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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: July ::
Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0558.  Tuesday, 18 July 1995.
 
From:           Bruce Young <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Jul 1995 12:26:19 -0700 (MST)
Subject: 6.0554  Re: Shakespeare (etc.) as cutlural construct
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0554  Re: Shakespeare (etc.) as cutlural construct
 
I'd like to get something off my chest: I find the exchanges on various issues
stimulating and informative, but there's an insistent note struck from time to
time that I'm finding less informative than most.
 
It usually happens like this: A discussion is taking place on some issue, and
then someone (occasionally a well-known critic) tells us what is "really" going
on.  What we're really dealing with, he says, is a cultural construct; we've
been talking about things as if they had intrinsic substance or value, but in
fact these things (including texts, teaching, performances, films, festivals,
etc.) are really political/cultural tools accomplishing some cultural purpose
(usually to maintain or impose hegemony of some kind).
 
The ideas behind this view are arguable; I think they have some merit. But the
result (it seems to me) is always reductive and dismissive.  It's as if
everything everybody else has said is shown up for what it really is.  Those
making the "cultural construct" arguments seem (at least momentarily) incapable
of  enjoying or valuing Shakespeare (and all the associated phenomena) in the
same straightforward way as the rest of us mortals.  I can't help imagining
them looking down on the world like gods, dropping such hints as the rest of us
might be capable of understanding.  (It's worth asking: If everything is a
cultural construct, how would we ever have noticed?  How can you see what
everything really is if you're a part of "everything"?  Hence, my  imagining an
exalted position for those who see what's going on.)
 
Surely, the political (etc.) is one dimension of all things related to
Shakespeare.  But (I would claim) only one among many dimensions. The
others--including those of simple enjoyment and those involving the ethical
(face to face) relation (see Emmanuel Levinas, "Ethics and Infinity," "Totality
and Infinity," etc.)--may have as good or better a claim for our attention as
the political/cutlural construct dimension.
 
Maybe it's the "hegemonic" tendency of the cultural construct view that I have
problems with.  As someone once said about Hegel: once you start seeing things
this way, you can never again see things any other way.
 
Having read books, listened to presentations, and even attended a seminar led
by Terence Hawkes (Tokyo, 1991) on the subject, I've pondered these matters a
good deal.  And I'd be glad to learn more. I want to make clear that I am not
rejecting the ideas outright. It's the dismissive gesture, the tone (sometimes
expressing surprise that intelligent people could disagree), the reductionist
outcome that concern me.
 

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