[KB] Desilet, Moby Dick, and Melodrama

Edappel8@cs.com Edappel8 at cs.com
Mon May 12 18:44:20 EDT 2008

Second Post from Greg Desilet, 5/12/08:

Hi Ed,


Continuing the exchange:


Ed: 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, indeed!

In this post you paint (or at least suggest) a bleak picture of contemporary “
late-capitalist” society. And I can’t say that it’s altogether unwarranted. 
Much of what goes on in the world leaves me with the distinct impression that “
the center will not hold.” Of course, for the postmodernists the “center” 
was an illusion from the get-go. And I think that may be correct. Things always 
seem most chaotic in profound transitions and human community is currently 
undergoing profound transition—especially with regard to communication 
technology. We are in “contact” with each other much more broadly and intensely than 
ever before and this increased breadth and volume of contact presents much more 
opportunity for conflict. But it also presents more opportunity (if not 
necessity!) for working out avenues of cooperation. Symbols are the way more so than 
guns if we want to see the 22nd century. And learning about the vagaries and 
complexities of language must be an essential part of that process of 
cooperation. We have to become better symbol-users and that means understanding how 
symbols mislead us as well as lead us. It also means finding better cultural 
rituals for approaching, structuring, and managing conflict. Burke put us on the 
path to doing this and exploring and refining his views about language and 
human relations could not lead us very far astray on the road to these “better” 
cultural rituals and practices.


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