[KB] Burke and Moby Dick

Edappel8@cs.com Edappel8 at cs.com
Mon Dec 3 11:26:49 EST 2007

       In relation to our discussion of Burke and Moby Dick a few weeks ago, 
I want to call attention to the lead article in the current KBJournal.  It's 
entitled, "Conflicted Possession: A Pentadic Assessment of T. E. Lawrence's 
Desert Narrative," by Jason Ingram.  Ingram's article is obviously not about 
Melville's novel in particular.  It is about how "obsessive purpose" can, and 
often does, take a "self-destructive turn," how action tragically metamorphoses 
into motion when humans heedlessly focus on one or two dimentions of pentadic 
motivation, say "act" and "purpose," without due regard for other dimensions, 
particularly recalcitrant "scene."

       Ingram builds on the myth of Actaeon, who attempted to gaze on the 
naked Goddess Diana, while she was bathing with her nymphs in attendance.  Diana 
turned Actaeon into a prey animal for his hubristic offense; his hounds then 
chased and devoured him.  Ingram builds, too, on Sartre's use of the myth to 
critique blindly fixated science and its resulting technology, as a potentially 
risky "demand that nature reveal her secrets," and all of them, or else.

       Here's the sentence that references Moby Dick:

       "Examples [of such morbid quests] range from Ahab's obsessive hunt in 
Moby Dick through Gene Hackman's compulsion at the end of The Conversation 
(Coppola, 1974) to the field of conspiracy theories such as those depicted in 
Foucault's Pendulum (Eco, 1988/1989)."

       At the conclusion of Melville's novel, Ahab's half-insane, yet 
purposeful action turns to self-destructive motion, as Moby Dick, the tangible 
embodiment of Nature's noumenon, sinks the Pequod and then garottes Ahab.  This 
interpretation works, of course, if we assume the benign interpretation of the 
Whale's nature as "dumb brute," as Starbuck would have it.

       I like especially Ingram's statement that, "For Burke, over-reliance 
upon any one element of action at the expense of discerning resources provided 
by other pentadic elements courts tragedy."  I've said more than once on this 
list that, in my view, Burke's dramatism/logology is a metasystem that 
credits, and encourages consideration of, all the pendatic terms as needed 
"parliamentary voices" in our ongoing search for a balanced approach to living.  It is 
not simply a "realism."

       I would add to Ingram's take the poiema-pathema-mathema 
(action-passion-understanding) take that Burke offers in GM, as a nice gloss on the way 
obsessive action invites motion that can double back and bite a myopic, prideful 

       I may have more to say about Ingram's piece in a later post.



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