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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: March ::
Re: Ideology
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0302.  Sunday, 2 March 1997.

[1]     From:   Sean K. Lawrence <
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        Date:   Saturday, 01 Mar 1997 10:43:38 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0295  Re: Ideology

[2]     From:   Paul Hawkins <
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        Date:   Saturday, 1 Mar 1997 17:19:06 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Ideology


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean K. Lawrence <
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Date:           Saturday, 01 Mar 1997 10:43:38 -0800
Subject: 8.0295  Re: Ideology
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0295  Re: Ideology

I found Lysbeth Em Benkert's idea that Shakespeare's "transcendence"
might derive not from his supposed presentation of supposed universals,
but from his background in Elizabethan rhetoric, quite fascinating.  It
avoids the usual (maybe misplaced) political critique, that the
universals supposedly presented are all imperialist, colonialist, Tory,
or otherwise bad. Instead of "Shakespeare in the Bush" refuting the
transcendence of Hamlet, it would tend to confirm it, but in an
altogether different way.

I think it also ties in with contemporary religious concerns fairly
well, particularly the nominalism of the *via moderna*, and doubts about
universals that had been in the air since at least the church fathers.
In a time of radical religious flux, one would imagine that these doubts
would be amplified.

Moreover, it ties nicely into certain very recent, post-modern
revaluations of rhetoric as escaping the logocentrism of western
metaphysics.  Instead of Shakespeare being viewed as some sort of
misplaced metaphysician (a la Tillyard), he'd become a player with
language, a function much closer (IMHO) to that of a poet writing for
the stage.

One might also note that the Renaissance school system (if my memory of
*Small Latin and Less Greek* is correct) encouraged students to be able
to take either side in a rhetorical debate.  One of the first examples
Erasmus suggests concerns the view of love in the Phaedrus. Which, I
suppose, spills over into the discussion of Rosalind and Celia!

There's a book in this idea, waiting to be written.

Cheers,
Sean

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Hawkins <
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Date:           Saturday, 1 Mar 1997 17:19:06 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Ideology

Harold Bloom describes our profession as in "flight from the
aesthetic."  Gabriel Egan seems to be in flight from questions about the
aesthetic.  He asks whether I would "agree that Terry Hawkes `loves
Shakespeare' if Terry merely admits to taking great pleasure from the
job that he does."  If Professor Hawkes answered this way, I would think
that he was avoiding the question, as Gabriel Egan is by immediately
leaving the question of an individual student's admittedly ambiguous
`love' of the literature to criticize the bad old days when if you
didn't cut it as a `sensitive reader' you were left out in the critical
cold.  In speaking of an individual's love of Shakespeare, I am not
speaking of the institutions of criticism and appreciation as they once
existed.  Criticism may have used to be to some extent a boy's club,
everyone congratulating each other's `sensitivity.' The lack of
broad-mindedness that may have characterized it is not something I'd
care to defend.  "One doesn't have to prove one likes the stuff"
anymore.  No one now is asking anyone to prove anything, perhaps only to
acknowledge whether or not they do like it, and whether or not their
students' liking and their critical projects would be incompatible.

But when Gabriel finds that in the bad old days, "the taught skills
sustained an ideological construct," who says it's specifically
ideological?  That aesthetic judgments emerge from ideology to serve
ideological ends, and that the reading skills that encourage or nourish
the aesthetic judgments sustain the ideological construct is a part of
what's being disputed.

Assuming that I don't really let students decide for themselves what
they should think about literature, Gabriel asks, "Or would you let
candidates in a Shakespeare exam decide for themselves that there is
nothing worth commenting on in any Shakespeare text?"  In fact, students
have had that option, the option of writing a depreciation of
Shakespeare, with one condition:  they have to be prepared to argue
their position meticulously.  I tell my students that in my class and in
their papers, any response is in order, as long as it can be developed
and argued.  Since criticism is a conversation, the only inadmissible
response is a dogmatic refusal to participate in the conversation-a
refusal to argue one's position, or a willingness only to state one's
view and retreat.

I think that there are key distinctions that are here being blurred.  An
individual's aesthetic response is distinct from what may have been the
dogmatic institution of literary appreciation.  That institution is
distinct in significant ways from the dominant ideologies of its time.
And I do think there's a difference between a proselytizing, ideological
teacher, and a broad-minded and-dare I say it-non-ideological one, which
no one can be so presumptuous as to claim to be, but which every teacher
can strive to become.

Paul Hawkins
 

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