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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: April ::
Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0264.  Wednesday, 5 April 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Janis Lull <
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        Date:   Monday, 03 Apr 1995 17:30:24 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0260 Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
(2)     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Monday, 3 Apr 95 23:17:26 EST
        Subj:   [Early Modern Subjectivity]
 
(3)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 04 Apr 1995 18:31:41 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Early Modern Subjectivity
 
(4)     From:   Kathleen Kendrick <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 5 Apr 1995 10:37:37 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0262 Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Janis Lull <
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Date:           Monday, 03 Apr 1995 17:30:24 -0800
Subject: 6.0260 Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0260 Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
Bill Godshalk asks, "What is the relationship of constructivism to the
Cognitive Revolution? On the surface, constructivism seems Skinnerian."  "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?"
 
The latter is what Skinner explicitly did claim.  He was not concerned to
divide humans from animals in any fundamental way.  I have always suspected
this as the root of the animosity Skinner aroused in Chomsky and other
"humanists."  As I understand it, constructivism is precisely--or rather
imprecisely--Skinnerian, and could benefit from some of the technical
distinctions Skinner and the behaviorists developed.  Insofar as it is about
milieu and moment, constructivism, like behaviorism, has no relation at all to
the Cognitive Revolution.  This is not to say that either ism necessarily
excludes ideas about the inner hardware, genetics, or as Taine would have
called it, "race," but only that they are not about these things. They are
about the interaction between organism and environment.
 
Janis Lull
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Monday, 3 Apr 95 23:17:26 EST
Subject:        [Early Modern Subjectivity]
 
Bill Godshalk wonders whether "other mammals are subject to cultural
construction."  It's certainly true for dogs.  At the level of species and
variety, human beings, one at a time or in groups, have genetically selected
individual animals for useful and/or desirable characteristics--hence poodles,
Newfoundlands, chihuahuas, etc. (see Steven Jay Gould's essay on neoteny).  At
the level of individuals or small groups, humans train particular animals in
particular patterns of behavior--to heel, stay, fetch, keep those sheep in a
nice tight group, sit on that hillside and watch for predators, urinate or
defecate outdoors rather than in the house.  To a considerable degree, the
training involves assigning the animal to a particular place in a pack that
involves humans as well as dogs.  It is instructive to watch the adjustments
that occur when the pack changes, as I have done this past year when two
additional adults, two small children, and two other large dogs got added to a
pack that had consisted of my wife, our 7-year old yellow Lab, our two cats,
and me.  In the present context the systematic or casual human intervention
required to sort things into a workable new order--to persuade the incoming
Rottweiler, for instance, that the local cats, at least, are not agents of the
devil, and to persuade our dog Bert, who had always spent most of the dinner
hour under the dining room table, that because there is n room for three big
dogs under there no dogs are allowed to be under there--were noteworthy.  But
so were the things the animals did among themselves, to insure that nowadays it
is the visiting golden retriever, the largest and strongest of the three, who
mostly sleeps in the cozy spot under my desk.  I'm sure treatments of other
social mammals--primates, seals, hyenas--will describe similar interactions.
 
I am not so sure about whether the changes that have gone on in the dogs
constitute a change in subjectivity--whether, for instance, when the
interlopers lope out again in a few months Bert's sense of his place in the
scheme of things will have changed permanently, or return rapidly and
completely to the old one, assuming that we humans resume the old ways of doing
things.  It seems to be the case that the sentences Bert knows how to produce
are pretty much the same ones as before: "I [Bert? this dog? dogs? beings
similar to this one under similar circumstances?] need to go out"; "I want my
dinner"; "Get away from our house, stranger."
 
The narrow relevance of this for Shakespeare studies seems to me most apparent
when we consider those moments in the plays when, so to speak, the nature of
the pack changes.  At the end of Act 4 of _Mer_ Shylock is caused to construct
a kind of sentence such as we have not heard him utter previously, a sentence
that he would not previously utter because do to so would be to misrepresent
his state: "I am content"--discontent having been, it seems to me, one of the
dominant elements in the construction of this dramatic personage.  We can note
that when Rosalind reappears in woman's weeds at the end of _AYL_ she stops
constructing sentences at all. (Even as I write I remember with some confusion
the imagery of dogs and other animals so prominent in both these plays--see
esp. _Mer_ 1.3.106 ff.)
 
The issue more generally, however, is about the subjectivity of whole
cultures--whole varieties of dogs, if you will, not (so far as we know) as
controlled by some more powerful species, but as internally modulated by
complex social and linguistic changes--in a way, whether Shakespeare was able
to construct the apparent change in the subjectivity of Shylock because his own
was differently constructed than that of, say, Chaucer.  I'm sure others out
there can talk about that better than I.
 
Doggedly,
Dave Evett
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Tuesday, 04 Apr 1995 18:31:41 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Early Modern Subjectivity
 
Actually, I'm not talking about character. I'm interested in the human brain
and its limited capabilities. It seems to me that the talk about "culture"
without understanding something about how the human brain functions in terms of
learning and categorization, is to fantasize.
 
Althusser's essay on ideology and ISAs is an example of baseless speculation.
Is there one fact in that essay? Have yopu been "hailed" by ideology lately?
No, Althusser appeals to our fantasy and our paranoia. One might compare Jules
Henry's CULTURE AGAINST MAN (NY: Random House, 1963) which proclaims that "the
noise is the message."
 
I gather that the relationship of subjectivity to the Cognitive Revolution is
that there is no relationship. Noam Chomsky is bypassed for Saussure, and
George Lakoff, Steven Pinker, et al., are of no account. Norman Holland's
account of human learning has apparently no relevance to cultural hegemony.
 
How do historically specific notions of identity come about? What is the
agency? Is culture an independent agent? Should Kultur be seen as the driving
force behind history? (Does anyone have a snapshot of Kultur so I can recognize
her the next time she's here?)
 
"Animals CAN'T be culturally constructed because they have no CULTURE." What an
uncivil thing to say about ourselves! But the fat is in the fire. KULTUR has
helped us to transcend the animal world. Homo sapiens is NOT an animal. As
Brigid O'Shaughnessy says, "How perfectly fascinating."
 
But both Eric Armstrong and Phyllis Rackin seem to disagree with John
Drakakis's position on animals.
 
My students sometimes ask me where they can buy a copy of THE WESTERN CANON.
I'd like to buy a definition of culture. One of my colleagues told me with a
straight face: "Where two or three humans are, there is Culture."  Hmmmm.
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------F
 rom:           Kathleen Kendrick <
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Date:           Wednesday, 5 Apr 1995 10:37:37 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 6.0262 Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0262 Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
From:           Kathleen Kendrick <
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Date:           Wednesday, 5 Apr 1995 10:37:37 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 6.0262 Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0262 Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
Phyllis Rackin notes,
 
> Bill Godshalk asks,
>
> > (3) Are other mammals subject to cultural construction?
>
> Anyone who has ever raised a dog knows the answer to this one.
 
Here! Here! - Humans have the ability to historically record their omissions
and errors while animals don't have that capability - yet, I have met many
sensitive, intelligent and sympathetic dogs.  Of course, if animals are studied
at all, one can see a culturality and heirarchy to their system of behavior.
 

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