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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: March ::
Re: Ideology
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0366.  Tuesday, 18 March 1997.

[1]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Monday, 17 Mar 1997 23:39:36 GMT
        Subj:   Re: Ideology

[2]     From:   Peter C. Herman <
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        Date:   Monday, 17 Mar 1997 08:52:11 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0364  Ideology

[3]     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 18 Mar 1997 00:17:53 -0000
        Subj:   RE: SHK 8.0364 Re: Ideology


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Monday, 17 Mar 1997 23:39:36 GMT
Subject:        Re: Ideology

Paul Hawkins asks

> Is any critic or reader reading any work of
> art and responding to it and recording their response
> simply grinding an ideological axe?  And does the
> grinding of that axe control the reading and
> everything about it from the very large to
> the very small?  Or do we attain a measure (a small
> one?  a large one?) of freedom from our ideologies
> when we experience a work of literature in a solitary
> conversation with our deepest selves?

There is an odd use of terms here. By 'axe-grinding' people usually mean
something like 'turning to one's own account'. But Paul uses it to mean
'unconsciously doing as one is bidden by ideology', which seems more or
less the opposite idea. The phrase "freedom from our ideologies"
suggests that once again this useful word 'ideology' is being taken in
the un-Marxist sense of 'conscious dogma'. Those who've disagreed with
Paul might reject this usage. I've no idea what solitary conversation
is, and I don't have a deep self to talk to, so I'm unable to comment on
the last sentence other than to note that it implies certain debatable
theoretical notions concerning subjectivity.

> What do we think, as ideologically enlightened souls,
> of the great tradition of criticism and of great
> traditions of world art?

I wouldn't try to summarize such a large body of work. Could you offer
something smaller?

> Were critics before, say, 1970, who may have been
> oblivious to the determining power of ideology,
> labouring under a grand and centuries-old delusion
> that the things they were reading and that moved them
> actually had value?

English studies is not centuries old and I wouldn't like to comment on
other subjects. It should be remembered that 'determination' is the
setting of boundaries and not the reduction to singularities. Certainly
those who believe that social organization, and especially class
relations, are reproduced by the transmission of ideas in ways that are
not immediately obvious - indeed which must not seem to be doing the
work of reproduction but only the articulation of commonsense - are
likely to be more open-minded than those who don't perceive the process.
I think that amounts to a qualified 'yes' to your question.

> And now that we have come into the light, and
> recognize aesthetic value as merely a bourgeois
> illusion, what do we do not only with the works of
> literature, but with the wonderful and stirring
> criticism that the literature inspired?

One doesn't have to be a Christian to take an interest in the Bible, and
one doesn't have to accept a critical position when consuming it. As
often as not a critical work is interesting precisely because we can now
perceive the received ideas which it unconsciously articulates. No?

> Do we pity...do we scorn...Do we scorn...[all those
> artists who made beautiful things]?

Seldom. We might want to scorn the idea that 'beauty' inspired the
poetic blazon if we think some kinds of flattery to be merely 'the
underside of male violence' (as Simon Shepherd puts it). I scorn
Hemingway's 'beautiful' descriptions of hunting big game in _Green Hills
of Africa_ because I reject the value-system which underlies it. One
might wish to pour scorn someone's faith that 'beauty' is an absolute.
We generally reject the idea articulated in early modern texts that
female beauty could be objectively quantified, and yet many would claim
this objective beauty for certain texts.

Gabriel Egan

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter C. Herman <
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Date:           Monday, 17 Mar 1997 08:52:11 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 8.0364  Ideology
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0364  Ideology

>From:           Paul Hawkins <
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>>Eliot's judgment of Hamlet is just one of the handful I had mentioned, and that handful merely a few examples from the vast history of criticism.  Is any critic or reader reading any work of art and responding to it and recording their response simply grinding an ideological axe?  And does the grinding of that axe control the reading and everything about it from the very large to the very small?  Or do we attain a measure (a small one?  a large one?) of freedom from our ideologies when we experience a work of literature in a solitary conversation with our deepest selves?  I think the second position the more reasonable, but let's explore some of the implications of the alternative.<<

Although I hesitate to enter a conversation as extended and as detailed
as this one, Paul Hawkins' impassioned response allows me an entry
point. It seems to me that Prof. Hawkins is proposing a false dichotomy
between "reading any work of art" and "simply grinding an ideological
axe." The problem is in the denigration of the second term. Why are
"ideologies" something that we necessarily need to be freed from?
Ideology, in its broadest sense, is how we understand the world, the
unspoken warrants of our being. And what clearly bothers Prof. Hawkins
is our inability to create an objective platform from which to
interrogate, or to use a less harsh term, put into question or even
*converse* with our ideologies. He is not alone, if my reading of the
end of Greenblatt's Renaissance Self-Fashioning is accurate.

>>What do we think, as ideologically enlightened souls, of the great tradition of criticism and of great traditions of world art?  Were critics before, say, 1970, who may have been oblivious to the determining power of ideology, labouring under a grand and centuries-old delusion that the things they were reading and that moved them actually had value?  And now that we have come into the light, and recognize aesthetic value as merely a bourgeois illusion, what do we do not only with the works of literature, but with the wonderful and stirring criticism that the literature inspired?  Do we even find it stirring? Do we pity poor Keats - or scorn him - or spending so much of his short life on his misbegotten letters - such a waste that such effort was invested in the elaboration of an illusion.  And do we scorn the effort that was invested in creating the poetry?  Do we scorn all who have been poets, playwrights, critics, or artists in any medium for their ill-spent hours?<<

In my view, clearly not, I don't think we should scorn anybody. And yet,
the difference between, say, Eliot and C.S. Lewis, and Prof. Hawkes is
the *awareness* of how criticism arises from specific historical
circumstances.  Lewis and Tillyard really thought that they were
recovering the past in itself as it really was. To my knowledge, they
never dreamed that their views of early modern literature were reactions
to England's debilitated post-war condition. Today, a good chunk of us
realizes that we are formed by history as much as we form history,and we
use that awareness to energize our criticism (or at least I do).
Furthermore, there is no contradiction between weeping at Lear's lines
on Cordelia's death and investigating the play's relationships to the
end of feudalism or the problem of religion. The former invites the
latter, but they are still distinct activities and reactions.

>>What does this kind of thinking bring us but scorn and contempt?  Is the arrogance implicit in a dogmatically ideological view of the world not appalling? And does it really have any intellectual foundation, or is it not just idle talk?<<

To this point, I would remind Prof. Hawkins that over-reactions and just
plain rudeness are not restricted to those on his side of the
theoretical divide. Just take a look at Brian Vickers' extended attack
on all post-1970 criticism in _Appropriating Shakespeare_, or some of
the comments in the latest ELR issue devoted to the state of Renaissance
Studies. There's plenty of scorn and contempt on the other side as well.

Peter C. Herman

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Tuesday, 18 Mar 1997 00:17:53 -0000
Subject: 8.0364 Re: Ideology
Comment:        RE: SHK 8.0364 Re: Ideology

I'm afraid that Paul Hawkins really does have it wrong.

He seems to think that ideology is nothing more than "illusion".  So
long as he thinks that, then he can continue to ask rather silly
questions.  Ideology fulfills a cognitive function, at least since
Althusser, so it does mean that the position that he ascribes to
"ideologically enlightened souls" is little more than a figment of his
own imagination. Although the Althusserian notion of ideology is very
much the predominant one, and has been for some time, the view that
Theoretical practice produces a neutral and objectively scientific view
of, say, a literary text, has been brought seriously into doubt.

There is certainly a "tradition" of criticism, but I see no reason why
we should  necessarily assent to all of its assumptions.  We view it
"differently"  in part because we are at some historical distance from
some of its exponents.

Paul Hawkins seems to want to assert that this tradition is, somehow
binding, and that as teachers of Literature it is our task to keep it
alive. His comments on what he takes to be the "scorning" of literary
texts seem to me to be almost as fanciful as his approach to ideology.

If he ie really serious then perhaps he might do well to remind himself
of Walter Benjamin's observation that "There is no document in
civilization that is not also, at the same time, a document in
barbarism" (Theses on the Philosophy of History).  Perhaps that sobering
thought might do something to temper what is, in the final analysis,
little more than anti-intellectual arrogance of his own.

Cheers
John Drakakis
 

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