The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0376.  Thursday, 20 March 1997.

[1]     From:   Sean K. Lawrence <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 19 Mar 1997 13:12:46 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0366  Re: Ideology

[2]     From:   Sean K. Lawrence <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 19 Mar 1997 16:19:04 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0369  Re: Ideology

[3]     From:   Paul Hawkins <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 20 Mar 1997 08:52:23 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0369 Re: Ideology

From:           Sean K. Lawrence <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 19 Mar 1997 13:12:46 -0800
Subject: 8.0366  Re: Ideology
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0366  Re: Ideology

Gabe asks whether,

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. <<

True enough. But I would say that the opposite, broad use of ideology as
a sort of ontological function, the constitution of being as such, lies
at the bottom of the difference between those open to aesthetic
considerations, and those who are not. Unfortunately, raising ideology
to this totalizing sort of function is unprovable, and can be achieved
only by the sort of ad-hominem argument (you say you just love the work,
but you *really* are motivated by an ideological unconscious) which
could just as easily be turned around to defend aesthetics (you say that
you are making an ideological decision, but you *really* are motivated
by an unconscious aesthetic attraction to certain positions).

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.<<

As do yours, one might add.  The only difference is that yours are being
used to foreclose argument on aesthetics.  Paul has many times expressed
his openness to ideological questions.  Where your unprovable a priori
has a censorious function, Paul's provides an opening.

>> English studies is not centuries old and I wouldn't like to comment on other subjects.<<

This is a word game.  People have been thinking and writing about
written texts for a long time.  That the phrase "English Studies" and a
few accidental (in the metaphysical sense) assumptions were attached to
this term more recently is basically besides the point.

In fact, if radical changes have taken place, as you seem to purport,
then this is only all the more reason to wish to study that tradition,
to allow its difference from our own more recent assumptions to call
those assumptions (like the priority of ideology over all other studies)
into question.

It should be remembered that 'determination' is the
> setting of boundaries and not the reduction to singularities.

Like that everything is ideology, for instance?

>> 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 quite disagree.  Time and time again on the recent debate, Paul and I
have asked that aesthetics be respected as _on par with_ ideology.  Only
the ideologues want to rule certain questions to be always already

> >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?<<

Of course.  The question is whether we dismiss texts and their
criticisms as the products of received ideas they unconsciously
articulates, to which we now hold ourselves in a position of
superiority, or whether we let them reveal and therefore call into
question the unconsciously received ideas we bring to them. In the
former case, we are truly subverted, and new ways of being in the world
are opened to us.  In the latter case, we stand in a position of power
over the text, with an agency so unlimited that even Jean-Paul Sartre
would blanche at its rise.

Peter Herman writes:

> >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. <<

If denigrating the second term is wrong, then why are you implicitly
denigrating the first term by raising ideology to ontological
importance?  Surely the two should be understood as equally valid,
equally possible, possibilities.  I agree that Paul's labeling of
ideological criticism as "axe-grinding" is a bit of an overstatement,
but it does not, in itself, justify such a broad reading of ideology.

> >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).<<

Is this awareness not itself a historical product?  Does historical
relativism not devour itself, as Husserl once pointed out?  I'm not
saying that such a process would necessarily be a bad thing, since it
would allow us to question ourselves, not just other people, usually

I must say that the rest of your post contained a number of points very
well taken, such as the commensurability between an aesthetic response
to Lear's lines on Cordelia's death, and an investigation of the play's
historical position.

Jack Drakakis writes:

> >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.<<

Were you the one who called aesthetics an illusion and allusion a while
ago?  Perhaps I've mixed it up.


From:           Sean K. Lawrence <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 19 Mar 1997 16:19:04 -0800
Subject: 8.0369  Re: Ideology
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0369  Re: Ideology

Hi, Greg.

I enjoyed your contribution to the ideology/aesthetics debate.  If the
qualify of your response is anything to go by, I don't think that you've
missed much.

>> 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.<<

Allow me to offer my own definition, though of course I cannot speak for
any sort of "school."  I would define the aesthetic as that which
encounters us in a text as other, prior to all efforts at
interpretation.  Inversely, it may be defined as the surplus remaining
after ideological interpretations have been removed.  Functionally, of
course, it is impossible to remove ideological interpretations, since
they are built into the structure of language (and so forth, ad
nauseum), though it is equally impossible to explain the text totally in
terms of ideology, foreclosing all other interpretive models; therefore,
the surplus can never be quite explained away.  In this way, the text
escapes our mastery over it, and is able to call into question our own
beliefs, opinions and even ways of being in the world.

One might say that it confronts us in the same manner that the face of
the other speaks to us in the saying, prior to the said, according to
Immanuel Levinas.  Levinas uses his argument to assert the priority of
ethics to ontology, or any system that strives for the autonomy of
philosophy.  I would say that aesthetics makes the act of reading prior
to "a reading" and to all ontologies, including the functionally
ontological phenomenon that you identify amongst the ideologues.

I hope this is helpful, and enjoyed your response immensely.

Cheers, and best of luck with the new apartment.

From:           Paul Hawkins <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 20 Mar 1997 08:52:23 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 8.0369 Re: Ideology
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0369 Re: Ideology

Greg McSweeney asks what the defenders of the aesthetic in this debate
are for and against. I can only speak for myself.

First, an aesthetic stance is not necessarily attached to any of the
ideas McSweeney mentions:  new critical or formalist interpretation; the
idea that the "value" of a text is stable and inherent; that
interpretation can be closed; that loving a text *should be* the
ultimate pedagogical goal; that texts *should be* loved; that there's a
conflict between political and aesthetic approaches or historical and
aesthetic approaches; that to defend the aesthetic is necessarily to
shut out Marxist, post- colonialist, feminist or queer readings.  A
defence of the aesthetic does not entail any of the above limitations of

I defend the teaching of Shakespeare's plays because of the pleasure and
mental stimulation through pleasure that they can give students.
However, I don't offer this as the universal ideal, nor do I insist
students love the material or fake a love for it in order to get a good
grade (that would be ridiculous); I don't think my goal precludes any
other engagements with the material, nor do I think my goal is
ideological in any very specific way or problematic because of whatever
ideology is in the goal.  An aesthetic response is a matter for the
individual:  no one is demanding that people have aesthetic responses;
the value and meaning of the experience is individual.

I am against the reduction of the aesthetic to ideology.  Gabriel Egan
in a recent post comments that the determining power of ideology "is the
setting of boundaries and not the reduction to `singularities.'"  If you
don't agree with where the boundaries are set, the setting can certainly
be a reduction.

In another post, I offered a definition of ideology that was what I
remembered of a definition Gabriel Egan had once given.  I asked how
certain famous critical statements by Dryden, Johnson, Woolf, Eliot, and
Bloom were "ideological" in that sense.  The only suggested answer, by
Terence Hawkes, turned on what seemed to me a misreading-a reduction-of
Eliot's essay on Hamlet.

Here is Terry Eagleton's phrasing of what was more or less the Egan
definition that I remembered:

"The largely concealed structure of values which informs and underlies
our factual statements is part of what is meant by `ideology.' By
`ideology' I mean, roughly, the ways in which what we say and believe
connects with the power-structure and power-relations of the society we
live in.  It follows from such a rough definition of ideology that not
all of our underlying judgements and categories can usefully be said to
be ideological.  . . .I mean more particularly those modes of feeling,
valuing, perceiving and believing which have some kind of relation to
the maintenance and reproduction of social power" (*Literary Theory:  An
Introduction,* 14-15).

I think aesthetic response is in some way outside of those modes of
feeling, valuing, etc. that relate to the maintenance of social
power-and that aesthetic judgments are among those that cannot usefully
be said to be ideological.

Paul Hawkins

Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.