[KB] Holiday provocation

rountree rountrj at email.uah.edu
Tue Jan 2 10:10:05 EST 2007


I like the distinction that allows competitiveness to use the resources of
symbolism to overcome the existential separateness of our lives. I'd never
thought of this compensation in such narrow terms, though you're undoubtedly
right about Burke's particular point here.


Clarke Rountree
Associate Professor and Chair
Department of Communication Arts
342 Morton Hall
University of Alabama in Huntsville
Huntsville, AL  35899

-----Original Message-----
From: wessr at onid.orst.edu [mailto:wessr at onid.orst.edu] 
Sent: Wednesday, December 27, 2006 4:13 PM
To: rountrj at email.uah.edu
Cc: Kb List
Subject: Re: [KB] Holiday provocation


Thanks for your response but I miss any reference to the Veblen section in
that I referenced in the passage I quoted from RM 131. It seems to me that
section is crucial for consideration of competitive individualism from the
standpoint of consubstantiality.

A brief precursor of this section appears in PLF 316-17, where Burke's focus
the relation of ethics and work. He contrasts two modes of work, one
positive and one ethically negative. The negative mode is work under
capitalism. His later conceptualization of consubstantiality enables him to
analyze this contrast in a manner that is more generalized and theoretically

What is common in both the PLF and RM pages is the biological side deriving
neurological division ("the muscular and mental endowments which originally
for survival by the destruction of competitors" [PLF 316]). What is
different is
the more sophisticated analysis in RM of the social side
(consubstantiality). In
the RM argument, "imitation" transforms the brutal advantage seeking on the
biological level into the "out-imitating" on the consubstantiality level,
whereby individuals strive to outdo one another in imitating the "underlying
principles" informing the "consubstantiality" that defines their "community
ways" (RM 131). "Imitation" is dramatistic, a motive for consubstantiality.
Depending on the "underlying principles," this "imitation" may transform
biological competitiveness into social cooperation (e.g., positive work in
PLF pages) or it may reinforce the competitiveness (e.g., negative work).
RM argument is theoretically stronger because it allows Burke to incorporate
his dramatistic concerns with language and action.

You ask, "how is the consubstantiality involved in two competing CEOs--each
to beat the other guy--compensatory?"

Take "consubstantiality" first. "[T]wo persons may be identified in terms of
some principle they share in common, an `identification' that does not deny
their distinctness" (RM 21). The "principle" in any competition is that
governs who wins and who loses. Athletic contests are particularly good
examples because of their simplicity. In golf, for example, individuals
dedicate their lives to mastering the skill of getting around a golf course
as few strokes as possible. Golfers become "consubstantial" at least on the
level of golf. They strive to "out-imitate" one another to become the best
player by "imitating" the principles of the game more successfully than
else. As indicated above, Burke stresses "imitation" to identify
the sense in which you have to become consubstantial (be "like" the other
competitors) to enter the competition.

How can such "consubstantiality" be "compensatory"? By virtue of the
consubstantiality they share, competitors have the chance to experience the
pleasure of winning but only at the risk of experiencing the pain of losing.
"Identification is compensatory to division" (RM 22) in the case of
because it makes possible a kind of experience that neurological systems, in
their absolute apartness, cannot experience. The pleasure of winning and the
pain of losing are profoundly social, not the same as the pleasure of
teeth and the pain of a toothache, even though winning/losing a competition
produce bodily effects (e.g., tears).

"[A] way of life in an acting-together (RM 21), and in acting together in
competition, competitors may respond to one another in varying ways--e.g.,
become friends, respect one another, move heaven and earth to prepare to
to the field of battle and win the next time around. As a form of
consubstantiality, competition can produce a spectrum with close friends at
end and lifelong enemies at the other.


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