[KB] Desilet, Moby Dick, and Melodrama
Edappel8 at cs.com
Sun May 11 16:28:28 EDT 2008
It's time now to "Burke myself," shift into reverse, take a cue from
RM where Burke says, "Perhaps we here overstate the case" (p. 277), argue the
other fella's point of view, reach behind my truncated screen to the excluded.
I'll take a cue, also, from our high school basketball coach, who once said,
in respect to how a team captain might best be selected, why not just play the
game and see who takes over. Let things develop naturally.
Tragedy in Burke seems to go with "gravity," "sublimity," "the
grandiose," "the heightened," "the . . . heroic," "the superhuman," "nob[ility],"
"dignity," "importance," fervent "purposiveness," intense striving and
"straining" to achieve those lofty ends, the ideal (CS, pp. 198-212; P&C, pp. 195-97;
ATH, pp. 34-39; PLF, pp. 60-66; GM, pp. 294-97; RR, pp. 17-23). But, as Joseph
Wood Krutch said long ago in The Modern Temper, the "'death of tragedy'"
characterizes contemporary theater and cultural life in general (CS, pp. 198-204).
Modern science and the resulting metaphysical skepticism have eroded the
stable state of human self-regard that nurtured the "tragic spirit" (CS, p. 200)
that allowed for tragic drama. Burke resisted Krutch's conclusions. A lot,
though, has happened since Burke wrote in tragedy's behalf.
If we credit the likes of Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, and Jamieson,
we've gone from the proto- or quasi-postmodernism of Burke, to postmodernism
full-blown. We've gone from capitalism to late capitalism. We've gone from the
semi-teleological evolutionary thought of Bergson, Whitehead, and Teillard to
The Blind Watchmaker of Dawkins. We've gone from the possible steady-state
cosmology of a Hoyle to a finite/infinite "run-away" universe that will
disintegrate into a particle fog after eons of black skies, devoid of any other
visible stellar bodies.
We live in a society now where everything is commodified, every value
reduced to dollars and cents. The Municipal Stadiums of the past are now the
Lincoln Financial Fields; the Civic Centers, now the First Unions or the
Wachovias. (It's hard to keep up with which corporate funder is presently debasing
a once-thriving community elan.) High culture collapses into middle, middle
into low. A Madonna equates with a Sills, or whatever. Gossip and sleaze
overwhelm what's derided as "wonkery" in our supposedly elite news organs and
venues. The post-Christian has become the post-theological in the attitudes and
orientations of the high priests of the regnant religion, scientism.
Going with the flow of language change---not, in the words of William
F. Buckley, Jr., "standing athwart history and shouting stop!"---a rhetorician
might just watch academic discourse develop, like public discouse, and
passively see what terms take over. Stage drama in its fullness, and now explicitly
rhetorical drama in its fullness, may be mere "melodrama." They may both be
mere "melodrama" because human life in general may now be mere melodrama.
Human life in postmodern, late-capitalist society seems currently to lack
"nobility," "gravity," "sublimity," indeed "importance." Burke may be but a
transitional figure, like one of his heroes, Spinoza. Spinoza, Burke says, greased
the skids in the move from theology to naturalism. Burke, who introduced us to
the "symbolizing animal," with the accent decidedly on symbol-systemology, may
have served as a convenient way-station between the "citizen of Heaven" and
"MAN [sic] IN THE JUNGLE" (ATH, p. 170; emphasis in original). Maybe the
diminutive human is only capable of diminutive discursive forms.
Welcome to this Brave New World of middle-to-low rhetorical style,
Have a fine but, of course, ultimately meaningless Mothers Day.
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