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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: March ::
Re: Ideology
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0357.  Friday, 14 March 1997.

[1]     From:   Sean K. Lawrence <
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        Date:   Thursday, 13 Mar 1997 21:00:00 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0353  Re: Ideology

[2]     From:   Paul Hawkins <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Mar 1997 06:49:23 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0353 Re: Ideology


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean K. Lawrence <
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Date:           Thursday, 13 Mar 1997 21:00:00 -0800
Subject: 8.0353  Re: Ideology
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0353  Re: Ideology

Terry:

The sentence you yourself quoted shows Paul asking for "a demonstration
of the 'irreducibly ideological content' of, for instance, T.S. Eliot's
judgement that Hamlet is an 'artistic failure'."

You didn't produce one.  You made a reasonably interesting hypothesis in
that regard, though marred by your implicit claiming of god-like powers
to tell what Eliot's criticism was *really* about.  You did not,
however, show that Eliot's views are "irreducibly ideological".  One
might, just for fun, hypothesize other motivations for the actions of
Eliot's character.  To prove his reading "irreducibly ideological" is,
of course, impossible, but the case against aesthetics seems to be built
on just this impossible claim.

Cheers,
Sean

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Hawkins <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Mar 1997 06:49:23 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 8.0353 Re: Ideology
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0353 Re: Ideology

Professor Hawkes's demonstration of the ideological in Eliot's
devaluation of Hamlet suggests that Coriolanus was substituted for
Hamlet as "the culmination of Shakespeare's `tragic successes'" because
Coriolanus better reflects Eliot's view of himself and Woodrow Wilson,
and that an American and Harvard-educated sensibility led him to recoil
from the crudities of the popular cultural material of Hamlet.  I
wouldn't see either view as irreducibly ideological as opposed to
individually aesthetic, but at the same time, neither is wholly
accurate.

Eliot makes clear that it's not the crudity of Shakespeare's materials
that constitutes the flaw, but that their "alteration [to accommodate
the new motive of a mother's guilt] is not complete enough to be
convincing."  And it is not the intractability of the sources that
concerns Eliot, but instead Shakespeare's inability "to impose this
motive successfully upon the intractable materials of the old play."
Hawkes's mock indignation ("How dare it draw on `intractable'
material!") thus misrepresents the thrust and tone of Eliot's essay.

Further, it is not Coriolanus alone that stands, when compared with
Hamlet, `intelligible, self-complete, in the sunlight,' as Professor
Hawkes suggests, but Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, and Othello.
Since in the next paragraph of the essay, Eliot also praises Macbeth, it
is clear that what he is working out is not an ideological preference
for Coriolanus, but an aesthetic preference for every other major
tragedy over Hamlet.

Finally, to say Eliot gives Hamlet an F and Coriolanus an A is of course
to overstate the case:  Hamlet is more "interesting"  than Coriolanus,
testimony to Shakespeare's inability to find "an objective correlative"
for his protagonist's emotion.  Eliot is clearly fascinated by the
problem of the play:  "under compulsion of what experience he attempted
to express the inexpressibly horrible, we cannot ever know." And so it
remains "`the Mona Lisa' of literature."

If this is how an ideological label is assigned to a critic's
position, then it is obviously a process of distortion and reduction.

Paul Hawkins
 

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