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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: April ::
Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0277.  Sunday, 9 April 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Pat Buckridge <
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        Date:   Saturday, 8 Apr 1995 10:55:57 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0267  Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
(2)     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Saturday, 08 Apr 95 14:19:00 BST
        Subj:   SHK 6.0272 Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
(3)     From:   W.L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Saturday, 08 Apr 1995 16:28:45 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0272  Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pat Buckridge <
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Date:           Saturday, 8 Apr 1995 10:55:57 +1000
Subject: 6.0267  Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0267  Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
Many thanks to Tom Bishop for a genuinely clarifying series of reflections on
this topic.  I think Bourdieu gets 'habitus' most immediately from the
anthropologist Marcel Mauss.  I didn't realise Aquinas had used it first.
 
John Drakakis advises Bill Godshalk to read Raymond Williams' *Culture and
Society*, confident in the belief, I take it, that Williams would endorse his
clanking Althusserian abstractions.  Well, not on my reading of Williams he
wouldn't.  The key category in Williams' early work, as even so-called Cultural
Materialists must know, is 'structure of feeling' - not ideology, and certainly
not 'subjectivity'.
 
The great virtue of that concept ('structure of feeling') is that it's an
open-weave kind of thing.  Certain loosely-defined regularities and
correlations are acknowledged, and a certain determining or predisposing effect
on the thought and behaviour individuals living inside it, but there's no
lunatic pretence of 'totality' such as we find in Althusser's notion of
ideology.  (How anyone can continue to find Althusser useful in 1995 is beyond
me, but that's another argument).  Above all, structures of feeling are not
impervious to change.  Not only do they themselves change with the passage of
time, but our historical understanding of them can and often does change as we
find out more about the cultures of particular periods, and develop a more
nuanced sense of the power (and other) relations operating within them.
 
Williams is at great pains (in *The Long Revolution*, I think) to distinguish
'structures of feeling' from more determinate and describable entities like
'class consciousness'.  He does this because he realises that there are some
things about the mental life of a particular place and time that can be
described in terms of conscious and formulated ideas and attitudes, and others
that can't be described in that way because they haven't fully emerged yet, or
have virtually disappeared.  These half-formed attitudes and contradictory
residues are are often detectable in literature as nowhere else, which is one
reason (I suppose) why Williams spent as much time as he did analysing literary
texts.
 
John Drakakis seems to think you can simplify matters enormously by saying it's
all down to 'ideology', which includes everything from quantum theory to how we
tie our shoelaces.  The magic word is 'interpellation', which turns experience
into 'experience', and reality into 'reality'.  Naively empiricist notions like
'structure of feeling' are then seen to be irrelevant except as part of the
interpellating machinery of capitalist ideology.  I've never quite understood
how people achieve the state of non-experiential contemplation needed to
describe ideology from within (since, as Eagleton said in his
Macherey-mouthpiece phase, there is nothing outside ideology), but presumably
John Drakakis could tell me.  It can't be easy.
 
The other plausible characteristic of structures of feeling is that they don't
exist as seamless wholes (like Capitalist Ideology or Early Modern
Subjectivity); they're modular entities.  This doesn't mean they can't and
don't *function* as unitary structures in certain circumstances, but it means
there's no reason to suppose you wouldn't run into isolated components (or
modules) of, say, a late 20th century western structure of feeling in ancient
Rome.  This should ease the cognitive dissonance John Drakakis and his
Althusserian friends must surely feel when they read Ovid's advice to young
women to fake orgasms in the *Art of Love*.
 
Patrick Buckridge <
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Griffith University
Brisbane, Australia
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Saturday, 08 Apr 95 14:19:00 BST
Subject: Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
Comment:        SHK 6.0272 Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
"My references to brain and gene are attempts to ground our discussion in
something material"
 
So speaks Godshalk.  He also claims that he isn't "jerked around" by Newt's
"ideology", though he insists that he is, himself, a completely free agent
having every "choice" at his disposal.
 
This is the posiiton from which Godshalk seeks to pose the question of how as
students of the Renaissance we perceive questions of early modern subjectivity.
No surprisingly he comes to the conclusion that these are universal and
timeless matters, untouched by history, and that there is essentially NO
DIFFERENCE between an Elizabethan and a late 20th century British or American
person. Since human bodies have functioned the same through time, so he seems
to be suggesting, then things are the same now as they were then. [though it's
a little out of date, he might like to try Peter Laslett's book The World We
Have Lost, which will disabuse him of such fantasies]
 
But there's something even more disturbing about Godshalk's stated argument:
His first statement is worthy of a card-carrying member of the Klu Klux Klan. I
guess that he would account for his social and professional position and status
as a consequence of his "brain" and "genes". I think we all know where such a
crudely Darwinist argument leads, and I trust we are all horrified at its
implications. The material of "culture" is, surely REPRESENTATIONS, and our
obligation as students of Renaissance culture is to investigate these.  It's no
accident that I'm interested in the way in which Godshalk REPRESENTS his case.
He lives under the delusion that language is transparently referential in its
unproblematical gesturing towards things. That's why he thinks that he's
completely in control of all he surveys.
 
We only have to look at what he says on the question of "choice".  He believes
that choice is absolute and free!  I don't know where he gets his fantasies
from but there should be a health warning on the bottle! Let me play
Mephistopheles and tell this disingenous Faustus that "This is ideology nor are
we out of it".
 
The question of how we perceive early modern subjectivity is, I think, more
interesting. There are two problems (i) the historical problem of
reconstruction and (ii)the position from which we begin as historically
constituted subjects ourselves. Our own conceptions of subjectivity and our own
subject positions overdetermine (a term which Godshalk refuses to pick up
because it would force him to relinquish his extraordinarily simple-minded
definition of "materialism") our analysis of Renaissance culture.  I'm not
convinced by the view that posits a homology between the Renaissance and the
modern world, since what is at issue here is our interrogation of various
historical representations in a way that they almost cdertainly did not/could
not do themelves.
 
When WE think of "subjectivity" we are thinking, surely of identity within a
symbolic order.  At this point we may disagree on the constituent features of
that symbolic order, but it is within that order that an imaginary unity is
conferred upon identity.  In the modern world even that has become more
complex. We might establish identity through DIFFERENCE, which will give us a
structural account of the status quo, but that does not offer us a theoretical
model for political action, which comes about, as Laclau and Mouffe indicate
provocatively, through antagonisms- and these antagonisms cannot be, any longer
mapped across CLASS affiliations [hic jacet Marx, Godshalk pay attention and
please note]. It is only when a DIFFRERENCE perceives itself as a form of
subordination that the possibility of antagonism, and hence, a politics,
arises.  This moves us some way towards dealing with the problem of agency and
those factors which overdetermine action.
 
My problem is that I don't think that these were the coordinates which clearly
explain for us early modern subjectivity. WE might use terms like "symbolic
order" to define what it is that grounds the Renaissance subject, but we need
to be very careful about what it is that we are representing here.
 
Let's see if we can't crack this one.
 
Cheers,
John Drakakis
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W.L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Saturday, 08 Apr 1995 16:28:45 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 6.0272  Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0272  Re: Early Modern Subjectivity
 
Since I will be responding to Russell Mayes's argument in particular, I would
like to quote his response in full:
 
>I hesitate to enter into this interesting, if acrimonious, discussion, but when
>Bill Godshalk avers that an early modern person and a contemporary person would
>react to the same external stimulus in the same way, I have to wonder what he
>means.  He illustrates his point by referring to despotism, but that is hardly
>a "stimulus" in a biological sense.  The sound of a car engine or the beating
>of hoofs--those are stimuli.  I use these because it is clear that someone from
>the sixteenth century could not react to an automobile the same way we do--that
>much is almost too simple to mention.  But I don't think we would react to the
>sound of hoofs in the same way either.  For most of us, this is a fairly
>unusual sound that has all sorts of "cultural" connotations (whether it be
>cowboys, the country or the dancing horses of Vienna), and those connotations
>would be different for a person of the 16th C.  I would even go so far to say
>that the sound of hoofs has a different connotation for contemporary people in
>India than they do for us of the western industrialized world.  I would have to
>agree with Godshalk regarding the implication of his closing question, "Do we
>all share a subjectivity?"  No, we share a culture, though we all react to it
>(dare I say it) subjectively.
>
>My two cents in an interesting discussion,
>
>W. Russell Mayes Jr.
 
My comparison of Tudor despotism with modern despotism is and was misleading. I
was off on a new thought, and did not begin a new paragraph. Sorry.
 
Yes, a contemporary person and an early modern person would react to the same
external stimulus "in the same way." That is, with the same brain mechanisms. I
am here thinking of a brain model like that of Norman Holland (THE I, Chapter
6, pp. 128-155), based on work by Gregory Bateson, Herbert Simon, Heinz
Lichtenstein, and others. The brain responds to external stimuli by means of a
complex system of feedback loops.
 
Of course, an early modern person could not respond to a taxi racing through
the streets of New York. As I said earlier, we are all trapped in our
historical moment. Make no mistake.
 
But a contemporary baby and an early modern baby experiencing horses' hooves
for the first time in their lives would deal with the sound in the same way,
i.e., using the same brain mechanisms: hypothesis, experiment, feedback;
revision of first hypothesis, experiment, feedback, and so on. "Culture"
(whatever that word means)  has nothing to do with how the human brain works.
 
Environment, obviously, has a great deal to do with WHAT we learn, but not HOW
we learn. Obviously, early moderns did not drive cars to work, and very few of
us (I'll bet!) ride horses to work. I know a whole lot more about how my little
Toyota works than how to saddle a horse.
 
Basically, I think the quarrel centers on where to put the emphasis. Do we
emphasize the individual's ability to learn, to adjust, to understand, and to
participate in various "cultures," or do we emphasize the power of the
"culture" to mold the subject to its all powerful requirements?
 
You all know where I'd put my money!
 
But I would like to ask Melissa Aaron to get back to us with a good
anthropological definition of "culture" so that we can figure out what we're
fighting about!
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 
P.S.  I'm not sure what the "implication" of my last question is: "Do we all
share a subjectivity?" Dave Evett seemed to suggest that we do share a
subjectivity, and I was asking him what he meant. So Mayes' assertion that we
share a culture, not a subjectivity,  is aimed at my old Nemesis, Dave Evett.
Dave, the ball's in your court!
 

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