[KB] Burke's "arpeggio"

Edward C Appel edwardcappel at frontier.com
Thu Sep 14 12:29:04 EDT 2017


       HillaryClinton’s current coulda-woulda-shoulda book raises questions about Burke’snotion of the symbolic “arpeggio.” That’s the passage in discourse, as inmusic, where the harmonious “comic” chord develops gradually. The discord of a factionallytragic or melodramatic response to an exigence may be required initially. Therhetor will still retain the comic attitude toward the errant other, but willresort to necessary “heroic euphemism” to blunt the effect of the verbal“warfare” she or he confronts (ATH344). Congruent with this interpretation, Burke additionally vouchsafes that,“By proper discounting, EVERYTHING becomes useable” (ATH 244).  Burke offers thismodification of his dramatic genre of choice in the book that most directly dealswith dramatic genres, literary and rhetorical.

       GregDesilet and I dealt with this issue on the level of a full-scale shooting war,as in World War II, in our essay, “Choosing a Rhetoric of the Enemy.” Ourexemplar was Franklin D. Roosevelt, a factionally tragic orator on December 8,1941, who shifted toward comic rhetorical notes toward enemy nations as thefighting neared resolution. As Burke conceded, “A comic vocabulary of motives,we admit, cannot be attained insofar as people are at war, or living under thethreat of war” (ATH 344).  Comic drama does not mobilize effectivelyenough when a nation is mortally threatened.

       Earlierthis year, I argued on this list that the presidential campaign rhetoric ofDonald Trump, 2015/2016, was generically irregular, heightened in dramaticintensity to burlesque-frame levels in respect to other Republicans andDemocrats not named Clinton, and to factionally tragic levels against Clintonin the general. Trump twice even suggested it might be a good idea that Clintonbe assassinated. (Let’s get rid of her bodyguards’ guns and “see what happens’;if Clinton wins, maybe the “Second Amendment people” can take care of her.)

       Afterthe balloting, Richard Cohen in the WashingtonPost chided Clinton for her “too civilized” concession speech, consideringthe viciousness of Trump’s “lock her up,” “crooked Hillary” rhetoricaldemeanor.throughout the campaign. Cohen’s criticism was likely too abridged.Clinton failed to adequately challenge Trump’s incessant calumnies head-on fromday one. Trump’s verbal warfare, raised to unprecedented heights in modernpresidential campaigning, required at least a melodramatic counter-punch onClinton’s part. She let him define her with savage exaggeration, mendacity, andrepetition. Clinton’s overly cautious---and we might add craven---unwillingnessto turn around and call Trump the “creep”  he patently acted like, in this case duringone of the debates, might have cost her the election. You can’t counter tragicinvective with comic niceties and expect victory in a zero-sum contest like apresidential election. Comedy will work for a Gandhi and a King in afar-different reform-movement setting. It does not, and did not, work forClinton in 2016.

       Thecomic attitude toward Trump could readily have been taken and summoned at theappropriate moment. Comedy places the blame on responsible circumstances, notguilty persons. Trump surely evinces narcissistic personality disorder. Anyway,he ACTS like a person so afflicted. We don’t need a psychiatrist to tell usthat after a series of sit-downs with Trump in a clinical setting. Just look atthe symptoms of narcissism in DSM 5(or is it DSM 6?). Name one thatTrump’s behavior doesn’t fit? Treat Trump’s unsatisfactory language and actionsas “scenically” motivated, activated by neurostructures and neurochemistry overwhich he has little or no control. 

       Anappropriate time would have arrived when Clinton could have properly forgivenTrump for acting like Trump.

       As AnnGeorge offered at the end of her keynote, what do you think?


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