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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: February ::
Re: The Human Condition
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0082. Wednesday, 2 February 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 1 Feb 94 10:43 BST
        Subj:   RE: SHK 5.0079 Re: The Human Condition
 
(2)     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 01 Feb 94 17:15:00 GMT
        Subj:   SHK 5.0079 Re: The Human Condition
 
(3)     From:   Michael Sharpston <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 01 Feb 1994 20:39:00 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   RE: SHK 5.0074 Re: *MND*, *Lear*, and the Human Condition
 
(4)     From:   David Schalkwyk <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Feb 94 11:21:47 SAST-2
        Subj:   The Human Condition
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Tuesday, 1 Feb 94 10:43 BST
Subject: 5.0079 Re: The Human Condition
Comment:        RE: SHK 5.0079 Re: The Human Condition
 
Dear Bill Godshalk,
 
Hunger -- yes, but hunger for what? There's no such think as free-floating
trans-historical 'hunger'. Like all human experiences, it takes place
within a specific culture at a specific time and place, and thus aligns
itself with and is defined by specific notions of 'food'. You know as well
as I do that what some cultures regard as 'food' is classified as 'inedible'
by others. You also know that food is hedged about by all sorts of culture-
specific prohibitions, inhibitions, desires and hatreds whose roots are in
religious, political, economic commitments and beliefs -- some carrying the
implication that hunger is a good thing, others that it is not. What you call
'hunger' is such a complex, variable, politically and religiously sensitive
entity that it's surely unwise to assign a simple and universal 'meaning'
to it. To do so is to drain away history, culture, political and social
development and difference in pursuit of an arid 'sameness' whose own
political commitments strike me as at least questionable. No doubt much
of the above applies equally to defecation, a matter raised by another
correspondent. My withers remain unwrung.
 
Terry Hawkes
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Tuesday, 01 Feb 94 17:15:00 GMT
Subject: Re: The Human Condition
Comment:        SHK 5.0079 Re: The Human Condition
 
On the question of "universal experience", Messrs Jordan, Lawrence and
Godshalk seem to be confusing two things: (i) biological "facts" which have
to do simply with the physiological operations of the organism- which aligns
Bill Godshalk with "the needs of other mammals, e.g., cats and dogs"- and
(ii) social and cultural experience which is mediated through language and
which is historical and geographical. The latter cannot be reduced to some
kind of quasi-physical fact which is true for all cultures at all times.
 
So, when Terry Hawkes talks about there being no such thing as universal
experience, it is in the context, surely, of literary representations of
experience which are themselves culturally specific, AND which carry with
them an affective power. The assumption that everybody else's experience is
the same as that of Godshalk, Lawrence and Jordan, proposes, it would seem, a
global community all of whose members, despite superficial differences, are
characterized by their commitment to the same things!  The politics of this
position are quite fascinating.  I think Edward Said called a version of it
"orientalism". My response to their claim is simply: "Think so still,
presumptuous, till experience change thy mind"!
 
A happy Chinese New Year Bill
 
John Drakakis
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Sharpston <
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Date:           Tuesday, 01 Feb 1994 20:39:00 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0074 Re: *MND*, *Lear*, and the Human Condition
Comment:        RE: SHK 5.0074 Re: *MND*, *Lear*, and the Human Condition
 
When I read Martin Mueller (SHK 5.0074) and "it is the professional malpractice
of anthropologists to exaggerate the otherness of strange cultures", I was
drawn to think of "Shakespeare in the Bush", Laura Bohannon, and my own earlier
comments.  By the way, I have been educated by those who have pointed out the
relevant and special marital practices of Henry VIII in comparison to those in
"Hamlet".  There can of course be multiple resonances to a situation as
archetypal as Hamlet, Gertrude, and Claudius.
 
As Martin Mueller pointed out, it is doing an injustice to human beings if one
does not accept both the universality and the individuality of their
experience.  Between individuals, across cultures, across time.
 
          Michael Sharpston
          
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(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Schalkwyk <
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Date:           Tuesday, 2 Feb 94 11:21:47 SAST-2
Subject:        The Human Condition
 
We seem to have the same argument every month or so.  In a post sent in October
and again in a summarized form in November I suggested that the notions of an
unchanging human condition verses radical historical and cultural
incommensurability are false and debilitating alternatives.  The issue is the
way in which different historical periods and cultures instantiate relatively
or eternally constant aspects of human behaviour as concepts or meanings.
 
Looking at the issue in this way we see both change and constancy: but we don't
make the mistake of assuming that a condition (even one as apparently
incorrible as birth, death, hunger or defecation) is identical to a meaning.
The facts of all these things may be the same but their significance may
change.  For example, compare them as *concepts* in the leafy suburbs I am
fortunate enough to live in and the squatter camps a few kilometers away: what
does hunger or cold mean to me and my children compared to the street kids, and
how does the concept of defecation differ in a house with water-borne sewage
and a shack with no toilet facilities whatsoever?
 
Marx said: "Man must eat before he can think" (or something of that sort.)  Is
this true?  Why don't we eat the locusts that destroy our crops? So, please
let's stop confusing concepts and things, and let's stop preventing historical
enquiry with dogmatic notions that there can be no points of conceptual contact
across historical periods.  (Sorry, I've had a bad holiday period, and thought
I'd set SHAKsper to MAIL again to relax!)
 
David Schalkwyk
University of Cape Town
 

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