Pure Persuasion: Metarhetorical Motives in Kenneth Burke's Towards a Better Life
Abstract

Abstract:

Is Kenneth Burke's 1932 novel, Towards a Better Life, an example of protopostmodernism? A number of critics in recent years have resurrected from the corpus of Burke's theoretical work embryonic - in some cases, advanced - models of postmodern theory. What hasn't been analyzed in commensurate detail for its uncanny prescience is Burke's early novel, a work, I would argue, ahead of its time in many respects. While already applauded for its verbal energy and lyrical grace, 'the internal eventfulness of its sentences,' as Denis Donoghue puts it, the novel's theoretical implications remain to be fully adumbrated in respect to a profound concern with the manner in which language games, or 'terministic screens,' to use Burke's neologism, can foreclose prospects for communicative engagement. At the heart of Burke's novel is a complex and ultimately unresolvable tension between the pleasures of 'pure persuasion' (metarhetorical motives) and the imperatives of salutary communicative involvement.