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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: October ::
Re: De-Canonization
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0844.  Thursday, 26 October 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Victor Gallerano <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Oct 1995 15:29:50 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0837 De-Canonization (was "Importance)
 
(2)     From:   Douglas Flummer <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Oct 95  16:17:57 CST
        Subj:   SHK 6.0837   De-Canonization (was "Importance)
 
(3)     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 26 Oct 1995 00:08:38 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0837   De-Canonization (was "Importance)
 
(4)     From:   James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
        Date:   Thursday, 26 Oct 1995 16:06:20 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0837   De-Canonization (was "Importance)
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Victor Gallerano <
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Date:           Wednesday, 25 Oct 1995 15:29:50 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0837 De-Canonization (was "Importance)
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0837 De-Canonization (was "Importance)
 
 Ronald Dwelle,
 
Homer and Shakespeare are not only more "radical" and the source of more
"innovation" than the "de-cannonizers"...they are also more radical and more
innovative than the "de-cannonizers" imagine anyone but themselves can be.
 
This claim (minus the ad hominem bit) will serve to undermine the argument for
de-cannoniztion, provided you recognize the explosive character of Homer and
Shakespeare yourself and have the energy and philosophic daring to teach it.
An example of someone doing the latter is Bernard Knox: see his Jefferson
Lectures, *The Oldest Dead White European Males."  What he says about the
Greeks - mutatis mutandis - goes for Shakespeare as well.
 
The "importance of Shakespeare" thread has been both a confused and a confusing
exchange.  I hope I won't confuse things further by saying why Shakespeare is
important to me: It is because of what I learn from him about things that last.
 What Shakespeare came to mean as a token or emblem of power (whether physical
or cultural) for this or that particular regime strikes me as little more than
a consideration of how he was appropriated by others.  If that is what
interests you, then you might as well 'fess up and say that what you're really
interested in is propaganda, sophistry, the cultural appropriations of the
upwardly mobile, or (as we say in the liberal democracies) "personal
consumption as a form of self-expression."
 
It's a bit too fishy to stand as a serious pursuit.  As Sam Goldwyn used to
say, "Include me out."  And if you take those kinds of argument to your
department, they'll eat you alive (whether its Friday or not.)
 
Shakespeare and Homer may have become talismanic, but when you bother to read
them it is clear they alone are, "the lords and owners of their faces, others
but stewards of their excellence."  (That sonnet may be a allegory about the
risks of cannonizing.)  In the best sense being a "steward"  of Shakepeare's or
Homer's excellence means getting others to read him not because of the larger
social, economic and political forces that claim him (and therefore claim to be
his true stewards) but because of the deeper level at which he reveals the
limits of all those very forces.
 
Homer and Shakepeare lead us to think better and more fully about the most
obvious things in our world; things like the differences between men and women;
things largely obscured these days (but not only these days) by noises left and
right.  Perhaps that's why Shakepeare is important to anyone not interested in
noise: SHAKESPEARE IS NOT NOISE.  You can establish that by reading him and
thereby distinguish him from almost everything else you are liable to encounter
on any given day of your life. Having determined what Shakespeare is "not," you
are in a position to go on and try to say what he is, but only at the risk of
becoming a different person than you started out, one asking questions for
which theory and method are little help.  Hence, the philosophic daring of
reading certain books.
 
Be bold, Ronald, ask your "de-cannonizers" if they've got the nerve to read
Shakepeare "raw" without the smoke and mirrors of the modern apparatus.  My
best freshmen repond well to this "in your face"  attitude: except for the
truly lazy (those bound for grad-school, alas) young students have an
aboriginal disdain for theory.  In the end, asking real questions of
Shakespeare's plays makes us all (students included) better and braver and more
like human beings.  To see how and why, I refer you to Plato.
 
Vic Gallerano
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Douglas Flummer <
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Date:           Wednesday, 25 Oct 95  16:17:57 CST
Subject: De-Canonization (was "Importance)
Comment:        SHK 6.0837   De-Canonization (was "Importance)
 
While I might not be able to provide any constructive ideas on how you can save
your courses, I both hope and pray that you are able to retain them.  It has
been my opinion that a good education should include at least an introduction
to some of the finer forms of classical literature, and the courses that you
mention would fall at the top of my list.  I speak here of general coursework
for people who are not English majors (I was in Music Education myself).  For a
person who is an English major, the importance of such specific coursework
should be doubled.  I cannot personally imagine a person undertaking such a
major without coursework such as this.
 
The only suggestion that I could make would be that if they insist on cutting
these courses, then maybe suggest a two part course in classical literature.
Part one could cover the beginnings of writing as art, covering the Greek
classics as well as Dante, Chaucer, etc.Part two could cover the more recent
classical period, discussing Shakespeare, Milton, and other writers as you see
fit (my view of classical writers may not be as informed as others would.) Such
a set-up would be similar to some of the History coursework I took when I was
briefly minoring in History, where they divided American, European and Asian
history into 2 parts each so as to allow a better focus on various details of
different periods.
 
I hope this helps.  In any case, I pray for your success.
 
Douglas Flummer
Civil Servant (I operate a computer system for a living)
Southern Illinois University
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Thursday, 26 Oct 1995 00:08:38 +0100
Subject: 6.0837   De-Canonization (was "Importance)
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0837   De-Canonization (was "Importance)
 
Ronald Dwelle wants to keep his Greek Lit and Intro-to-Shakespeare courses
going but
 
>I had to admit in public that my support for Homer and Shakespeare
>was based on a conviction that they were "better" than, say, James Kirke
>Paulding, Frederick Douglass, or Alice Walker.
 
Better in what sense? Literature Studies has traditionally peddled its texts on
some quite vague grounds of self-improvement. The 'best' texts are somehow
supposed to be good for the reader. Cultural Studies makes no such claims for
its objects of study, and justifies the choices on the grounds of the objects'
prominence within 'culture' (whatever that means). This at least gives solid
ground for keeping the Shakespeare course since nobody could claim that the
works of this dramatist are disappearing from 'culture' no matter how you
define it. At the very least the history of Shakespeare criticism and the
position Shakespeare occupies at the apex of the Eng. Lit. hierarchy make the
plays worth considering.
 
For the Greek Lit. course the case is much harder to make.
 
Isn't this a re-run of the 'relevance' debate of the 1960s? (There's a question
to make me sound older than I am).
 
Gabriel Egan
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
Date:           Thursday, 26 Oct 1995 16:06:20 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0837   De-Canonization (was "Importance)
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0837   De-Canonization (was "Importance)
 
To Ronald Dwelle:
 
From one old fart to another, don't let them drop the classics without a fight.
 Against the charge that these works, and particularly Shakespeare, are not
relevant, I heard a piece on All Things Considered some time in the past few
years (maybe someone out there will remember it too) by a black woman writer
whose name I do not remember (maybe _you_ are out there?) about her experience
of falling in love with Shakespeare as a young student.  Her justification for
her love was startling, at first, to this white male:  it was perfectly clear
to her that Shakespeare was a black woman!  She must have been, to speak so
clearly to her (this then-young writer's) experience.  This was a real, not an
apocryphal, story.  If anyone knows who that writer was, perhaps this could be
added to your evidence.
 
Jim Schaefer
 

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