[KB] Exploding discourse communities

liminal man liminal64 at yahoo.com
Mon Sep 8 14:04:33 EDT 2008

Wow.  What a blowup!!!  I just got back from a relaxing weekend in the woods, and there's more traffic on the list bemoaning our political debates than there have been actual messages that engaged in such discourse.  Curious.
I think it was Lance who connected some of these conflicts to disciplinary, career, and institutional differences.  I think theres' something to that.  I'm just an English teacher at a community college, someone who studied Burke in grad school and values his work deeply (and who, BTW, has been plagiarized by several Communications folks online--I'm the guy who did the Definition of Human page on Dave Blakesely's site, and one day I did an image search for Burke.  Just wanted to find some cool pictures, but images from my page kept turning up.  I guess lots of folks like what I did and used it on their sites, too.  Often, it was just the pictures, but sometimes my words as well.  Doesn't bother me at all.  I feel pretty flattered actually.  I guess my point is that if I'm good enough to plagiarize, then I'm good enough to post my ideas on this list.  I may not play the academic publishing game, I may not be a top scholar, but I'm no idiot and
 I have read Burke very deeply for the past 12 years or so.  That should count for something.)
Anyway, my point is that we have a variety of interests, backgrounds, and careers here, independent scholars like Ed, retired folks, grad students, university professors, respected Communications, Lit, and Rhetoric scholars, and plain old teachers like me.  What unites us is our interest in and esteem for KB, who was intensely political and whose work always has political implications.  Why else did he preface the Grammar with "ad purificandum bellum" and wind up in the FBI's secret files?  I've been working my way through Jack Selzer and Ann George's wonderful continuation of the Burke biography project, Burke in the 30s.  How can you read about that time period, the Writer's Congress, the Popular Front, and so on and not come away with the impression that this was a man deeply concerned with politics, whose work is always infused with a higher political purpose?  A lot more going on with our mentor and our conversation than mere "political
 psychoses."  To dismiss our discussions in those terms is pretty offensive to me, no matter how many specific references someone may cite.
So I'm more than a little annoyed by the flurry of list-leavers and naysayers.  As I said in the Spring when this issue last came up, if Ed Appel didn't post here, this list would be pretty dead, just an occassional request to help with a reference or something like that.  And when Ed continued to post stuff about Obama that I strongly disagreed with, both as an Illinoisian and a Democrat, I felt a need to respond, to engage in the argument.  In my ethical system, there's not only nothing wrong with that, but that's the kind of full engagement that we need to understand things better and move "turds a betty love" (KB's nickname for his novel, Towards a Better Life), to multiply perspectives, and achieve a fuller dialectic.  I may disagree with Ed, but I would never, ever want him or me or anyone else to be silenced or intimidated by others with more illustrious degrees and institutional affiliations behind their name.
Actually, while camping and enjoying my friends' music festival in one of the most beautiful places on earth this weekend, my native Shawnee National Forest, I was thinking about our conversations here and looking forward to continuing them.  We had a house fire in the spring and are living in temporary housing, so my tv situation got messed up.  I used to watch Democracy Now on FreeSpeech TV every day but don't get the station now.  So when I was camping, I heard for the first time about the arrest and physical attacks on Amy Goodman and her producers.  Salon has a good discussion and videos if anyone's interested:  http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/09/01/protests/index.html
Thinking about Amy made me think about our conversations about the media.  I think most of us would agree that the token from the left, token from the right kind of crossfire coverage that has become the norm in network news doesn't really deepen the dialectic or multiply perspectives as we need in a democracy.  So we're fozen and stuck in these static, fixed positions.  Maybe Amy's brand of journalism, a style that reminds me of Upton Sinclair and the muckrakers, of Sinclair Lewis, of the kind of work that Burke and Cowley did for the "little magazines,"  is what we need.  Instead of Judith Miller promoting the administration's propaganda and paving the way for a misguided war, what we need as a nation is independent media who aren't afraid to report the stories no one else will touch, to get dirty and beat up by fascists (whether that's in East Timor or Minneapolis), to jump with the people right into the middle of the Wrangle.  That, it seems to
 me, is how we broaden and deepen the dialectic, and truly multiply perspectives.
So if you don't want to hear or talk about this, just delete me, ignore me, and I'll get the message.  I'm at least as busy as anyone else on this list, teaching 6 classes and over 100 students, so I understand that concern.  I rarely read all the messages on other lists I'm on like the Writing Center list or WPA (both of which, BTW, get far more traffic than KB, much of it inane and innocuous).  Digest form, as others have suggested, helps manage the traffic.  What I don't understand (or appreciate) are the shrill hissy fits and attacks that those of us who see a connection between Burke and politics have received.  As Ed pointed out, all our messages are chock full of Burkeian concepts, and not in some sort of token manner.  I think we've been thinking with and through Burke, just as he asked us to do when the KB Society was first formed.  I'm not some kind of political operative propagandizing--heck, I haven't even given my chosen candidate
 any cash, cause I don't want them to bug me.  What I am, though, is someone who thinks and sees the connections between Burkeian theory and the practice of politics.  Carrol's one-line comment was right on target--how can you understand rhetoric and ignore its political dimensions?  

Jerry Ross, Assistant Professor
Department of Communications and Humanities
Southwestern Illinois College
2700 Carlyle Avenue
Belleville, IL 62221
(618) 235-2700 Ext. 5415

--- On Mon, 9/8/08, brud0025 at umn.edu <brud0025 at umn.edu> wrote:

From: brud0025 at umn.edu <brud0025 at umn.edu>
Subject: [KB] Practice and Theory
To: kb at purdue.edu
Date: Monday, September 8, 2008, 7:48 AM

      Carroll Cox pointed out the important relation between practice and 
theory. I don’t think anyone would disagree with the statement that this 
relation is vitally reciprocal. One without the other is almost 
unthinkable. Burke’s theories of language and conduct are squarely 
grounded upon his analysis of poetry and drama. You can come away from a 
Burkean text thrilled with his duel perspective on both theory and 
practice, feeling as if you had read at one and the same time a work of 
poetry and a work of high theory. (The so-called French Invasion of 
theorists in the 1970s was similarly occupied with blurring the distinction 
between art and criticism—and I don’t imagine this goal has been 
abandoned). Once referred to as philosophy, but now perhaps more properly 
referred to as abstract non-fiction, theory is a sort of safe-house; with 
the proper code words you may be admitted into the poetic underground, or 
to the company of those who “do” identity politics without fear of the 
veto. Some put praxis first, for others theory is the bigger wheel. We’re 
free to do so AND responsible for our words.

      Jean-Michel Rabate’ in The Future of Theory recounts an old joke: 
“in theory, theory and practice are one; but in practice, they have 
nothing to do with each other.” (p. 146). For some, practice is poetry 
and for others it is the analysis of political oratory, some go into public 
service knowing what a wrangle it is going to be, others avoid it like the 
plague. In the parlor, as elsewhere, if you emphasize one the others come 
raining down like fire or frogs; retreat into theory and you can be accused 
of doing politics by another name. More frogs and fire. This is what Burke 
referred to as logomachy. If we could take competition out of the equation 
then I think we’d be left with a more peaceful logos. We’re heading in 
that direction but I don’t imagine there won’t be interruptions.

     Burke justifies beginning The Rhetoric of Motives with images of 
killing (the ultimate in pushing someone’s buttons—namely, hitting the 
off-switch), because, he says, invective, eristic, polemic and logomachy 
are so pronounced an aspect of rhetoric. But poets aren’t essentially 
killers, recall, they are essentially identifiers. As he relates, terms for 
identification are wider in scope than terms for killing. Strife, enmity, 
faction “are everywhere the tyrants in human relations.” I think it has 
been made humbly clear that we all know what happens to tyrants.

     War and political faction is, according to Burke, a perversion of 
peace or love. But discussion about love and peace doesn’t play much 
better than politics or religion. In the famous preface to Hegel’s 
Phenomenology, among numerous other points of contact with Burke, there is 
the following: “The life of God and divine intelligence, then, can, if we 
like, be spoken of as love disporting with itself; but this idea falls into 
edification, and even sinks into insipidity, if it lacks the seriousness, 
the suffering, the patience and the labor of the negative.” Shortly after 
this Hegel says that “the truth is the whole.” His contemporary Goethe, 
looking at the same world from a more poetic angle, said “the totality is 
the demonic.” I don’t think there is a more productive contradiction, 
but then, everyone will have their favorites. Hegel’s viewpoint, I think, 
expresses his disagreement with the Romantic poets of his age, and this 
drove him to identify the actualization of Absolute Knowledge or Spirit 
with science and with the State rather than with Culture, a term of wider 
scope. I’ve only recently begun a serious reading of Hegel but I am 
beginning to suspect that his fault (it’s a safe assumption we all have 
them) lies in being “poephobic.” His own philosophy anticipates this. 
In The Grammar of Motives “dialectic substance” serves as a similar 
fly’s eyes goggles through which one detects the defects in the full 
rhetorical development of a drama, tragic, melodramatic, comic, or 
parliamentary—which is often all three.
     Greg I think has squarely nailed this. We’re still learning how to 
“do” the Scramble. Because Burke was concerned not to maneuver himself 
into a weak position in RM he first explores classical rhetorical texts in 
order to bring out his conception of Identification. This new rhetoric, 
described as an accessory to traditional notions of persuasion, was 
designed “for describing the ways in which the members of a group [the 
parlor, for example] promote social cohesion by acting rhetorically upon 
themselves and one another.” (RM, Meridian Books, The World Publishing 
Company, p. 522).

     Crime and discontent, protest, war, certainly are all indicators that 
society is not as coherent as we might desire. Regrettably “acting 
rhetorically upon each other” in order to promote social cohesion 
doesn’t always mean buttering someone up, but may also require softening 
someone up—that’s gangsterese for loosening the tongue or for 
persuading someone to keep their mouth shut. Burke reminds us that images 
as seemingly violent as killing and being killed contain principles of a 
transcendent order, so we should bear this in mind with all other kinds of 
imagery including riot, scramble, torture when they are paraded in front of 
our eyes. I think it is useful to regard “acting rhetorically upon one 
another” as a formal way of saying “pushing each other’s button” 
and all that this implies about the human organism as a sophisticated 
instrument which we have only begun to learn how to use (here I’ll just 
speak for myself). These social problems are out there—we would like to 
do something about them, but again, we come to blows when we try to define 
and frame them in a useful manner, because one solution is more 
advantageous to some than to others. Hence, we fight over how to stop the 
fight. The conflict we think we see “out there” visits us and we visit 
it upon each other. We might as well designate this a plague and study how 
it spreads and its developmental stages.

     This was for me the lesson in Herb’s paper on Warrantable Outrage. 
Burke cooled his jets by writing out all the ways in which he had been 
taken advantage of by a doctor, and in the morning he produced his satire, 
which, like all good humor and satire, is a way to manage anger. So now, we 
have this rage or anger conveniently contained and in a manageable form. 
What might that mean? Certainly that it is no longer a plague or disease, 
and yet, still a source of awesome power and potential danger. Not 
something that a child should play with, nor obtainable over the counter.

KB Discussion List
KB at lists.purdue.edu

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