Entry Framing (Theory Moves)

Entry Framing: [en-tree frey-ming] Noun Phrase

The initial establishment in a text of a perspective, an orientation, a frame from or against which the text proceeds.

Examples: An entry framing can establish a voice (“I am a spiteful man.  My liver is bad…”)   It can announce a purpose (“We the people… in order to….”)  It can announce a literary genre (“In the beginning, there was…”)  It can…

Antonym: schizophrenia

See also: myth of origin

Entry framing can do many (many) things.

We call it a “framing” in three senses of that term,  First, it frames (think: paintings) in the sense that it focuses our attention on a delimited subject and excludes everything else from the picture.  Second, it frames (think: building construction) in the sense that it establishes the scaffolding, the structure, on which the action will hang and the text will begin to take shape.   It announces and establishes initially, the scene, the action, the actors, the instrumentalities, and/or the purposes that will limit and enable what is to follow.  (See Kenneth Burke’s Dramatistic Pentad.)   Third, it frames (think: being framed for a crime) in the sense in the sense that it frames the reader–calls him or her forth to become a particular kind of reader:  to worry, to ponder, to skim, to….   It enlists the reader in a certain genre, promises a certain agon, announces the coming deployment of  certain kinds of resources–literary, intellectual, emotional, etc.

The framing at stake here an “entry” because it is the point at which an orientation perspective, frame is first announced, first established, first set forth.  Key to the entry aspect is that this initial “setting forth”  is asserted.  Declared.  Not argued for.  Hence, to take the examples above, Dostoyevky’s Underground Man affirms his spite without any prefatory note.   “We the people…” of the United States  do not explain who they are nor why they are entitled to speak as they do.    The entry frame performs (successfully or not) as an origin–even as it evokes, paradoxically, in the audience and the reader the recollection of its antecedents.

In some circumstances, the entry framing will elicit or call up the genre itself.   Hence, in constitutional law, Supreme Court justices typically announce early and bluntly, the well-rehearsed frames through which they will state and resolve the issues.      Among some of the major entry frames, we find, by way of example, the following:

Clause-bound interpretivism

Institutional Competence

Role of the court

Federalism

Following /implementing precedent

Philosophical exegesis

Originalism

(and a few more)

The various opinions in United States v. Lopez provide wonderful examples.

How do entry frames matter?

First, entry frames matter in that readers are often taken in without their knowledge.     That is to say, readers often do not immediately appreciate that they have been framed (or how they have been framed).  They are often unwittingly drawn into the world called forth by the frame.   This is not surprising—one does not typically approach a text warily–on guard against its opening moves.    (There is a practical point here: The most rhetorically adept authors use entry framing to smuggle in their root assumptions early before the reader is fully awakened.)

Second, while an entry frame is not fate—it can lead to the adoption of other frames (by way of slippage, breaking frame, referral, etc.)—there is something to the idea that the entry frame limits possibilities.  A given entry frame may lead to many places, but it may make some places harder to reach (rhetorically) than others and perhaps render some places unreachable altogether.   The point is aptly summed up in the lawyer’s aphorism: let me state the issue and I will win the case.  But the point is more profound than that:  A particular entry frame will establish what we will worry about, what we will seek to discover, what authorities we will recognize.  It will evoke the discursive and literary protocols through which praise and criticism can be offered.

Third, the entry frame—the advantage of being first—will be difficult to dispel.  It will remain in the background ready to impeach and impugn other frames as they are later affirmed in the text.  One particular telling example was Thomas C. Grey’s witty critique of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice.  Said Thomas C. Grey:  If process approaches (i.e. the original position) are so great, then why does a theory of justice come out as a set of timeless principles?

Fourth, the entry frame positions and orients the text, the author, the reader for an unavoidably partial textual excursion—one in which the whole truth will be unavailable for the simple reason that the entry frame unavoidably fashions the truth to be found while excluding all others.  One ends up using the same categories–following the same paths (and perforce missing other options).

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