[KB] Desilet, Moby Dick, and Melodrama

Edappel8@cs.com Edappel8 at cs.com
Thu May 15 12:52:20 EDT 2008

       Trying to get at the crux of what separates Greg and me in this 
debate---"Burke over here," Herb Simons once said in reference to me in a class of 
his at Temple---we must keep coming back to Burke's comic frame.  Is it, or is 
it not, a problematic orientation, or a universally serviceable one, toward 
conflict in this world of super-charged symbolizers?

       Herb has famously asked the question, where's room for "warranted 
outrage" in Burke's approach to life and rhetoric?  No matter what the enormity 
we're confronted with, Burke seems to enjoin that we just "let it ride," as he 
once put it.

       Yet, outrage as an attitude, or "incipient act," will likely find 
expression in the "vituperative" discourse that Burke labels an attenuated form of 
tragic scapegoating (PLF, p. 39; LASA, pp. 91-94).  In this view, Burkean 
comedy cannot, it would seem, function for us as a global means of confronting 
the vissisitudes of life.

       Greg, as I read him, has a problem with Burkean comedy as the sole 
approach to effecting transcendence of destructive and debilitating conflict, of 
generating the needed metaperspective, or dramatic irony, required to confront 
human reality in its fullness.  Person and groups that kill others, for 
example, are not satisfactorily characterized as "clowns" or "fools."  They may, 
indeed, be "mistaken," a Burkean comedic descriptive Greg employs in this 
context in Our Faith in Evil.  But they are hardly mere klutzes or bumblers.  It's 
not that Burkean comedy precludes "warranted outrage"; that's not the problem 
for Greg, because such outrage is never warranted.  (Do I have that right?)  
It's that transcendence of evil can only be achieved well and effectively if we 
look evil directly in the face, call it what it is by way of 
Aristotelian/Nietzschean "tragedy," and proceed from that transcendent and "synagonistic" means 
of identifying human brokenness to a more harmonious level of human 
relationship.  Burkean comedy is seen as synagonistic, yes, but not sufficiently 

       Herb wants to make room for outrage.  Greg wants to strike it from our 
repertoire of response in our quotidian and exceptional conflicts, personal, 
social, political, international.

       How am I doing so far by way of interpretation?

       Greg makes an adjustment in his proposed taxonomy of human dramas.  He 
offers "Factional/Universal/Synagonistic" as the means of modifying our 
conceptions of "Tragedy, Burlesque, Melodrama, and Comedy," or at least my scheme 
of classification for the same.  What he seems to advocate is the extirpation 
not only of conflict with the "other" (by way of the factional), but also 
conflict with the "self" (by way of a purely and categroically "synagonistic" 
approach to life in all its dimensions).

       I ask: Who's being unrealistic here?  Simons, Burke, Desilet, or all 

       I share with Herb and Greg the feeling that Burkean comedy may not be 
a satisfactory orientation to human relationships in all its vagaries.  But I 
sense that what Greg is ultimately proposing is the elimination of drama from 
human life, and I don't think that's possible.  I feel a lot like Ernest 
Becker (in his Pulitzer Prize winner The Denial of Death), who said of Normon O. 
Brown's book, Life Against Death, that Brown spent 18 chapters demonstrating how 
humans cannot escape repression, then in the last chapter, "The Way Out," 
offered as resolution, the elimination of repression.

       I believe the conflict within that can lead to a "universal" tragic 
way of coping, can be, in most cases, tamped down to a comic means of 
accommodation.  (Not very easily in all persons, of course.  Burke does speak of 
"tragic" personality types in RM, pp. 15-16.)  Truly, I think, that's where Burkean 
"equipment for living" begins.  I don't regard it as realistic, however, to 
expect that humankind is capable of such pristine "purification of war" as Greg 
seems to me to be envisioning.

       Your ubiquitous, and no doubt flawed, reader and interpreter of "what 
are the signs of what,"




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