[KB] Desilet, Moby Dick, and Melodrama

Dan seinsfrage at gmail.com
Wed May 7 12:11:05 EDT 2008

Hi Ed,

I accidentally deleted the post in which you name the previously mentioned
four top Burke scholars. Who were they, if you don't mind me asking?

Dan Smith

On Wed, May 7, 2008 at 12:01 PM, <Edappel8 at cs.com> wrote:

>        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 tragic frame.
>        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.
>        Ed
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Daniel Smith, PhD
Department of English
University of South Carolina
Columbia, SC 29208
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