Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 908. Tuesday, 7 December 1993.
From: Leo Daugherty <
Date: Tuesday, 7 Dec 1993 02:49:31 -0800 (PST)
Subject: The Paradox of Historicizing Shakespeare
During the past 20 years most of the academic disciplines have been
having a (long-overdue) debate about what knowledge is -- including what
it could be, could not possibly be, ought to be, and ought not to be, and
also including the argument that knowledge itself is a semantic category
we now know we can, or should, deep-six. Some (but not all) of this
debate has been part of postmodernism/poststructuralism and its doctrine of
"antifoundationalism" (now noticeably on the wane as yet another
younger generation, seeking different liberations, comes aboard).
During this time, we've heard a great deal about how (a.) objectivity
and disinterestedness are impossible to achieve; (b.) even if they were
not impossible, they'd still be and do evil; (c.) we cannot accurately know
much worth knowing about another culture currently in existence; (d.) we
cannot accurately know much worth knowing about another culture in the
past. Some people who've arrived at such conclusions seem to believe
them sincerely, while for others these conclusions amount to either
political moves or just plain wishful thinking. For the latter sort,
these conclusions are in the interest of humanity (because they believe
such knowledge will only do social/environmental evil) -- or, sometimes,
just in their own perceived self-interest as scholars, critics, or theorists
with particular investments to protect.
My own best guess about the future (which may be wishful thinking in
its own right) is that we will, across the academic boards, move
further in the direction of believing that (a.) while disinterestedness
and objectivity are of course impossible to achieve, we can
nevertheless be more disinterested/objective than not, and it is a good
thing to try; and (b.) with much ceded to those who've spiritedly
disagreed, we can still know a very great deal about other cultures in
the here and now, as well as in the there and then, and it is a good
thing to try. I think (a.) would be a good thing because I agree with
Dante and countless others since that working toward disinterested
perception is the best (sole?) strategy for liberating oneself from a
perception based on either appetite or aversion (both either "real"
or "symbolic"), since the consequences of such perception are a good bit
more fearsome than the consequences of striving for
disinterestedness. I think (b.) would be a good thing because knowing about
other cultures is the only known antidote for provincialism. (Too many
people say "Think Globally, Act Locally" with too much of an accent
on the second part of the proverb -- i.e., without realizing that
you can't do the second part well without first having done the first part
well. Such well-meaning folk, and perhaps particularly if they are
Americans, can't really help but live out, in the end, the Reaganist
Reversal of this proverb -- "Think Locally, Act Globally.")
So (and to reference recent SHAKSPER debates): I'm for digging up
the Rose, for sending yet more young Laura Bohannons to live in faraway
cultures and learn there that Shakespeare is indeed not "universal,"
and for doing and teaching far more history (and science, and math)
than we now do. Nobody believes in capital-T Truth anymore (or,
thank God, in capital-U Unity in literary study), and we are a good bit in
debt to the skeptical correctives of all the postmodernists/post-
structuralists for that; still, it is possible to be more right than
wrong about what is, or was, Out There -- or at least to know more
about it than less -- and we should just cautiously get on with it.
p.s.: Pardon the long message; at least I don't post much.