[KB] Triumph of the Pussy Hat?

Edward C Appel edwardcappel at frontier.com
Thu Jul 20 05:47:54 EDT 2017


          Myfirst contact with Burke in print was an independent study course 40 years agothis summer at Temple U. I don’t remember everything I read, but I do recallsomething of a concentration on P&C.When I reported to my monitor, Jim Chesebro, at the end of the summer, onething I said was, according to Burke, human beings would rather love than hate.This somewhat positive interpretation seems congruent enough with Burke’s“Anatomy of Purpose” as ultimately distilled at the end of the communication,cooperation, participation trajectory:

          “Here,in all its nudity, is the Jamesian ‘will to believe.’ It amounts in the end tothe assumption that good, rather than evil, lies at the roots of human purpose.And as for those who would suggest that this is merely a verbal solution, Iwould answer that by no other fiction can men [sic] truly cooperate in historicprocesses, hence the fiction itself is universally grounded.

          “Ifone says that activity is merely a neutral quality rather than a good, I shouldanswer that inactivity is categorically an evil, since it is not possible tothe biologic process. To acquiesce in the methods that preserve humanity is perse to concede that life is a good, however perversely one may choose toverbalize such implications. Life, activity, cooperation, communication---theyare identical; and even the Schopenhauerian philosopher inevitably proclaimstheir goodness by the zeal with which he [sic] frames his message” (see pp. 235and 236). 

          Notebeginnings and endings, Burke has admonished, and here we’re pretty close to anending.

          Moresteeped in Burke’s total corpus than I, Chesebro cautioned me: Don’t stint onthe power of the polar dialectics that can erode an overarching incentive to universallycooperate, a god-term or its motivational equivalent, as it were. There’salways a tension there between those hierarchal forces.

          Almosthalf a century after he wrote P&C, I was corresponding, and arguing, withBurke on my Burke-as-coy-theologian theme. Burke, of course, demurred. Among other things, he warned, “I ‘gin fearthat, in o’er-desecularizing my logological involvements with the negative, youwill ‘prove’ me to be a Manichee, with Mephisto as real as the Logos.”  I later said, in the piece that came out of myback-and-forth with Burke, “Unlike the Manichaean he claims to be, Burke viewsdialectic as ultimately culminating in a title-of-titles that unites the oppositionsand the disparate particulars of the polar and ‘positive’ levels of language”that lie below. 

          Atriumph of the “god-term,” right?---of that communication, cooperation,participation incentive on the broadest scale. Burke, the quasi-GnosticUNIVERSALIST friendly to process theology, I concluded. In Manichaeism, thepowers of good and evil hold equal sway. The battle goes on eternally. That’snot Burke’s notion, it seemed to me. Do symbolizers get more or lesspermanently stuck along that great “Upward Way,” that Yellow Brick Road of loveand comity? Tell me, Joe, it ain’t so! 

          I’mbeginning to wonder. Is it time to distinguish between what Burke may havetaught and enjoined, and what Burke came, in his late stage, at least, toexpect and prophecy? 

          Lastwinter, I gave my take on this list on the evolution of Burke’s thought from“dramatism: to ”logology.” I saw it as a further working out of implications,not a jarring dislocation.  Whether I gotthat unfolding of thought right or not, could there not also be another axis ofevolution, that from a qualified optimism to a qualified pessimism? I ask.

          Tworecent and powerful papers have, for me, brought this Burkean quandary to thefore. I speak of Ann George’s Friday Keynote at East Stroudsburg, “The ‘Art ofLiving’ in An Age of War,” and Elizabeth Weiser’s article in the current KBJ,“Technological Devolution, Social Innovation: Attitudes Toward Industry.”  Directly or indirectly, both documents touchon the issue, and Burke’s mercurial take on it, that’s front and center in ourtime: technology, climate change, and the survival of humankind in somethingclose to a livable global order.

          Anop-ed by Michael Mann of Penn State and Susan Joy  Hassol of Climate Communication LLC last weekin the Washington Post can be a jumping off point for adiscussion. 


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