[KB] Desilet, Moby Dick, and Melodrama
Edappel8 at cs.com
Sat May 10 16:45:00 EDT 2008
First, a point on interpretation of Burke where he talks about the
difference between "factional" and "universal" tragedy (ATH, pp. 188-90 n): I get
the feeling you see Burke's distinction as one between what I, after Burke,
am calling "tragedy," and what you, Aristotle, and Nietzsche call "tragedy." I
don't think that's an accurate reading (if I am "reading" you correctly). In
using the term "universal," Burke is still, I offer, operating within the
Christian soteriological frame, as you call it. At the outset, Burke says, "In
universal tragedy, the stylistically dignified scapegoat represents everyman
[sic]. In his offence, he takes upon himself the guilt of all---and HIS
punishment is MANKIND'S [sic] chastening." The scapegoat mechanism is front and
center in this subgenre of Burkean tragedy, as it is also in the factional.
Burke goes on, in that long footnote, to say, "The crucifixion of
Christ might, by our distinction, be considered as a UNIVERSAL tragedy made
FACTIONAL by the processes of bureacritization. That is, "Christ died for ALL---but
insofar as all were not BELIEVERS, the tragedy called for 'action' with
respect to the non-believers" (emphasis in original throughout). Here's why Burke
elsewhere labels the Christian drama a "complex" one, not easily summarized in
This take on Burke's distinction fits with his scheme of
classification for "[Three] Aspects of the Scapegoat in Reidentification" (PLF, pp. 39-41).
The third aspect is described thus: "We may make him [sic] worthy [of
scapegoating] by a subtle kind of poetic justice, in making the sacrificial vessel
'too good for this world,' hence of the HIGHEST value, hence the most PERFECT
sacrifice (as with the Christ theme, and its secular variants, such as little
Hanno Buddenbrooks, whose exceptional sensitivity to music made him worthy to
be sacrificed to music)" (emphasis in original).
If I read you incorrectly, in respect, say, to your use of the term
"universal" in your proposed taxonomy of genres of drama, let me know. I'm not
saying that the concept of universality cannot be employed both ways, your way
as I understand it, and Burke's way as I understand him. After all, one of
Burke's definitions of rhetoric is, the strategic (and can we not also say
accidental?) use of ambiguity (of necessity inherent in symbolic action) for
Now, on the question of "talking past each other," which possibility I
broached and you acknowledged, I want to go back to what I regard as a
crucial distinction I make in my article, and that I made early in our discussion
here. I fully agree with you on your labeling as "tragic" the intensified and
destructive conflict, "synagonistically" portrayed, in theater and in
literature, a la Aristotle and Nietzsche. Such once-removed representations of
conflict will of necessity invite, if not provoke, the "metaperspective" I spoke of.
The author is not "in the fray." The audience member is out in the seats
somewhere, not on stage. The reader is physically and psychologically separted
from the page. They can all see things the actors in the drama cannot see. I
credit entirely your emphasis, in those venues, on "the kind of viewpoint the
tragedians were trying to inspire in the audience." I concur that "the tragic
vision of life . . . is much more appropriate for characterizing life," that
"tragic vision" being sensitivity to the manner in which symbolizing animals
get tangled up in their mutually destructive agressions, with truth and error
scattered willy-nilly on both sides of the terrain, that there is a "poignant
and profound tragic potential of life to not only make fools of us but to make
killers of us." That's the ""View from the Bridge" or view "From the
Terrace," whichever stage or film metaphor you choose.
I don't think Burke would have gainsaid any of this. Quite the
The questions for me are---and I think these are Burke's
questions---what does our terminology prepared us for (P&C, and LASA, "What Are the Signs
of What?), and how do we best divide up the field, serviceably, in terms of
"friendly" and "unfriendly" forces and inclinations that confront us\ (ATH)?
Now, I don't doubt that your terminology has its connotative virtues, as you have
argued. I just think that mine---Burke's and that of most of Burke's
interpreters---has more useful connotative and taxonomic value. And I don't think I
need to go over that territory again.
I think your proposed classification scheme has much to recommend it.
I will reflect on it further. I will interprete "universal" the way you wish
it to be read. I might question at the outset your notion of "factional
comedy (satire)," assuming you mean Burkean comedy. I question that satire is
closer to Burkean comedy than it is to burlesque. I question, also, that Burkean
comedy is "factional." Hugh Duncan makes a nice gloss on Burke and comedy by
saying it may involve "social distance" for a limited period of time, but not
I'll mull further, and maybe get back. I don't think I've dealt
sufficiently with the qualms you have about Burkean comedy as a global approach to
the "sickness" that afflicts homo loquax.
Thanks very much for the exchange of views. I've printed it all out.
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