[KB] Burke's "arpeggio"

Edward C Appel edwardcappel at frontier.com
Thu Sep 14 19:38:15 EDT 2017

    I want to emphasize that my post was about the rhetoric of the 2015-2016 presidential election, looked at from a Burkean perspective, not the politics of that election. I personally don't care that others may respond with political opinions to offer. Just don't blame me.  My post, I believe, was on point.


    On Thursday, September 14, 2017 1:18 PM, "Cox, Carrol" <cbcox at ilstu.edu> wrote:

 The 2016 election was, fundamentally, a result of the pathetic performance of both Obama & a DP controlled Congress in 2009-2010.

Had there been the same turnout of African American voters in Philadelphia in 2016 as in 2008 Clinton would have carried Pennsylvania and hence the election.

And the continued bloodshed in Honduras is the responsibility of Obama & Clinton. They are both serious war criminals.


-----Original Message-----
From: KB [mailto:kb-bounces at kbjournal.org] On Behalf Of Edward C Appel
Sent: Thursday, September 14, 2017 11:29 AM
To: kb at kbjournal.org
Subject: [KB] Burke's "arpeggio"

      Hillary Clinton’s current coulda-woulda-shoulda book raises questions about Burke’s notion of the symbolic “arpeggio.” That’s the passage in discourse, as in music, where the harmonious “comic” chord develops gradually. The discord of a factionally tragic or melodramatic response to an exigence may be required initially. The rhetor will still retain the comic attitude toward the errant other, but will resort to necessary “heroic euphemism” to blunt the effect of the verbal “warfare” she or he confronts (ATH 344). Congruent with this interpretation, Burke additionally vouchsafes that, “By proper discounting, EVERYTHING becomes useable” (ATH 244).  Burke offers this modification of his dramatic genre of choice in the book that most directly deals with dramatic genres, literary and rhetorical.
      Greg Desilet 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.” Our exemplar was Franklin D. Roosevelt, a factionally tragic orator on December 8, 1941, who shifted toward comic rhetorical notes toward enemy nations as the fighting neared resolution. As Burke conceded, “A comic vocabulary of motives, we admit, cannot be attained insofar as people are at war, or living under the threat of war” (ATH 344).  Comic drama does not mobilize effectively enough when a nation is mortally threatened.
      Earlier this year, I argued on this list that the presidential campaign rhetoric of Donald Trump, 2015/2016, was generically irregular, heightened in dramatic intensity to burlesque-frame levels in respect to other Republicans and Democrats not named Clinton, and to factionally tragic levels against Clinton in the general. Trump twice even suggested it might be a good idea that Clinton be 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.)
      After the balloting, Richard Cohen in the Washington Post chided Clinton for her “too civilized” concession speech, considering the viciousness of Trump’s “lock her up,” “crooked Hillary” rhetorical demeanor.throughout the campaign. Cohen’s criticism was likely too abridged. Clinton failed to adequately challenge Trump’s incessant calumnies head-on from day one. Trump’s verbal warfare, raised to unprecedented heights in modern presidential campaigning, required at least a melodramatic counter-punch on Clinton’s part. She let him define her with savage exaggeration, mendacity, and repetition. Clinton’s overly cautious---and we might add craven---unwillingness to turn around and call Trump the “creep”  he patently acted like, in this case during one of the debates, might have cost her the election. You can’t counter tragic invective with comic niceties and expect victory in a zero-sum contest like a presidential election. Comedy will work for a Gandhi and a King in a far-different reform-movement setting. It does not, and did not, work for Clinton in 2016.
      The comic attitude toward Trump could readily have been taken and summoned at the appropriate moment. Comedy places the blame on responsible circumstances, not guilty persons. Trump surely evinces narcissistic personality disorder. Anyway, he ACTS like a person so afflicted. We don’t need a psychiatrist to tell us that after a series of sit-downs with Trump in a clinical setting. Just look at the symptoms of narcissism in DSM 5 (or is it DSM 6?). Name one that Trump’s behavior doesn’t fit? Treat Trump’s unsatisfactory language and actions as “scenically” motivated, activated by neurostructures and neurochemistry over which he has little or no control. 
      An appropriate time would have arrived when Clinton could have properly forgiven Trump for acting like Trump.
      As Ann George offered at the end of her keynote, what do you think?
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