Soulless We Externalize

Kenneth Burke, Marcel Duchamp 1949

For Eric…seeking a French story.

“But I admit that I am indulging in theoretical considerations of the short story, although happily I can disregard them when I begin to write.  But I am not satisfied that the American form is the better.  The American method at its best is to tell a story which prepares for a certain solution.  This logical solution is given, and then is followed by one sharp swift stroke which comes as a surprise, but is an integral part of the story, and throws a new light on the whole thing…On the other hand, the typical French type, I suppose, is that one of de Maupassant’s of the man who had a little dog that he loved.  But he would have to pay something like seven francs to legalize his possession of the dog, and though had the money he didn’t like to part with it, and consequently, sad as he was, he had to let the dog be taken to the pound.  The American story gives you a jolt that you don’t forget, but the French story buries itself in you imperceptibly, and then goes on quietly eating away.  Of course, the American form seems a bigger technical triumph, but I imagine it would be very easy to reduce the producing of it to a mere formula, so that to get a thrill one could merely contrive each time to leave some important part of his story unsaid, and then drive it home at the last with one mighty twist…Eventually I think the French type will be accepted in America, since it is less journalistic and more expressive.  It has a certain quiet insistence about it that makes our little final jingle seem vulgar.”

–Kenneth Burke, Letter to Malcolm Cowley, September 17, 1917 (20-years-old)

“The methods of maintaining interest which are most natural to the psychology of information (as it is applied to works of pure art) are surprise and suspense.  The method most natural to the psychology of form is eloquence.  For this reason the great ages of Aeschylus, Shakespeare, and Racine, dealing as they did with material which was more or less a matter of common knowledge so that the broad outlines of the plot were known in advance (while it is the broad outlines which are usually exploited to secure surprise and suspense) developed formal excellence, or eloquence, as the basis of appeal in their work.”

–Kenneth Burke, Counter-Statement, 1931


The American mind is one of simplistic plot considerations upon which there is laid the suspense of horror and the surprise of happiness.  We fail of patience to know ourselves or the truth of art.

We are, as organisms, tied to the mentality of orgasm.  Quick attraction, quick distraction; committed only as long as the momentary arousal of suspense and surprise.  Deflated we flaccidly, placidly await our next enticement.  We await the external arousal rather than seeking the pleasure and depth of our inner selves and consequently empty out our being so that even if the way were shown, should Zarathustra descend to the marketplace, Christ come again, we would not have the inner nature capable of responding to this.

Information offers no depths.  Only art resonates and transforms

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The species of humanity labeled American is all binary code–simply the 1 and the 0 rearranged to carry meaningless messages of operations.


photo credit: SFMOMA

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