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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: April ::
Re: Ideology and Subjectivity
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0326.  Thursday, 20 April 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Moray McConnachie <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Apr 1995 00:04:51 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 6.0316 Re: Ideology and Subjectivity
 
(2)     From:   Gail Burns <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 19 Apr 1995 21:13:14 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0316 Re: Ideology a...
 
(3)     From:   Thomas G. Bishop <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Apr 1995 12:58:45 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0316  Re: Ideology and Subjectivity
 
(4)     From:   Eddie Duggan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Apr 95 22:01:15 BST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0316 Re: 'Early Modern'
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Moray McConnachie <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Apr 1995 00:04:51 +0100
Subject: 6.0316 Re: Ideology and Subjectivity
Comment:        RE: SHK 6.0316 Re: Ideology and Subjectivity
 
While I agree with much of what Bill Godshalk has said (and hence lay my life
on the line, judging by the way that this thread has developed), I must
question this remark:
 
>       (1) THE COMEDY OF ERRORS has nothing to do with "subjectivity" which is
> a 19th century concept initiated by Southey and Coleridge. To speak of
> subjectivity in the late 16th century is historically incorrect.
 
I am, I think, as near a perceiver of scholarship as recovery as there can be.
But we must use the concepts that mean something to us, now (which is who we
are writing for) to describe what we have recovered. If we choose to label
something, be it THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, or anything else, in this period as
being (and dealing with) what we now call "subjectivity," then that must remain
licit. It will always be true that the boundaries of our definitions will be
different from those of the men and women we study. Language changes whether
the mind does or not.
 
Besides, if I read Bill right, the operations of the mind allegedly remain
constant across the centuries: and therefore (if we experience a sensation of
it, or believe in it as a mode or mental operation) subjectivity existed also
throughout the years? On that point I must and will remain agnostic for many
years.
 
Moray McConnachie
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gail Burns <
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Date:           Wednesday, 19 Apr 1995 21:13:14 -0400
Subject: 6.0316 Re: Ideology a...
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0316 Re: Ideology a...
 
I am sorry, I am not an academic.  I am a humble reader of great writers. And I
am a humble writer of not-great prose, fiction and drama.  But, in both guises,
I have always been DEEPLY offended when asked by a teacher to write a paper
explaining what Shakespeare/Chaucer/Jane Austen/Charles Dickens/ANYONE meant by
what they wrote!!!  I am not those illustrious authors, nor do I pretend to be
them or even be in the same class with them. Other than explaining in modern
English what they rendered in the English of their day, how do I know what they
meant???  I am not they.  I am not even a contemporary to judge what their
contemporaries thought they meant.  I am one SUBJECTIVE human being of the late
20th century, and that is the only way I can respond to anything I see or hear
or read!
 
I write this as a practicing journalist.  People compliment me on my
objectivity and say they rely on what I write to tell them "what really
happened".  And I tell them that even if I quote people accurately and don't
insert my own opinion, my retelling of what went on at a given time and place
is just as subjective as another reporter's.
 
I suppose this is why I am not an academic, but I strongly believe that
Shakespeare (whoever that bloke or bloke-ette was) is the only one who knows
what s/he meant when s/he wrote a given work, and even then it was only what it
meant to her/him - and not to you or me!
 
Gail Burns

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(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas G. Bishop <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Apr 1995 12:58:45 -0400
Subject: 6.0316  Re: Ideology and Subjectivity
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0316  Re: Ideology and Subjectivity
 
A quotation I came across this morning seems particularly germane to the
discussion here. It's from Adorno:
 
"Activity is not, as ideology teaches, merely the purposive life of autonomous
people, but also the vain commotion of their unfreedom."
 
This is a paraphrase of a famous remark of Marx, of course, but the pointedness
of its "not merely...but also" seems to me to avoid certain traps.
 
To set about applying these questions to Shakespearean scenes, I can think of
two possibly relevant parables.
 
1) Gloucester on the clifftop sees himself as articulating (finally) an image
of the dignity and resonance of his fate, one sufficiently powerful that the
gods themselves are taken to be looking at it. That it involves an act of
surrender into the hands of giant forces (troped by gravity) does not prevent
our seeing it as an imaginatively capable gesture which communicates a powerful
conception of self-possession. At the same time, of course, that gesture is
undermined by Edgar's "therapeutic" stratagem, which has the (unintended?)
side-effect of turning Gloucester's perception of himself as tragic into a
vulgar error and his grand demise into a mere pratfall. Whose vision wins out
here -- the power of Gloucester's desire for dignity or the pathos of Edgar's
attempt to rehabilitate him (at what cost and for what covert satisfactions?).
Edgar's description of the cliff itself, intended to deceive, has the
unintended side-effect, at least for me, of making the clarity of Gloucester's
conception that much more vivid and moving.
 
2) Cleopatra's description of Antony to Dolabella. Perhaps Bill Godshalk's
championing of autonomy is one of the "dreams of boys and women" (and thank you
yes, I am fully aware of the ironies of that assertion, but let that go) which
serious Roman minds like John Drakakis' here are inclined to laugh at, if not
rage against. Though the lines are difficult, it's fairly clear to me that
Cleopatra ends up championing the power of conceptions of freedom and
magnanimity to remake the world, even in a state of captivity to determinist
Caesar ("Do not exceed the prescripts of this scroll"). And though it's a small
concession, it turns out to be crucial that Dolabella is persuaded apparently
by this speech to betray Caesar's intentions, allowing her at least the liberty
(she calls it that) of choosing not to submit, of arranging her own death in
order to "win a place in the story". That her choice is deadly is important,
but the terms of that death are hers to select. Caesar's is the history play,
with all its steamrollering, but Cleopatra's insistence on autonomy and the
value and truth of her picture of freedom is not merely empty.
 
No doubt these scenes can be reread in other ways. But I dont have a problem
with that. Allez-y, les gars!
 
Tom Bishop
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Eddie Duggan <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Apr 95 22:01:15 BST
Subject: 6.0316 Re: 'Early Modern'
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0316 Re: 'Early Modern'
 
Terry Hawkes wonders why we use the phrase 'early modern'.
 
Might I suggest two possible reasons:
 
First, the phrase forms part of the title of Peter Burke's _Popular Culture in
Early Modern Europe_
 
Secondly, I believe the phrase has some currency in the popular and rather
influential _Open University_ series of H/E study courses and accompanying
television programmes (well, something has to keep me up at night).
 
Eddie Duggan
 

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