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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: October ::
Re: The State of the Profession
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 7.0726.  Monday, 7 October 1996.

(1)     From:   Michael Yogev <
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        Date:   Saturday, 5 Oct 1996 15:24:02 +0300 (WET)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0722 Re: The State of the Profession

(2)     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Sunday, 6 Oct 96 00:18:43 BST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0722  Re: The State of the Profession

(3)     From:   William Proctor Williams <
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        Date:   Sunday, 06 Oct 96 00:27 CDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0722  Re: The State of the Profession


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Yogev <
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Date:           Saturday, 5 Oct 1996 15:24:02 +0300 (WET)
Subject: 7.0722 Re: The State of the Profession
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0722 Re: The State of the Profession

If I may jump in just briefly on the Kezia Sproat and Gabriel Egan exchange, it
seems to me that Kezia's latest defense of her defense of Shakespeare is
protesting a bit much, not to mention missing much of the point of Egan's
remarks.  I agree with Kezia that the close reading and teaching of Shakespeare
can make us better close readers and more accomplished speakers, but I think
Egan's point is that we need the purchase of critical theory to recognize how
much violence we can commit even in our best-intentioned and most earnest
approaches to "literature". Bloom's Western canon has produced cannons,
cannon-makers, and abundant justifications for both, which is why the work of
such critics as Alan Sinfield, Ania Loomba, and Homhi K. Bhabha (to name three
favorites) is so important as a querying supplement to the grand tradition of
celebratory Western criticism of its beloved Bard.

To take just one example, I never learned to truly love _The Tempest_ until I
had encountered John Guillory's excellent book, _Cultural Capital_, and
considered how Prospero is in many respects the quintessential pedagogue,
controlling all the capital at hand and dispensing it according to his view of
control over the various classes on his island.  But even before him, W.H.
Auden wrote one of the most astounding and devastating "re-visions" of
Shakespeare's supposedly semi-autobiographical last play in his _The Sea and
the Mirror_, the final section of which ("Caliban to the Audience") will alter
forever any careful reader's prior sense of the play's so-called "celebration
of art."

Where I live, Kezia's message of non-violence would be most welcome any time.
But don't count on Shakespeare, at least in his more traditional readings and
editions, to do much for that cause.  Branagh's Henry V sat right back in the
old nationalist, jingoist, slow-motion celebration of violence for the sake of
English sovereignty that continues to haunt the consciousness of post-colonial
and post-imperial nations worldwide.

Michael Yogev
University of Haifa

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Sunday, 6 Oct 96 00:18:43 BST
Subject: 7.0722  Re: The State of the Profession
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0722  Re: The State of the Profession

Ed Bonahue writes

>But if I might ask Gabriel a question, one materialist to another: would you
>make a distinction in any way between (1) teaching literture as a process of
>recognizing that all writers and readers have "political positions" (even if
>they don't know it or won't admit it), _without_ necessarily endorsing one or
>another position; and (2) teaching literature as a means of stuffing students
>with personal political views, for which most of us have no mandate and in
>which students have little interest. Or do you think the first should always
>lead to the second?

If (1) is true, then (2) is bound to happen, isn't it? If, as a reader and
writer, my work is suffused with my "political position" (whether I know it or
admit it), my teaching will be too. The students find that when I assert
(1)--that everyone has an axe to grind--I naturally have to come clean and talk
about my own interpretative agenda. This being in the open gives them a much
better ground from which to engage with, and resist, my interpretations.
"Filling them full of politics" simply means working against their earlier,
pre-university, study which has been directed away from theory and away from
position (1).

Most students are not so dim as to believe in an interpretative free-for-all.
Many are vaguely aware that underlying their earlier study were political ideas
(about universality, experience, aesthetic value, etc) which their educators
wouldn't admit were present. Theory courses, where these processes are
explicitly up for discussion, are valued most by those students who want to do
more than merely become more familiar with canonical texts. But, I suggest, ALL
students find that learning to read is political.

On the whole, students become more left-wing as they become better readers. So,
in effect, I do (2) whether I think I should or not.

As to:

"Why does he teach English instead of political science or philosophy, if
that's what really interests him?"

You'd have to show me the difference before I could answer.

Gabriel Egan

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Proctor Williams <
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Date:           Sunday, 06 Oct 96 00:27 CDT
Subject: 7.0722  Re: The State of the Profession
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0722  Re: The State of the Profession

OK, I hate to jump into a mess like this, but on this last Weds night I taught
a class of 20 freshmen and sophmores "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner",
"Ozymandias" and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."   The class lasts for
75 mins. It was a bit hectic, but we came through quite well, I thought.  It
may have been helped by the fact that we had done, the previous week, "Is my
team ploughing?" and "The Windhover."

My point is, I guess, that I am getting tired of hearing about how our
undergraduates are "not up to it."  It is my experience that they are more than
up to it.  Indeed, I do not believe that I could have the same sort of
conversation about these poems with more than one or two of my professorial
colleagues over coffee.

Could it be that we (the faculty) are "not up to it"?

William Proctor Williams
Northern Illinois University
 

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