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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: April ::
Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0440.  Thursday, 10 April 1997.

[1]     From:   Ben R. Schneider <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 09 Apr 1997 16:20:00 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Aesthetic Response

[2]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Apr 1997 00:47:22 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0433   Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

[3]     From:   Paul Hawkins <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 9 Apr 1997 23:12:17 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0433  Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

[4]     From:   C. David Frankel <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Apr 1997 00:59:18 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0433  Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

[5]     From:   Adrian Kiernander <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Apr 1997 18:21:12 +1000 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: Ideology/Winters Tale


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ben R. Schneider <
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Date:           Wednesday, 09 Apr 1997 16:20:00 -0500 (CDT)
Subject:        Aesthetic Response

Speaking of the last scene of Winter's Tale, Paul Hawkins praises "the
imaginative richness of its conception and the simplicity of its
execution, the burnished spareness of its
language."   Several object that this language is vague.  But things
like richness, simplicity, and spareness (maybe not "*burnished*
spareness") can be proved by new critical techniques, developed in the
school of Coleridge, Shelley, Eliot, and Brooks and Warren.  That's what
new criticism was all about. But the theorists have taken the text away
from us, claiming that it simply delivers one's ideology.  Ironically it
is *only* the text that can deliver us *from* ideology.

Ideally, under the surveillance of peer review, actual or virtual, weak
readings are winnowed out in the give and take of academic dialog until
only the most probable and likely ones remain.  This filtering process
cannot take place, however, if there is no text by which to settle
arguments.  Postmodern theory, with its insistence on the power of
ideology to mask a text, effectively removes the text from the dialog,
and we are reduced to name calling.  The reason you think Caliban is an
indigenous person oppressed by an imperialist is that you are a
left-wing bigot.  Your interpretation of the text proves it.  The reason
I think Caliban deserves what he gets is that I am a right-wing bigot.
My interpretation of the text proves it.

There can be no appeal to what the text actually says as long as it is
not allowed to speak.  New Criticism proved, to my satisfaction at
least, that there are ways in which it does speak.  New Criticism's
arbitrary exclusion of historical context was incredibly stupid, but its
attentiveness to the text was salutary.

The refusal to allow Paul Hawkins's appeal to the text reminds me of a
Broadway character of Damon Runyon's named Harry the Horse, who could
knock down a milk truck horse at 5 AM with one blow to the head.  He
used to appear at crap games and throw the dice into his hat.

"I make my point," he would say, and pick up the money.  (Once a little
voice asked "Do you make it the hard way?")  The entry of theory into
literary interpretation is exactly like the entry of Harry the Horse
into a crap game.

Meaning is now decided by the interpreter's power.  Before Harry the
Horse,--that is, theory-entered the crap game, the dice-that is, the
text-decided the issue of who picked up the money-the interpretation
with the best fit in the opinion of all those present.  You can see why
those of us who remember the old days feel as if we are being cheated:
our articles not accepted, our books not published, and our presence not
required at meetings.

One can't win against Harry the Horse.

Instead of worrying about Paul Hawkins's theoretical errors, we should
be arguing about whether or not the last scene of Winter's Tale is rich,
simple, and spare, but I fear we have forgotten how.

BEN SCHNEIDER

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Apr 1997 00:47:22 GMT
Subject: 8.0433   Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0433   Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

Paul Hawkins wants straight answers to these questions about the
statement that aesthetic response is ideological:

> >what is the statement's force or authority[?] and what its usefulness?<<

The "force or authority" depends on how convincing one finds it. If my
account doesn't persuade it is weak and lacking in authority.

Outside of Marxist cultural analysis its "usefulness" is nil.

The idea that the means by which we make sense of the world are largely
unexamined but not unexaminable is, of itself, not radical. That modes
of economic production have concomitant systems of unexamined ideas is
rather more so. Someone who doesn't believe that economics is primary is
unlikely to accept this proposition.

> >why should I want to acknowledge my responses to literature (and the responses of  others) as inescapably ideological?  And what is it going to do for me as a reader and as a person (or as a gay white Canadian male, if "person" needs to be explained)?<<

It may well be that convincing someone that economics is primary is a
prerequisite for convincing them that ideology is inescapable. However,
as for practical benefits one could cite the wonderful insights which
Marxism gives into, for example, the oppression of gays and lesbians. As
a reader it is terrifically liberating to find out why, in capitalist
countries, roads are collectively owned but factories generally aren't.
The idea that flesh may not be traded but labour can be underlies
capitalist economic activity, but the part played by The Merchant of
Venice in the transmission of that idea is, I'm given to understand,
seldom taught in economics classes.

> >Further, by distinguishing between the idea of the scene and its execution as recorded in the printed text of the play, I meant principally to acknowledge that the "idea" was not original to Shakespeare. <<

That I didn't know. I thought having a player pretend to be a statue and
then surprise the audience by breaking the convention WAS new to this
play. Is there an earlier example? (I know of some later ones).

> >So in addition to hearing an answer to the two questions at the top of this post, I would also be interested in how Gabriel would counter the charge that ideological accounts-and specifically his latest one-tend to "reduce").<<

I didn't see any argument, only the assertion that ideological accounts
are reductive. That I am not yet convincing is sufficient to silence me
on the subject.

Gabriel Egan

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Hawkins <
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Date:           Wednesday, 9 Apr 1997 23:12:17 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 8.0433  Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0433  Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

To Terence Hawkes:

It's also possible, isn't it, that Simon Forman doesn't mention the
statue scene because it wasn't part of the play he saw?

To David Schalkwyk:

Thank you for referring me to your essay.  But perhaps I should clarify:
I'm not disputing that the elements in the scene can be read in
political and ideological terms; the question is, can they be read in
any other way?

Paul Hawkins

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           C. David Frankel <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Apr 1997 00:59:18 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 8.0433  Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0433  Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

I'm probably offering an idea that's been covered before, but may be
worth repeating:  ideology is a word.  As a word it has reference to
other words, and as a word it signifies differently within different
contexts.  Sometimes I think the people who discuss ideology do so at
cross-purposes for these (and undoubtedly other) reasons.  For some the
word is so dyslogistically loaded that they can only respond by denying
the presence of ideology in their own point of view. Sometimes people
wave the word like a flag (or use it as a club) in a call to arms.  Some
people appear to use it to mean the conscious ideas (especially overtly
political ones) that people either have or accuse others of having.  But
sometimes  people use the term in a much wider sense, but a sense that
gets obscured because of the words own baggage.

Instead of using ideology for this very wide sense, perhaps one of the
terms that Kenneth Burke uses might serve better (in some cases) because
they can pretend (at least for a while) to have a neutrality that
ideology clearly lacks.  I'm thinking primarily of his term
"orientation."  For Burke an orientation includes all the social,
cultural, biological, psychological, etc. frames and materials that
condition an individual's perspective on the world.   Let me append two
brief passages from his _Grammar of Motives_ (1945, rev. 1969):

We take it for granted that, insofar as men cannot themselves create the
universe, there must remain something essentially enigmatic about the
problem of motives, and that this underlying enigma will manifest itself
in inevitable ambiguities and inconsistencies among the terms for
motives.  Accordingly, what we want is *not terms that avoid ambiguity,*
but *terms that clearly reveal the strategic spots at which ambiguities
necessarily arise.* (original emphasis)

As a general rule, when a term is singled out for such harsh treatment,
if you look closer you will find that it happens to be associated with
some cultural or political trend from which the writer would dissociate
himself; hence there is a certain notable ambiguity in this very charge
of ambiguity, since he presumably feels purged and strengthened by
bringing to bear upon this particular term a kind of attack that could,
with as much justice, be brought to  bear upon any other term. . .
including of course the alternative term. . . that the writer would
swear by.  (both p.  xviii)

cdf

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Adrian Kiernander <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Apr 1997 18:21:12 +1000 (EST)
Subject:        Re: Ideology/Winters Tale

Paul

Sorry, but you're describing the ending of a story in which we see a
character representing a male person-a heterosexual, Sicilian father,
husband, and King, who (without any prompting from Iago) develops an
irrational and violent jealousy about his wife to the point where a
family is torn apart and several lives are destroyed. At least two
people actually die in consequence of this jealous, proprietorial,
royal, patriarchal and erroneous access of passion. Then at the end, as
if by magic, a third supposedly dead person in the form of the jealous
man's wife comes back to life and forgives him unreservedly.

And you ask why, when you find this ending moving, you should want to
acknowledge your responses to theatre as inescapably ideological rather
than aesthetic?

If I were to suggest (for the sake of argument) that I find this kind of
sentimental heterosexual male fantasy of forgiveness disturbing and
potentially nauseating, you would no doubt (rightly) attribute my
response to ideology. But unless you are of the "I am right, you have an
opinion, s/he is ideological" school, surely you have to concede that if
it's ideological for me, it must be for you too, even though in the
opposite direction.

(In fact this is a very stark and one-sided account of my response to
the ending, which is in reality much more complex. I too am partly
sucked in by the cultural signals which tell me I am supposed to approve
and be happy at the conclusion. But I could easily understand and
sympathise with any reader-a female student who had suffered directly
from domestic violence for example-who felt only negative towards the
play's ending.)

As for what the recognition (if you agree to recognise it) of the
ideological underpinning of your emotional and aesthetic response is
going to do for you as a reader and as a person-that is for you to
decide.

On the other point about the reductiveness of ideological accounts, can
you give me any response, aesthetic or of any kind, to any significant
moment in any play you like to choose which "accounts" for the full
plenitude of what that moment might offer, to you and me and everyone
else?

Adrian Kiernander
 

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