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DESILET, Gregory & APPEL, Edward C.

Summer 2011, 41:4, pages 340 - 362

Choosing a Rhetoric of the Enemy: Kenneth Burke's Comic Frame, Warrantable Outrage, and the Problem of Scapegoating

Abstract: Kenneth Burke's dramatistic theory of rhetoric presents a significant tension between an “Iron Law of History” and a “comic” attitude. Comic framing in ironic awareness of one's own shortcomings in a conflict, as well as those of one's opponent, moderates aggression but also appears to dissolve the ground for the identification and censure of wrongdoing. Nevertheless, this did not prevent Burke from engaging in the censure of wrongdoing. Although Burke does not explicitly and adequately counter the apparent inconsistency, he implicitly provides a meta-perspective advancing a possible resolution. Forceful scapegoating of scapegoating itself, through comic irony and double-visioned analysis, can guide, in serial progression, warfare and redemptive reunion. Wartime speeches of Franklin D. Roosevelt illustrate the larger comic framing inherent in a rhetorical movement from “factional tragedy” to “comic” regard and reconciliation.


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