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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: March ::
Re: Ideology
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0324.  Thursday, 7 March 1997.

[1]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 6 Mar 1997 14:01:08 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.037   Ideology

[2]     From:   Evelyn Gajowski <
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        Date:   Thursday, 6 Mar 1997 11:27:51 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.037 Re: Ideology

[3]     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 6 Mar 1997 15:45:57 -0000
        Subj:   RE: SHK 8.037 Re: Ideology

[4]     From:   Louis Marder <
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        Date:   Monday, 24 Feb 1997 12:32:41 PST
        Subj:   Re: Ideology


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Thursday, 6 Mar 1997 14:01:08 GMT
Subject: 8.037   Ideology
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.037   Ideology

Several respondents defend the right of students to develop racist,
sexist, disablist, or homophobic arguments.

Sean Lawrence writes

> Even if I were to concede that _certain_ limits have
> to be placed on student interests in order to allow
> the class as dialogue to come into beingness, this is
> not to say that aesthetic responses are not to be
> respected, as a part of the project of engaging with
> and respecting other people.

Certainly at the level of  'dialogue coming into being' one has to
prevent racist, sexist, disablist and homophobic opinions being accorded
equal status with other ideas in the classroom. If not people who are
routinely discriminated against outside the classroom will find that the
same goes on inside and that they are still marginalized. Both my
employer and my trade union have clear guidelines about this sort of
thing, which cannot be circumvented by claiming that the ideas are part
of an individual's "aesthetic response".

Harry Hill quite explicitly defends freedom of expression (and
free-thinking) against 'pc':

> If we can tolerate Shakespeare's characters kicking
> servants and convicting Abraham's descendants for
> trading in pounds of flesh because in the plays these
> things are artistically well done, then surely it is
> our pedagogical duty to accept well wrought arguments
> about, say, the perceived alternative lifestyles of
> the French, the perceived thick lips of many
> non-whites, and other "racist" or "homophobic" views
> that we momentarily, in our present charity, think we
> despise?

The Bible is jolly well done artistically, so we are bound to "accept
well wrought arguments" for infanticide? Don't we challenge Portia's
racism and emphasize just how cleverly poetry sneaks in ideas which we
don't find acceptable when presented unadorned? (Now I really am
sounding like the woolly Romantic).

Paul Hawkins too asserts the freedom of the classroom:

> The short answer to Gabriel Egan's first question is
> "Yes." A sinful interpretation of a work of literature
> that is logically developed and argued in relation to
> the details of the work-"anything goes" within these
> limits-would have to be tolerated. It could even be
> the basis of a good class discussion.

Wouldn't a Jewish student who found The Merchant of Venice offensive,
and found that other students in the room expressed the view that it was
an accurate portrayal of Jewish greed, feel distinctly reluctant to have
"a good class discussion" if the blatantly racist view was accorded
equal status by the teacher?

> The teacher and other students are free to oppose it.
> The conversation continues.

Unless racist, homophobic, sexist, and disablist views are challenged in
the classroom, conversation does not continue since the victims of
discrimination and abuse are unlikely to feel empowered to challenge the
received ideas.

> Of course, Gabriel's sample sentence would not seem to
> lend itself to such development.

That's not my experience. The backlash against the successes of 1970s
feminism has developed complex narratives of overreaction which attempt
to portray the victims of discrimination and abuse as the new
discriminators and abusers. The widespread 'problem' of female domestic
violence, as depicted in the media in Britain in recent years, is an
example of the development of anti-feminism ideas into thoroughgoing
arguments about social policy.

> But Gabriel continues, by focusing on these things, to
> flee the question of an individual's aesthetic
> response.

I recall that the question was about 'response' as something separate
from the power structure of mediation of texts which we call English
Studies. I hope my comments have indicated that I find the separation
specious.

Gabriel Egan

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Evelyn Gajowski <
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Date:           Thursday, 6 Mar 1997 11:27:51 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 8.037 Re: Ideology
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.037 Re: Ideology

For Sean K. Lawrence:

Please, by all means, do tell, what exactly is "naive feminism"?

Evelyn Gajowski

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Thursday, 6 Mar 1997 15:45:57 -0000
Subject: 8.037 Re: Ideology
Comment:        RE: SHK 8.037 Re: Ideology

I think Paul Hawkins' contribution raises a crucial point: when, and
under what conditions, does, and/or should, the "liberal" teacher stop
being liberal?  The difficulty is that the issue can't simply be
sidestepped by invoking "aesthetics" as an escape hatch.  I don't mean
to suggest that aesthetics is simply ideology in disguise, but it is the
case that the two are linked.

Also Gabriel Egan's and Sean Lawrence's suggestions that teachers take
heed of the paying customers (what used to be called "students"), and
that in Lawrence's case, their "wishes" should be "respected" (whatever
that means), seems to me equally to be caught in ideology.  What both
Hawkins and Lawrence and Egan seem to want to argue for is a third
position: in one case outside politics and ideology (Hawkins) where the
formal questions of aesthetics override any other considerations; in the
other (Egan, and possibly Lawrence) the third position, that of critique
which implies that they can get out of ideology but no-one else can.
This is a residually Atlthusserian position which emanates from the
assertion that there is a value-free "science" of, say, the literary
text, which is accessible to critique.  But unfortunately Lawrence gives
the game away when he invokes "respect" for the wishes of his students
within what is a capitalist economy of knowledge exchange.

This leads me to think that when we get down to the nitty gritty, all
this talk about political correctness, freedom, etc. is really a debate
within liberal humanism, and that at the end of the day both sides would
be prepaared to allow disagreement though they might take a different
attitude to it when it came.   Paul Hawkins in this instance is the
classic liberal who will allow anything so long as it's cogently
argued.  I'd love to know how he would deal with a student essay which
argued with passion and conviction the case that, say Hitler advances in
the "Nation and Race" chapter of Mein Kampf.  I presume, on the basis of
what he has just said, that if it was argued with sufficient passion and
conviction then Lawrence would change his own view?  If he tells me that
it would not, then I would have to ask him to divulge the criteria upon
which his resistance might be based.  Hawkins, I am afraid, seems to me
to have no way out of this dilemma: he is hoist with his own
liberalism...which is fine SO LONG AS everybody plays by liberal rules.

It seems to me that the debate about ideology has become one of
assertion, which is why this circular chase is continuing.  Maybe if we
think of ideology both as ALLUSION and ILLUSION then we can at least, on
the one hand, prevent Egan et al from becoming that familiar animal...a
liberal Stalinist, and persuade Paul Hawkins that at least part of what
he does and says isn't entirely available to what he takes to be his
controlling consciousness.

Once we get into this territory then liberal appeals to "individual
rights" and "individual freedoms" simply won't do.  Nor will
knee-jerking genuflections in the direction of political correctness do
either.

Best wishes
John Drakakis

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Louis Marder <
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Date:           Monday, 24 Feb 1997 12:32:41 PST
Subject:        Re: Ideology

Colleagues:  How about a  movement to" Let Shakespeare Alone"  All the
late isms, feminist ideas, Afro-American criticism, post this and post
that and post-post something else is hogwash.  Shakespeare took and made
the Moors, self-serving women, bed-tricking women, Jews, kings,
villains, hectoring men, weak kings, aboriginal characters, fools,
psychotics, plotting nobles, adventurous daughters, virginity-preserving
virgins, buffoons, braggarts, senile men, conniving merry wives,
pursuing bears, eunuchs, misers, and whatever else you may care to name
because he wanted to write a good play and what he did worked in its
context.  What you would have done, or what you think he should have
done, or how his environment affected him is immaterial to the play.  He
made his characters what they are because they served the purpose of his
plot.  [Hamlet hesitates, not because of the 36 reasons I used to  tease
my students with, but because to kill Claudius immediately would have
left the last two and a half acts of the play superfluous] Read it, see
it, understand it, enjoy it without bringing in the entire renaissance
ideology to talk about it.  WHY Shakespeare did what he did is
immaterial - he DID it.

[It reminds me of the notable trials recently or coming up. Everything
points to guilt, but that's not the point.  You have to have a trial and
make a case of it.  It's a media event  (The equivalent of our article
in a scholarly periodical.]

Footnotes clear up the language, but your personal interpretations are
just that albeit it shows you to be a scholar - which is the true reason
that many write.  Write what you please, but let Shakespeare's brains,
plots, and characters alone.  Shakespeare has inspired many critics,
but, regardless of what you write,  what you say will not change a jot
of the plays  If this be error and upon me proved...cast your slings and
arrows at me. Shakespeare will defend me. .Louis Marder 
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