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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: April ::
Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0267.  Thursday, 6 April 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Thomas G. Bishop <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 5 Apr 1995 14:45:50 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0260  Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
(2)     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 06 Apr 95 00:44:00 BST
        Subj:   SHK 6.0264 Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
(3)     From:   W.L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 06 Apr 1995 08:38:34 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Early Modern Subjectivity
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas G. Bishop <
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Date:           Wednesday, 5 Apr 1995 14:45:50 -0400
Subject: 6.0260  Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0260  Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
We seem to have several related words for discussing "mental functioning in
relation to the world" and the distinctions between them are not always
entirely clear: consciousness, mentalite (Fr.), subjectivity, habitus,
character come to mind straight off. Each of these seems to me to have a
different nuance, and also to produce rather different accounts of the past
when used as a tool to open it up. Some of the differences can perhaps be
pointed up by asking questions like: "Is color vision an aspect of
consciousness? (I would say yes); of mentalite? (perhaps not); of subjectivity?
(I would say no). Current uses of "subjectivity" seem to want to be about the
network of characteristic assumptions, habits, emotions, attitudes and
expectations, both conscious and unconscious, that human beings, in particular
as members of social groups, exhibit. At some level, such an account does, it
seems to me, overlap with the Skinnerian -- perhaps at the level of "emotional
training" (see for instance Dorothy Allison's remarkable short essay "A
Question of Class"; Phyllis Rackin's response about raising dogs seems to fit
here). Insofar as "subjectivity" fires up its internal pun on "subjects", it
wants to be about the way minds are more or less trained to think and work in
certain ways rather than others, politically trained.
 
Yet cultures are very complex things, and they always offer more opportunities
for making connections than are properly licensed at any one time (see "The
Cheese and the Worms -- did the miller have an "early modern subjectivity"? in
what sense?). A problem for me arises in relation to reading complex figurative
texts like plays, where critics or historians start making general claims for
"early modern subjectivity" as if such a thing actually existed. I've gotten
used to seeing announcements about shifts in this nebulous category and I've
found they often evaporate under pressure. Often the claims are supported
through a kind of Tillyardism of representative texts purporting to exhibit in
some clear form the thing itself, against which some more complex text can then
be measured. But if subjectivity means anything useful, it needs to be
specified quite closely as the property only ever of particular persons, in
particular niches, with particular habits, beliefs, desires, etc. Some of these
are shared and some not. (Here the notion seems to overlap with "character",
esp if we bear in mind the etymology of "impressure" in the latter). Pierre
Bourdieu's concept of "habitus" (I assume taken over from Aquinas) has been
useful to me here, as it insists on the variability within a "field" of the
ways individuals may jump as they pays their monies and makes their choices.
And for some those choices are more limited than for others. Plays (not alone)
seem to me often to be about pushing "the limits of language" (and hence of
"mind") and thus extending the possibilities of "subjectivity" among the
subjects who attend them.
 
Passing thoughts. Thanks for raising the question Bill.
 
Tom Bishop
Case Western Reserve University
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Thursday, 06 Apr 95 00:44:00 BST
Subject: Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
Comment:        SHK 6.0264 Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
Ah, now we have it...
 
Godshalk is REALLY interested in biologism, and I suppose his argument would be
that humans are just a little further along the line of development than
animals....and that some humans are further along that line than other humans,
and that in this Darwinian universe those with the biggest guns win. I suppose
also that without any theoretical tools to examine this allegedly "scientific"
data, or the details of actual experience, that's all that there is to say.
 
We can discuss whether dogs have culture till we're blue in the face, but I
doubt whether we'll ever get the dog lovers to agree that they are projecting
their own "human" meanings onto the behaviour of animals. Unlike humans animals
do not reproduce the conditions of their own relations of production; it is
THIS that produces "culture"  (Maybe Godshalk should add Raymond Williams's
Culture and Society to his reading list). It's within culture that "subject
positions" are taken up. The reason why Godshalk will never be "hailed" by
ideology is because ideology is able to disguise its workings...."the imaginary
way in which human beings live real relations". This has nothing to do with
either fantasy or paranoia. It has a lot to do with the ways in which, under
determinate conditions, certain social relations are produced and reproduced.
In fact, if Godshalk thinks that the operations of any social formation, and of
one based on capital in particular, are transparent, then he is the fantasist.
He also knows more about paranoia than I do.
 
Now if he's SERIOUSLY interested in "subjectivity", as he claims to be, then he
might like to try to offer us what he perceives to be a workable distinction
between "subjectivity" and the category of "character", without retreating into
a crass biologism.   So long as he persists in the childishly negative practice
of insisting what these categories are not, and stamping his feet when we don't
give him what he perceives to be the "right" answer, then he's simply inviting
us all to be adjuncts to his own power trip. Or, perhaps it's because he can't
reduce the problem to an -ism, and so can't pigeon-hole it, that has him
worried.
 
Tell us Bill! Enquiring minds want to know.
 
Cheers
John Drakakis
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W.L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Thursday, 06 Apr 1995 08:38:34 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Early Modern Subjectivity
 
Behind our discussion of subjectivity is, I think, the question: how alien from
me or you is any given early modern person?  You will excuse me, of course, if
I do not refer to people as "subjects."  If, as Stephen Jay Gould points out,
our species has not evolved significantly in many millenia (I can't remember
how many millenia), then it would seem to me that an early modern person and a
contemporary person would react similarly to the same external stimulus. In
other words, we have a firm biological basis for understanding people from the
recent past.  And in terms of evolution, four hundred years is very recent.
 
My point is that recent attempts to describe early modern people (including
Shakespeare) as "other," different, and alien may be misguided. For example, we
may understand early modern reactions to the Henrician despotism in terms of
reactions to 20th century despotisms, "show trials," "confessions," and all.
 
Dave Evett doggedly refers to "the subjectivity of whole cultures."  Does this
reference mean that the early modern period had a unified "subjectivity"? Can a
"culture" have a "subjectivity"? If so, perhaps we need to go back and redefine
"subjectivity." From the earlier definitions given by Michael Prince, Daniel
Pigg, and Wes Folkerth (SHK 6.0251),  I assume that subjectivity can be
experienced only by an individual.
 
Do we all really share a subjectivity?
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 

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