The Fall 2007 issue of KB Journal features new essays by Jason Ingram ("Conflicted Possession: A Pentadic Assessment of T.E. Lawrence’s Desert Narrative") and Eric Shouse ("Suicide: or the Future of Medicine [A “Satire by Entelechy” of Biotechnology]"); Clarke Rountree introduces Burke's First Publications, including "“La Fino de la Homar’” and “Invince Harvey, Jr.” Issue 4.1 also includes review essays by Andrew Battista (Kenneth Burke on Shakespeare, edited by Scott L. Newstok) and Maura J. Smyth (“Civility as Rhetorical Enactment: The John Ashcroft ‘Debates’ and Burke’s Theory of Form,” by Christopher R. Darr). Our new Happenings Editor, Elizabeth Weiser issues a Call for Nominations: KB Society Career Awards (5-1-08) and Bryan Crable announces the Call for Papers: Kenneth Burke Society 7th Triennial Conference (2-1-08). We have now published new Premium Bibliographies (available to Kenneth Burke Society Members; sign-up now), which are introduced by Clarke Rountree also. They include Works about Burke: Theses and Dissertations by Subject Term, Works about Burke: Theses and Dissertations by Thesis Director, and Works about Burke: Theses and Dissertations by University.
Jason Ingram, North Carolina State University
Abstract: This paper uses Kenneth Burke’s and Jean-Paul Sartre’s analysis of purpose to assess T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Lawrence’s account illustrates a tragic potential of human pursuits that, in turn, illuminates dangers of extreme purpose that both Burke and Sartre would have us avoid. Lawrence drew upon his intimate knowledge of the region and culture to construct a rhetorical vision to motivate Arab resistance to Turkish and German forces during the first World War. His story demonstrates limitations of attempting to found resistance upon strength of purpose with insufficient regard to scenic constraints. Furthermore, Lawrence’s conflicted desires turn against him, providing a cautionary tale of the danger posed by calculative appropriations of nature.
OVID DESCRIBES ACTAEON'S DESTRUCTION by his own hounds in the Metamorphoses (III. 115-248). Actaeon, after a successful morning of hunting, calls off the day’s chase at noontime. It’s scorching hot, so he wanders around through dense woods in a valley and finds his way, unaware, into a cave sacred to Diana. She happens to be present, bathing in a pool after her own hunt. Diana’s nymphs see him and are quick to surround her, shielding the goddess so that she can only be seen “up from the neck” (1983, p. 83). Still, she is enraged at this disturbance of her modesty and throws water into Actaeon’s face, magically transforming him into a stag. His hunting hounds pursue him into the woods. They cannot recognize their master because he is a beast, deprived of speech, and they rend him to death. Kenneth Burke (1939, p. 349) discusses Shakespeare’s use of the figure of Actaeon in Twelfth Night to personify the transformation of action into motion. Duke Orsinio sees himself in place of the hunter, driven by his desires:
O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first,
Methought she purged the air of pestilence!
That instant was I turn’d into a hart;
And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,
E’er since pursue me. (I,i)
Orsinio’s pursuit of the object of his obsession promises purity but initially tears him apart. The image of a hunter destroyed by the agency of his hunt dramatizes the tragic potential of action, where human pursuits have turned upon themselves. The scene of the hunt provides a representative anecdote of purpose’s danger. Jean Paul Sartre uses Actaeon’s story in Being and Nothingness to explain scientific inquiry, which is premised on gaining knowledge of the natural world. Sartre conceptualizes knowledge as a form of appropriation that often engages in a “violation by sight,” part of an Actaeon complex (1953, p. 578). Sartre’s account of scientific appropriations of nature illustrates dangers of representational choices about wilderness spaces. Actaeon’s story combines two significant rhetorical figures: the hunt and desire’s turn against itself.i His pursuit of new vision brings about a self-destructive transformation.
Burke (1945) provides five key terms for appreciating various relationships between transformation of scene, agents, agency, and purpose through action. These topoi constitute the Pentad. Burke’s discussion of scene as a key factor in human action provides a useful perspective for assessing scientific approaches to mastering wilderness resources, one that complements Sartre’s. The materialism of the scientific quest for knowledge of the natural world threatens to reduce action to motion, enacting a sort of ‘bad magic’ that, at its worst, harnesses consumption to destruction (Burke, 1939 p. 6). Similarly, Sartre emphasizes science’s demand that nature reveal her secrets. He also focuses on the sexual dimension of the Hunt, highlighting the bodily connection to knowledge by underscoring the alimentary and erotic metaphors used in discussing knowledge (1953, p. 579). Both Burke and Sartre thus reference the desire, the hunger, and the sexual charge of the hunt.ii For Sartre, desire for knowledge of nature takes the form of a sexually charged hunt involving conflicted possession. For Burke, over-reliance upon any one element of action at the expense of discerning resources provided by other pentadic elements courts tragedy.
This paper examines T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom as a basis for exploring Burke and Sartre’s analysis of purpose as a hunt that risks reducing action to motion. The obsessive hunt provides a representative anecdote for tragic miscarriages of human action. Examples range from Ahab’s obsessive hunt in Moby Dick through Gene Hackman’s compulsion at the end of The Conversation (Coppola, 1974) to the field of conspiracy theories such as those depicted in Foucault’s Pendulum (Eco, 1988/1989). Sartre articulates the myth to scientific inquiry and to human possession, regarding it as an ontological wound that can never heal: Burke would be quick to point to parallels of the Actaeon myth in nuclear technology. These stories show the tragic consequences of becoming ensnared in the coils of an obsessive purpose. Burke’s insights are particularly helpful for appreciating the harm of reducing action to motion. Actaeon’s inability to speak ensured his destruction by the agency of his hunt, his hounds. The agent of his destruction, a goddess who punishes him for venturing into forbidden realms, illustrates the limits of human pursuits and the negativity attending the hubristic exercise of agency. Lawrence, a British serving officer who led an Arab revolt in the first World War, enacts the Actaeon complex.
Lawrence’s conflicted purpose illustrates the danger of attempting to possess and make use of wilderness spaces. This paper builds a basis for investigating representations of the desert wilderness in Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom (2000), perhaps better known through the film adaptation Lawrence of Arabia (Lean, 1962).iii Lawrence (2000) exemplifies the strategic use of rhetoric to motivate revolution through a transformative vision. Assessing his representation of the desert as an architectonic scene helps us to understand dialectical relationships between place and the development of agency: the desert structures Lawrence’s account. Nevertheless he places faith in his purpose’s power to transform the region. Lawrence draws upon cultural and religious commonplaces to solidify the dream of overthrowing the Turks, who had long dominated the region.
Historically, Lawrence worked to unite scattered Bedouin tribes in the name of an Arab nation. He selected Sherif Feisul (or Feisal—Lawrence purposefully transliterated place names and people’s names inconsistently) as a suitable leader against the German and Turkish enemy forces and acted as a liaison with the British to solicit important war resources. Statements in the past tense refer to historical effects or antecedents of Lawrence’s revolt in the desert, whereas his story dwells in the present tense. Lawrence’s purpose was to attain a measure of independence for this new political entity, and also to help win the war.
Lawrence writes about his rhetorical vision, which he crafts out of mystical-prophetic purpose and strategic invention, building collective identification upon prevailing commonplaces and a shared enemy. Lawrence’s rhetorical vision exemplifies constitutive rhetoric. Similar in some respects to the people Québécois Maurice Charland discusses, Lawrence weaves a powerful narrative of collective identification to instigate “a teleological movement towards emancipation” premised on attaining “sovereignty as the ultimate point that must be reached in order to attain narrative closure and liberate its subjects” (Charland 1987, p. 144). Lawrence uses the desert’s resources—its culture, traditions, environment, and inhabitants—to sustain a transformative rhetorical vision, and he attempts to transform the geopolitical scene of colonial domination by means of that vision. However, as later sections illustrate, such transformation and re-identification of national character must found itself on more than negation of oppression. Ultimately, in pentadic terms, scene trumps Lawrence’s purpose.
In A Rhetoric of Motives, Burke implies that Lawrence’s purpose shatters after he leaves the desert, recrystallizing as a substitute “mysticism of speed” where the shards of his purpose goad him to his death (1950, p. 332). Devoid of a legitimate end, Burke implies, Lawrence fixates upon movement for its own sake, enacting the turn of the hunt upon one’s self as a means of escape. In this sense Lawrence’s story follows Actaeon’s path. Extremes of purpose are intimately tied to transformations. The motif of the hunt and the danger of transformative vision are typically articulated to wilderness scenes: Actaon surprises Diana in a grotto, and Lawrence gains insight through a retreat into the desert. Burke discusses the force of such perspectival shifts:
For the dialectic of mysticism aims at a systematic withdrawal from the world of appearances, a crossing into a realm that transcends everyday judgments—after which there may be a return . . . the period of exile, withdrawal, and negation terminates in a new vision, whereupon the visionary can once again resume his commerce with the world, which he now sees in a new light, in terms of the vision earned during his stage of exile. But in his homecoming to the world of appearances, he sees things quite differently . . . . (1950, p. 95)Returning back to everyday life after war is, by all accounts, difficult, even aside from Lawrence’s immersion in a radically dissimilar culture. Burke highlights the conflicts characterizing enmeshment in multiple value systems as well as those attending transformative vision by using the term via negativa (95), which taps into mystical-religious discourses. This paper elaborates Lawrence’s sense that his sources of identification ultimately turn against him. Not only does his purpose exhibit this turn, but his identification with the desert (scene) as a resource also evidences the Actaeon complex.
The desert is often represented as a special place, set apart from civilization. It shelters prophetic visions in many religious traditions, offering to clarify vision and to purify character. The desert offers physical as well as symbolic resources, enabling those capable of adapting to its harshness to evade capture and to strike against occupying forces. The first section of this paper provides one theoretical basis for subsequent assessment of the desert as resource by examining the figure of the hunt. Sartre highlights a phenomenological ambivalence, an internal negativity that problematizes human relations with the external world. Scientific appropriations of nature, and of the desert wilderness in particular, use denuding vision to effect changes, at a price, which Sartre explains in terms of an Actaeon complex. The second section of the paper examines this internal negativity in Burkean terms: Burke stresses the danger of reducing action to motion through over-valuing scientific approaches to nature, and especially to human nature. The desert provides a crucial scene enabling transformation, but Lawrence’s rhetorical vision ultimately rests on purpose. His conflicted duties and the collapse of the resistance movement upon its success illustrates the inability of purpose alone to enable transformation. The third section summarizes this line of inquiry by reference to the figure of desire’s self-destructive turn and its union with the hunt. Burke and Sartre converge in their treatment of conflicted purpose. Lawrence’s hunt against enemy resources and his obsessive purpose turn against him, constituting a cautionary tale. Attempts to use techné to master aspects of the world—whether through military science or otherwise—share common dangers.
Pursuing these lines of inquiry has value for a number of reasons, which the following sections will amplify. First, it affords insight into the rhetorical construction of agency while exposing limits of collective identification based on abstract negation. As such it clarifies constitutive rhetoric. Second, it illustrates Burke's Pentad with implications for our self-understanding, helping to make sense of relations between scene and purpose. Burke’s pentad provides helpful terms for evaluating Lawrence’s tale, which provides a representative anecdote of the turn against one’s self. Third, analysis of conflicted possession clarifies the phenomenology of relations with the natural world in terms of a rhetorical turn, Actaeon's metamorphosis from hunter into prey. These benefits rest on a shared concern to ward against the reduction of action to motion.
The wilderness by definition has yet to be tamed, and to an extent is untamable. At the same time, scientific knowledge makes use of the wilderness as what Martin Heidegger calls a “standing-reserve,” a calculable coherence of forces that can be appropriated for human use (1954/1977). Lawrence treats the desert as a crucible for the development of national character, as a source of power, and as a scene for messianic redemption. The desert wilderness provides a scene with a range of different attributes; it can be a frontier for growth or a deadly inhospitable barrier, depending on the story in question.
This section considers Sartre’s analysis of attempts to gain knowledge of wilderness spaces. Sartre points out that scientific approaches to nature tend to have taken a gendered stance reflecting a masculine bias.iv He mentions Francis Bacon in particular, who laid important groundwork for a scientific approach to nature that stresses invention’s value for providing food, shelter and comfort. One of Bacon’s famous metaphors from the Advancement of Learning rather violently conceptualizes what we now call science as a conceptual rape of nature, the hunt of Pan. Bacon wishes to reveal nature “as she is bound, and tortured, pressed, formed, and turned out of her course by art and human industry. . . . for the nature of things is better discovered by the torturings of art, than when they are left to themselves” (1902, p. 27). He critiques earlier thinkers who sought to unravel nature’s mystery, observing that due to their crude methods “it is no wonder that nature has not opened herself to them” (p. 26). On this influential view, reason sets upon the natural world to bind it—or her—and torture her to reveal her secrets. We dream of communion with the natural world but must possess and consume resources to survive; this constitutes one form of mastery. Sartre builds his phenomenological account of scientific knowledge and appropriations upon this basis to argue that our possessions, even our knowledge, rest on constitutive contradictions aptly characterized in terms of a hunt.
Sartre extends analysis of the hunt of Pan to suggest that the world will always escape our grasp. We pursue knowledge by pushing the world to reveal itself to us. Such revelation can be harmful, as it rests upon a troublesome split between knower and known. The Actaeon complex, according to Sartre, represents the quest to surprise nature, to fix her in a compromising position:
We speak of snatching away her veils from nature, of unveiling her . . . . Every investigation implies the idea of a nudity which one brings out into the open by clearing away the obstacles which cover it, just as Actaeon clears away the branches so that he can have a better view of Diana at her bath. More than this, knowledge is a hunt. Bacon called it the hunt of Pan. The scientist is the hunter who surprises a white nudity and who violates by looking at it. Thus the totality of these images reveals something which we shall call the Actaeon complex. (1953, p. 578)Sartre discusses scientific research as a form of revealing, and adopts a phenomenological approach to exploring the ways we pursue mastery of the external world. He argues that research reveals the world to us as knowledge, the researcher’s own thoughts and representations of the world. Knowledge is both part of and apart from individuals, distinctively one’s own yet potentially available to all. Knowledge is thus a peculiar possession, one that simultaneously retains both personality and impersonality: “my knowledge . . . appears in a certain way as maintained in existence by me. It is through me that a facet of the world is revealed; it is to me that it reveals itself” (1953, p. 577). Despite this, scientific knowledge is not merely subjective. We learn about the world, and thus our knowledge has external referents. Our relation to the world, whether mediated by experience or as knowledge, exhibits a certain lack. Knowledge at this point in Being and Nothingness comprises private thoughts that yet have “independent existence” insofar as “this thought which I form and which derives its existence from me . . . is thought by everybody” (p. 578). The world reveals itself to the thinker through personal investigation, but in a way that is also anonymous. The appearance of scientific knowledge, and especially empirical knowledge, gains a public character (p. 578). Discovery, the moment of invention, thus exhibits a peculiar negativity. In finding knowledge I am not establishing a unique relation of self to world, but am rather pulled in opposite directions. The pursuit of scientific knowledge engages in a disclosure, typically as part of a mode of life devoted to sharing new discoveries. Knowledge exhibits a duality, as it is both possessed and impersonal; it represents a synthesis of self and not-self that Sartre describes as possession. Knowledge is a possession in the sense that it is “mine” (p. 578); but the pursuit of knowledge can also take possession of us as a drive. At this point Sartre presents the Actaeon complex to explain the appropriative enjoyment present in discovery or the revelation of nature. He writes:
What is seen is possessed; to see is to deflower. If we examine the comparisons ordinarily used to express the relation between the knower and the known, we see that many of them are represented as being a kind of violation by sight. The unknown object is given as immaculate, as virgin, comparable to a whiteness. It has not yet “delivered up” its secret; man has not yet “snatched” its secret away from it. All these images insist that the object is ignorant of the investigations and the instruments aimed at it; it is unconscious of being known . . . . Figures of speech, sometimes vague and sometimes more precise, like that of the “unviolated depths” of nature[,] suggest the idea of sexual intercourse more plainly. (p. 578)The Actaeon myth presents an active object, a woman who becomes aware of the revealing gaze and who exacts revenge out of proportion with civilized norms for the violation. In contrast, Sartre emphasizes the passive quality of nature in the imagination of the person pursuing knowledge. The sexual charge is undercut by knowledge’s external, impersonal aspect.v
Knowledge of an object resides within the knower, but also reminds us that something remains outside (Sartre, p. 579). The conflicted character of knowledge provides a useful heuristic for assessing certain representations of nature and the wilderness. We want to have our wilderness and consume it too, to make use of the wild while also maintaining it as inviolate space. Possession establishes a relation between self and other, but a relation marred by the fact that to possess something it has to be external, apart from the self. Sartre argues that “the desire to have is at bottom reducible to the desire to be related to a certain object in a certain relation of being,” a relation that hopes for an ideal identification and is haunted by the unattainability of this ideal (p. 589). Possession rests on a movement between subject and object, what Sartre calls a “magical relation” that can lead to destruction as a paradoxical form of absolute possession. The recognition that we cannot fully appropriate objects, that true possession is impossible, “involves for the for-itself [subject] a violent urge to destroy” the objects of knowledge: “In annihilating it I am changing it into myself. Suddenly I rediscover the relation of being found in creation, but in reverse . . . . Destruction realizes appropriation perhaps more keenly than creation does, for the object destroyed is no longer there to show itself impenetrable” (p. 593). Sartre presents this phenomenon to explain some of the pleasures of consumption. Consuming an object provides a unique form of possession that erases the external reminder of our limited power. In this sense scientific mastery promises to enhance our possession through transforming the natural world, but risks savaging the agent in the process.
Sartre’s analysis illustrates the ambivalence at the heart of being, a negativity emphasizing the destructive urge underlying knowledge and possession. Burke might characterize this as action’s tragic cast. Focusing on what can be calculated may distort other considerations, as the next section demonstrates through analysis of Lawrence’s war in the desert. This mode of representing nature also involves enframing nature as a standing reserve (Heidegger, 1954/1977, p. 17). Technology is not merely instrumental, not merely a tool to achieve a desired end, because it also involves a way of representing the world that disposes us to certain relations and courses of action. Burke presents a similar warning against the materialism of scientific appropriations of nature, and against extensions of such views to human nature.
The hunt changes its nature when no longer needed for sustenance, becoming surrounded by rituals, rules, and restraints. Burke’s discussion of Purpose leads him to methods of protecting groups from motivations towards destruction:
what we now most need is to perfect and simplify the ways of admonition, so that men may cease to persecute one another under the promptings of demonic ambition that arise in turn from distortions and misconceptions of purpose. . . . And so human thought may be directed towards “the purification of war,” not perhaps in the hope that war can be eliminated . . . but in the sense that war can be refined to the point where it would be much more peaceful than the conditions we would now call peace. (1945, p. 305)This represents one possibility of ‘transcendence upwards’, where protections of method move the hunt from motion to action. Successfully enacting protections of method requires a difficult balancing act, involving rhetorically sensitive leadership to counteract the rhetoric of war. Actaeon personifies a countervailing movement, from action to motion. Actaeon ventures into a dangerous, forbidden scene and loses his self.
One price knowledge exacts is defamiliarization, as Actaeon’s transformation indicates. His hounds no longer recognize him as master of the pack and tear into him when he returns to them. Diana explicitly observes Actaeon’s inability to speak—he cannot transmit knowledge, so cannot tell others what he saw when he surprised the goddess at her bath. Similarly, Lawrence faces resistance from British officers at the thought that he might have ‘gone native’. He cannot fully translate between desert conditions and conventional British military life. He is dispossessed by his knowledge, fully at home in neither world. Sartre’s analysis articulates two figures—the hunt of Pan and Actaeon’s self-destructive pursuit—in order to explain such ambivalence and internal conflict. These figures suggest that getting too wrapped up in pursuit can turn our goals against us, or turn us into despoilers of what we seek to preserve.
Wilderness places such as the desert provide scenes of transformative vision. Making use of this resource, however, alters agents. The figure of Actaeon provides one cautionary example. Lawrence’s participation in war against the Turks provides another. The next section demonstrates how Lawrence takes advantage of his insight into desert conditions to tap resources beyond those used by the Turks, Germans, and Arabs he fought. Lawrence’s war in the desert evidences the bond between possession and destruction, a union perfected in the SF novel Dune’s depiction of desert power (Herbert, 1965): One aspect of true possession is the ability to destroy a resource absolutely. Lawrence’s conflict highlights the duality Sartre discusses. A closer reading of the way some of these strands are woven together in Lawrence’s tale provides insight into the desert’s value, especially when viewed as scene. This scene, where Lawrence’s calculative rationality is brought to bear upon Arab agents and used to knit desert commonplaces into his rhetorical vision, enables military victory. By mistaking the interplay of scene and purpose, Lawrence enacts Actaeon’s self-destructive turn.
This section assesses the semi-mythologized account Lawrence presents of his own actions in terms of the pentad, focusing on his attempts to utilize scenic resources to motivate successful rebellion. Burke’s pentad helps to assess mechanisms by which Lawrence’s rhetorical vision motivates partially successful revolution. Burke discusses Act, Agent, Scene, Purpose, and Agency as key elements of the human drama (1945, p. 128). Combinations of these elements provide ratios that afford insight into narratives. Lawrence sets himself up as a prophet of an idea, though he is careful to root this idea in the soil of commonplaces. As Lawrence (2000) writes, “I meant to make a new nation, to restore a lost influence” based on the rhetorical construction of “an inspired dream-palace” (p. xlviii). Lawrence adds strategic vision and a detailed plan to the raw material of Bedouin fighters. Accordingly the desert scene becomes an agency of transformation both by providing commonplaces suitable for motivation and by providing tactical advantage to those inured to its harsh mysteries. The character of the Bedouin fighters who joined Feisal had been shaped by the desert; this forms the substance of effective agents of change. The desert terrain and climate provide constraints which Lawrence employs for effective acts of resistance. Intimate familiarity with the desert enables the resistance to drive out Turkish rule, at least in concert with allies. Lawrence, however, places too much hope in the ability of revolutionary action to reshape the scenic influence on character: divisions and the lack of a common enemy splinter the nascent Arab movement and allow a colonial frame to define the postwar scene. To the extent that he maintains loyalty to two masters, Lawrence’s purpose suffers from internal conflict. The element of scene subtends each of these components of the pentad.
In this story scientific knowledge, or at least calculative rationality, is brought to bear on a people to reconstruct their identity. Lawrence’s efforts to help Feisal build an Arab movement and to form an Arab nation are also attempts to rewrite the tribal identity of desert places.vi The rigors and commonplaces of desert life that enable successful resistance and motivation create a stumbling block to success once the Turks are repelled. Lawrence’s efforts also founder upon European treaties. Unfortunately these new bases for identification are negative in character, and so provide little durable substance for new social and institutional formations. The basis for Lawrence’s Arab revolt disintegrates with the end of the war: fighting off the Turk leaves little basis for reconstruction aside from partially shared languages and religious traditions. The act of overthrowing Turkish rule is insufficient to transform a scene of colonial domination.vii This paper tests the notion that scene is primary in Lawrence’s tale despite his emphasis on purpose by examining the relevant pentadic ratios.
Lawrence discusses the desert in different ways in his memoirs. Often the desert functions as a crucible or an anvil suitable for forging a strong character. He also discusses limitations of the cultural norms guiding his allies, but typically attributes those to other causes. Lawrence stresses the desert’s ability to shape individual character, a line of thought Burke recognizes in Thomas Carlyle’s work:
The scene-agent ratio, where the synecdochic relation is between person and place, is partly exemplified in this citation from Carlyle’s Heroes and Hero-Worship: “These Arabs Mohammed was born among are certainly a notable people. Their country itself is notable; the fit habitation for such a race. Savage inaccessible rock-mountains, great grim deserts, alternating with beautiful strips of verdure . . . . Consider that wide waste horizon of sand, empty, silent, like a sand-sea . . . . Such a country is fit for a swift-handed, deep-hearted race of men.” (1945, pp. 7-8)Burke observes that this ratio correlates “the quality of the country and the quality of its inhabitants” (p. 8). Lawrence understands the character typically forged by life in this region. He portrays the Bedouin as rooted in tradition, allowing very little change over vast spans of time (Lawrence, 2000, p. 341). At the same time, he understands them well enough to transform identification through rhetorical appeal and revolutionary action (see Burke, 1939, p . 227). Lawrence motivates resistance by appealing to his audience based on a deep knowledge of their different belief systems and his enmeshment in a radically dissimilar cultural scene. Lawrence’s rhetorical vision has implications for his own character, as discussion of his purpose will evidence. He interpellates audiences to follow his attempt to constitute an Arab nation, soliciting identification in support of Feisul and against a common enemy, and thereby works to constitute a nation.
Modern warfare changed the ratio of success in this conflict. Enemy agents, tactics and strategy proved inappropriate for the scene even though the Turks had maintained rule for over four centuries. Unified resistance against a common enemy replaced tribal factionalism—to an extent and for a time. The Arab revolt took advantage of the enemy’s trained incapacities and occupational psychoses. The enemy leadership was, Lawrence suggests, blinded by predisposition and limited by their calculative, constrained approach to strategy. One limitation rested on their training of agents. The Turks were restricted by the requirement for dependable troops.
Lawrence observes that military discipline requires the “submergement of individuality” so that the unit becomes a true unit, “in order that their effort might be calculable [emphasis added], and the collective output even in grain and bulk. The deeper the discipline, the lower was the individual excellence; also the more sure the performance” (p. 279). Invention is one cost of dependability. By contrast, revolt remains unpredictable. Tribal factionalism limits options for concerted attack but allowed a wide dispersal of self-sufficient forces (p. 278). The lack of discipline and uniformity would create insuperable problems after the Turks departed, but resisting calculability constitutes one key to the success of the resistance. Lawrence argues that the discipline of a regular army erodes individual initiative and what he calls the “subjunctive mood”—the ability to think differently and to imagine contingencies (p. 432). Lawrence speaks of how the Arab guerilla forces possess a desert discipline that provides mobility and secrecy needed to offset the coordinated discipline and responsiveness to command cultivated through conventional military training. This represents another facet of the scene-agent ratio.
The desert provides a scene for a prophetic imagination that makes use of scientific calculation and Western technology. In Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence recounts insights that came to him in the desert as he suffered from fever. These distempered insights represent the synthesis of Oxford knowledge and his intimate understanding of the desert. The way Lawrence describes it, inspiration suffused him as he lay tossing in the grip of near-delirium. His feverish musings eventuate in invention. Michael Asher notes that “In his delirium, Lawrence had discovered desert power” (Introduction in Lawrence, 2000, p. xix). Lawrence strategizes a war of ideas tailored to the scene and backed by guerilla resistance. The desert provides a sense of freedom tied to a religious belief in “the emptiness of the world and the fullness of god”; such a belief system made desert Arabs useful servants of “the prophet of an idea” (Lawrence, 2000, p. 14). Accordingly, Lawrence attempts to become the secular prophet of the vision of an Arab nation, attaching himself to an established leader with high religious standing: Sherif Feisal. Lawrence emphasizes renunciation in discussing the motivational basis of his appeal for an Arab Nation, but develops a strategy premised on minimizing casualties and maximizing the destruction of enemy resources. This constitutes more of a hunt than a war. The character of his rebel forces allows effective utilization of the desert and also affords superior intelligence in the field. The desert scene turns its denizens’ character into a valuable if unreliable military resource. It enables agency in other ways, too.
Lawrence’s strategy for the Arab resistance reflects both inspiration and doxa, a combination of Oxford schooling, military training, and his knowledge of the scene. Lawrence’s episteme of revolt relies upon the destruction of the enemy’s reserves, and in particular of material resources.viii The rationalized philosophy of war to which Germany had introduced the Turks (Lawrence, 2000, p. 97) rested on calculation, an “essentially formulable” estimation of known variables and fixed conditions (p. 148). Lawrence discusses this in terms of “biological” and “psychological” components of troops. The Turkish army, in Lawrence’s mind, had imposed a fixed model on the “biological” element of troops and exhibited inflexibility in the “psychological” dimension. He takes advantage of this rigid calculative mindset. Troops comprise a significant variable of warfare, both in terms of morale and in terms of movements; but Lawrence argues that they were only one component of material ‘reserves’:
The components were sensitive and illogical, and generals guarded themselves by the device of a reserve, the significant medium of their art. Goltz had said that if you knew the enemy’s strength, and he was fully deployed, then you could dispense with a reserve: but this was never. The possibility of accident, of some flaw in materials was always in the general’s mind, and the reserve unconsciously held to meet it. . . . it applied also to materials. In Turkey things were scarce and precious, men less esteemed than equipment. . . . The death of a Turkish bridge or rail, machine or gun or charge of high explosive, was more profitable to us than the death of a Turk. (p. 149)Lawrence’s enemy had to defend resources and territory; they could not penetrate far enough into the desert to trap resistance forces. That focus and the need to guard static resources—bridges, railways, artillery and the like—created an opening for hit-and-run resistance, enabling neutralization of the enemy’s agency. In this sense Lawrence used calculative rationality to defeat a more calculative approach.
His insight into the enemy’s conception of agents and agency provides a tactical as well as a strategic edge. Scattered resistance could defeat a much larger force (Lawrence estimates 600,000 Turkish solders against 50,000 “zealots” with intermittent attendance) by destroying its standing-reserves. The enemy saw Arabs in terms of motion, as calculable units, and thereby created a debilitating inflexibility. Lawrence takes advantage of that tendency to reduce action to motion, destroying the standing reserve of the enemy in the process.ix
Dwelling in the desert provides another dimension of the Scene-agency ratio. The desert shelters fighters from detection, allowing Lawrence to strike at railroad lines, telegraph lines and isolated fortifications and then to retreat where Turkish forces could not follow. Lawrence fights to minimize losses and not to consolidate territorial gains, though cities such as Akaba would provide valuable new bases. These dimensions of the desert’s purposiveness for guerrilla warfare illustrate the Scene-agency ratio. The film understandably de-emphasizes the calculated and calculative foundation of Lawrence’s victory, presenting a much more dashing and heroic figure in a way that illustrates the dual relation between agent and scene: Lawrence changes the political scene even as his own character undergoes a disturbing transformation.
Lawrence seeks to deny the Turks determinate targets. The revolt thus becomes a war of ideas in significant respects. Rather than engaging in direct contact with enemy forces, Lawrence takes advantage of rhetoric’s quicksilver and imaginative resources: “suppose we were (as we might be) an influence, an idea, a thing intangible, invulnerable, without front or back, drifting about like a gas? . . . Our kingdoms lay in each man’s mind; and as we wanted nothing material to live on, so we might offer nothing material to the killing” (p. 148). Sedition and motivation to rebel promise to aid Lawrence’s task, whereas losses in battle would threaten his support (p. 149). Accordingly, Lawrence develops warfare based on the denial of presence. The premium on minimizing casualties distinguishes this war from suicide missions. The desert shelters fighters, allowing a controlled focus on the enemy’s resources, including communications. The scene allows Turkish supply lines (such as railroads) and intelligence resources (such as telegraph lines) to be cut almost continually. Lawrence’s construction of the desert emphasizes its usefulness for evading detection. In contrast, his enemy’s perception of the desert as a limited resource constrains their options.
The desert allows Lawrence’s forces to seize upon critical advantages and to deny real battle to the enemy. Rather than engage in a traditional “war of contact, both forces striving to touch to avoid tactical surprise,” Lawrence employs a “war of detachment” (p. 150), where the desert itself serves as a weapon:
We were to contain the enemy by the silent threat of a vast unknown desert, not disclosing ourselves till we attacked. The attack might be nominal, directed not against him, but against his stuff; so it would not seek either his strength or his weakness, but his most accessible material. In railway-cutting it would be usually an empty stretch of rail; and the more empty, the greater the tactical success. We might turn our average into a rule (not a law, since war was antinomian) and never engage the enemy. (p. 150)Here Lawrence discusses the desert as a sheltering agency, in itself threatening to the Turks. Calculation remains central to Lawrence’s strategy: his plan requires near-perfect intelligence about the enemy’s location and movements. Turkish armies tended to remain in fixed positions and were relatively easy to track. The desert provides refuge from air attacks, given moderate preparation, and so the revolt could remain hidden until the proper moment for it to disclose itself by striking inadequately defended resources. While such hit-and-run tactics are ancient, Lawrence adds new theory and a certain strategic inspiration.
The conclusion of Lawrence’s fevered thought is that the rebels could use advanced equipment, secrecy, speed, propaganda, and a friendly population to defeat their “sophisticated alien enemy” because it was disposed as “an army of occupation in an area greater than could be dominated effectively from fortified posts” (p. 152). Small, fast strike forces might attack along a very wide front, forcing the Turks to “strengthen their defensive posts beyond the defensive minimum” (p. 177). Such tactics are consistent with the goal of minimizing rebel casualties. Part of Lawrence’s genius is to mix the immiscible, combining thorough knowledge of a calculative mindset with deep sensitivity to a foreign culture, engaging in a hunt against enemy resources rather than a war of troops (though that dual vision carries a cost). The acts of his guerilla resistance are different than the acts of typical armies, mainly because they rest on different relations with the desert as scene. In this sense, the desert shelters and supports acts of resistance.
An unanticipated consequence of the reactive constitution of the Arab army was that it dissipated after the Turks were driven out. This failure to endure through peace-time occurred in part due to the characteristics that Lawrence used to advantage during times of conflict—“the Arab Army, born and brought up in the fighting line, had never known a peace-habit, and was not faced with problems of maintenance till armistice-time: then it failed signally” (p. 433). Discipline constrained the resistance as well as the Turkish army. The cross-purposes of factionalism rather than agency thwarted the ideal of an Arab nation, though scene remained a crucial factor.x A scene of war provided a common enemy to sustain revolutionary purpose. This enabled motivation of extreme acts that succeeded because they made better use of strategic resources. A peacetime scene, however, deprived the nascent Arab nation of their unifying ground. Fractured identifications were submerged but not subsumed in the common purpose of freedom; they provided bases for division once the enemy left. Fighting off European hegemony would require a different sort of transformative vision.
Lawrence develops his vision as an outsider of sorts, but one with a deep knowledge of indigenous culture. He lives a double life, crossing and recrossing borders. This leads to conflicts of purpose, limiting his attempt at change even as it reveals resources for invention. Lawrence gains insight from his dual perspective, using his knowledge of various ways of thinking to develop a strategy suited to taking advantage of the available resources for persuasion. He moves between two worlds and two cultures, gaining insight as well as travail from the constant effort of mediation: “In my case, the effort for these years to live in the dress of Arabs, and to imitate their mental foundation, quitted me of my English self, and let me look at the West and its conventions with new eyes: they destroyed it all for me” (p.5). The price of this transformation is that Lawrence is no longer comfortable as simply a British subject. The customs and conventions constituting Lawrence’s lifeworld lose their natural cast. Lacking means to overcome his new trained incapacities, he rots in a sense after leaving the desert.
Lawrence explicitly discusses the duality of possession in relation to one’s environment. He observes that a leader or servant in a new land lives a double life that threatens to betray both sources of allegiance:
A man who gives himself to be a possession of aliens leads a Yahoo life, having bartered his soul to a brute-mater. He is not of them. He may stand against them, persuade himself of a mission, batter and twist them into something which they, of their own accord, would not have been. Then he is exploiting his old environment to press them out of theirs. Or, after my model, he may imitate them so well that they spuriously imitate him back again. Then he is giving away his own environment: pretending to theirs . . . In neither case does he do a thing of himself, nor a thing so clean as to be his own . . . (p. 5)Lawrence is tragically caught between two cultural scenes, turned against himself. This represents a destructive facet of the Scene-agent ratio, where environmental conditions and loyalty reshape individuals. The ‘Yahoo life’ Lawrence lives is a dispossessed life, but also a life possessed by the haunting lack Sartre discusses. Lawrence observes that one risk of denaturalizing convention by adopting foreign customs is madness, which haunts “the man who could see things through the veils at once of two customs, two educations, two environments” (p.6). The film version dramatizes his flirtation with obsessive possession. In any event, Lawrence’s story presents the danger that estrangement will subvert the ability to see commonplaces accurately.
Lawrence’s self-conscious mythic design features Purpose, a mode of ‘transcendence upwards’ that provides a frame for subsequent analysis. Such higher vision, when successful, avoids the disintegration and destruction characteristic of ‘transcendence downwards’. Burke explains this in terms of the representative anecdote, which presents danger as well as a possible protection:
And so it is with the dialectical principle of the Upward Way. Beginning with the particulars of the world, and with whatever principle of meaning they are already felt to possess, it proceeds by stages until some level of generalization is reached that one did not originally envisage, whereupon the particulars of the world itself look different, as seen in terms of this “higher vision.” . . . Usually, this dialectic resource takes the form of a generalization carried to the point of some metaphor or image, after which all particulars are seen in terms of it. (1945, p. 306)Lawrence’s story taps into Actaeon’s representative anecdote of purpose’s double nature. It shapes action, directs agency, and can motivate transformation; but placing too much faith in the ability of purpose to reconfigure scenic factors courts tragedy.
Lawrence (2000) has to retain aspects of British civilization in order to negotiate his sometimes conflicted loyalties. His pledges to the Arabs perhaps lack the best faith:
It was evident from the beginning that if we won the war these promises [of Arab self-government, made by the British] would be dead paper, and had I been an honest advisor of the Arabs I would have advised them to go home and not risk their lives fighting for such stuff: but I salved myself with the hope that, by leading these Arabs madly in the final victory I would establish them, with arms in their hands, in a position so assured (if not dominant) that expediency would counsel to the Great Powers a fair settlement of their claims. (xlix)Lawrence places hope in the ability of his insurgency to transform the broader scene of colonial domination through the revolutionary self-constitution of an Arab nation, ensuring autonomy for the community developed in resisting the Turks. He is also torn between conflicting dreams. His rhetorical construction of the desert fails to account for enduring antagonisms that undid his work of identification, constituting one of many incomplete attempts at nation-building. Lawrence hopes that success will constitute a new nation, but his rhetorical vision is not enough to create an enduring self-fulfilling prophecy.
However compelling Lawrence’s vision may have been, its achievement was ultimately limited. His purpose was insufficient. Lawrence’s vision foundered, as it was unable to sustain itself much longer than its foe: The Arab movement of his time was based upon the negation of Turkish rule and had little positive content to enable unification once the common enemy had been defeated. Religious and cultural commonplaces limited transformation (Lawrence, 2000, p. 67). Absent supportive traditions and institutions, the abstract negation characterizing opposition to the Turks provided an inadequate basis for self-governance. The broader geopolitical scene also worked to thwart Arab self-determination (see Burke, 1945, p. 6).
Burke argues that such self-dissolution is typical of mystical approaches such as Lawrence’s because over-reliance upon purpose tends towards self-subversion: “The fact that, in mysticism, Purpose is made absolute, always complicates matters by requiring us to lose purpose at the very moment when we find it. . . . All told, of the five terms, Purpose has become the one most susceptible of dissolution” (1945, p. 289). Arab unity compensates for divisions so long as a common enemy exists, but this negative purpose provides little resource for forging an autonomous nation. Without firm grounding, Lawrence’s purpose cannot unify itself through a dialectical transformation of political reality and thus is pulled further apart by a recalcitrant scene. Perhaps the ghost of his purpose tears him apart upon his return to England.
Actaeon becomes a stag who is devoured by the instruments of the hunt. Lawrence undergoes a transformation into a creature of the wilderness which allows him to understand the desert’s potential as a weapon, but this transformation estranges him from a former way of life. These fates illustrate the miscarriage of purpose. Learning nature’s secrets has manifold effects, but destruction is a common theme. Desert power in Lawrence’s narrative rests on the ability to destroy valuable resources held by the enemy. Conventional uses of nature in warfare deploy a standing reserve (in the form of weapons, logistical support, and other resources derived from civilian populations) to destroy, even if only in the form of a threat meant to deter. Strategy and tactics make use of features of the terrain to take best advantage of local situations. Destruction and the threat of destruction are wrapped up in the possession of nature. Lawrence’s tragedy of estrangement, where he feels alien upon his homecoming, illustrates the ambivalence Sartre discusses. Lawrence attempts to master the desert, but his efforts to alter the scene by acting in furtherance of his purpose alter his character, illustrating the Act-agent ratio (see Burke, 1945, p. 16). Actaeon likewise cannot go back, though his price is destruction by his familiars when recognition fails. Sartre’s Actaeon complex calls attention to certain constitutive paradoxes attending relations with the natural world, including representations of wilderness spaces as resources. Such representations are useful, but carry a price. Lawrence becomes a cautionary symbol.
This conclusion assesses the lessons of Lawrence’s encounter with the desert, Sartre’s phenomenological approach to scientific mastery of nature, and Burke’s Dramatistic account of rhetoric. Lawrence’s purpose drives him compulsively. Perhaps his temperament is to go to extremes, and he acknowledges his tendency to self-mortification; but Lawrence tends to stress how the consequences of his purpose tainted him: “in my heart I felt . . . that anyone who pushed through to success a rebellion of the weak against their masters must come out of it so stained in estimation that afterward nothing in the world would make him feel clean” (p. 566). Overwhelming purpose can submerge agency and critical thinking, rendering agents into vessels. This denies action, working backwards from sublimation to possession by the desire of the hunt. Lawrence’s mysticism of speed illustrates how, when left with only purpose, we risk becoming blind to obstacles down the road. Extreme purpose risks subversion of our goals by the agency of our pursuit. Lawrence risks destroying the very movement he wishes to support and is possessed by his drive, driven to self-destruction. Desire for possession can lead to self-excoriation. Lawrence harnesses internal conflicts to productive ends, but still suffers from the dissonance Sartre described.
It would not be too difficult to apply the terms of this analysis to current American involvement in the region, but assessing narratives of transforming the Iraqi scene to one of peaceful, self-sustaining democracy through the act of regime change, elections, or constitutional reform belongs to a different paper. Another manifestation of this dream includes the transformation of regional agency, transcending traditional enmity and conflict through the calculated use of technology to achieve ‘shock and awe’. These approaches reflect belief in the magical capacity of purpose or advanced technology (military or political) to transform reality. The abstract negation of tyranny, such as Lawrence achieved by fighting off the Turks, is insufficient. It fails to achieve the status of determinate negation required to build self-sustaining democratic institutions. The value, the ‘equipment for living’ that this study provides is that of a cautionary metaphor, the hunt turned upon the hunter. Lawrence enacts the process Sartre describes in outlining the Actaeon complex. His story illustrates limitations of founding identity upon strength of purpose with insufficient regard to scenic constraints.
The hunter haunted or even destroyed by his pursuit constitutes a significant rhetorical figure useful for understanding the tragic potential of obsessive purpose. The duality of calculative knowledge is important for scholars interested in the ways discourses such as science can be employed to reduce nature and to transform it into agencies of human use. Illustrating dialectical conflicts characterizing purpose and possession by means of mythic figures and a Pentadic framework clarifies a broader dynamic of unanticipated transformations of the self. Rhetoric can transform agents and even reconstitute polities, but such transformation must remain sensitive to its motivating source and to scenic constraints lest we be blinded—or worse—by our vision.
i See Judith Butler’s Psychic Life of Power (1997) for an extended analysis of the trope of the turn and its force for constituting and potentially transforming subjectivity.
ii Burke (1945) mentions the bodily hunger that provides a genesis for hunting: “another purely biological motive involved in mysticism derives from the fact that at the very centre of mobility is the purpose of the hunt” (p. 303). The hunt contains a sexual dimension based on hunger, ranging from a bodily hunger for sustenance to the metaphoric hunger to achieve goals and to a more eroticized desire, where we represent “the desired as that for which we ‘hunger’, so that the quest for prey can become transformed into the erotic quest” (p. 303). These represent what Burke would call ‘purifications’ of hunger, a transcendence upwards through the symbolic that makes the victimage of the hunt less destructive. In contrast, militarizing the cult of the Hunt without the protections of method Burke advocates risks aestheticizing war and politics (c.f. Burke, 1950, p. 256).
iii This paper leaves substantive analysis of the film for another work; it mentions especially vivid moments or complementary themes from Lean’s film to illustrate Lawrence’s written account.
iv Bacon’s position is familiar, in part through the work of Carolyn Merchant (1980). Discourses representing nature as passive before reason’s active investigation are in some sense an attempt to create a self-fulfilling prophecy about human-nature relations. They reflect, consolidate, and reconstitute gender roles and relations. Chandra Mohanty argues that colonial expansion relied upon scientific justifications for ‘discovering’ and mastering new realms, typically characterized as a masculine act of exploring a feminized natural realm (1997, p. 269). The rhetorical implications of gendered personifications of nature and science are worth pursuing in a subsequent work; Sandra Harding’s (1991) extension of rhetorical analysis of Bacon represents one influential approach.
v Knowing may be a form of appropriation, a metaphorical ingestion and digestion of the other, and knowledge may inherently involve a certain degree of appropriative enjoyment. However, by stressing the violation of sight Sartre proves too much: his account expands violation to encompass all of being, at least for knowing subjects. Indeed, Sartre extends the critique to possession in general as well as to knowledge as a particular type of possession. On the other hand, he does mention a playful relationship as perhaps one way of avoiding possession’s destructive threat.
vi We have Lawrence’s account, with all its respectful Orientalism; but insofar as he motivated rebellion in the region he evidenced formidable cultural attunement. It would be worthwhile to use Lawrence as a basis for reconsidering critiques of colonialist and post-colonial representational strategies, but such analysis belongs to a different work.
vii Burke notes that an emphasis on scene characterizes materialist, possibly determinist theories. Lawrence consistently refuses the determinsim of reducing action to motion; the character depicted in the film dramatizes as much by his insistence that “nothing is written.” Lawrence’s transformation of desert life carries messianic overtones. The film plays up this element substantially, even referencing Moses in a scene emphasizing the human ability to write one’s own fate. An emphasis on agent would favor idealist theories, whereas emphasizing purpose favors mysticism. Lawrence develops tactics to guide military acts that take advantage of agents and the agency enabled by the desert scene; an emphasis on act benefits from a realist approach, such as Lawrence’s assessment of terrain, resources, and intelligence.
One might argue that in any war scene will be the determining factor, but that is by no means obvious. The typology listed above suggests that such a view says more about the evaluator’s perspective than about the essence of warfare. In many cases advantages in firepower or technology (such as aerial superiority and artillery support for land combat) will prove decisive. In these cases agency trumps scene. Heroic tales from Classical Antiquity and Arthurian legend emphasize the character of individual warriors, prioritizing agent. Conceptions of combat holding that the just side will win (such as romanticized notions of trial by combat) emphasize purpose, typically divine purpose. Often the ability to choose the proper ground for battle is represented as a decisive act, or a component of strategic genius (agent). Appreciating Napoleon’s ability, for instance, would involve examining how he selected various sites or adapted his tactics to fit specific occasions; these would touch on scene but only in relation to more important pentadic elements. Alternatively Napoleon’s inauguration of ‘total war’ could be seen as creating additional agency for sustaining conflict as civilizations pit their entire substance against one another, rendering traditional ratios of military strategy less effective.
viii Lawrence (2000) uses the Greek words episteme, doxa, and noesis to discuss leadership and strategy: great commanders require a sense of “the ‘felt’ element in troops,” which is not teachable in school. Honing this instinct for the unpredictable quality of troops and other irrational components of war can consolidate doxa into episteme, which “the Greeks might have called noesis had they bothered to rationalize revolt” (p. 149); this provides a terminological link to Sartre’s phenomenological assessment.
xi The Turks attempted a similar approach, committing acts such as poisoning wells with camel corpses; but they were rather less effective. A related project would consider Lawrence’s struggle in terms of Heidegger’s work on viewing nature as a “standing reserve” (1954/1977) in more detail, where Lawrence allows the desert to reveal itself rather than forcing it into a more limited, albeit predictable, frame.
x The film emphasizes the value of artillery (agency), denied by the British; this was not an element in Lawrence’s history: The British supplied artillery pieces and trainers along with armored cars and other relatively advanced weapons.
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Heidegger (trans. W. Lovitt), The question concerning technology and other essays (pp. 3-35). New York, NY: Harper & Row.Herbert, Frank. (1965). Dune. New York, NY: Berkeley Books.
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Lean, D. (1962). Lawrence of Arabia. (Restored ed.). Sony Pictures.
Merchant, C. (1980). The Death of nature: Women, ecology, and the scientific revolution. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row.
Mohanty, C.T. (1997). Under Western eyes: Feminist scholarship and colonial discourses. In Dangerous liasons: Gender, nature & postcolonial perspectives. (Ed. A. McClintock, A. Mufti, & E. Shohat.) Minneaplois, MN: U Minnesota P.
Ovid. (1993). Metamorphoses. (Trans. Allen Mandelbaum.) New York, NY: Harvest.
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Eric Shouse, East Carolina University
Abstract: In 1930 Kenneth Burke wrote a short satire entitled, “Waste: or the Future of Prosperity.” His satire predicted trends as diverse as the sale of bottled water, the widespread use of mood altering drugs, and the increase in our prison population. We1 update this original satire and then apply Burke’s method—satire by entelechy—to envision the future of biotechnology. Our paper concludes with an explanation of how satire can provide equipment for living with the modern exigencies of biological and ecological catastrophe. We argue modern entelechial satire encourages mutual mortification rather than victimage; therefore, it is able to debunk technological excess without promoting the “Cult of the Kill.”
A monkey in North Carolina has the power of telekinesis. She can move objects at a distance of many miles using only the power of her mind. Researchers in the burgeoning field of biotechnology are attempting to help other monkeys communicate with one another telepathically.2 As a result of these sorts of experiments, a former high school football player can use his thoughts to operate a television, open his e-mail, and play the classic videogame Pong.3 A group of blind people in Portugal can see thanks to cameras connected to electrodes implanted in their brains. One day the “technology that has given them sight could beam images from one person’s mind to another’s.” 4 If it seems impossible to believe there are already beings on our planet with telekinetic powers and that telepathic humans may be just around the corner, it is important to note these are but the tip of a larger techno-scientific iceberg.
The telekinetic monkeys and cyborgs who now live among us are more than mere curiosities. They are outward signs of a larger paradigm shift in science and technology. In the past, the relationship between human beings and technology was mediated by our environment:
For all previous millennia, our technologies have been aimed outward, to control our environment. Starting with fire and clothes, we looked for ways to ward off the elements. With the development of agriculture we controlled our food supply…. Now, however, we have started a wholesale process of aiming our technologies inward. Now our technologies have started to merge with our minds, our memories, our metabolisms, our personalities, our progeny and perhaps our souls.5The song of the technologist is changing. It is no longer “forward, outward, and up,” as Kenneth Burke once proposed.6 That tune was a good fit for technologists who aimed at altering the outside world. Today, however, many of our most preeminent scientists are composing a new refrain—“downward, inward, and up”—downward (in scale), inward (into the body) and up (because the ethic of progress continues to drive this paradigm as it did its precursor).
Over seventy-five years ago, Burke composed a short satire critical of the cultural changes wrought by consumer capitalism. Burke’s thesis in that satire was “though there is a limit to what a man can use, there is no limit whatever to what he can waste.”7 His satire was intended to be a “perversely rational response” to the emergence of the principle of “planned obsolescence.”8 Burke wrote about what would happen if the technological trends beginning to show themselves in 1930 were followed “to the end of the line” (to their strictly logical although highly irrational conclusions). Scholars familiar with Burke’s later papers will recognize the special place the phrase “to the end of the line” had in his glossary. Burke used that phrase to describe how “Certain artists, or purely speculative minds glimpse certain ultimate possibilities in their view of things, and there is no rest until they have tracked down the implications of their insight, by transforming its potentialities into total actualization.”9 The other way Burke described the act of taking things “to the end of the line” was with a term he borrowed from Aristotle. That term was “entelechy.”
For Aristotle, entelechy denoted a biological process. The point of the term was to highlight the way in which biological outcomes tend to be preordained. For example, Aristotle held that a seed already possessed within itself the goal of the mature tree that it would become.10 Burke adapted this strictly biological concept, using “Aristotle’s biological entelechy only as an analogy for what happens in human symbol-use.”11 The Burkeian entelechy, in contrast to the Aristotelian, “is concerned with the ways in which language induces action in the humans who use it and the ways in which the language which humans use reveals the language-users’ concept of perfection—i.e., the goals of their actions.”12 For Burke, entelechy was a way of describing how words can inspire people to take things to the end of the line.
Perhaps the paradigm case of taking things to the end of the line is the guilt purification ritual in which sacrifice becomes “the end of the line” of a given Order. As Burke put it in The Rhetoric of Religion,
Order leads to Guilt (for who can keep commandments) Guilt needs Redemption (for who would not be cleansed!) Redemption needs a Redeemer (which is to say, a Victim!). Order Through Guilt To Victimage (hence: Cult of the Kill).13Burke wrote his poem about the purification of guilt during the apotheosis of the Cold War because he feared the way “two mighty world orders” had “homicidally armed [themselves] to the point of suicide.”14 An important lesson to draw from The Rhetoric of Religion is that all too often we confront Order with a Counter-Order that incorporates the worst elements of the original Order. Thus, in our homicidal plans to defend ourselves we hasten our own suicide.
Throughout his career, Burke looked for a way around the “Cult of the Kill,” regularly advocating a comic perspective that critiqued the most destructive aspects of various Orders while avoiding the promotion of equally dangerous Counter-Orders:
The comic perspective . . . does not believe in . . . any kind of rigidified doctrine or in the kind of fanaticism that supports terrorism around the world, whether it is ecoterrorism, antiabortion terrorism, Marxist terrorism, Islamic terrorism, fundamentalist Christian terrorism, democratic terrorism, fascist terrorism, or racial terrorism.15As this list of terrorist activities makes clear, even the most laudable counter-statements (pro-environmental, pro-democracy, anti-racist) can “call to arms” Counter-Orders dedicated to purging guilt through victimage. Comic criticism must dedicate itself to avoiding the potential victimage of both Order and Counter-Order by constantly striving for imperfection, remembering that Order can be opposed not only by “Counter-Order,” but by simple “Disorder” as well.16
The goal of this paper is to face the modern potential of biological Armageddon brought about by the current hyper-technological order—an Order threatening to change what it means to be human—without setting in motion a potentially equally destructive Counter-Order. We will attempt to do so by utilizing the comic resources of “satire by entelechy.” The modern entelechial satire provides a means of critiquing potential technological excesses without promoting the ritualistic purgation of those excesses through victimage. Our paper constructs a satire by entelechy by reviewing and updating Burke’s 1930 satire, “Waste: or the Future of Prosperity.” After demonstrating the continued relevance of Burke’s method, we briefly examine two later satires known as the “Helhaven essays.”17 We then apply the critical method Burke used to produce his satires to contemporary trends in biotechnology. Our “satire by entelechy” of biotechnology concludes with a discussion of how satire can equip us to face the modern potential of biological and ecological catastrophe. We argue modern entelechial satire promotes mutual mortification rather than victimage. Thus, it is an effective way of debunking technological excess while avoiding the “Cult of the Kill.”18
Before proceeding with our discussion of Burke’s satire, a brief caveat is in order. We believe the best attitude to take in judging Burke’s various satires is, itself, a satirical one. Let the reader be forewarned, therefore, that in our analysis of Burke we shall adopt the attitude of the original texts. All that follows should be read in the comic spirit in which it is intended.19
In “Waste: or the Future of Prosperity,” Burke happened across a technique for producing satire that was also an exceptional method of predicting the future. The method Burke developed for writing his satire of planned obsolescence took the following shape: (1) locate a paradigm beginning to take hold, (2) state clearly the rules and norms of that paradigm, and (3) describe what will happen if those rules and norms are applied to specific cultural artifacts and “taken to the end of the line.”
Burke’s ability to predict the future in “Waste: or the Future of Prosperity” was remarkable. If we are willing to give him a measure of latitude in his predictions it is possible to read Burke’s 1930 essay as forecasting trends as diverse as the sale of bottled water, the wide spread use of mood altering drugs, and the increase in our prison population. Although Burke did not predict the arrival of the Garden Weasel or Billy Bass the singing fish, he did foresee a glut of previously unnecessary products that clutter our contemporary cultural landscape. Burke wrote, “[W]hen a man is thrown out of work by the introduction of a new machine for the manufacture of a necessary article, we must set him to work manufacturing some article hitherto unnecessary.”20 Although mass production was in its infancy, Burke could see what would happen if it was taken to the end of the line. Eventually the producers would run out of necessary goods to produce, and an ever-increasing demand for previously unnecessary goods would have to be manufactured. That is the world we and our singing fish live in today.
One of the previously unnecessary goods Burke took note of in 1930 was the disposable razor. He commented, “Before the modern era, the attempt was made to invent a razor blade that would be durable and permanently efficient. . . . Now experts with the good of the country at heart are seriously at work upon the problem of producing a blade which will afford one perfect shave and then [become entirely useless].”21 Today it is obvious Burke did not push the wasteful consumption of razors to the end of the line. If he had, Burke would have foreseen Gillette’s recent plan to introduce a five blade disposable razor with a single blade on the back for trimming sideburns, a microchip that regulates blade action, a low battery light, and a safety switch that turns the razor off after a designated period of time.22 Why waste only one blade per shave when you can waste six blades, a battery, a light, and a microchip? We should give praise to the good people at Gillette for producing this bounty of waste. They have taken the disposable razor to the end of the line in a way not even the brightest of prognosticators could have predicted. It is well planned waste like this that ensures the continued success of our economy.
Although his foresight when it came to razor blades was impressive, it seems to us that one of Burke’s proudest moments was his prediction of the bottled water phenomenon. In 1930, Burke commented:
It must [be] obvious to all right-thinking persons that no system of maximum prosperity is possible without eliminating the use of water for drinking purposes. The amount of labor that goes into the production and supplying of water is lower than that required for any other beverage. . . . If the population could be educated to consume this same amount of liquid per day under some manufactured form, the consumption of manufactured beverages would immediately be increased over a thousand percent.23We should praise Burke here not so much for his insight about how the beverage industry would be shaped by Fordism, but for his good nature and lack of cynicism. He believed the government would have to educate people into the consumption of beverages other than water. A more cynical observer might have hit upon what actually happened: that some corporations would so befoul the water that citizens would pay other corporations to remove the foulness. An even more cynical observer would note it would be even better for business if the supposedly clean water was not actually so clean. The Natural Resource Defense Council—a group marked by their obvious lack of optimism when it comes to such things—actually tested over a thousand units of bottled water. They found about 22 percent of the water contained “chemical contaminants at levels above strict state health limits [that if consumed over a long period of time] . . . could cause cancer or other health problems.”24 We are sure this will come as welcome news to our nation’s many cancer researchers. With the bottled water industry in their corner, their profits are destined to rise. Blessed are the impure water hucksters, for they give us the carcinogens the drugs of the future will help to combat.
If it takes the generosity of a comic spirit to interpret Burke as predicting the five blade razor and bottled water, much less generosity is necessary when it comes to his penitentiary prophesy. Burke was one of the first theorists to realize prisons could be good for the economy. He suggested that so long as the building of prisons kept pace with the production of new crimes, lawmakers “may then proceed unimpeded to the formulation of still other crimes, putting many acts upon the statute books which are not even suspected by the general public as criminal at present. And many seemingly small offenses, now listed as misdemeanors, can be promoted to the rank of felonies, with consequent longer terms of imprisonment for offenders.”25 Burke was about fifty years ahead of the curve in these predictions. In fact, our nation’s “prison population has quadrupled since 1980” as a direct “result of public policy, such as the war on drugs and mandatory minimum sentencing.”26 By criminalizing more and more behaviors that were not previously crimes our brave and noble legislators were able to increase the prison population from 280,000 in 1970 to 2 million in 2000.27 We salute those legislators who have worked so diligently so that so many might be locked away. They have proven Burke correct beyond his wildest dreams.
One of the things making the dramatic increase in incarcerations possible was the creation of an “incarceration business” wherein private companies charge states for “looking after” their criminals. The largest organization in the prison business, Corrections Corporation of America, collects over $1 billion a year to house inmates. The real beauty of this system is that it makes possible the return of de facto slave labor, and slave labor has solved an economic dilemma. The dilemma is that American companies cannot compete with foreign operations that pay workers twenty cents an hour while concomitantly satisfying American consumer’s desire to purchase products that say “Made in the U.S.A.” What is the smart-minded venture capitalist to do? The obvious answer is to turn U.S. prisons into factories, and this is what politicians have allowed them to do:
Companies such as Boeing, Victoria's Secret, and Eddie Bauer have subcontracted with companies using low-cost prison labor to manufacture everything from aircraft components to lingerie and software packages. TWA contracts with the California Youth and Adult Correctional Agency to use prisoners to make airline reservations. In Nevada, prisoners make waterbeds for Vinyl Products, Inc. Another company, Labor-to-Industry (formerly Lockhart Technologies), employs sixty Texas prisoners making electronic circuit boards. The Washington Marketing Group employs prisoners as telemarketers. South Carolina Cap and Gown, Inc. hires prisoners to make graduation gowns.28Thanks to the contemporary prison industry, when our children walk across the stage at their high school graduation ceremonies they can proudly wear garments sewn by former classmates (those classmates having been tried as adults for crimes that previously did not exist). One way or another, everyone gets to participate in the graduation ceremony. We commend the venture capitalists and our noble legislators for finally delivering on the promise of “No Child Left Behind.”
At the same time Americans have increasingly become willing to take away liberty, we have all but mandated the pursuit of happiness, and that demand has been good for the economy as well. Back in 1930, Burke could only dream that “perhaps we can look forward to the day when the ‘constructive attitude’ can be maintained by a simple medical injection.”29 Today more and more people secretly hope to become depressed so they can receive their fair share of the many mood elixirs the medical profession has to offer. There is so much Prozac floating around our culture these days people have begun giving it to their dogs.30 The dogs of impropriety would surely howl were they not so inebriated.
In sum, “Waste: Or, the Future of Prosperity” predicted the widespread adaptation of previously unnecessary goods like disposable razors, bottled water, and mood altering drugs, and also foretold the increase in the prison population. Rereading his satire, we were taken aback by how thoroughly history has vindicated Burke’s satiric vision of the future. There is only one place in “Waste: Or, the Future of Prosperity” where taking things to the end of the line did not provide an eerily accurate model of the future. Burke envisioned an automobile of the future that would “give super-performance for twelve months” and then “fall into a thousand pieces. . . .”31 While the AMC Gremlin came close, the automobile industry today relies much more heavily upon planned obsolescence. That doctrine continues to victimize people who “are kept busy buying new models of every imaginable commodity while their old models are still in thoroughly serviceable condition.”32 Overall, however, Burke’s satire painted an ironically accurate portrait of the future.
In 1971 and 1974 Burke partially updated his 1930 satire of consumer capitalism in his Helhaven essays, “Toward Helhaven: Three Stages of a Vision,” and “Why Satire, With a Plan for Writing One.” In the Helhaven essays, Burke envisioned environmental pollution so profound it would necessitate the building of a refuge in outer space. Helhaven was described as a “Culture-Bubble on the Moon” where the lucky few could take refuge from the apocalyptic pollution of planet Earth. According to Burke, some sort of “culture-bubble” would eventually become necessary because, “We are happiest when we can plunge on and on. And any thought of turning back, of curbing rather than aggravating our cult of ‘new needs,’ seems to us suicidal, even though the situation is actually the reverse, and it is our mounting technologic clutter that threatens us.”33 The Helhaven essays present a dark vision of our planet’s ecological future. The vision was so dark it caused one critic to wonder if Burke had entirely given in to despair:
Though Burke categorizes his Helhaven as a satire, with the implication that one satirizes only a condition that is capable of being changed, it may occur to the reader who reaches the end of “Why Satire” that there should be a question mark attached to its title. Why should Burke bother to use satire when the world to which he is responding seems to be beyond all hope? Indeed, we get the sense . . . Burke had reached a state of despair about the ecology of the planet—for example, his conviction that the “ultimate impasse” is that humanity victimizes nature and itself simultaneously.34At first we too were depressed by Burke’s ominous prophecy, especially given his aptitude for predicting the future via satire. However, it seems clear to us today that a group of well-meaning scientists and technologists will be able to kill us off long before environmental pollution chokes our planet.
Thanks to the future of GRAIN technologies (genetics, robotics, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology) applied to human beings rather than their environment, we predict an internal apocalypse for which there will be no safe haven (Helhaven or otherwise). In the future biotechnologies will make us all over in the image of our environment. We will become the pollution that up until now has only plagued our planet. To explain how biotechnology will take us to the end of the line, we will employ the same methods Burke utilized in “Waste: or the Future of Prosperity.” (1) We will discuss a paradigm that is beginning to take hold (“the singularity”). (2) We will state clearly the rules and norms of that paradigm. (3) We will describe what will happen if those rules and norms are applied to specific cultural artifacts and “taken to the end of the line.”
It is our belief that by making ourselves over in the image of our environmental pollution we will become just as “rotten with perfection” as the environment we have polluted. It seems clear that our technologists desire in their heart of hearts to produce a synthetic symbiosis: a human who is inhuman enough to live on a planet made uninhabitable by humans. This is a most rational and scientific solution, and we applaud it. When life gives you sour-tasting, genetically modified lemons, why change the lemons? That is regress. Instead, we should utilize our technological prowess to transform our taste buds until lemons taste like Country Time. That is progress!
In physics, a singularity is point at which “everything stops making sense.”35 For example, if human beings were to approach a black hole they would come to a point in space known as an event horizon: “At this singularity . . . the laws of science and our ability to predict the future would break down.”36 Past an event horizon, it is impossible to know what will happen next. We don't know what lies on the other side of a black hole. Technologically oriented futurists have suggested that “our human-created technology is accelerating and its powers are expanding at an exponential pace” and that this exponential growth will result in a “greater-than-human” form of artificial intelligence.37 These futurists envision super-human forms of artificial intelligence as a new “singularity.” As with the black hole, it is impossible to know what lies on the other side of this “singularity.” (It is unlikely a person with even superior human intelligence will be able to predict how super-intelligent forms of AI will reshape human beings and our planet.) Fortunately, it is not our goal to explain or predict where a technological singularity might take us, but only to write a satire by entelechy of this paradigm’s greatest potential excesses.
Let us begin our satire of biotechnology by thinking about how GRAIN technologies will shape the future of our nation’s greatest natural resources—our children. We can begin in the present. Our cutting-edge biotechnologists have already forever altered the lives of a number of parents and their children:
In the spring of 2001 . . . a fertility clinic in New Jersey impregnated fifteen women with embryos fashioned from their own eggs, their partner’s sperm, and a small portion of an egg donated by a second woman. The procedure was designed to work around the defects in the would-be mother’s egg—but at least two of the resulting babies carried genetic material from all three “parents.”38Rudimentary reproductive technology has given us children with three biological parents, and the fertility specialists who made this happen are to be commended. We sincerely hope the exponential trends in technology growth continue to impact their field. With a little more work, it may one day be possible for children to have thousands of parents. One can only imagine the lavish birthday parties a thousand parents would have the resources to orchestrate. It has been said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” We look forward to the day when all right-minded people of good conscience will take that sentiment literally.
Indeed, it may take the energy of thousands of parents to cope with the precociousness of the tots of the future. The vice president of a major biotech firm recently announced his researchers are “close to being able to add 20 or 30 points to your baby’s IQ.”39 We eagerly anticipate the day when parents will be able to customize their children as easily as we now customize our automobiles. Imagine being able to equip your children with advanced intelligence packages, athletic-enhancement options, and super-sociability features. These are just a few of the things advances in biotechnology may make possible. If parents are allowed to make these sorts of decisions, all of our children will attend Harvard, compete in the Olympics, and have their own daytime talk shows. This would be a glorious future, and what parent would oppose it? However, it will only come to pass in places with a fierce fidelity to the free market. If the nation-state dictates policy we may wind up with a system like the one the English have adopted wherein every couple who wants to use, “any new reproductive technique . . . must first apply to the Human Embryology Authority.”40 Leave it to the English to bureaucratize conception.
If fear mongers in our own nation have their way, our citizens may face similar sorts of bureaucratic obstacles in their quest to improve their children. One such “environmentalist” fears that if the “options” we choose for our children do not work out well parents may want to return a less than perfect child in the same way they would “a defective product.”41 We will admit there is a small “downside” when it comes to these sorts of technological “enhancements.” However, there is also an incredible “upside.” The perfection of our children would be a major boon for our nation’s future economy. Parents already attempt to “reprogram” their children with substances like Ritalin. They do so despite the fact that “lab animals given the option of self-administering either Ritalin or cocaine do not show a strong preference for one over the other.”42 We should salute these parents who regularly hop up their children on legal speed. They are good Americans. Their willingness to push aside personal doubts as they sprinkle the equivalent of pure Colombian blow on their children’s Cocoa Puffs is a testament to their moral fortitude. Success is based upon taking calculated risks. It is these types of parents—millions of them—who will ensure the success of the biotechnology revolution. Biotechnology will help children succeed by giving them a choice. On the one hand, they can succeed. On the other hand, they can be “reprogrammed.” Choice is the root of democracy, and it is democracy that will ensure our nation’s continued technological superiority. As the cyborg President of the future will say, “God bless the enhanced children of the future, and God bless the United States of America.”
If we are to achieve the technological utopia known as the singularity, we must be ever vigilant. “The law of accelerating returns [that will enable the coming singularity] is fundamentally an economic theory. . . .”43 The exponential advances in the fields of genetics, robotics, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology will come because these fields will produce economically viable products. Therefore, one of the only things that could potentially interfere with the arrival of the singularity would be a slowdown of the world’s economy. In less than two generations, the median age in Europe, Japan, and parts of North America will be nearly 60.44 In the long-term we will simply do away with Social Security by doing away with the elderly (by this we mean nanotechnology will allow people to rebuild their bodies and therefore never become physiologically old). In the short term, however, the glut of elderly people in industrialized nations could become a drain on the economy, and thus a stumbling block impeding our progress toward the singularity. Fortunately, nanotechnology may already be providing a solution for this problem.
Sedentary seniors who watch Matlock all day will die of heart disease as nature intended. We need not fear them. It is the “active senior” who is the enemy of our economy and thus of technological progress. Fortunately, the majority of nanotech-enhanced products introduced thus far have been luxury goods, including cosmetics and sporting goods.45 Nanotechnology enhanced tennis rackets and golf clubs may help to solve the problem of having to pay the baby-boom generation’s Social Security and pension costs. These products are designed to appeal to active seniors with high levels of disposable income (the very pension-sucking, economic-destabilizing, old-timers whose retirement could delay the singularity). Many well-off seniors will buy nano-tennis rackets and golf clubs, rub nano-sunblock on their aging bodies and even go so far as pouring nano-supplements down their throats.
Currently, there are at least 276 nanotechnology-enhanced consumer products on the market.46 All of these products have been released even though our “current knowledge of the toxicology of nanoparticles and nanotubes is poor.”47 In one study, a “modest concentration of buckyballs in water caused significant harm to two aquatic animals. Water fleas were killed . . . and fish showed up to a 17-fold increase in brain damage compared with unexposed animals.”48 Buckyballs are one of the most widely utilized building blocks for nanotechnology. They “show promise as components of fuel cells, drug delivery systems and cosmetics that delay aging.”49 Economically successful senior citizens are likely to be early adaptors of both novel drug delivery systems and “age-defying” products. If we are fortunate, early-stage nanotechnology will have one of two celebratory effects: (1) it will kill off “active seniors” like water fleas before their pension-sucking ways become a drain on the economy, or (2) it will saddle them, like large mouth bass, with brain injuries akin to “Alzheimer’s disease in humans.”50 It is obvious the early death of these seniors would be a boon for the singularity. However, the idea that elderly people may one day be afflicted with Alzheimer’s-like brain traumas is only “promising” in a round about way. The key here is that an increasingly feeble-minded elderly population could prove to be the incentive America needs to begin production on our first generation of super-intelligent robots.
Sanyo has already introduced a “robotic bath” that is “effectively a washing machine for frail people to sit in with automatic wash, rinse and dry cycles.”51 In the United States, General Electric plans to sell sensors that can be placed throughout the home to “keep an eye on forgetful people.”52 Not surprisingly, some elderly people initially balk at the idea of being bathed like pets or being watched over by “Big Brother.” However, as a health technology expert with Intel suggested, once elderly people realize the alternative to technology is “boredom or loss of independence” they become far more compliant.53 In other words, as we are sure the robot overlords of the future will remind them, resistance is futile.
In the future, biotechnology and nanotechnology will so improve the state of medicine that accidents will be the primary cause of death. When this level of medical sophistication is achieved, safety will become an even bigger concern for people than it is now. Intelligent individuals will surround themselves with the same sorts of sensors currently being developed to monitor the elderly to protect themselves from slipping in the bathroom and dying prematurely at age 250. The entelechial motive will guide people toward the perfection of safety. (Envision a prison where all the inmates are trustees.) Many people striving for safety have already produced this sort of condition, and if you ask them they will tell you they enjoy their gated communities. We look forward to the day when virtual prisons constructed of data can be used to “protect” us all from a variety of dangers we do not currently even recognize as dangerous. This will be a godsend for robots and other forms of artificial intelligence; it will provide them with an all-encompassing knowledge of human behavior that will eventually help them achieve world domination.
Future forms of artificial intelligence will not only know everything there is to know about our everyday lives, many of them will have access to other forms of knowledge as well. More than a few artificial intelligence researchers envision their progeny “learning” by going out on the Internet and reading material that interests them. One of the things some AIs may find interesting is a study by a group of scientists at the University of Texas. These researchers developed a fuel cell that runs on human blood. “[T]he cell produces electricity sufficient to power conventional electronics and could be used for future blood-borne nanobots. . . . (A newspaper in Sydney observed that the project provided a basis for the premise in the Matrix movies of using humans as batteries.)”54 While we would not put it past our future robot overlords to turn us into an energy source, using human beings as batteries would be a colossal waste of our potential.
The majority of future AIs will be more interested in reading about how they can transform human beings into sophisticated RC cars than into “food” sources. They will be able to read online about how researchers in New York connected three wires to the brains of a group of rats. Two of the wires were used to guide individual rats with a joystick and the other was connected to the pleasure center of the rat’s brain. The rats were rewarded with a synthesized euphoric sensation when they scurried in the direction the researchers desired.55 Given the navigational problems that have plagued robotics from the start, we suspect early AI-enhanced robots will not be all that agile. Thus, it seems likely these AIs will attempt to commandeer the bodies of as many human hosts as possible and send us scurrying over the corpses of our blood-drained comrades. If the feeling of euphoria is intense enough, we can imagine many humans vying for a chance to become exoskeletons for these superior forms of intelligence. At the end of the day, giving up our bodies will probably be good for humans; nothing teaches humility like serving others.
Perhaps we are being too pessimistic? The entelechy of biotechnology could turn out well (as far as the technologists are concerned). Thus, we should ponder: What if the highly optimistic futurists are correct and biotechnology gives humans virtual immortality?56 In that case, we feel certain suicide will become an incredibly popular pastime. After spending 500 years on the planet, the combination of booze, drugs and reality television that currently makes life seem worth living is going to begin to seem bland. Even the newness of the new will begin to feel old. After people spend a hundred or so years on genetically formulated super-anti-depressants, we predict there will be some unplanned for side effects. The urge to purchase a small caliber handgun will be uncontrollable; even members of the British labor party will feel the urge. Suicide is the future! Now is not the time to be thinking about investing in some far off culture-bubble on the moon. Now is the time to start investing in colorful, fully automated, digital, suicide machines. Immortality is the future, and the perfection of immortality is death by suicide.
In what follows we explain why we feel satire is a fitting form of criticism when it comes to the critique of modern technological intrusions into the realms of biology and ecology. We argue the use of satire allows critics to debunk technological excess without giving in to the urge to “purify” the “sins” of this excess. Specifically, modern entelechial satire can purify technological excess though the mechanism of mutual mortification rather than the victimization of others. Satire is an especially useful cure for the potential excesses of biotechnology because while it rejects the most radical applications of biotechnology it has the potential to foster acceptance of more moderate iterations of this technology.
Some individuals may feel the resources of satire are too feeble and indirect to create the type of moral warning needed to fend off the dangers a biotech revolution portends. They might imagine it more fruitful to confront biotechnological excess without the resources of comic ambivalence. One independent scholar did just that, suggesting in all earnestness that the sorts of technologies we have criticized might one day destroy our essential human nature. He wrote,
In the long run (say a few centuries from now) it is it is likely that neither the human race nor any other important organisms will exist as we know them today, because once you start modifying organisms through genetic engineering there is no reason to stop at any particular point, so that the modifications will probably continue until man and other organisms have been utterly transformed.57The author believed the best weapon against counter-nature was nature itself. His argument was that, “Nature makes a perfect counter-ideal to technology” and encouraged his audience to engage in a revolution on behalf of nature.58 Unfortunately, the perfection of this system involved not only the destruction of technology and the return to nature, but the destruction of technologists. The author was Theodore Kaczynski, his text, The Unibomber Manifesto.
Burke’s satire of technology aimed outward and our satire of technology aimed inward share a common denominator with The Unibomber Manifesto: the concern that technology will destroy human life as we know it. Burke believed “without radical changes in its technologic ways, the world was headed for a calamity that might ultimately be as bad as were an actual nuclear war to break out.”59 He imagined a planet inhabited by “scurvy anthropoid[s]” giving birth to “degenerate and misshapen broods.”60 Our satire envisioned biotechnology killing or maiming the elderly and human beings serving as exoskeletons for advanced forms of AI. Burke’s satire highlighted human suffering and death; ours envisioned a loss of humanity and mass suicide. Both we and Burke present disturbing visions of the future, and unfortunately both visions are tied to technological trends already with us.
For things to turn out as badly as we have predicted, current trends need only be perfected by creatures whose very symbol-use encourages us to strive for perfection. The idea that the end of the line of current technological trends is either the destruction of nature (Burke) or human nature (our vision) is a dangerous goad. The parable of Kaczynski teaches us the danger of giving in to the certainty of these visions. Once Apocalypse seems inevitable it is difficult not to be tempted by a spirit of redemption. Satire is a means of confronting the possibility of Apocalypse while avoiding the promotion of a Counter-Order that would enjoin the “Cult of the Kill.”61 The name Ted Kaczynski is the best answer we can muster for Coupe’s question, Why write satire when “the world to which [we are] responding seems to be beyond all hope?”62 Satire is a form of debunking, and we share with Kaczynski the desire to debunk the potential excesses of biotechnology. However, we desire to do so with a less rigid attitude; we hope to keep in mind things only seem to be beyond all hope, and we feel satire makes this attitude possible.
At first blush, satire may appear incongruous with Burke’s comic-humanist orientation. Satire has traditionally been conceptualized as “a triangle with the satirist at one point, the satiric object at another, and the reader or dramatic audience at the third.”63 Critics with this orientation expect the audience to identify with the satirist and to “share in the condemnation of the satiric object that this identification with the satirist entails, in much the same way that the (male) joker and (male) audience combine aggressive forces against the (female) object in Freud’s account of the telling of tendentious jokes.”64 This model of satire has encouraged scholars to think of satire as a type of guilt purification ritual.65 However, as Burke clearly knew, satire does not have to culminate in victimage.
Burke always believed the satirist and the satirist’s victims were far more consubstantial than most satirists let on. In Attitudes toward History he suggested, “the satirist attacks in others the weaknesses and temptations that are really within himself.”66 Modern satire takes this consubstantiality a step further. It is a form of discourse that “dedicated as it is to ‘rejection’” cannot result in scapegoating because it revolves around a “catastrophe [that] implicates us all.”67 There is no Other to scapegoat because “the emphasis in modern satire has shifted from individual man to mankind . . . the satirist is now concerned to save the human race, either from complete extinction, or from a change so fundamental that its essential humanity would be lost.”68 Modern satires attack whole ways of life rather than individuals, and, as a result, modern satirists create divisions that do not necessarily conform to the typical pattern of guilt-purification-redemption. In many cases there is no goat to scapegoat because modernity makes goats of us all.
The goal of modern entelechial satire is to encourage mutual mortification rather than the victimage of an “other.” This approach is useful given the danger of the entelechial motive because “mutual mortification . . . may produce a transcendence beyond the need for a bloody sacrifice.”69 People do not usually follow satirists into battle unless they intend to slay a windmill, and satirists who demand to be taken seriously are no longer satirists.70 For the satiric frame to hold, the satirist must “maintain the dual role of the critic at warning and the comedian at play.”71 Thus, satire is useful equipment for living in a hypertechnological age because it rejects a part in an effort to save the whole. Like burlesque, satire “allows the author and auditor to adopt a frame of acceptance and a frame of rejection at the same time.”72 However, burlesque typically aims at a partial rejection through the pseudo-scapegoating of an individual. Modern entelechial satire, on the other hand, aims at a partial rejection of excesses we all share in common with the goal of mutual mortification.
Modern entelechial satire is useful because of what it accepts as well as what it rejects. In his use of satire by entelechy Burke hit upon a form of comic criticism that can point out the potentially destructive trends inherent in a given Order without promoting an equally destructive Counter-Order. Satire has the ability to “debunk the ideas the satirist seeks to disparage while also facilitating audience acceptance of more moderate versions of those ideas.”73 This characteristic of satire is important because it would be incredibly foolish to entirely reject biotechnology. We should remember the total rejection of biotechnology would entail the denunciation of things like penicillin and novacaine. Needless to say, we advocate no such “return to nature.” Advances in biotechnology are improving people’s lives; they are helping the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the amputee to scratch his nose.74 Any critique of our technological future should recognize and subtly promote these sorts of advances. It would be tragic if we entirely halted scientific and technological research because of our trepidations about biotechnological perfection. On the other hand, it would be just as foolish not to be prepared to reject the biotechnological excesses we have satirized. Satire by entelechy mediates these potentials by creating the possibility of acceptance in the same instant it promotes rejection.
Mutual mortification is an ideal of modern satire by entelechy, a form of discourse that ideally speaks across differences to create a sense of mutual responsibility for the shared “sins” of our collective Order. “A culture or social group infused by the motive of mortification enacts the role of secular sinner. Pollution is removed and redemption is achieved as individuals accept personal responsibility for the culture’s problems.”75 Unfortunately, it is impossible to know beforehand how such striving for imperfection will be received. As a case in point, certain readers of our satire may feel they have been unfairly ridiculed: “Readerly hostility to satiric rejection is . . . entirely understandable [especially when readers respond to] acts that may seem to be directed against us.”76 Parents whose children take Ritalin, for example, may see themselves as “victims” of our satire by entelechy rather than as merely “representative anecdotes” of a hyper-technological-medical-industrial-complex that entangles us all. This is not a unique liability of satire, however. No form of rhetoric can do more than to promote identification and consubstantiality. The special value of modern satire by entelechy is that it can produce complex counter-statements that are unlikely to reify into Counter-Orders despite the fact people are ever on the lookout for new reasons to hate and kill one another.
Burke’s 1930 satire, “Waste: or the Future of Prosperity,” utilized satire by entelechy to criticize the emerging paradigm in consumer capitalism we now know as planned obsolescence. In his satire, Burke described the unstated rules and norms of planned obsolescence, and by applying those rules and norms to specific cultural artifacts, Burke was able to demonstrate the potential menace of seemingly logical technological trends. We feel that technologically advanced nations are on the cusp of a new technological paradigm. Therefore, we applied Burke’s method to biotechnology. Our satire began by describing a paradigm (the singularity) we feel is beginning to take hold in important scientific and technological circles. This paradigm is predicated on the belief that human created technology is expanding at an exponential pace and will result in greater-than-human forms of intelligence. Biotechnology is different than previous forms of technology; it is designed to be applied directly to humans. Therefore, our satire revolved around the ways human beings might become the technological pollution that until now has only choked our planet.
Our satire envisioned our children becoming “polluted” with intelligence, our elderly being “polluted” by nanotechnology, and the entire human race being overcome by greater-than-human forms of intelligence. Despite our satiric pleadings to the contrary, we hope our predictions will not come to fruition. Our satire by entelechy was intended as a small wager against a “too perfect” future. Like Burke, when he wrote the Helhaven essays, we were motivated by the hope that “by carrying [the Apocalyptic] speculations to the end of the line, one keeps the admonitions alive.”77 While we would not advocate a wholesale abandonment of biotechnology, we would also hope the telekinetic monkeys of the future might occasionally slip on the banana peel of humility. If biotechnologists are allowed to strive for perfection without the constraint of humility, we fear we will become our own pollution, and that is a future none of us can survive.
1 Burke refers to himself in the first person plural (“We”) throughout his satire, “Waste: or the Future of Prosperity.” In an attempt to capture the tone and “attitude” of Burke’s original satire, the (single) author of this paper has done likewise.
2 Joel Garreau, Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies – and What It Means to Be Human (New York: Broadway Books, 2005) 36-37.
3 Kevin Maney, “Scientists Gingerly Tap Into Brain’s Power,” USAToday.com 10 Oct. 2004, 27 June 2006
4Ramez Naam, More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement (New York: Broadway Books, 2005) 2.
5 Garreau 6.
6 Kenneth Burke, On Human Nature: A Gathering While Everything Flows, ed. William H. Rueckert and Angelo Bonadonna (Berkeley: U of California P, 2003) 57.
7 Kenneth Burke, “Waste: or the Future of Prosperity,” Whither, Whither, or After Sex, What? A Symposium to End Symposiums, ed. Walter S. Hankel [pseud.] (New York: Macaulay Co., 1930) 75.
8 Burke, On Human Nature 68.
9 Burke, On Human Nature 73.
10 Stan A. Lindsay, Implicit Rhetoric: Kenneth Burke’s Extension of Aristotle’s Concept of Entelechy (Lanham: U P of America, 1998) 5.
11 Lindsay 76.
12 Lindsay 11.
13 Kenneth Burke, The Rhetoric of Religion (1961; Berkeley: U of California P, 1970) 4-5.
14 Burke, Rhetoric of Religion 4.
15 William H. Rueckert, Encounters with Kenneth Burke (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1994) 120-21.
16 Burke, Rhetoric of Religion 195.
17 Burke, On Human Nature 54.
18 Burke, Rhetoric of Religion 5.
19 The editor of “Waste: or the Future of Prosperity” commented to Burke, “In all his many years as an editor, he had never published a satire that did not provoke a rash of letters from indignant readers who had taken the piece on its face, without allowance for the satiric twist.” We hope that the foregoing caveat helps to prevent as many readers as possible from taking the remainder of our essay on its face. Burke described the conversation with the editor in On Human Nature 55.
20 Burke, “Waste” 61-62.
21 Burke, “Waste” 63.
22 “Gillette Unveils 5-bladed Razor,” CNN Money.com 14 Sept. 2005, 12 Feb. 2006
23 Burke, “Waste” 66-67.
24 “Bottled Water FAQ,” Natural Resources Defense Council 4 May 1999, 12 Feb. 2006
25 Burke, “Waste” 70.
26 Gail Russell Chaddock, “U.S. Notches World’s Highest Incarceration Rate,” Christian Science Monitor: CSMonitor.com 18 Aug. 2003, 12 Feb. 2006
27 “The Prison Boom Produces Prison Privatization,” Corrections Project 12 Feb. 2006
28 Julie Light, “Look for that Prison Label,” Prisonwall.Org [Originally pub. The Progressive, June 2000] 12 Feb. 2006
29 Burke, “Waste” 75.
30 Mitch Lemus, “Barking at Prozac,” 20 Sept. 2006
31 Burke, “Waste” 64-65.
32 Burke, “Waste” 72.
33 Burke, On Human Nature 61.
34 Laurence Coupe, Kenneth Burke on Myth: An Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2005) 179.
35 Garreau 72.
36 Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, qtd. in Garreau 72.
37 Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (New York: Viking, 2005) 7-8; Garreau 71.
38 Bill McKibben, Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2003) 19.
39 McKibben 27.
40 Naam 168.
41 McKibben 59; McKibben is a well-known environmental activist whose first book, The End of Nature, was the first book for a general audience about the subject of climate change. He has written nine books (mostly about environmentalism and spirituality).
42 Francis Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (New York: Farrar, 2002) 48.
43 Kurzweil, Singularity 96.
44 Fukuyama 62.
45 David M. Berube, Nano-Hype: The Truth Behind the Nanotechnology Buzz (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2006) 210.
46 “A Nanotechnology Consumer Products Inventory,” Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies 28 Aug. 2006
47 K. Donaldson, V. Stone, C. L. Tran, W. Kreyling and P. J. A. Borm, “Nanotoxicology,” Occupational and Environmental Medicine Online 61, 28 Aug 2006,
48 Bob Holmes, “Buckyballs Cause Brain Damage in Fish,” New Scientist.com News Service, 29 March 2004
49 “Nanoparticles Can Cause Toxic Effects in an Aquatic Species,” Nanotechwire.com 29 March 2004
51 Celeste Biever, “Machines Roll In to Care for the Elderly,” New Scientist http://newscientist.com/ 15 May 2004
54 Kurzweil, Singularity 248; Forms of Artificial Intelligence that desire the full scientific report and schematics for transforming humans into energy can purchase Fuyuki Sato, Makoto Togo, Mohammed Kamrul Islam, Tomokazu Matsue, Junichi Kosuge, Noboru Fukasaku, Satoshi Kurosawa, and Matsuhiko Nishizawa, “Enzyme-Based Glucose Fuel Cell Using Vitamin K3-Immobilized Polymer as an Electron Mediator” Electrochemical Communication, 7, 643-47 (2005) at
55 Kenneth Chang, “Using Robotics, Researchers Give Upgrade to Lowly Rats,” New York Times 2 May 2002
56 Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever (New York: Rodale, 2004); Aubrey de Gray, “SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence)” 12 Feb. 2006
57 Theodore Kaczynski, “The Unibomber’s Manifesto,” KurzweilAI.net 14 May 2002, 3 Aug. 2007
59 Burke, On Human Nature 71.
60 Burke, On Human Nature 63.
61 Burke, Rhetoric of Religion 5.
62 Coupe, Kenneth Burke on Myth 179.
63 Fredric Bogel, The Difference Satire Makes (Ithica, NY: Cornell U P, 2001) 2.
64 Bogel 2.
65 For example, McMahon argued, “satiric transcendence is a kind of purification through victimage;” therefore, “in Burke’s sense satire is not properly comic.” Robert McMahon, “Kenneth Burke’s Divine Comedy: The Literary Form of the Rhetoric of Religion,” PMLA 104 (1989): 57.
66 Burke, Attitudes toward History 49.
67 Laurence Coupe, “Kenneth Burke: Pioneer of Ecocriticism,” Journal of American Studies 35 (2001): 413-31; emphasis mine.
68 James Sutherland, English Satire (London: Cambridge U P, 1958) 21.
69 Margaret Cavin, “Replacing the Scapegoat: An Examination of the Rebirth Strategies Found in William Sloane Coffin’s Language of Peace,” Peace & Change 19 1994): 288.
70 Will Kaufman, The Comedian as Confidence Man: Studies in Irony Fatigue (Detroit: Wayne State U P, 1997) 12.
71 Kaufman 11.
72 Edward C. Appel, “Burlesque Drama as a Rhetorical Genre: The Hudibrastic Ridicule of William F. Buckley, Jr.,” Western Journal of Communication 60 (1996): 270.
73 Lisa Gring-Pemble and Martha Solomon Watson, “The Rhetorical Limits of Satire: An Analysis of James Finn Gardner’s Politically Correct Bedtime Stories,” Qualterly Journal of Speech 89 (2003): 133.
74 The use of cochlear implants by the hearing impaired has become commonplace. On helping the blind to see, see Naam 2. For a video of a man using a remarkably agile prosthetic arm see Darren Murph, “Dean Kamen’s Robotic Prosthetic Arm Gets Detailed on Video,” Engadget 20 May 2007
75 James Jasinski, Sourcebook on Rhetoric: Key Concepts in Contemporary Rhetorical Studies (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2001) 365.
76 Bogel 56-57.
77 Burke, On Human Nature 80.
Jack Selzer reports in his fascinating and erudite book, Kenneth Burke in Greenwich Village, that Burke’s first publication came in 1916 when his poem, “Adam’s Song, and Mine,” was published in Others in March of that year. Actually, that’s not quite true. When I visited Burke at his farm in Andover for a week in 1986 (taking advantage of an invitation following my work with him as a graduate student in the Burke interviews at the University of Iowa), I came across some earlier publications on his shelf. These appeared in The Peabody, the literary magazine of Burke’s high school in Pittsburgh. Burke had just been given a photocopy machine and he allowed me to make copies of his earliest published work. With the kind approval of Michael Burke, we have reprinted two of his early publications here, giving Burke scholars a chance to see the earliest work from the impressive young Kenny. The first is a short story, “La Fino de la Homar’,” published in January 1913 when Burke was in the 10th grade. It is a story of a scientist who discovers an asteroid destined to destroy the earth. Lest you think Burke ever failed to "use all that is there to use,” consider this passage from Language as Symbolic Action, published 53 years later, where Burke is discussing the concept of humans as “rotten with perfection”:
There is a kind of “terministic compulsion” to carry out the implications of one’s terminology, quite as if an astronomer discovered by his observations and computations that a certain wandering body was likely to hit the earth and destroy us, he would nonetheless feel compelled to argue for the correctness of his computations, despite the ominousness of the outcome. (19)
(Thanks to David Langston for reminding me where to find this passage.)
The second, “Invince Harvey, Jr.,” published in May 1913, is the story of a high school Machiavelli who gets control of a school publication. It has a wonderful closing speech by this self-proclaimed demagogue trying to hang on to power. We invite KB Journal readers to post comments on these early essays in the Conversations section of the journal or at the bottom of each.
"La Fino de la Homar"
By Kenneth D. Burke, 10-B-1
The Peabody (high school literary magazine)
Midnight! And the heavens! Some stars still twinkled brightly, defying the influence of the calm June night, others blinked drowsily, as if determined to last until sunrise, long past their time for retiring, while the rest slowly drifted from sleep to wakening, then with a start seemed to realize their weakening forces, and leapt into brightness, but only to return to their former lethargy. The moon, the night’s sentinel of vigilance, had just departed, taking with her every single cloud which might have marred the even beauty of the scene.
Astronomer Lowell saw this as he gazed dreamily upward. The peaceful scene seemed to recall something to his sleepy mind, for he slowly rose and walked over to his telescope, beside which lay three photographs, taken during the same number of preceding evenings. They were, to the human eye, exactly alike. Each had, besides a myriad of stars, a small streak upon it, which seemed to be in a position similar to that of the others. Nevertheless, on each plate the streak had move a little farther East, and had become somewhat longer than on the previous one. This proved that a planet, or a comet, or something else comparatively near the earth, had been discovered, and that it was gaining in speed. It could not be a star, because a star is so far away that its motion would remain unnoticed. Therefore it was something probably having a distance of not more than a billion miles, if even that.
With this in mind, the astronomer returned to the window, and, sitting down, tried to figure out what his discovery could be. Mechanically the restless eyes turned in the direction of their master’s interest, thus falling again upon the peaceful scene of the heavens. The effect was magical. Gradually the noble head, full of those high thoughts which only he who lives with the stars can feel, sank to the sill, and soon the winged fantastics were once again set free.+ + + + +
Suddenly he jumped up. He was excited! And why should he not be? Possibly that little glowing speck of sky which he had found, and which he now called his own, was a sun! Not a sun like ours, but dead, as ours will be in years to come, a sun shining only by reflection, as the sphere on which we live, but maybe a hundred times larger than it, a sun which, cold and barren, had for thousands of years plunged through the terrible blackness of space, and was now fast approaching our finely-governed little kingdom with the possible intention of carrying off with it, away form the warms of our solar protector, some of his subjects, and maybe, even the earth!
Lowell ran to his telescope, and was soon examining through that enormous instrument, every detail of his “sun.” He was quickly satisfied that it was not a comet; a comet would have been hazy. In like manner he eliminated asteroid, and nebula, until the first theory was the only one remaining. Then, rapidly, white sheets of paper became black with figures. It was now very late, or rather, early, but he was no longer tired. Fervently he rushed through the calculations, nodding in approval, or shaking his head in disappointment. Finally, he turned quietly, and, opening a book, ran his eyes along the columns until they rested upon something which seemed to be satisfactory. Beside that lay the date, September 1.
Gravely the astronomer closed the book and returned to the window, not looking upward for a time, but slowly gazing around at the peaceful scene of landscape stretched before him. Then as he reverently raised his head to Heaven, the need of words was felt, and softly they were murmured.
“O mysterious Power above, O Worker of the heavenly miracles which I so love to watch, The Book which deals of Thee and Thine has told us that our earth should in such manner perish, but yet it seems so terrible. Still I am thankful, Ruler of our world, that I have lived to see this last miracle, the most wonderful of them all!”+ + + + +
Two months had passed. The great dead sun had now approached so near, that he, with his borrowed brightness, outshone even the splendid Jupiter. Already the inhabitants of the earth had become alarmed, and while most of them did not know just why, experienced a strange sensation whenever they looked upon this destroyer.
The astronomers, although they had given out the information that the end of the world was approaching, were too busily engaged in preparing for their last observation to take the time for explaining the causes of the coming disaster. They knew them, and believed them, and that was all that was necessary.
Another month passed. The messenger of death was hastening onward at the rate of fifty miles a second!
“Will this terrible monster hit us?” cried the people in alarm.
“No,” answered the astronomers, “a death of agony awaits us, we are not to be blessed by such a sudden death as you propose.”
Another month! The people laughed to scorn the faithful students of the sky.
“Has not that ‘messenger of death’, as you call it, already lost its brightness? Do you not yourselves acknowledge that it is going away?”
“Yes,” the astronomers admitted, “it has passed our system, and returned into space’s awful blackness, possibly to do to other worlds what it has done to us. Wait, and in two more weeks, you, too, shall realize what this great body has accomplished.”
The last day of the two weeks arrived, and with it an ever-growing sense of stifling! The air was hot and damp. The sun could seldom be seen through the thick clouds which constantly hung over the sky, but when a glimpse of it could be obtained, the brightness was almost blinding. The suffering race on earth clamored for an explanation. The astronomers answered that they were now trying to prepare one, simple enough to be understood by all.
A week! The heat was almost unbearable, and already hundreds had died. The astronomers issued their proclamation, in which not one single word had been wasted.
The people seized it eagerly and read, “In another week we shall all be dead, owing to the influence of ‘the great messenger of death.’ That body approached just near enough to our planet to temporarily stop the motion of the earth around the sun, then it departed. This was on the first of September. But it had accomplished a great deal in that short time. Our own sun was able to hold us on account of the greater gravitation which it could exert over us, since it was closer. Otherwise we should now be plunging through the darkness with the ‘messenger’, to die of cold, instead of heat. But when our earth was deprived of its ability to revolve, the only means which had previously prevented it from falling into the sun was gone. It is the same principle as when one ties a stone to a string and swings it around his head. When the stone stops going around, it falls. So with the earth.
“As we are now nearing the sun, its intense heat has evaporated all our waters, making this oppressive dampness, which is, nevertheless, the only thing that has preserved our life until now. But soon this very dampness must become so great as to kill us, if heat does not, and therefore none will live to see the last terrible second, when the earth falls into the burning sun, united again with its parent!
“So must be the end of mankind!”
The last week! All had died but Lowell. Was he, the man who had discovered this “great messenger,” to live to see its heartless plans fulfilled? No,– he, too, would soon be with his friends again. As he lay looking upward into those heavy clouds, he became aware of a bright light shining through them.
“It is the sun,” he murmured weakly, “His rays are piercing the clouds. The end is not far off!”
The light became unbearable. The dying astronomer strove to keep it from his eyes, but was now too weak to move. Then suddenly it shone splendidly, and–+ + + + +
The morning sun was shining full in Lowell’s face. He arose, and looking over the beautiful plane below, asked warmly, “But could such beauty perish?”
Kenneth Burke, May 1913
Invince Harvey, Jr., the son of that world-famed political boss known generally as “Invincible Invince”, was sitting in his father’s great leather chair, his powerful limbs stretched out toward the artificial logs blazing bluishly before him, his magnificently formed head resting on a muscular right arm, his fingers slowly mussing a beautiful “pomp”, while his eyes were gazing sightlessly into the struggling flames ahead. In short, Harvey was thinking— and well he might.
For three years had he worked incessantly to one end only, and that, to satisfy a great craving for power, which was always foremost in his mind. But now, just as he was certain that the carfully-laid plans had, at last, been carried to the highest point of development, and was settling down for the fourth year, to be accompanied, of course, by his habitual control of the journal, and incidentally every bit of political power the school could give, he had met a sudden opposition that threatened to destroy utterly the fruits of the seed he had so carefully sown during the freshman, sophomore, and junior years.
There had appeared upon the horizon a freshman who intended, by using the same methods that had lead the great senior to victory, to gain for himself that supreme goal which Harvey so jealously guarded. And Invince, since he felt sure that the state of affairs was such that only by adopting a plan better than the one he had chosen three years before as absolutely impregnable could he hope to be victor once more, was entirely at a loss to find any means of attaining, or rather, retaining his ends.
And thus he sat, now clenching his teeth in a masterful determination to win over this insolent “freshy”, again closing his eyes as he tried to form some method which would over-top all his previous artifice. So it was only natural that his brain, acted upon by the force of the tempest within and the fire without, should require a brief respite from its gigantic task, and seek pleasure in a short review of former achievements.
+ + + + +
First, was Harvey as a freshman, cunningly laying his plans for future sovereignty?
The pondering lad remembered how, as soon as the reporters had been elected for the journal about-to-be, he had immediately commenced to cultivate their friendship, and within a month was on intimate terms with every freshman reporter. To these he gradually unfolded his plans, giving such promises as “excellent chance of getting a story in the journal” of “a lot of fun and excitement as the result of something new.” Since Harvey had, in each case, carefully studied the character of the person with whom he was dealing, he made no mistakes in the matter of promises, and thus, soon had all the reporters of his class in sympathy with the plan. It was very simple indeed, as Invince had intended, for he knew that it must be so at first, and then gradually expend with his increase of power until it would realize his utmost desires.
Harvey proposes that they have school politics; that the freshman unite and get control of the journal; and that he be allowed to use his own methods to accomplish this, for the first year, at least.
Now his happy memories skipped lightly over the time immediately following, in which he had worked diligently to convince the freshman that their only hope was in union, that he was the sole one able to bring this about, and that he should be allowed, just for the first year, to assume control. Finally, they had yielded after much reasoning, and had agreed to use their influence over their classes to get the whole freshman body to unite and favor Harvey.
Next came the thoughts of the first great victory.
Around the last of November, about a week before the election for editor-in-chief of the new journal, the information was given out that, owing to the fact that the freshman were necessarily not well acquainted with the majority of the high school students, only the three upper classes would vote.
Here Harvey had not hesistated, but before the close of the next day, had with the influence of his reporters, induced the entire freshman class to accept the following resolution: “This is to certify that we, the freshman class of—, request the right to place and vote for a candidate to the office of editor-in-chief of the journal at the coming election, and that we feel it our duty to refuse to support this journal in case we are denied rights equal to those of other members of the school.”
Since the freshman composed nearly half the school, and the petition in itself seemed just, it produced the desired result, and two weeks later Invince Harvey was filling the office of editor-in-chief of “The High”, as a result of the lack of a champion who could unite the upper classes, but chiefly, of the work of the freshman reporters.
+ + + + +
His mind glided over the second year of the reign of King Harvey, for it has presented no obstacles of any account. He had by both promises and the influence given by the fact that he was now a “big” man in the school, again captivated the good-will of the innocent freshies, and at the same time held a strong grip on his own classmates. Thus, in the second election, Harey showed an increasing influence when he won by a two-thirds vote.
But there was one event which the ever-growing power of Invince brought about in the sophomore year, and was largely responsible for his re-election the year following.
Harvey saw that he could never had absolute control so long as the teachers still retained a hand in his journal, and so he effected by popular vote (again using the influence of his reporters) that “The High” be given completely into the hands of the “students”, who now felt themselves well capable of managing it. Naturally, the faculty complied.
This gave Harvey the one great advantage that he had longed for—, he could now use the paper for political purposes; he could become a demagogue.
Now, if a student wished to run for any school office, he must be one of Harvey’s colleagues, or his name would not appear in the journal. To the contrary, “The High” always had a word of praise for one of Harvey’s party, and in that manner, toward the end of the second year, every important office in the school was held by a Harvey man.
+ + + + +
Next the dreaming conqueror saw again his third year.
Harvey had been fully aware that there was now no one in the school who dared to oppose him, because he knew that any wishing to do so realized that they were in no way fit to tackle the great Harvey machine, and that, if they would fail to defeat him, they stood no chance of making a name for themselves at that school. And as he had done much for the two classes that had favored him in preceding elections, these two bodies were, of course, easily made enthusiastic the ever-active reporters, who were always eager to be intimate with the “school president” just because he was such. But Harvey secured the freshman again in his third year and, of necessity, was an easy winner over the only other candidate, an unimportant senior, whom he had asked to run for appearance’s sake, and who was backed by one hundred fifty votes against Harvey’s ten hundred fifty.
+ + + + +
The endangered monarch stirred and awoke. His happy retrospect was finished, and in its stead he was confronted by plain, cold facts.
The remarkable successes of John Jones, the rebelling freshman, were again acquiring prominence in his thoughts. He clearly outlined the revolutionist’s method in a few words.
This Jones intended to gain, or better, had gained the support of his class. This was very simple, as the freshman would naturally prefer to be lead by a classmate.
He was exposing Harvey’s principles, showing the absolutism which the great senior had promoted. This was the strongest blow to the Harvey machine, which immediately began to fall away before public opinion, thus leaving the still determined leader like a king without his court, a commander without his lieutenants.
He was promising an absolutely open journal, to be run on an American basis.
And these three principles, simple as they were, had completely destroyed the once all-powerful party of Invince Harvey. His reporters, formerly the most useful tools, were lost, having completely deserted him when first they saw their classes being moved by the freshman’s convincing speeches. And thus, all that was left of the formerly invincible Harvey machine was himself and two classmates, who were his only true friends.
But his was a brain of power, a brain of resourcefulness, and before he went to bed that night Invince Harvey, Jr., the politician’s son, had devised a scheme whereby the Langeles High School should remain an absolute monarchy for one more year, and by its own choice.
+ + + + +
The day of the famous election had arrived. Besides the twelve hundred students that thronged the large hall, there were scores of visitors, come to see this great battle and the fall of the Harvey dynasty. But one man in the enormous gathering who doubted that this would occur, and he was Invince Harvey, Sr., who knew and trusted in the remarkable abilities of his son.
John Jones was, by the toss of the coin, the first speaker. As he arose and walked forward to the platform, almost the entire twelve hundred students thundered him a greeting, while the visitors applauded loudly this upholder of Americanism.
His address was brief, but definite. He briefly outlined his principles: to give every one an equal chance, to bring the journal back to an American basis, and to abolish the possibility of “machines” by prohibiting the use of “The High” for political purposes. Then he proceeded to demonstrate the absolutism of the Harvey rule. He showed how every important office in the school was dictated to by Harvey, because Harvey had secured these offices for the holders. He made clear how Invince had done this by using the power of “his” paper. Then he ended by appealing to the students, as "representatives of a free government, of the students, by the students and for the students”, and besought them, “as such representatives, to end the reign of Czar Harvey and place Langeles High School on a basis worthy of its name, to make everyone equal.”
The din at the close of this speech was appalling, and surely no one, no, not even Invince Harvey, Sr., could see how such a marked favor could be swayed.
After the enthusiastic spectators had quieted down somewhat, there arose another man, who walked firmly to the platform, his squared jaw protruding visibly, and a terrible impatience burning within. As Harvey stood facing those twelve hundred pupils he felt a sudden desire to cry out against them, to call them traitors, to curse them for their non-appreciation of the good he had done the school. But with a superhuman effort he overcame this impulse, and first smiling unconcernedly to his audience, began the greatest task he had ever undertaken, to defeat his own system.
"As you all know, I am here to once more run for that office which I have so tried to elevate in power and responsibility, and which I believe I have done all in my ability to raise to a position worthy of this great school. There is not a pupil among you but realizes that my “absolutism”, as my opponent chooses to call it, has made this school what it is today, and that this “absolutism” is the only cause of its state-wide frame. No, I am not here to sing you my praises—I do not have to. Every thinking pupil of the Langeles High school knows that the present greatness of our journal, and the renown of our societies, are due only to the ruling of this “machine”, which strives to elevate but the good stock of the school and keep all unworthy material from deceiving the students. But, believe this as you may. I care not, for I have yet graver things to tell you. I still have points to prove, of which you must undoubtedly see the truth, and be moved by their justness.
"My opponent has accused me of being a demagogue, has claimed that my ambitions are centered in self, and that I work for nothing but myself. Noble fellow-students, the mighty Caesar (if you will pardon the comparison) was accused and killed for this same principle I am now upholding, and yet all realize the error of that crime. But let us go on. It seems unreasonable to class myself with Caesar, and thus I must pass this point, too, without much emphasis.
"For the present purposes I will not deny the accusation of my opponent, but what is more, I will acknowledge it—, I am a demagogue. Now comes my greatest argument, my most important reason why you should down this freshman and vote for one who has had three years of constant labor and experience in making himself worthy of your confidence.
"John Jones has accused me of being a demagogue, and yet, to obtain his power, he has used the principles I employed when I was first working for the right to serve you. What does that mean? It means this, that John Jones, despite his promises, has determined to become a demagogue, and is using your innocence to secure that privilege!
"Now, if Jones gets control, you will have a freshman journal, and will be subjected to the same principles under which the journal is now run, with the exception that the three upper classes will be at the poor end. Now, take your choice.
"Elect a representative of the upper three classes, or let your journal be managed by the children of the school."
The hissing of the five hundred loyal freshmen was exceeded only by the thundering of the seven hundred upper classmen. The vote was taken, and Invince Harvey, Jr., won my a plurality of two hundred—a Caesar without a Brutus, a Napoleon without a Waterloo!
Issue 4.1 includes review essays by Andrew Battista (Kenneth Burke on Shakespeare, edited by Scott L. Newstok) and Maura J. Smyth (“Civility as Rhetorical Enactment: The John Ashcroft ‘Debates’ and Burke’s Theory of Form,” by Christopher R. Darr).