[KB] Desilet, Moby Dick, and Melodrama

Edappel8@cs.com Edappel8 at cs.com
Thu May 8 14:03:55 EDT 2008

       I thank Greg for his really brilliant reply to my screed on this topic 
of May 6.  I'll make a few comments here, and then mull over at more length 
the points he makes.  I think he and I are directly engaged in some places, and 
maybe talking past each other in others.

       Let me call attention, first, to something Morris Weitz says in his 
article on "Tragedy" in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1967): "A true statement 
of the necessary and sufficient properties of all tragedies, their common, 
essential nature," does not exist.  "The fundamental disagreements among the 
theorists themselves about the nature of tragedy seriously call into question 
such a formula, for, as we have seen, the theorists disagree not only about the 
essence of tragedy but even about is necessary properties" (Vol. 8, p. 160).

       Now, I have argued for retention of the label "tragic frame" for 
"perfected," distinctively and explicitly suasory discourse in part by way of 
authority: This is Burke's basic nomenclature, as is that of scores of his 
interpreters, including some of the most distingished of those scholars and critics.  
My most important supports, however, have to do with the dramatistic notion of 
"connotation," the "invisible adjective[s]" that circle around any one term 
or concept (P&C, p. 192), and the practical "serviceability" of making a 
generic distinction between the oratory of a Hitler and that of a Delay.  Greg 
challenges the connotation argument by noting other inducements than the ones I 
emphasize inherent in the term "melodrama" as dramatic action, not just as 
disinterested descriptive.  He challenges the serviceability argument by suggesting 
how the melodrama of ordinary, heated political combat is not that different 
from Hitlerite extremes.  They can both lead to death, destruction, physical 
mayhem.  (Maybe literally true, but, overall, still something of a stretch, I 
think, in terms of likely outcomes.  I would label much of the discourse perhaps 
behind the slaying of Matthew Shephard, e.g. Falwell's, as tragic, not 
melodramatic, for reasons I gave in that May 6th post.)

       I concede that Burke is not always clear in his analyses of tragic 
drama.  I make that point in my article: "Some evidence can be inferred from his 
corpus to support a shift from tragedy to the terminology of melodrama.  
Burke's often [and here I'm quoting from a study of mine on William F. Buckley, 
Jr., in Western] 'none-too-distinct separation between literature and [practical] 
rhetoric' can create 'confustion.'"  I'll add to what Greg culls from Burke's 
1959 article in the Kenyon Review: "Tragedy," Burke says, "deals in 
crime---and any incipient trend will first be felt as crime, by reason as its conflict 
with established values.  But tragedy deals SYMPATHETICALLY with crime.  Even 
though the criminal is finally sentenced to be punished, we are made to feel 
that his [sic] offence is our offence, and at the same time the offence is 
dignified by nobilitiy of style" (ATH, p. 39 n; emphasis in original).  Burke is 
here, though, in his chapter on "Poetic Categories," referring to theatrical 
and literary genres in particular, I do believe.  That's the only seat in social 
and cultural life, I would submit, where tragic drama would serve as a "frame 
of acceptance," Burke's claim in this section of ATH.

       If we note what the main thread of Burke's presentations on tragic 
drama, as contrasted with comic drama (remember: opposites explain, as in 
"Counter-Statement"), articulates through his published books---I speak especially of 
P&C, ATH, PLF, and RR---"factional tragedy" serves as featured descriptive of 
rhetoric, practical rhetoric, in extremis.

       That's enough for a start.





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