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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: April ::
Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0445.  Friday, 11 April 1997.

[1]     From:   Evelyn Gajowski <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Apr 1997 10:08:45 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0440 Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

[2]     From:   Dale Lyles <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Apr 1997 13:54:38 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0440 Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

[3]     From:   David Maruyama <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Apr 1997 17:57:33 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Ideology

[4]     From:   Paul Hawkins <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Apr 1997 19:19:43 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Ideology:  The Aesthetics of WT

[5]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Friday, 11 Apr 1997 00:51:34 GMT
        Subj:   Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Evelyn Gajowski <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Apr 1997 10:08:45 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 8.0440 Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0440 Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

>> 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.<<

Bravo, Adrian Kiernander, for your response to those who insist upon
draining the gender conflicts which characterize the dramatic action of
*WT* from the text-all in the name of "aesthetics."  Perhaps the major
problem with traditional liberal humanists, new critics, and
"aestheticists" -- whether in print, in the classroom, in curriculum
battles, in theatrical productions-is their inability or their refusal
to own up to the fact that their own positions are ideologically
informed.  The juvenile name-calling to which this ideology discussion
sometimes descends ("You're ideological; I'm not") is based upon a false
binary opposition.  We are all ideologically informed: some us own up to
this fact; some of us don't.  Why is it that readings which perpetuate
patriarchal, white, heterosexual, Christian, elitist values often get
constructed as the "norm," or "ideologically neutral," while everything
else gets constructed as "deviant," or "ideologically loaded"?  Feminist
Shakespeareans and others have been raising questions such as this
regarding the universalizing of patriarchal values (for example) for so
long-more than two decades-that it is embarrassing to have to point them
out to readers of this list in 1997.

Evelyn Gajowski

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dale Lyles <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Apr 1997 13:54:38 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 8.0440 Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0440 Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

I'm always in over my head when we start talking ideology, but having
struggled with the ending of Winter's Tale in performance, I have some
comments about our topic.

Is it possible that the description of our ideological reaction to a
text/performance might be descriptive rather than prescriptive?

Adrian Kiernander and I have been talking about the heterosexual white
male undercurrents in MND, and they were of course far stronger in that
final scene of WT.  As the actual father of the child who played
Mamillius, I had an immediate insight into the bizarre cruelty of the
last scene:  he killed his son.

However, it became equally important to realize that the scene is about
completion and forgiveness, the total grace which is so rarely possible
for us humans.  Hermione simply forgives her husband.  We are not given
any great theological justification, she simply does it.

I realize right away that this is equally an ideological interpretation
of the scene.   And I know that our audience, who had no reservations
about the scene, that their reaction is ideological.  We are all
"victims" of our HWM heritage.

Here's my point: we can permit our audience (and indeed ourselves) to be
"sucked in" by this inexplicable scene, recognizing that it is their HWM
ideology that causes this, we can permit this without overmuch
"tut-tut"ing or "shame, shame"ing.  Descriptive rather than
prescriptive.  That's the way we are; some of us may be desirous of
changing our prison, but in the meantime, we're allowed to play within
the walls.

Dale Lyles<---not nearly as reactionary as he sounds
Newnan Community Theatre Company

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Maruyama <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Apr 1997 17:57:33 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Ideology

After observing all the discourse on ideology, and the premises that
either one should look at text in isolation (New Critics) versus one
should look at the ideology behind the text
(Post-Modernist/Structuralist/New Historicism/etc), I can not help think
that everything is driven by an ideology.

The New Critics are not exactly separated from ideologies, even though
many consider the idea of studying the well-wrought urn to be in total
isolation of ideology.  Selection of texts to be studied under this
regime is often ideologically based.  The Post-Modernists are running
under the same ghosts.

All of this stuff about ideology does not make the texts really
accessible to the general public.  The general public will watch a
performance or a film of Shakespeare, but they will not bother reading a
critical article in a journal.  There is a ton of poetry being written
on the East Coast under the guise of Language poetry, which is heavily
driven by ideology, but it is totally inaccessible to the average
reader.  In other words, it is an elitist adventure targeted towards a
small elitist audience.  That might be fine.  I just hate reading it.
It bores me.

Consider also why this discussion exists.  I find Shakespeare to be
interesting because of the wide variations of interpretations possible.
A new performance of a play can change one's reading of the text.  This
is the gift of the Shakespeare.

Ideologies are temporal things.  They wax and wane continuously.  How
many schools of thought have existed since the beginnings of academic
literary criticism?  Has any really dominated the field continuously
since the beginning?  No.  A new school of interpretation will become
the vogue after this new school ends its cycle of domination.  In the
end, the only thing that remains is Shakespeare's tomes.  That is how it
should be.

Just my 3 centavos,
D. Maruyama

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Hawkins <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Apr 1997 19:19:43 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Ideology:  The Aesthetics of WT

Dear Adrian,

You do an excellent job of outlining some reasons that I might find my
response to theatre ideological rather than aesthetic.  However, I
remain unconvinced.

Am I only quibbling if I remind you that it's a play, and that to write
"at least two people actually die" suggests a basic confusion on that
point, a confusion which has often seemed to me to be at the root of
some ideological (as opposed to aesthetic) responses?

I most definitely do not subscribe to the "I am right, you have an
opinion, s/he is ideological" school.  So I wouldn't necessarily have
said that your finding the play's ending nauseating was "ideological"
unless you had said so.  And whether yours is ideological or not and
mine isn't, or mine is but in a different way, I wouldn't dream of
saying that your reaction or anyone's is wrong or inadmissible.  Are you
saying it of mine?  Or that my response is immoral?  Does my response
make me indifferent to domestic abuse and the deaths of innocents?  Are
we now incapable of holding that there is no such thing as a moral or an
immoral play, that plays are either well-written or badly written?  Is
it too late in the day to say that all art (and all aesthetic response)
is quite useless?

I am appalled to hear the ending of *The Winter's Tale* called a
"sentimental heterosexual male fantasy"-but I'll get over it.  There are
certainly grounds for viewing it so, and like you I can fully appreciate
that any student who had suffered domestic abuse might feel "only
negative towards the play's ending."  I won't assume, however, that this
would be (much less should be) that student's response.

Further, I am struck by your characterization of Leontes and of the play
as "heterosexual" (of the things you say about Leontes, it's the one
that we probably really can't say) particularly in the light of the
review that Montreal's Le Devoir gave a recent, very fine production of
the play at the Centaur Theatre:  the reviewer damned the production for
overlooking the most obvious "fact" about the play-that Leontes's
"jealousy" is sparked by his desire for Polixenes.

When you write "I too am partly sucked in by the cultural signals which
tell me I am supposed to approve and be happy at the conclusion,"  you
presume too much about my response:  I am blown away by the aesthetic
power of the scene (which I think is a matter largely of form,
structure, use of language, relation to tradition), and I would suggest
that this may be what partly moves you, too.

Certainly, what recognizing my response as ideological can do for me is
a matter for me to decide.  But I still don't know what I'm being asked
to recognize.  That I'm moved because a straight fuck who's abused his
wife has a happy ending?  Because the play is telling me wife abuse is
OK since magically everything works out for the best?  Neither the play
nor my response can be reduced to such imputed messages, to say the
least.

Every account, every reading of the play will reduce the text and the
response.  That's why I don't claim that "all is aesthetic"-much less an
absurdity such as that my aesthetic response or anyone else's arrives at
any "full plenitude" of meaning-nor do I claim that there can be no
ideological readings.

A few days ago, Gabriel Egan spoke about "what Paul Hawkins calls an
aesthetic response."  The aesthetic response in question was "being
moved."  I had thought that even if an aesthetic response is reducible
to ideology, at least no one is going to deny that people *have*
aesthetic responses, that "aesthetic effect" is one of the things art
achieves.  But I guess not.  So what does Gabriel call it, if not an
aesthetic response, I wonder?

Warmest regards,
Paul

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Friday, 11 Apr 1997 00:51:34 GMT
Subject:        Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

Adrian Kiernander's contribution on the ideological aesthetics of the
last scene on The Winter's Tale is, as usual, right on target.
Concerning Leontes's jealousy Kiernander writes:

> 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.

Imaginatively identifying with responses of something other than
rapture, Kiernander goes on:

> But I could easily understand and sympathise with an
> reader--a female student who had suffered directly from
> domestic violence for example--who felt only negative
> towards the play's ending.

Resistive reading may seem perverse from within the cultural norms of
the text. If one is male, white, heterosexual, and able-bodied then
rapture at the final reconciliation might seem the only reasonable
response. As Kiernander reminds us, from outside those norms the text
might be experienced in very different ways. The different responses are
not conditioned by aesthetics (the language might still seem
"burnished", whatever that means) but by lived experience of power
relations.

However, in hypothetical defense of the mad patriarch...

Does anyone else find convincing the argument of B J Sokol (_Art and
Illusion in the Winter's Tale_, Manchester UP, 1995) that Leontes is
suffering from couvade syndrome?  This, you might recall, is a peculiar
malady which affects expectant fathers and causes symptoms ranging from
mild neurosis to raging paranoid delusions.

If one finds the final scene to be sugar-coated sentimentality,
identifying Leontes's sickness might make it less nauseating.

Gabriel Egan
 

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