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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: March ::
Re: Ideology
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0369.  Wednesday, 19 March 1997.

[1]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 18 Mar 1997 14:42:32 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0366  Re: Ideology

[2]     From:   Harvey Wheeler <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 18 Mar 97 18:01:39 UT
        Subj:   Ideology

[3]     From:   Paul Hawkins <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 18 Mar 1997 18:00:28 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0366 Re: Ideology

[4]     From:   Greg McSweeney <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 18 Mar 1997 22:52:23 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Questions on Ideology


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Tuesday, 18 Mar 1997 14:42:32 -0500
Subject: 8.0366  Re: Ideology
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0366  Re: Ideology

Gabriel Egan writes:

"English studies is not centuries old . . . ." Let's grant him this
quibble, but add the qualifier "in its present form," though I'd
construe "studies" as a plural.  We know that Milton studied Spenser,
that Gray studied Shakespeare, and that Tennyson studied Keats.  And we
all know that Chaucer was a great studier.  I'm assuming that studying
English poetry can be called "English studies."

Gabriel writes in parentheses:

"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"

I'd like to point out that ideas are here transmitted without agency.
So we have the transmission of ideas reproducing (interesting word)
social organization and class relations.  By his use of rhetoric,
Gabriel has taken people out of the process.  We have a personified
abstraction ("the transmission of ideas") doing "the work of
reproduction."  Need I point out that personified abstractions never
(that I'm aware) get out of bed in the morning and go to work, or, to
use Gabriel's metaphor, going to bed to do the work of reproduction?

I think this is an important point.  Theorists have so belumped us with
the rhetoric of cultural work that we tend to forget where the true
agency lies-i.e., with ourselves, dear Brutus. We are not the passive
recipients of ideas; ideas do not come from the Great Transmitter of
Ideas in the Sky.  We humans have ideas, and we pass them on in
conversation, in books, and with email messages.  And when we don't like
an idea, we have the power to reject it-as I do now!

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Harvey Wheeler <
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Date:           Tuesday, 18 Mar 97 18:01:39 UT
Subject:        Ideology

I missed the reference to where T.S. Eliot deprecates Hamlet for being
written in demotic style.

Is this part of the dissociation of the sensibilities?

Private reply is fine

Harvey Wheeler

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[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Hawkins <
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Date:           Tuesday, 18 Mar 1997 18:00:28 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 8.0366 Re: Ideology
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0366 Re: Ideology

It's nice that John Drakakis seems to have no scorn for literary texts -
though the question was not about the texts but about the effort and the
people that made them.  It's also nice that when he says "the view . . .
has been brought seriously into doubt" that "theoretical practice
produces a neutral and objectively scientific view of . . . a literary
text," he makes clear that he is no defender of the dogmatism which
alone is what I was attacking.

Since our two views thus have much in common, I am a little surprised
that he finds me "wrong" for holding that ideology is an illusion (when
I say no such thing) and for speaking of "ideologically enlightened
souls," when I meant by this to identify those who recognize what surely
is the current truism, as he expresses it, that "ideology fulfills a
cognitive function."

I am also a little surprised that he credits me with things I neither
say nor imply.  Certainly, I admire the tradition of criticism that we
have been speaking of, but I have no idea why John Drakakis seems to
think this implies "we should necessarily assent to all its
assumptions."  Nor do I know what he has in mind when he suggests that I
think this tradition should be "binding" or kept "alive," except as this
last means presenting it to students for their enjoyment and instruction
and encouraging them to enter into dialogue with it, which seem
reasonable enough things to do with an intellectual tradition that is
ours to study, unless he proposes that we irrationally discard it.

And I don't know why he thinks my position deaf to a comment like
Benjamin's.  Is he actually suggesting, though, that I stop admiring
Keats's letters because of it?  To borrow a phrase, that really would be
rather silly.

Paul Hawkins

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Greg McSweeney <
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Date:           Tuesday, 18 Mar 1997 22:52:23 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Questions on Ideology.

Hello, everyone:

I've encountered the ideology/aesthetics debate in medias res, as it
were, since I'd set to "no-mail" while in the process of moving to a new
apartment.

The quality of the argument that is most striking to me is that the
opponents seem to be working with ill-defined terms. The ideologues, if
I may call them that, appear to define ideology as a functionally
ontological (even if learned or inherited) phenomenon through which the
world is observed by the subject - a lens that reflects all experience
through its particular shape, and which apparently prevents the subject
from saying something like, "Okay, though I identify and operate as a
Marxist, I will now look at this text as a post-feminist might, thereby
isolating some of the differences between these two ideological
positions."

On the other hand (and I hope some one can help me here,) the aesthetic
stance in this debate seems nebulous; I can't pin down what its
proponents are either advocating or condemning. I get this creeping
feeling that it's connected somehow with New Critical or formalist
interpretation, that the "value" of a text is stable and inherent within
it, and therefore that there can be such a thing as a closed or solved
interpretation of it.

Alternatively, the aesthetes (sorry) seem to be saying that while no
closed interpretation may be possible - or even desirable - simply
"loving" a text should be the ultimate pedagogical goal. This is ideal,
of course, provided that as a teacher you have the luxury of teaching
something you actually love; I have often been in the opposite
situation. And I don't find it inappropriate in any case to examine
*why* a certain text should be loved.

Should be loved?

Who do we think we are? If my British and Peruvian students had
identical feelings for W.S. I would consider it the result of lazy and
dogmatic teaching on my part. Obviously I wouldn't suppress the fact
that as a teacher I consider W.S. the seminal writer in English - but
that's my opinion, based on my experience, beliefs, education,
up-bringing - in short, my ideology. And for my Spanish, Asian, or
Icelandic students I don't presume to valorize Shakespeare over the
seminal writers of their respective cultures.

All I want to do for my students is to introduce and help explore what
W.S. has to offer. On the one hand, I'm aware of my own ideology, I
think (socialist/queer/post-Freudian psychoanalytic) and on the other, I
scour a text for all of its inherent treasures - which must be
articulated as the raw material with which a student may then do what he
wishes.

Where's the conflict?

The pendulum may swing from reader-oriented to text-based, but the
change is never absolute; I find this debate a little contrived in its
extremism and its exclusionary rhetoric. It's fascinating and productive
to examine "The Tempest," for instance, as a closed text: its language,
metaphors, conceits, and structure are amply rewarding. But why set up
an opposition in which one interpretation is more legitimate than
another? Why not examine the play's economy as a Marxist, it's sociology
as a post-colonialist, its sexual dynamic as a feminist, post-feminist,
or queer theorist?

Why will people insist that there's such a thing as too much
information? Or that there can be only one valid method of obtaining
that information? Or that methods of investigation must, can, or should
be either linked, segregated, promoted, or eliminated? I don't consider
it my job to be the god of that kind of triage - and I suspect those who
do of having agendas that are neither ideological nor aesthetic.

                                                        Greg McSweeney
 

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