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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: March ::
Re: Ideology
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0336.  Monday, 10 March 1997.

[1]     From:   Paul Hawkins <
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        Date:   Saturday, 8 Mar 1997 11:02:56 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Ideology

[2]     From:   Paul Hawkins <
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        Date:   Saturday, 8 Mar 1997 16:50:44 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Ideology


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Hawkins <
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Date:           Saturday, 8 Mar 1997 11:02:56 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Ideology

John Drakakis hopes that "we can . . . 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."

I have no such absolute confidence in my controlling consciousness.  One
can't possibly love Shakespeare, given the representation of
consciousness in his plays, and have any naive faith in one's capacity
for complete conscious control.

Paul Hawkins

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Hawkins <
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Date:           Saturday, 8 Mar 1997 16:50:44 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Ideology

Like Sean Lawrence, I have been struck by the redirection of this thread
away from the discussion of aesthetic response.

In answer to a question about whether an individual student's love of
the literature need be destroyed in order that the student learn
ideological criticism, Professor Hawkes wrote, "I confess I do
occasionally aim to change the way my students think about literature.
That's what I call education . . . ."  I responded, with a smugness I
now regret, "I aim to encourage my students to decide for themselves
what they think about literature."  Gabriel Egan responds, "But you set
the questions";  then I say, actually in my class "anything goes as long
as it can be developed and argued."  And so began this part of the
thread.

Strictly speaking, whether or not I set questions, and what I ask my
students to write for me, and what restrictions on the students I impose
or the form of any course imposes, and how I deal with racist discourse
in the classroom, are all irrelevant to the basic propositions with
which we began.  If I encourage my students to make up their own minds
what they think about literature, and then allow them no opportunity to
begin to try to do this within my course, I am certainly inconsistent.
But Professor Hawkes's statement and my reply both referred to what the
in-class experience was intended to produce in the student beyond the
class.  They were statements of pedagogical aim, and both were very
different, and both need have nothing to do with what happens in the
class in order merely that their worth as "aims"  be examined.
Professor Hawkes can set out to change his students' thinking, and fail,
and actually succeed in something he never set out to do, encouraging
them to think for themselves.  I might set out to encourage my students
to think for themselves, and fail, and make them all love Shakespeare as
much as I do.

Any course imposes certain limits on its students, limits of time and
place and choice of texts and pace of study and limits on
expression-some teachers may have to shut up the white supremacist in
the back row because he never stops talking and is preventing other
students from participating and the class from discussing the material
in the widest possible way representative of the diverse interests of
the individuals making up this group now; and some teachers may try to
involve the white supremacist in discussion (perhaps not even knowing
that she is one, because she has been all semester a sullen
non-participant).  One can spend an entire semester with a class and
only learn on the last day that the shy guy in the back has brilliant
psychoanalytic- feminist insights into the material, and you lament the
missed opportunity to engage with these ideas more fully.  That guy may
go through life cursing that silly aesthetic teacher who wouldn't
tolerate political approaches to the material, when in reality there
might have been perfect tolerance, but for a complex of personal and
institutional reasons a possible thrilling dialogue just never
happened.

I never suggested that teachers and courses impose no limits.  Some
teachers and courses will limit students more, some less.  Some teachers
set out to change their students' thinking, to convert them to a new
belief about literature.  Some teachers are indifferent to the idea of
their students thinking like them, and are content or ecstatic when
their students think *anything* originally and for themselves, even if
it's a passionate and lucid "This play-all of Shakespeare, in fact-sucks
for the following reasons . . . ."

I don't really know how I am "hoist with . . . [my] own liberalism," as
John Drakakis says.  A racist argument, as any ideological argument, as
any aesthetic argument, or any *any* kind of argument, can be opposed in
any of the ways that any argument can be opposed:  by questioning the
definition of terms, by re-evaluating the evidence produced in support
of the proposition, by introducing and examining other evidence, by
interrogating and offering alternatives to the writer's assumptions, by
questioning the argumentation.  If these are simply "liberal rules,"
I'll welcome any suggested alternative (a mud fight?), but it seems to
me that we're all now playing more- or-less by those same rules; where
we disagree is at the level of first assumptions, and that's both
healthy and invigorating.

Maybe it's those assumptions that deserve more direct interrogation, and
so I ask the following question.  Is there any hard evidence that any
enduring aesthetic category, stricture, or judgment of any really
first-rate English language literary critic is specifically, irreducibly
ideological?

(I would define "ideological" as "bound up with the tissue of ideas that
constitutes those superstructural phenomena necessary to the maintenance
of the base economic relations at a particular historical moment"-this
is my rephrasing of a definition Gabriel Egan offered some months ago,
if memory serves)

Dryden's judgment that Shakespeare possesses the largest and most
comprehensive soul; Johnson's that Shakespeare pleases because of his
just representations of general nature; Virginia Woolf's that
Shakespeare's mind was incandescent; T.S. Eliot's that *Hamlet* is an
artistic failure; Harold Bloom's that Shakespeare is the most central
writer in our culture because his is the influence that no writer has
overcome-these would be just a few of the kinds of judgments whose
irreducibly ideological content I would be interested in seeing
demonstrated.

Paul Hawkins
 

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