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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: July ::
Re: Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0567.  Thursday, 20 July 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Jim Helfers <ATJPH@ASUACAD.BITNET>
        Date:   Wednesday, 19 Jul 1995 08:31:36 -0700 (MST)
        Subj:   Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
(2)     From:   Naomi Liebler <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 19 Jul 95 12:13:00 EST
        Subj:   RE: SHK 6.0563  Re: Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
(3)     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 19 Jul 1995 10:45:11 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0563 Re: Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
(4)     From:   James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
        Date:   Wednesday, 19 Jul 1995 14:25:46 -0400 (EDT)
        ubje    Re: SHK 6.0563  Re: Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
(5)     From:   Brian Corrigan <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 19 Jul 95 16:37:13 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0563  Re: Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
(6)     From:   David Wilson-Okamura <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 19 Jul 1995 17:13:48 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0563  Re: Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
(7)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 19 Jul 1995 19:37:02 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0558  Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jim Helfers <ATJPH@ASUACAD.BITNET>
Date:           Wednesday, 19 Jul 1995 08:31:36 -0700 (MST)
Subject:        Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
As an erstwhile cultural poeticist/new historicist, I sympathize with the views
presented by Terence Hawkes et. al. concerning the cultural forces which
strongly influence (if not determine) both the text itself and the audiences'
responses to it.
 
But I think what the critics of the approach mean when they call cultural
materialism reductionist has to do with both the tone in which pronouncements
are made and an inherent (to me) logical contradiction.  The tone with which
some C-M's write indicates their rejection of any notion of trancendent
meaning.  I can understand why they reject it; the range of possible influences
renders concept of trancendent meaning problematic.  But if one rejects any
kind of trancendent meaning (dare I say truth?), then one is, so to speak,
hoist on his/her own petard.  That is to say, what combination of cultural
forces determined the response of the cultural materialist?  The "insight" that
all texts are determined by cultural forces is itself a text determined by
cultural forces.  In what way can such a phenomenon be explanatory?  What do we
mean by "explanatory" in this sense?  I'm caught in the house of mirrors and I
think I'm beginning to look a bit thin (though for me that would be a plus).
 
To give some other examples of the way this contradiction works:  What
unconscious psychosexual impulses caused Freud's theory of same?  What physical
stimulus elicited the response of B.F. Skinner's behaviorism?  Once again, the
point:  the theory-maker or explainer operates from a position which trancends
his/her theory.  If the theory can't account for how explanation and
trancendence of this type occur, then it's reductionist.  For a better and more
complete explanation of this, see Walker Percy's essays on language.
 
I can only speak for myself.  This is the problem I see with cultural
materialist explanations; they don't tell me how they explain anything.  I'm
sure someone has an answer for this.  If not, you'll dismiss me to the Godshalk
gulag.
 
--Jim Helfers
  Grand Canyon University
  
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(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Naomi Liebler <
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Date:           Wednesday, 19 Jul 95 12:13:00 EST
Subject: 6.0563  Re: Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
Comment:        RE: SHK 6.0563  Re: Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
Gabriel Egan asks: "does anyone think that 'tangible empirical knowledge' of
the kind I mean (you know, what-shape-was-the-Globe? stuff) is culturally
constructed? No teasing answers, please."
 
You bet! Have a look at Frances Yates's classic _Theatre of the World_, U of
Chicago Press, 1969 and Lily Bess Campbell's _Scenes and Machines on the
English Stage During the Renaissance_ (CUP, 1923). The Yates book especially
should convince you. Notice the publication dates of these? The language in
which the politics of theatrical architecture is presented is a generation or
two away from our own, but the conviction is there, nonetheless. And for the
jargon-ly challeneged, these books pose no threat at all.
 
When I read them more than 20 years ago, I was politically clueless; only now
can I begin to see where Yates's observations might take us.
 
Cluing in....
Naomi Liebler
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Wednesday, 19 Jul 1995 10:45:11 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 6.0563 Re: Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0563 Re: Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
Hello all.
 
If memory serves me correctly, the original poster wasn't particularly opposed
to Shakespeare as cultural construct, but was opposed to the hegemonic grasp of
political criticism over current academia and particularly discussion on this
list.
 
Mr. Egan argues that there are only two forms of true criticism: political or
empirical, which are both political anyway, since everything is political.
Leaving aside the argument that a definition of the political broad enough to
encompass everything would rob the term of meaning, isn't such a position
narrow?  Don't the cultural materialists do precisely what they accuse more
conservative critics of doing--imposing a single type of scholarship on all
students, in which only one answer will be accepted?  At least the traditional
critics used terms which were themselves subjects of philosophical debate, and
therefore open to interpretation.
 
Finally, Mr. Egan claims that undergraduates can be convinced of the political
nature of the text in intense seminars, or something to that effect.  Isn't
that rather like a don sitting down student X (who doesn't have the education
or academic prestige for the confrontation to be egalitarian) in the 1940's and
convincing him/her that everything depends upon Aristotelian tragic theory?
 
Cheerio,
Sean.
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
Date:           Wednesday, 19 Jul 1995 14:25:46 -0400 (EDT)
ubject:         Re: SHK 6.0563  Re: Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
To Simon Morgan-Russell:
 
Speaking only for myself, I am beyond tired of hearing that literature in
general and Shakespeare in particular (and other forms of art, architecture,
etc.) are essentially political.  I've lived long enough to _know_ that
politics is what we all do with and to each other (which makes drama, as the
imitation of what we do with and to, the ideal form of mimesis), but so what?
If indeed the political is as ubiquitous as air, only its absence or its
pollution are worth noting.  It is only a (not _the_) starting point, just as
"1" can function as a universal divisor, but only leaves you where you started.
 When a reader begins to investigate the _how_ of a particular political
expression, the how of a _particular_ play or poem (or building), the
generalizations fall away before the facts of the individual life, whether
lived or imagined. Those facts are unique and I find them fascinating.  They
are, indeed, the very reason why I read:  to learn about that which is not me,
about those millions of things that are not entirely inside my head. This is
the reason I wanted to get into this business of teaching in the first place.
 
Jim Schaefer
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Corrigan <
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Date:           Wednesday, 19 Jul 95 16:37:13 EST
Subject: 6.0563  Re: Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0563  Re: Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
Morgan-Russell and Egan's responses to Bruce Young's argument that the notion
of "Shakespeare as Cultural Construct" is reductive and dismissive -- that a
"political" consideration of the text is one-dimensional seems, I believe, to
miss the point of Young's lament on the one hand and to help Young to make his
point on the other.  The question, "How, pray, is this any more reductive than
the scholar who reads 'SH. as Cultural Construct' being told by an august
Shakespearean critic that the truth of the matter resides in some sort of
transcendent 'business' like Love, Truth, or Beauty?  Nothing seems more
reductive to me than the the pronouncement that *X* is REALLY about the 'human
condition' etc." ignores Young's construction that there are several readings
available in the text and that the socio-political commentator has tended to
view the text only as a cultural document.
 
And what of the aesthetic?  Not to the exclusion of all else, certainly,
but--and here please forgive an old fashioned understanding of poetry-- what of
the simple beauty of a line, an image, a turn of phrase?  I am a young scholar
myself, still fairly dripping from my own graduate course in theory (which I
*do* value), but I for one believe that beauty has taken a pretty bad rap from
psuedo-intellectual encoders.
 
I am not crying "damn the street-socialist poet" who may sing to make a
difference, for there is surely a tone of unrest in the period drama, and that
unrest expresses itself politically as well as artistically.  But Young, I
thought, accounted for that.
 
To me Young was saying that the "cultural critic" has taken on a fatuous tone
of "politics explains all" and in so stating chilled an otherwise lively
discussion by constructing a wall to debate.  Any construction that rejects all
others by suggesting that it embraces all others, I would contend along with
Young, is not only counterproductive (shall we read Milton again?) but also
rather green if not primarily intellectually paranoid.
 
The "academics [who] work themselves up into a spluttering frenzy over the
'incomprehensible jargon' of THEORY" are not so much "telling of their
reluctance or inability to engage with theoretical approaches than of those
approaches themselves" than they are rejecting that group of academics who have
chosen to psychobabble about the process of receiving texts in a rather
thinly-veiled attempt to keep from actually confronting the text themselves.
 
I believe the theoretical underpinnings of literature that have been adduced
are valuable only insofar as they encourage debate among the greatest number of
learned students of the discipline.  There is a great deal of value in the
right use of theory.  The right use of theory is to bring additional voices to
the debate.  This may be done without speaking in tongues.  Exclusionists do
not good academics make.
 
I am distressed to see the myopia in my colleague who can seriously contend
that any study of "English Literature . . . leads very quickly to the real
topic underlying all human activity: Politics" as if to suggest this is the
only place it can lead.  And here I can only refer back to Young's pithy
reference to Hegel.  Here Egan only proves Young's point by example--as indeed
he does again when he relates the "tangible-empiricals" back to politics, even
though he himself begins by stating, "If you don't want to talk about politics,
there is one other option: discuss tangible empirical knowledge."  If one walks
in circles, one is undoubtedly going to step into the same trap again and
again.
 
Dame Poetry is undoubtedly man-made, unless we accept the construct of our
discipline that she is divinely inspired.  But, so too are politics man- made.
Man, however, is not politics (and sometimes not even politic), as he is not
poetry (I pray for a good, rattling feminist attack upon this whole
paragraph--indeed this entire response), therefore, poetry is not politics any
more than politics is poetry, but each an aspect of the creature from which it
derives.
 
The multiple meanings in us are reflected in the multiple meanings in our art,
and I, with Young, reject the notion that "it all boils down to" any one aspect
or approach.
 
Or, as Kennedy more succinctly states in reference to Young, "Hear, hear!"
 
Brian Corrigan
North Georgia College
 
(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Wilson-Okamura <
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Date:           Wednesday, 19 Jul 1995 17:13:48 -0500
Subject: 6.0563  Re: Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0563  Re: Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
Gabriel Egan writes (among other things)
>. . . Studying what this 'English Literature' is, what it is used
>for, and by whom, leads very quickly to the real topic underlying all human
>activity: Politics.
 
Is this begging the question, or was that supposed to be humorous?
 
                                        Yours faithfully,
                                        David Wilson-Okamura
 
(7)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 19 Jul 1995 19:37:02 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0558  Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0558  Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
Perhaps seeing everything as a cultural construct is one of the things people
do for fun, people who like to think and argue. It's the cool way to think
these days, just like Marxism was the cool way to think earlier in this
century. There must be value in it for those who enjoy it. Lately I've been
seeing the ruling philosophy of the West as Existentialism. Books, films, short
stories in particular, must exude existentialism to get published. I think the
extreme popularity of that Tom Hanks film (can't think of the name) had to do
with the weariness of hordes of moviegoers with waiting for Godot to show up.
The popularity of the film Star Wars also can be attributed to the excitement
of spending an hour or so in a world where there was a superior power at the
heart of everything (the Force). I knew a variety of young people that saw it
ten, twelve, fifteen times. Absurdity is okay as a garnish, but as a steady
diet it leaves something to be desired. I guess what I'm trying to say is that
almost any way of looking at the world is okay with me as long as it is
meaningful in some way, and sets itself apart from the deadly (kids with
semiautomatics), banal (a thin layer of chewing gum and graphitti covering
everything everywhere, in the U.S. at least), and ugly (don't ask)
manifestations of an entire culture living from day to day without a core of
passionate belief in something.
 
"Hegemony, hegemony, hegemony onward,
All in the valley of death, rode the six hundred."
 
Stephanie Hughes
 

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