Friday, September 28, 2007

Michael Halloran, Remembering Saratoga

I have the pleasure this morning of listening to Michael Halloran deliver the keynote address at the Linguistic Circle of Manitoba and North Dakota's 50th annual conference.

He is framing his talk with Kenneth Burke, which interests me, because I am always trying to figure out similarities and differences between Burke and McLuhan, and Halloran's opening use of Burke makes me think of War and Peace in the Global Village. Me paraphrasing Halloran paraphrasing Burke heard that humans are inclined to war, but can be drawn away from it by literature, art, symbolic action in general. Halloran's talk, however, moves in the direction of examining symbolic purifications of war; he is puzzled by Burke's tendency to overlook the materiality and brutality of war.

The good stories of Saratoga, he suggests, are used to serve the storyteller's immediate needs and goals. The stories of Saratoga and Daniel Morgan specifically seem to have enabled an American tradition of thinking of war as inevitable and noble. Where Burke sees war as an aberration on peace, Halloran wonders if America in particular has constructed a tradition of thinking of peace as the occasional respite from war.

Bruce Maylath followed with a great question and contextualization of the battle as a turning point in defining America and Canada, and as a Canadian, I can certainly say that our national narrative is one that presents us a nation of peacemaker rather than warmongers. I'll let the Americans decide if they are a nation of warmongers or not, or more reasonably, if they are a nation of gunfighters, an argument I have seen. The most famous moment in Canadian military history, perhaps, is the Battle of Dieppe, a failed invasion of France that led the way to D-Day, but also led to thousands of Canadian deaths. How many other countries focus on their military loses as a way of shaping identity (albeit the implication being that Canadians needed to be more autonomous and stop following the British--deadly habit).

Halloran responded with a re-emphasis on his point that the storytelling of Saratoga functions as a suppression of U.S. diversity--the southerner Morgan (a slave owner) essentially emerging as the savior of the north.

Great talk, interesting discussion. Hope I did it justice.

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