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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: April ::
Subjectivity; Early Modern; Antony and Cleopatra
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0338.  Tuesday, 25 April 1995.
 
(1)     From:   R.D.H.Wells <
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        Date:   Monday, 24 Apr 1995 14:19:45 +0100 (BST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0326 Re: Ideology and Subjectivity
 
(2)     From:   David Evett <R0870%
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        Date:   Monday, 24 Apr 1995 22:35 ET
        Subj:   Early Modern
 
(3)     From:   Alistair Scott <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 25 Apr 1995 12:53:31 +0200
        Subj:   Antony & Cleopatra
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           R.D.H.Wells <
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Date:           Monday, 24 Apr 1995 14:19:45 +0100 (BST)
Subject: 6.0326 Re: Ideology and Subjectivity
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0326 Re: Ideology and Subjectivity
 
Reading through my mail after a three-week break I was struck by how quickly
the tone of cheery affability with which the debate on early-modern
subjectivity began degenerated into the kind of patronizing abuse that seems to
be the favoured register in post-structuralist historicism (classic examples
are Veeser's introduction to _The New Historicism_, and the London Review of
Books 'Bardbiz' debate).
 
Though that didn't surprise me, I was puzzled by the selective advice on
reading offered by people who are obviously authorities on this topic. I'm
always grateful for suggestions from specialists on what to read. But I prefer
to look at both sides of the argument before making up my mind, especially when
I'm reading in a field where I have little experience and no formal training.
Clifford Geertz impressed me enormously until I read a more powerful work
exposing some of the weaknesses in his constructivist anthropology (_The
Adapted Mind_ by Jerome Barkow, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby). I still may not
have got it right, but I think I have a better understanding of the issues that
Geertz was addressing in _The Interpretation of Cultures_ now that I've read a
critique of his arguments.
 
In the present debate on ideology it seems odd that reference is being made
only to one side of a vigorous argument. Post-structuralist Marxism may be fun
to read for people who like long words. But we have to remember that it is only
an imaginary version of Marxism, as Althusser confesses with admirable honesty
in his posthumous autobiography _The Future Lasts a Long Time_. Again, as a
non-specialist I believe that I have a better understanding of Althusser's
arguments after reading books like Leonard Jackson's _The Dematerialisation of
Karl Marx_, Scott Meikle's _Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx_, and
Raymond Tallis's _Not Saussure_. I wouldn't presume to tell fellow
Shakespeareans that they 'need' to read these books. But I'd be interested to
hear from people who have read them what they thought of them and whether they
think the arguments they offer are seriously flawed.
 
What puzzles me most of all is the intellectual isolationism of a movement that
likes to advertize its courageous demolition of academic barriers. Despite its
concern with the origins of subjectivity, post-structuralist historicism has
shown no interest in the debate on subjectivity that has been taking place in
the social and biological sciences over the past three decades. Just at the
time when popularizers like Catherine Belsey and Jonathan Dollimore started
adopting constructivist ideas of human nature dating from the 1930s, a
revolution was taking place in socio-biology and anthropology that has cast an
entirely new light on theories that are now beginning to look rather dated.
Barkow, Cosmides and Tooby give an excellent survey of this work in _The
Adapted Mind_(1992). More recently, books such as Matt Ridley's _The Red
Queen_, and _Blood Relations_ by the Marxist anthropologist Chris Knight have
hammered more nails into the coffin of post-structuralist constructivism. Like
the last of the Ptolemaic cosmologists, driven to ever more ingenious arguments
in support of an untenable model of the universe, post-stucturalism offers
pragmatically self-refuting arguments of scholastic ingenuity while
consistently ignoring all evidence that contradicts its theories. As Leonard
Jackson argues in _The Dematerialisation of Karl Marx_, 'one of the gross
disadvantages of French theory in the last thirty years is the almost complete
disappearance of the influence ... of any serious anthropology from literary
criticism and theory'.
 
As for Renaissance anti-essentialism, that is of course largely an imaginary
version of the period, much as Althusser's Marxism was an imaginary construct
arrived at by suppressing, as Althusser himself candidly admits, everything in
Marx that seemed incompatible with the version that existed in Althusser's own
mind (_The Future Lasts a Long Time_, p.221). Renaissance theology, psychology,
poetics and social theory are all firmly rooted in an essentialist
anthropology. This is true both of dissidents and of 'establishment' writers.
You can only claim that the major thinkers of the period were atomists if you
ignore or radically distort this whole body of thought. The assumptions that
underly so much political debate in Shakespeare's lifetime may not accord with
modern notions of natural justice, but I would argue that it makes more sense
to criticize them for what they are than to try to remake them into something
that fits better with our own sense of things. As Samuel Johnson said, to judge
rightly on the present we must *oppose* it to the past.
 
Robin Headlam Wells
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <R0870%
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Date:           Monday, 24 Apr 1995 22:35 ET
Subject:        Early Modern
 
I believe that the term "early modern" was applied to English (and perhaps
other European languages) for some time before it got transferred to history
and culture; the linguistic bases of postmodern thought make such a transfer
both natural and seemingly significant, though the fact that developments such
as the shift toward mercantile capitalism, religious reformation, global
travel, etc. all occurred in the same period in the West may or may not have
anything to do with changes in language.
 
Dave Evett
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alistair Scott <
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Date:           Tuesday, 25 Apr 1995 12:53:31 +0200
Subject:        Antony & Cleopatra
 
Bill Godshalk writes:-
 
> Cleopatra was pushed toward suicide by Dolabella acting as Caesar's agent
 
Was she?  I would have thought that during a reign such as hers she would have
come across betrayal and treason enough times to become well inured to it.
 
She's pretty inconstant throughout the play - faking illness, undergoing wild
mood swings, flying from battle - the culmination of which is her faking death
to get back at Antony when he is " ... more mad than Telamon".  However, this
ploy results in Antony's suicide.
 
Mind you, Antony hasn't been too constant himself.  The only constancy in such
a passionate and stormy love affair seems to be death, the lovers sharing the
same grave ... with their story living on.
 
Therefore, Cleopatra's suicide could be seen as inevitable. Dolabella's
betrayal of Antony's trust is just one small step confirming the
inevitability.
 
Whaddya think?
 
Deterministically yours
Alistair
 

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