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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: February ::
Re: Universals and the Human Condition
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0112.  Sunday, 13 February 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Luc Borot <
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        Date:   Saturday, 12 Feb 1994 20:00:07 +0100
        Subj:   NO RULES!!!! (?)
 
(2)     From:   Jefferey Taylor <GR4302@SIUCVMB>
        Date:   Saturday, 12 February 1994, 23:51:36 CST
        Subj:   Breathing Universals, Expelling Singularities
 
(3)     From:   Piers Lewis <
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        Date:   Sunday, 13 Feb 1994 10:31:03 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   human condition
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Luc Borot <
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Date:           Saturday, 12 Feb 1994 20:00:07 +0100
Subject:        NO RULES!!!! (?)
 
Dear all,
 
I am really grateful to WP Williams for the gust of fresh air which he
brought into the 'universal' v/ 'idio(t?)syncratic' controversy that's been
raging on this list for some time. Dogmaticism had never been a feature of
this list's discussions until Prof T Hawkes joined in, and this may be
considered as THE novelty which his provocations introduced amongst us. One
may prefer healthier provocations and innovations... But let me try to be
more positive than the late discussions have been
 
I am back to SHAKSPER after about four months, and I am discovering an
unpleasant atmosphere of ideological denunciation. Never before to my
knowledge had anyone insulted another member of this list before T. Hawkes
did so a few days ago in response to exarcerbated list-fellows who did not
deserve contempt for disagreeing with him (nor anyone for disagreeing with
anyone else in a democratic intellectual context, unless the existence of
dictatorships should be a cause for behaving as if there were no such thing
as democracy and toleration).
 
If cultural relativism is anything to go by, as a French Professor of
17th-century English political ideas, Paris-born, working near the
Mediterranean sea, of working-class origin and holding university degrees,
a heterosexual socialist voter and practicing Catholic, whisky tippler and
pipe-smoker, only 9 years old in 1968, what should my position be if those
contradictory determinations were to impose anything on me? I was brought
up in the state-schools of France, where the main principle of education is
what we term 'laiciti', viz. ideological, political and religious
neutrality, so that everyone can go to the same school, be a citizen of the
republic and choose his/her ideas and beliefs according to his/her
conscience in due respect for other people's beliefs, whether they were
citizens of the same country, members of the same 'race' or not. We never
have any 'assemblies', salute to the colours, religious services or even
religious education in the curriculum. And we fare none the worse for it!
All political parties (except the National Front of course) favour
'Integration' against communitarianism.
 
I wish members of this list became more addicted to the spirit of
'laiciti', as they seeemed to be some time ago. It is important to debate
theoretical matters in connection with literary works, but please let us
not confuse this SHAKSPER list with a political forum. There is enough
politics in the Shakespearean texts to fight with without adding our
present disagreements. As we shall disagree anyway, let us disagree on
something that we are 'here' to discuss.
 
I also discovered today in a post that 'text' could be perceived by some as
a reactionary concept, as if a descriptive concept could be ideologically
connotated, or a methodological approach morally objectionable. Text as
textual scholars study it or as the structuralists and formalists study it
and theorize it are two different things, and they are legitimate objects,
since there are people who produce intelligent and fruitful research with
them, and which they are as free to study as any person to sow roses or
potatoes in their garden if they've got one, or eat flesh, eggs or fish on
Fridays or avoid pork meat. Be tolerant of each other's work and opinions,
or this list is likely to become some folk's battlefield or exclusive
hunting ground, as in feudal days. Feudal priviledges were abolished in my
country on August 4th 1789, so let's not do as if academic thought was not
free from them. Sense of humour seems to have been replaced by irony and
sarcasm: this is not my conception of intellectual debate; I'm sure others
share this view.
 
Last 2 points: I was told that UNESCO (one more universalist thinggum some
will say) declares 1995 'year of toleration'; I agree that those 'years of
something' are nothing very efficient. Let's give it more serious thought
than UNESCO ever will: if there are countries and parties and journals
where toleration is a word without substance, let's hope that our list(s)
won't become the same because of the sheer silence of those who dare not
oppose the overbearing intolerance of a few people.
 
A last thing: REMEMBER SALMAN, and keep wondering every day what you've
done for him, and if you've done nothing to promote toleration, you missed
something. Terence Hawkes: you CAN & MUST voice your ideas but why insult
people when they react? Why invite violent provocation with violent
provocation? Strong ideas deserve debate, but don't require hammering if
there's some truth in them; persuasion's the thing. Remember Salman next
time you drink somebody's health: February 14th (I'm writing this on the
12th) is the 5th anniversary of the fatwa, so let's not make it legitimate
by excommunicating each other.
 
And as my Montpellier colleague Francois Rabelais would have said in the
1530-s: buvez frais (drink your wine --or ale, or milk-- cool...).
 
        Yours for all that,
        Luc
 
****************************************************
*Luc Borot <
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*Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches Elisabethaines   *
*Universite Paul Valery                            *
*Montpellier (France)                              *
****************************************************
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jefferey Taylor <GR4302@SIUCVMB>
Date:           Saturday, 12 February 1994, 23:51:36 CST
Subject:        Breathing Universals, Expelling Singularities
 
I'll admit I was feeling devious the other day in my rant against idealism and
universals, and thanks to David Wilson-Okamura for supplying the correct
response (which was half my point after all.) We must have a dialogue, even if
just in non-sound bites between us. For example, Barbara Simerka points out
that saying the beauty of Shakespeare is in the work itself could be read as an
appeal to formalism.  But I rather intended it as nominalism or pragmatism:
Aureolus says "omnis res est se ipsa singularis et per nihil aliud"--
"everything is individual by virture of itself and by nothing else."
(Panofsky's trans.)  Shakespeare's work is what it is, not a reflection of a
great universal spirit.  What beauty one finds in it has to do with one's own
context, and, obviously, many people find no beauty in Shakespeare at all, and
there's no reason why they should.  I do.  Yes, we can have shared experience,
and need to in order to have meaning in experience, but that does not mean that
meaning, then, bubbles up from a universal source.  If you look hard enough you
can find human beings who have very little in common with you or anyone else
that might be reading this off a computer screen.  With apologies to Dr.
Godshalk, let me suggest that an appeal to common biology, such as breathing or
pain, is an often tried but flawed appeal.  For one, there are people who are
very different from the rest of the world who live and breathe in places where
we would not be able to breathe well enough to live.  But more important, the
appeal to biology ignores the observation that the meanings we attach to
experience are determined by our contexts and choices.  A breath is not a
singular, universal thing:  first breath, last breath, a gasp of joy or fear,
or gassed in a damp fox-hole or on a campus in protest, or the smell of a rose
by any name.  But let me choose pain for a thought experiement:  three people
of similar biology experience similar damage to their noses is three different
contexts. The first woman is having her nose pierced by a friend for esthetic
reasons in a flat in NY.  The second woman is having her nose pierced by a
shaman who is thereby initiating her into adulthood for which moment she has
been preparing all her life and fasting these past three days. The third woman
is being assaulted by a lunatic jabbing a pin in her nose at a bus stop.  The
similarity of signals from the pain receptors of these three individuals is
trivial, the context and attached meanings are what the experience really is
for each of them. When I breathe I usually take no note of it and so it does
not fall in the realm of meaningful experience.  If I focus on my respiration,
I'll probably construct it as my blood receiving oxygen and expelling carbon
dioxide, something that I don't believe Shakespeare had in mind when using the
word 'breath.'  And I am finally out of e-breath.
 
Jefferey Taylor
Southern Illinois University
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Piers Lewis <
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Date:           Sunday, 13 Feb 1994 10:31:03 -0600 (CST)
Subject:        human condition
 
Remember Alice's conversation with Humpty Dumpty in THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS?
Humpty Dumpty has been taking satisfaction in the fact that every year you have
364 opportunities for un-birthday presents, "and only ONE for birthday
presents."  And he adds:  "There's glory for you."
 
"I don't know what you mean by 'glory,'" Alice said.
 
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously.  "Of course you don't--till I tell you.  I
meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you'!"
 
"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument'," Alice objected.
 
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, "it means
just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less."
 
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you CAN make words mean different
things."
 
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master-- that's all."
 
If reality is 'socially constructed,' as they say, so's language.  And Humpty
Dumpty is correct.
 

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