Date of Award


Degree Type

Master's Essay - Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




For a good many people who labor in the enormous and apparent shadow of the New Critics, one of the modern propensities in criticism has become a concern for specialization. This concern manifests itself to the point where critics look at literature as an isolated body under a microscope. However, as we all know, the great critics-- like Aristotl., Dryden, Johnson, and Arnold, and on a more recent note, people like T. S . Eliot, John Dewey, and Paul Goodman--have been individuals of extraordinary breadth. Kenneth Burke, by nature of his cosmic approach, finds his place in just such a critical tradition where these critics, although the characteristics and inner workings of a particular text are never lost upon them, seem to view literature more through a telescope. These critics bring to bear on literature a vast field of knowledge, and they- see literature as reaching out into many orbits of related fields. Following from this, it is not surprising to note that Kenneth Burke began his career as a music critic, and then during the course of his life Burke branched out by delving quite seriously into the fields of philosophy, political science, theology, and history; also within Burke's grasp have been several relatively new fields of inquiry such as linguistics, anthropology, and psychology. The mind necessary to attempt absorbing such a far-reaching range of knowledge points to Burke's dominant characteristic, namely an insatiable curiosity; and the mind necessary to control such a far-reaching range indicates Burke's essential method, namely synthesis. As a result the accumulative effect of his vast studies is felt in all Burke's writings.And we he readers must be quite prepared when encountering such a critic who encompasses a strong speculative spirit, and a critic who himself proclaims: "The main ideal of criticism, as I see it, is to use all that there is to use." It is clear that Burke is intent on overlooking what many of the New Critics consider to be an intrinsic part of aesthetic theory, that is a disdain for what Wimsatt and Beardsley have termed the "intentional" and "affective fallacies." Yet do not think that Burke disregards aesthetics, because this too is a major concern. It should simply suffice at this moment to say that for Burke aesthetics per se is seen as "the psychology of the audience," and it is at all times how the audience is moved to a certain reaction by an author's technique that will attract Burke's attention. And now, as you see, the odyssey we have commenced upon allows Burke to steer us into the province of rhetoric; and keep in mind also that Burke is never apologetic for considering himself a reigning authority in the realm of rhetoric. Indeed, I expect, he might even consider allowing Aristotle to polish his crown.