry generally and to communication studies specifically is to call for greater attentiveness to, acknowledgment of, and dialogical responsiveness to the voices of Others. Simultaneously, Burke’s unrivaled contribution to rhetorical theory and criticism are a systematic theory of the grammatical and rhetorical functions of symbols and detailed critical methodologies for the analysis of texts. Together, Levinas and Burke generate both a theory of and critical methodology for studying human symbol action that makes primary the questions of whether and how those dramatistic enactments respond to the calls of Others.

An Other-Burkean framework for doing rhetorical analysis, including a reformulated definition of human being and an expanded dramatistic nonad, promises to assist the rhetorical critic engaged in the evaluation of the ethicality of discursive practices. Indeed, the generation of additional, Other-centered dramatistic terms, and hence more dramatistic ratios, can reveal more of the “view of reality” and ethical posture embedded within a text. King’s rhetoric, for example, may be characterized by a call-responsibility coupling. King’s purpose is itself an inclusive expression of the calls to responsibility issued by Others and his agency results from tempering a demand for justice with responsibilities to Others. King’s Other-centered and dialogical rhetoric contrasts glaringly with Kennedy’s self-centered and self-serving rhetoric, and offers itself as an example of an ethical rhetoric in which the voices of Others are revealed and in which the invitation to dialogue is tendered.

In the case of Nazi propaganda, an Other-Burkean frame supports the familiar conclusion that Nazi discourse was unethical with respect to its addressed audience. Nazi discourse was propagandistic in two ways: in being less than truthful and in being manipulative. But an Other-Burkean frame argues further that Nazi discourse was more primordially unethical in its failure to acknowledge other Others. Through its systematic disregard and attempted annihilation of otherness, Nazi discourse sought to eliminate the political and military restraints imposed by ethical obligation. Consequently, this essay’s analysis suggests an additional subdivision of propaganda to characterize discursive practices that fail to acknowledge particular Others and/or seek to remove or exclude them from the public forum. Such communicative practices, which may not withhold, manipulate, or distort information, function as annihilative propaganda.

In the case of Kennedy’s “Chappiquiddick” speech, an Other-Burkean frame begins not with an analysis of the text’s effectiveness upon its target audience, but with a consideration of the ethical sufficiency of that selection of audience. Supplemental to traditional rhetorical approaches that would evaluate what Kennedy said to his voters in terms of its effectiveness and/or truthfulness, an Other-Burkean frame offers an ethical rhetorical evaluation of what Kennedy failed to say to his other Others. An interrogation of Kennedy’s omissions, which shows how Kennedy failed to respond to the memory of Kopechne and to those mourning her death, adds to Ling’s pentadic analysis, which showed how Kennedy sought to avoid responsibility and to minimize political fallout through his description of events. Explicit attention to the Other, through the use of an expanded dramatistic nonad, can supplement traditional pentadic analysis by highlighting the calls of Others and the text’s responsiveness to those calls.

So Levinas’s philosophy of ethics can help to draw out and solidify Burke’s own ethical sensibilities. At the same time, Burke supplements Levinas with a philosophy of language that explains how the calls of Others and our responses and responsibilities are framed symbolically. Burke’s dramatistic philosophy, synthesized with Levinas’s phenomenological description of ethics as the call of the Other, yields an Other-Burkean mode of rhetorical criticism that promises both to evaluate the ethicality of a text in its responsiveness to and responsibility for its Others and to understand the rhetorical strategies and mechanics through which those calls to responsibility are acknowledged, answered, silenced, or ignored.


1Not all “feminist scholars” find Burke’s philosophy patriarchal. Japp (1999) argues that “Burke contains much that is relevant for feminist scholarship” and that he provides “an indispensable array of guerrilla tactics for survival in a field of masculinist symbols” (p. 113).

2Stated differently, the question of whether Burke needs to be “corrected” with Levinas is less important than the necessity to articulate a critical framework that concentrates on the voice of the Other. Irrespective of whether a Burkean frame or an Other-Burkean frame is best equipped for that task, the goal remains social justice and emancipation from oppression.

3Throughout this essay, the capitalized “Other” will designate a concrete other person and the uncapitalized “other” will designate any other sense of otherness. This is conventional for several of Levinas’s translators-see Cohen (1985), for example. The distinction between ontology and metaphysics is central in Levinas-see section I of Levinas (1969). For an introduction to Levinas’s philosophy, see Levinas (1985), Peperzak (1993), and Davis (1996).

4See Murray (2000) for a discussion of the “Platinum Rule” and how Levinas’s conception of ethics extends and corrects it.

5See Murray (2001) for discussion of “acknowledgment” as the one necessary precondition for ethical communication.

6See Murray (2002) for discussion of the epistemological and ontological dimensions of Burke’s dramatistic philosophy and development of a uniquely dramatistic theory of ethics.

7See the middle section of Burke’s A grammar of motives (1969) for illustrations of how an analysis of pentadic ratios can reveal the underlying philosophical orientation of a text. For examples of pentadic analysis, see Brock (1972), Birdsell (1972), and Brummett (1973).


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Independent Scholar

Copyright Central States Speech Association Summer 2003

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