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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: April ::
Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0262.  Monday, 3 April 1995.
 
(1)     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Sunday, 02 Apr 95 20:30:00 BST
        Subj:   SHK 6.0260 Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
(2)     From:   Eric Armstrong <
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        Date:   Sunday, 2 Apr 1995 16:13:05 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0260  Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
(3)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Sunday, 02 Apr 1995 20:14:37 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0260  Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
(4)     From:   Phyllis Rackin <
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        Date:   Monday, 3 Apr 1995 10:59:07 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0260  Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Sunday, 02 Apr 95 20:30:00 BST
Subject: Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
Comment:        SHK 6.0260 Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
Dear Bill,
 
Now I've slept off the jet lag... I think you seem to me to be starting from a
very curious position in that you want to link subjectivity to the
physiological operations of the human brain.  Physically human brains may
function in the same way no matter what culture we are talking about, but the
sticking point here is "culture". Cultures are historically specific and we
can't collapse that into universalist categories of the kind that you seem to
want to hang on to.
 
The issue with regard to subjectivity concerns two related questions (a) human
agency acting upon the world, adopting a position of autonomy in relation to
what it acts upon. You can see how this harmonizes with the notion of
"individualism", but you can also see, I'm sure how it also separates thought
from substance. (b) subjection: as in to be subject to another.  You might like
to take a look at Althusser's essay on Ideology and Ideological State
Apparatuses to see how this latter process operates.
 
I think also that you are rushing to impose a crude determinism on the whole
process (what I take you to mean when you talk about "constructivism").  The
term you really want is "overdetermination" and that addresses a convergence of
forces operating upon a given historically constituted human subject at any one
conjuncture. The alternative to the liberal position that you want to sustain
is NOT NECESSARILY a crude determinism in which human beings don't make
choices.
 
The position is even more complicated since Saussure, since from that point
onwards we need to take account of the constitutive function of language. That
is, we ned to look much more closely at precisely HOW the "subject" is
addressed in language.  The work of Benveniste: Problems in General Linguistics
is what you need to look at here. And to complicate the matter even further,
the long debate within Marxism about the historic role of class identity needs
to be taken into account.  Here the best book I've read recently to address
these issues is Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe's Towards a Radical Socialist
Hegemony (1985).
 
Basically we are taking about the construction of historically specific notions
of identity where the qustion of identity is deeply imbricated in networks of
political power.  It is not simply a question of autonomous subjects working on
the material of the world (the historical realium, as Valentine Cunningham
puts it in his recent book The Reading Gaol).  Or as Marx puts it: human beings
make history but they do not do so in conditions of their own making. It is
that interaction between the two that is the space where subjectivity is
constructed.  What I think you seem to be talking about is "character".  The
two are not the same thing.
 
Best wishes,
John Drakakis
 
PS Bill,
Animals CAN'T be culturally constructed because they have no CULTURE.  If you
say they do, thn you are simply humanizing them.  Culture is much more complex
than your reductive term "environment" would suggest.  I can see how when you
get to this poiunt you reach for your Skinner.  Environment may be a necessary
part of the definition of culture, but it is by no means sufficient.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Eric Armstrong <
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Date:           Sunday, 2 Apr 1995 16:13:05 -0400
Subject: 6.0260  Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0260  Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
>(3) Are other mammals subject to cultural construction? (When I ask this
>question around the department my colleagues look at me as if I've lost it!)
>But I don't think I'm asking a trivial or frivolous question. By claiming to be
>culturally constructed, are we claiming that we have transcend the mammalian
>world (if I may put it that way)? Or are we merely claiming that environment is
>more important than genes, and that other mammals are also
>environmentally-constructed?
 
I am no specialist in animal beghaviour, but I did see a tv show recently on
language acquistion in orangetans. The scientists have been teaching them how
to use sign language for years, and apparently they become unruly after
(during?)  adolescence (around 2 or 3 yrs) and so the scientists stop working
with them. When the adults then have children and teach the children
sign-language, it seems to be that they are very strongly affected by their
environment and changing their "culture".
 
BTW... The program then went on to ask the question, since orangetans have the
intelligence of a 3 or 4 yr old, and seem to be developping the ability to
talk,  what really was the "cultural" difference between humans, especially
mentally handicapped humans, and these "apes". What must happen before they
deserve "human rights?"
 
Eric Armstrong
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Sunday, 02 Apr 1995 20:14:37 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 6.0260  Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0260  Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
My second question should read something like this:
 
(2) How does constructivism relate to (or respond to) studies like Norman
Holland's THE I? Holland, if you will, is an essentialist since he seems to
believe that all normally-functioning human brains work in the same way. George
Lakoff's WOMEN, FIRE, AND DANGEROUS THINGS is another trans-cultural study that
seems to suggest (in passing) that all human cultures create categories in
similar ways.
 
Apparently I dropped out a few words in revision! Sorry.
 
I look forward to John Drakakis's description of early modern subjectivity.
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Phyllis Rackin <
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Date:           Monday, 3 Apr 1995 10:59:07 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0260  Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0260  Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
Bill Godshalk asks,
 
> (3) Are other mammals subject to cultural construction?
 
Anyone who has ever raised a dog knows the answer to this one.
 

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