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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: November ::
Re: Politics
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 7.0794.  Friday, 8 November 1996.

(1)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 07 Nov 1996 15:45:38 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0791  Re: Politics

(2)     From:   Sean K. Lawrence <
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        Date:   Thursday, 07 Nov 1996 10:00:45 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0789  Re: Politics

(3)     From:   Joseph M Green <
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        Date:   Friday, 8 Nov 1996 00:06:57 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0791  Re: Politics


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Thursday, 07 Nov 1996 15:45:38 -0500
Subject: 7.0791  Re: Politics
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0791  Re: Politics

C. David Frankel writes:

> Vico said that facts are made.

William Ingram makes a good distinction between "facts" and "data."  A "datum"
is uninterpreted; a "fact" is what we make of the datum.  For example, an entry
in a register is "datum."  Thus, following this datum, we infer that
Shakespeare was married: this is a "fact."  So, Vico is correct: facts are
made.

But, if we are not extreme philosophical subjectivists, data really exist.
There is a book, and in that book is an entry.  If we can not agree that there
are data, we might just as well withdraw into our selves and dream away the
time as in the Golden World.

And, by the way, no one has yet defined "politics."

Yours, Bill Godshalk

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean K. Lawrence <
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Date:           Thursday, 07 Nov 1996 10:00:45 -0800
Subject: 7.0789  Re: Politics
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0789  Re: Politics

> Tom Bishop writes
>
> > I profoundly agree that students should be encouraged to engage in
> > criticism of their own intellectual heritage. But Mr. Egan's account
> > of his class seems to show that what they are being taught to do
> > there is to "Ask Mr. Egan" to explain the history and politics of
> > the readings for this week. Are they researching for themselves "why
> > different models are valued at different times"?
>
> Well, no, they are not "researching", they are at the 'being taught' stage.
> But...

I don't know how Mr. Egan makes that distinction.  Surely students learn by
researching.  I certainly encourage my own to do so.

> > To make...[a]... claim ...[to be]...a historical discipline, it
> > [Marxism] must be able to argue cogently that oppression
> > exists, that it can be identified and explained. Otherwise,
> > it can have no basis for imagining what might consitute an
> > improvement and hence developing a politics in the first place.
> > It must have a vision of human need, of how that need has been
> > and is being violated, and how it could better be answered.
>
> Absolutely not. The most inappropriate terms in this statement are: "vision",
> "human need", and "violated". Even "oppression" is a difficult one. There is a
> class war going on, and the rich have had some spectacular successes lately.
> These terms ("vision", "human need", and "violated") imply a perspective from
> within some neutral, non-combatant, class of thinkers. Many in the academy
> believe themselves to be in such a class, but it is a delusion.

On the contrary:  to posit a neutral position is absolutely necessary to the
sort of moral commitment required of class (or any other kind of) warfare.
People do not wish to die for one position amongst others, all of which are
equally valid, and one of which is chosen on the arbitrary grounds of a
belligerent's socio-economic position.  They will struggle for a "truth" which
is privileged above others.  To assume a position of relativism is to engage in
unilateral ideological disarmament. No wonder the right has staged some
surprising victories lately, when the left assumes an epistemology which
implicitly excludes the moral commitments that make successful ideological
warfare possible.

> What would constitute evidence for the existence of a human society that did
> not practice the composition and exchange of narrative? To say 'my child was
> eaten by a woolly mammoth' is to exchange a narrative, so your claim is that
>"all known human societies practise language". Since we don't confer the status
> of 'social' on non-communicators, this is a tautology, not a fact.

It might be more fair to say that it's a tautological fact.  Proof a priori, if
you will.  At any rate, you seem to be admitting that we may safely exclude
certain purely theoretical posibilities from our discussion (e.g., a society
which does not exchange narratives).  There are, therefore, levels of otherness
where the other would simply disappear, and which can be excluded from a
discussion of the human.  A reasonable definition of the human, then, can still
be arrived at.

If only that
> word "known" wasn't in there, we'd have an unproblematic tautology. But how am
> I suppose to validate what other people might know about things? No, we're
> definitely back into the realms of the contestable here.

Well, you could ask them, for instance.  Besides, if we gloss "known" as
"knowable" (i.e., within the realm of the social as defined) then we're back to
the tautology, as you put it.

Cheers,
Sean.

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joseph M Green <
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Date:           Friday, 8 Nov 1996 00:06:57 -0600 (CST)
Subject: 7.0791  Re: Politics
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0791  Re: Politics

Husserl critiqued the old historicism (the one that is now new) by pointing out
that the assertion that it is impossible to tell a truth about history because
one is a prisoner of one's own historical moment must mean that the assertion
itself can't lay any claim to truth since it must be, like everything else,
simply an arbitrary assertion.  Without facts we have as much chance of knowing
a truth about the past as a dog does of knowing where his master goes when he
drives away each morning.  It seems clear to me that the position that there
are not any facts is mostly a consequence of wanting to do whatever one wishes
to do though, in fact, it seems merely to be a guide for manners and not for
action.  Either, for example, slave children have labored to make this or that
computer part or they have not.

And it is interesting that Shakespeare again and again shows the tragic
consequences of denying fact.

It is also interesting that at least one early modern take on "politics"
insists that everything is, precisely, not political.  I'm not so sure that
Shakespeare doesn't take the Augustinian view that history and politics are
profane delusions when not considered under the aspect of the divine: one damn
thing after the other as someone else said -- and meaningless except when?
Henry V followed by Henry VI as we all know and I can't tell whether what is
ultimately implied is providential history or simply history as butcher's
block.  And then there is the fact that S's histories only encounter fact
occasionally and are fictions that have been guide to actions (The Duke of
Marlborough declared that all the English history he knew he got from
Shakespeare etc. etc.) But then there is the fact that at least one early
modern take on fiction was that it represented wht is, in fact, real and what
was "real" were those abstractions that, for us, seem most unreal. This is an
assertion that everything is, in fact, spiritual and an instance of ideology --
but only from the stance one assumes when one has decided that everything is
political and that, therefore, any contrary assertion is an ideological
assumption that we are, somehow, uniquely qualified to demystify.  It seems an
assertion difficult to make when one denies facts while, at the same time,
pointing to facts (those slave children) that demand a moral response.

It seems likely that Shakespeare might not have considered many horrible
conditions as conditions that could be improved by political means.  He could,
for example, have been constantly preoccupied with the consequences of poverty
without ever considering a political solution to poverty-- which could be
viewed as a consequence of the fall (by the sweat of your brow and all that).
If you assume that there is such a thing as progress and improvement (as we are
conditioned to assume) it is difficult to understand that someone could not
recognize the possibilty of progress in the saeculum (the one damn thing after
the other realm) and still have anything to "say" about poverty. Shakespeare
does -- and just because what he has to say has very little to do with politics
he can't be understood by those who assume that "everything is political."
 

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