Consummation was the one term about which Kenneth Burke wasn't particularly long-winded - odd considering his claim that it was the apex of his theory of form. Perhaps Burke never explained exactly what consummation was because he himself was never clear on the subject, as he told John Woodcock in an interview toward the end of his career. Burke began conceptualizing his theory of form early on - in his 20s - and published it in his first critical book, Counter-Statement, in 1931. At that time, Burke's theory of form had already taken one evolutionary step - from self-expression, with the focus on the artist, to communication, with the focus on the psychology of the reader. Communication was to Burke an "arousing and fulfilling of desires." However, by the 60s, Burke introduced us to a new term which he only used a handful of times in his entire corpus: consummation. This paper attempts to define consummation by exploring Burke's theory of form and looking to his correspondences with friends and scholars. It offers two answers: first, consummation is the act of a reader responding to a writer in critical conversation; second, consummation is the ultimate cathartic achievement. Both play an important civic role. Using current science regarding the gut in connection with emotional purgation, this paper treats seriously Burke's essay "The Thinking of the Body (Comments on the Imagery of Catharsis in Literature)" and his ideas regarding the "Demonic Trinity": micturition, defecation, and parturition, explaining Burkean catharsis as it differs from, deepens, and extends Aristotelian catharsis. What can we learn from what Burke meant by consummation? That the symbolic world is much more significant to our survival than we may realize. As the world of scientific motion advanced rapidly during Burke's lifetime, he began to lose hope that symbolic action could keep up with it. We can see how important poetry and the symbolic motive was for him; he seemed to think it was a matter of life and death. This paper explores what it meant for Burke to seek a consummated life, and the implications that held for him and for us. In the end, the paper posits the importance of catharsis to society in terms of war and peace.



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Humanities; English



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Kenneth Burke, consummation, catharsis, perfection, fulfillment, entelechy, imitation, duplication, William Carlos Williams, Malcolm Cowley, William Rueckert, (nonsymbolic) motion, (symbolic) action, second brain, gut, digestion, Demonic Trinity, micturition, defecation, parturition, urine, excrement, childbirth, sexual, urinal, fecal, body, central nervous system, purgation, communication, critical conversation, scapegoat, scapegoatism, magic, imagery, imagination, copy, poetics, ritualization, potentiality, implications, "track down the implications of a terminology, " "going to the end of the line, " "Ad bellum purificandum, " "rotten with perfection, " peace, love, war