[KB] Triumph of the Pussy Hat?

Edward C Appel edwardcappel at frontier.com
Thu Jul 20 19:39:55 EDT 2017


          AnnGeorge’s edifying address at the 10th Triennial was, in particular,an exegetical examination of Permanencewand Change, interlaced with narrative sections on her participation in theworldwide “Women’s March” that took place the day after Donald Trump’sinaugural, in her case in Austin. George thus probed theory and application oftheory, with its attendant problems of “bureaucratization,” one might say. Howdoes a responsible member of a society in manifestly dire straits take seriouslyBurke’s “Art of Living,” or “poetic orientation,” and then effectively protestagainst a Trumpian take-over of U.S. and world leadership? George “whooped” itup like the rest of them on the bus ride to the city. There she turned into the“zestfully antagonis[tic] . . . counterproductive  . . . rhetor Burke complained about so  bitterly.” 

          (Thisis the general quandary Greg Desilet and I confronted in “Choosing a Rhetoricof the Enemy: Kenneth Burke’s Comic Frame, Warrantable Outrage, and the Problemof Scapegoating,” RSQ, 2011. HerbSimons was the first to challenge Burke on the question, at the TempleConference in 1984. Burke’s reply: “This guy is on to me!”)

          Youwill not find, I don’t believe, a better explanation of what Burke meant by the“poetic concept” as informing an effective “art of living” than George offersin her speech. Hers is an exceptionally rich and eloquent treatment. Her probeof Burke’s complementary concept of “style” helps especially to unpack thepoetic as “propitiation.” The poetic serves well in P&C as preparatory offering for Burke’s intro to “comedy” aspreferred dramatic frame two years later.

          (I’mhoping both George’s and Jim Klumpp’s excellent keynotes get published in afuture edition of the KBJ. Theydeserve to be part of our patrimony of Burke scholarship.)

          Here,I read George’s take on Burkean “agency” in relation to Elizabeth Weiser’s in“Technological Devolution, Social Innovation: Attitudes Toward Industry,” inthe  current KBJ.  Weiser’s article takesup the rhetoric of museums. She first compares industrial museums in two townshit hard by globalization, Newark, Ohio, and Norrkoping, Sweden.  A subsequent look at America’s National Museumserves as additional commentary on the other two. What stands out, Weiserrelates, is the stark dramatic disparity between the two presentations, first,Newark, with a focus on the technology itself as tragic-frame agent that’sworked its will on the community in ways that seemingly can’t be altered, then,Noorkoping’s comic-frame invitation to dialogue and exposition of atrial-and-error tinkering, from a  “Cityof Tomorrow” theme (1960s), to “a Friendly Town” (1980s) and “The Bombed OutCity” of the 1990s, to, finally, “The City of Knowledge and Culture” of the 21stcentury. Noorkoping sees itself, it seems, as a community in composition, toborrow a Burkean image, a “rough draft” that invites constant editing andrevision.

          TheNational Museum underscores the Noorkoping way of constantly “muddlingthrough,” via an ongoing conversation in which everybody is invited toparticipate.

          Weiser’sreading of the times is a hopeful one, a qualified optimism of the kind I, too,found and find in P&C. Georgeseems a trifle more ambivalent on the matter. She notes, and laments, her“outrage at someone else’s outrage,” yet acknowledges “the complexities of this[namely Burke’s] position.” 

George concludes heraddress in the way Weiser describes, approvingly, as the Noorkoping way, withan invitation to dialogue: “How do we enact ‘open conflict’ [George is quotingBurke here] via ‘mutual ingratiation’; what might that look like?” Especiallywhen Burke himself, in confession in “Ausculation, Creation, and Revision”acknowledged, “’Then again, I have wanted to be nothing more than a bullet, ora tiger’s claw, sent suddenly against the pink flesh . . . [of some] liar . . ..’”

Didn’t Burke once sayhis writing often started out in a fury that would turn to equanimity as histhoughts progressed?

Next: What George andWeiser teach us about Burkean agency in constructive service to the task ahead;what Burke’s assessment seems to be on the efficacy of his comedicprescriptions for action, early and late career; and whether such human agencyis, or is not, likely to save us, whatever Burke’s view.

Oh yes, forgot: Annwould put on her white knitted cap during her speech each time she turned inher talk to the raucous, in-your-face protest in Austin. She apparently wore itthat day. It had the shape of two cat’s ears on each side.





    On Thursday, July 20, 2017 5:49 AM, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com> wrote:

          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. 
            Ed     _______________________________________________
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