[KB] Desilet, Moby Dick, and Melodrama

Edappel8@cs.com Edappel8 at cs.com
Mon May 5 10:46:40 EDT 2008

       The following is the second post I received from Gregory Desilet on 
our discussion of Moby Dick.  I will foward to Greg any comments anyone has to 
make in respose.

Hi Ed,
Yes, it would be fine with me to post what I sent to you on the kb discussion 
list. However, if it generates any responses would there be the expectation 
from the members that I respond to those responses? Is so, I would be happy to 
do so (as my time allows). But would I need to be registered in some way to 
participate? Not sure how your discussion list works in this respect. 

As to how I came across the discussion on the internet, I was experimenting 
with some new search engines available at this site:
I used the first one on the list and I believe I searched under Kenneth 
Burke. I think these engines bring up things not commonly found on google searches.

Thanks for sending the copy of your soon to be published essay. I thought it 
was well argued and makes good points regarding the need for some genre 
terminology clarification in the field--insofar as there seems to be a growing trend 
to use these genre terms across literary and political discourse spheres. In 
my book I approached the issue somewhat differently than you have. I started 
examining mythical, religious, metaphysical, and dramatic ways of structuring 
conflict and how these contain core assumptions about the structuring conflict. 
I ended up comparing models for the structuring of conflict and how these may 
launch us in different directions from the git-go in how to respond to and 
manage conflict. 

You make a persuasive case for organizing the genres in a series of degrees 
regarding the severity of polarization and of "sacrifice" or "victimage" along 
the spectrum of tragedy, burlesque, melodrama (tragedy-lite), comedy. You do 
so in a way that sees this series in an overall frame that appears to go along 
with the way Burke predominantly understands tragedy and tragic drama--that is 
in the somewhat secularized soteriological cluster of terms "order, guilt, 
sacrifice, redemption." 

In my essay "Nietzsche contra Burke" I try to draw out a difference between 
Burke and Nietzsche in how each approaches the understanding of tragedy and 
tragic drama. Nietizsche does not, in my opinion, operate from the Christian 
soteriological assumptions as does Burke, but rather from a different foundation 
provided by Greek tragic drama (with some borrowing from Aristotle). These core 
assumptions provide two very different models for conflict. In the 
Greek/Aristotelian/Nietzschean model "victimage" is understood as "tragic," that is, 
something the entire community and all sides of the conflict can see their way to 
grieve over. In the more Christian inflluenced model the polarization remains 
even after the conflict and thereby elicits feelings of joy and triumph in 
the "sacrifice" as redemption (Christ) or "victimage" as the "good-riddance" of 
a pollution (Devil, Satan, etc.). In the Greek model there is grief but not 
joy over bloodletting. The latter is, I believe, the better model for 
understanding ALL acts of violence, especially deadly violence. From these models I work 
toward understanding a crucial structural and attitudinal difference toward 
these modes of violence and conflict in general. 

It seems to me we need a model of conflict and competition that does not make 
use of the core polarizing soteriologically based assumptions. Greek tragedy 
provides this model by inducing and promoting the preservation of a deep human 
connection between those in conflict, even when the outcome is or must be 
tragically violent in a deadly way. In the continuum you propose--tragedy, 
burlesque, melodrama, comedy--all seem to correspond to an overall structure whereby 
one side is to one degree or another "dehumanized," "victimized," 
"sacrificed," or otherwise trashed within a framing that coaxes a response of relief or 
joy in relation to something or someone targeted. In comedy or burlesque this 
is intended and acceptable (so long as it does not become "black" in the sense 
of laughing over deadly brutalizations). 

But in melodrama involving deadly violence, whether in film or real life, I 
don't think joy or celebration is a healthy or helpful response. (think here of 
the celebrations that occurred in some countries after 9/11--places where the 
conflict was structured in stark melodramatic dichotomies). This is why I 
believe there is a need for seeing conflict differently and the model contained 
in Greek tragedy provides that. In my opinion a broader communal understanding 
of all intense or violent conflict in these terms would be beneficial because 
it would help to block the tendency to resort too quickly to simplistic 
scapegoating models while also encouraging closer examination of the complexities of 
conflict. And this need not necessarily lead to paralysis, indecision, 
inaction, or the fatalism you suggest is the result of tragic drama (certainly 
Nietzsche would disagree with you regarding the association of fatalism, inaction, 
and tragic drama--fatalism here not to be confused with amor fati). It just 
might make us more aware of the tragic dimensions of our actions before we 
engage in them (and thereby reduce the potential for excessive response).
This gives at least another short take on where I'm coming from in my 
approach. All for now,

> ----- Original Message ----- 
> From: Edappel8 at cs.com 
> To: info at gregorydesilet.com 
> Sent: Saturday, May 03, 2008 9:21 AM
>  Subject: Re: The recent KB conversation on Moby Dick
> Dear Greg,
> Do I have your permission to forward your post to the kb discussion list? 
> I'm sure those who participated in that lengthy back-and-forth on Moby Dick 
> would be most interested in your comments.
> Also, where did you come across that discussion on the internet? I know the 
> search engines do cull things from kb and the KBJournal.org.
> Thanks again for your most interesting and valuable reply.
> Ed


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