[KB] Desilet, Moby Dick, and Melodrama
Edappel8 at cs.com
Wed May 7 12:01:33 EDT 2008
In citing those "four top scholars" in my previous post, I did not
intend a slight in respect to other top Burkean scholars that remained
unmentioned, and who have also employed the language of "tragedy" in their
interpretation and application of Burke's ideas. Two of the four I cited were the first to
be presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award of the KBS. Another one
received the Distingished Service Award after the publication of his book on
Burke and contemporary philosophy. And the other scholar was editor of an
important volume on landmark essays on Burke, and also a particularly early and
productive critic of contemporary rhetoric from the perspective of the Burkean
Another point: I've said there's an "exigence" in taxonomic labeling,
from a Burkean perspective, in respect to genres of drama, to wit, is the most
extreme and explicitly rhetorical drama to be characterized as "melodramatic"
or "tragic"? Bitzer defines an "exigence" as "an imperfection marked by
urgency" (P&R, 1968). Well, we all know what Burke seems to think about
perfecting the imperfect: Beware. Should we just let the seeming exigence "ride," a
term Burke once used in another context? As good Burkeans, might we not respect
"disorder," renounce "efficiency," extol "uncertainty" and
"irresponsibility," play the "Bohemian" and "aesthete" with appropriate "intellectual
vagabondage" ("Program," CS)?
Do you remember James Kastely's plenary address at the conference in
New Orleans? (I summarized it on this list at the time.) It was published in
JAC the following year, entitled, "The Earned Increment: Kenneth Burke's
Argument for Inefficiency" (Vol. 23, 2003). Kastely's point seems to be that we
function as "barbaians" if we take any notion from Burke wholesale, that we need
to "earn our increment" by "creative" transformation of what Burke has said
in so oblique and anfractuous a manner, that Burke is anything but a font of
ready-to-hand paradigms and tool-box devices for interpretation and critique.
Gunning for a "Burkean System," to take a linkage from a book Chesebro edited,
is precisely not what we should be about.
Contrast Kastely with something Brock once said, one of the giants of
Burkology to be honored at Villanova. Brock noted that Burke resisted the
idea of bringing order out of the chaos, or semi-chaos, of his thought. But,
Brock said, Burke himself has explained the reason why we, as symbol-users, are
so inclined: We eschew disorder and chaos. We have great difficulty living
with it. We want to "round things out," a Burkean turn of phrase that even
Kastely looks benignly on (p. 510).
I think as readers, interpreters, and, I hope, creative-enough users
of Burke's ideas we need to dwell within the tension these two approaches
generate. As I read Kastely, I sense being tied in knots as to what one can duly
take from Burke without being deemed a "barbarian." As I recall Brock's
admonition, I sense we need to reflect carefully on how rigorously we schematize
Burke's deliberately anarchic style of presentation.
In that spirit of deliberate, purposive, redemptive/corrective action
in the midst of self-reflective dubiety and trepidation, I offer my thoughts
on tragedy and melodrama as the beginning, I hope, of productive conversation.
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