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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: October ::
Re: Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0815.  Thursday, 19 October 1995.
 
(1)     From:   David Evett <R0870%
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        Date:   Wednesday, 18 Oct 1995 17:49 ET
        Subj:   Literature
 
(2)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 18 Oct 1995 17:52:52 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0806  Re:  Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
 
(3)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 18 Oct 1995 18:11:58 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0806  Re:  Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
 
(4)     From:   Gabriel Egan<
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        Date:   Thursday, 19 Oct 1995 02:37:26 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0806  Re:  Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
 
(5)     From:   Shirley Kagan <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 18 Oct 1995 10:27:24 -1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0806 Re: Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
 
(6)     From:   Michael Harrawood <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 18 Oct 1995 14:25:42 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: Importance, Triumph, etc
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <R0870%
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Date:           Wednesday, 18 Oct 1995 17:49 ET
Subject:        Literature
 
A follow-up to An Sonjae's telegraphic reference to Raymond Williams' survey of
the various and variously interconnected uses of the word "literature" in
English--a drafty, rambling old house, with many mansions, in which Terence
Hawkes and Joseph Greene can each feel, like the Roman Catholics in the old
joke, that they are the only ones up there.  Williams cites C16 uses of the
word as far back as Colet (d. 1519)--already anticipating (by his contrast with
"blotterature") the colloquial distinction between the stuff in the *Norton
Anthology* and all other texts; he gives support to Tom Bishop's remarks about
"poetry" as a tolerably appropriate Early Modern (not early Modern) synonym;
and he does the informative and provocative things that he does with the other
99 terms he investigates in *Keywords*.  Check it out.
 
Dave Evett
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 18 Oct 1995 17:52:52 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0806  Re:  Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0806  Re:  Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
 
Alas, I don't save my messages for long, so can't defend myself against
misinterpretations, or ask forgiveness for lack of clarity. Some use of the
term "ideological" raised Gabriel Egan's hackles. Sorry. Sorry also to Mr.
Harrawood for my response which must have sounded to him as though I were
accusing Matthew Arnold and Carlyle of hypocrisy, which I was not. I found his
quotes from them of great interest, and the remark about Engish hypocrisy
really wasn't meant to apply to them. It's hard to be as clear and thorough as
one would like in these posts. I find everyone's thoughts on these subjects of
great interest, and am delighted to be involved in such serious and broad-based
discussions with this erudite group.
 
Stephanie Hughes
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 18 Oct 1995 18:11:58 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0806  Re:  Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0806  Re:  Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
 
Problems surrounding the use of the word "literature" are similar to the
problems surrounding the use of the term "classical" for music. The symphonic
music being written today can't technically be called "classical", so they
usually call it "serious music." That doesn't really do it either. I guess I'll
just go on calling what Shakespeare wrote "literature". Of course it was drama
too, but the language needs a word that means "writing that is so beautiful or
powerful, whether by subject or style, that it has influenced the development
of culture." That would include such things as The Gettysburg address, certain
passages from the King James bible, and so forth. When I asked what else I
could call it, it was this that I meant. If we don't have words for thing we
can't talk about them. (My daughter had a Japanese roommate in high school, who
told her that there are no specific words in Japanese for the male and female
sex organs.)
 
Stephanie Hughes
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan<
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Date:           Thursday, 19 Oct 1995 02:37:26 +0100
Subject: 6.0806  Re:  Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0806  Re:  Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
 
Paul Crowley expresses a view
 
>Great literature is invariably produced by intensely
>egocentric and eccentric individuals.
 
That rules out Shakespeare's plays then. The theatrical companies for which he
worked and later shared in were without doubt collaborative. Our modern notions
of individual creativity and individual intellectual property are thoroughly
anachronistic in application to Shakespeare and his milieu.
 
To further the 'did Shakespeare produce Literature?' debate, I'd like to throw
in a reminder that literature is a private experience (for the study) whereas
drama is necessarily a social event (for the theatre). Modern theatre
conventions like lowering the lights to help the audience forget its own
presence owe much to the literary culture emphasis of individual over
collective experience. Crowley's attempts to claim for Shakespeare a literary
status which Shakespeare and his contemporaries would find incomprehensible
come from a long and risible academic tradition.
 
Gabriel Egan
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Shirley Kagan <
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Date:           Wednesday, 18 Oct 1995 10:27:24 -1000
Subject: 6.0806 Re: Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0806 Re: Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
 
I can't resist throwing in another comment in respomse to Paul Crowley's latest
post.
 
It seems that on the one hand you are carrying the banner of individual freedom
and democracy while on the other you insist on some sort of rigid allignment of
your perceived "facts" with a formula of the world.  My response to you re: the
holocaust and the one person who mattered is a good point of departure.  After
realizing that your assumption that "one person mattered" may have been
misconstrued, you ammended the statement to say this was simply in the
"political" sense to which I can only say, when you start making divisions of
that sort (one person has political significance, another one doesn't) you run
the risk of losing track of the very humanity and individual liberty you set
out to defend.
 
In your last post you offered the following:
 
>No one questioning "historical facts" would ever dare to put
>theory into practice and say "The Holocaust is not an historical fact".
 
To which I can only respond with a resounding "NOT TRUE".  There are lots of so
called "revisionists" out there who are trying to do precisely what you say
they wouldn't dare to do.  I don't think we can lump them all into a
"non-questioners" category.
 
You also wrote:
 
>A certain amount of questioning is appropriate.  We should often ask "Do we
>really know what we claim to know?".  But we must never extend it into
>"We can
>know nothing, and should say nothing, and must never make any judgements".
 
For whom are you speaking?  Who goes into your "we" category?  Surely if your
prime aim is to argue for individual liberty you should try and be more careful
about speaking for a body of individuals who may not agree with you.  And who
should be set in the position of deciding how much questioning is appropriate?
And how often is "often"?  I think you catch my meaning.
 
Questioningly yours,
Shirley Kagan.
 
(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Harrawood <
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Date:           Wednesday, 18 Oct 1995 14:25:42 -0700 (PDT)
Subject:        Re: Importance, Triumph, etc
 
Paul Crowley's comment that the "individuals" who produce literature "must
necessarily live in tolerant open-minded communities" reminds me of an exchange
between Norman Mailer and Jorge Luis Borges on the Cavett show many years ago.
Mailer walked unannounced, apparently thinking to honor Borges with his
presence, and began praising him in terms very much like those Mr. Crowley
likes to use.  He went on about the inherent links between literature and love
of liberty, about how literature cannot flourish in intolerant communities,
etc.  Borges -- old and frail -- became so indignant he tried to lift himself
up out of his chair, and pretty much ruined Mailer's pitch by insisting with
some force and clarity that literature thrives on horror, strife, and
oppression.  My sense at the time was that this is an issue that bears some
examination, and that its terms should not be taken for granted.
 
Dante was no great supporter of individual rights; neither was Virgil. Serious
scholars have pointed out moments in the work of each that would seem to
militate against the notions of liberty and individualism that we perhaps
cherish today.  Its also a stretch for me to imagine the "open-mindedness" of
the court of Henry VIII, or for that matter of the London street community of
the 1590's.
 
I keep sensing some confusion of categories that thwarts any real progress on
this thread.  Joseph M. Green now says that English attitudes towards Italy
were complex and that this was really his point all along (although I can't see
it from his use of terms like "xenophobia" and "Babylon").  The pathos of
over-generalization he imagines in the scenario with the failing undergraduate
at the end of his last post seems to undercut the over-breadth of his imagining
that all nationalisms are alike.  If there will be a Triumph of Chinese, what I
bet will be most interesting about it will be all the ways it is _not_ like the
Triumph of English -- no competition with Italian for rhyme words, no
alteration of the sonnet form, no sense of insularity or smallness, of being
"behind" other cultural and linguistic models, no sense of regaining a lost
ancient cultural foundation.  Chinese will triumph over different things.
 
It isn't clear that other national self-perceptions include the sense of a
touring "essence" that can "turn to bloud" the best from other cultures (this,
from Jonson's "For William Roe") -- an attitude that might be taken for the
little brother of the later "Grand Tour," a particularly English institution
for relating to other cultures.  My sense is -- to cross over to another thread
-- that the best way of really getting at the issue is to look at the texts and
at the "facts" and see what they tell us.
 
The "historical facts," which Mr. Crowley invokes, now along with the threat of
a new holocaust, and then drops in favor of an emotional pitch for liberty and
the individual (one which includes a slam at the academy, which he fled), are
likely to tell us that "literature, individualism, liberty, rule of law," and
so on, are not bound up together as we might like -- are, in fact,
generalizations in need of scholarly inquiry. (Duh!).  The terms of the present
inquiry, for better or worse, continue to interest me mostly because they are
shaped by the very language and history we speak and about which we are
speaking.
 
Michael Harrawood
 

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