[KB] Burke and Moby Dick
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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