[KB] KB, Cultural Criticism, and the Election

wessr@onid.orst.edu wessr at onid.orst.edu
Tue May 6 22:50:44 EDT 2008


Ed,

My subject in my 5/2 post (reprinted below your message) was cultural  
criticism
based on Burke, not how to assess candidates. In other words, I was
pointing to the place in Burke that to me seems to offer a productive
way to comprehend the possible historical significance of the
election. (Also, in the passage I referenced, Burke uses the term
"specific" not in the ordinary sense, but in a technical sense that he  
develops in the course of A RHETORIC OF MOTIVES.)

Let me add that I too would miss you if you stayed off the list. I was  
happy to see supporters speak up in your behalf.

Bob W

> Bob,
>
>        I think you make a good point about the transcendent as a requirement
> for a presidential candidate in the United States, especially given the dual
> role of that office. But didn't the nation "elect," if we can call it that,
> something of a "transcendent" "uniter, not a divider," in 2000, whose ethos
> seemed to trump logos in the national assessment? And have not the    
>  "specifics" that
> that leader has foisted on the nation brought great harm, specifics that
> seemed to get relative short shrift during the campaign?
>
>        [Proper name missing here because I'm referring to private
> correspondence] has downplayed content and detail as paramount     
> factors in persuasion, if
> not also in importance, in presidential rhetoric. Isn't there a potential
> danger in putting too much stress on the "generic" and "transcendent" in our
> assessment of candidates for this particular office? Aren't we     
> paying a price for
> it now?
>
>        Just asking.
>
>        Ed
>
>> One thing that interests me about the upcoming election is the extent
> to which it will test Burke's distinction between the "specific" and
> the "generic," particularly the statement of that distinction that
> appears on p. 193 of A RHETORIC OF MOTIVES. What Burke says there
> applies most directly to Obama, but can easily be applied to Clinton
> as well.
>
> Members of congress can stay on the "specific" level and often are
> expected to do precisely that. But the president, I think, needs to
> partake of the "generic" for a variety of reasons such as "the
> president represents all the people" and the fact that in the US
> system the president is both head of government and head of state (by
> contrast to Britain where the prime minister is head of government and
> the monarch is head of state). To adapt the statement on p. 193 to the
> election situation is to say in effect that to run for president is to
> seek to embody something that can work on a "generic" level in US
> culture.
>
> The historic nature of a black or female candidate for president bears
> on what is "generic" in US culture. The generic is a "transcendent"
> position but it varies from culture to culture and can change over
> time, so it's a "perspective" too.
>
> The "test" will be the extent to which this historic dimension of the
> election proves to be decisive in either the victory or defeat of
> Clinton/Obama.

> Bob W







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