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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: April ::
Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0458.  Monday, 14 April 1997.

[1]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Saturday, 12 Apr 1997 08:44:26 -0400
        Subj:   Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

[2]     From:   Paul Hawkins <
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        Date:   Saturday, 12 Apr 1997 08:45:42 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Ideology:  The Aesthetics of WT

[3]     From:   Joseph "Chepe" Lockett <
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        Date:   Saturday, 12 Apr 1997 08:49:42 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0450  Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

[4]     From:   Sean K. Lawrence <
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        Date:   Saturday, 12 Apr 1997 12:51:46 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0450  Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

[5]     From:   Adrian Kiernander <
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        Date:   Sunday, 13 Apr 1997 12:22:50 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0450  Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

[6]     From:   Paul Hawkins <
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        Date:   Sunday, 13 Apr 1997 16:16:28 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Ideology:  The Aesthetics of WT

[7]     From:   Thomas Bishop <
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        Date:   Sunday, 13 Apr 1997 17:43:11 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0450  Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Saturday, 12 Apr 1997 08:44:26 -0400
Subject:        Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

It remains the case, whatever Paul Hawkins's squirm-making 'love' of
Shakespeare urges, that an eye-witness account of a performance of The
Winter's Tale at the Globe Theatre in London, on Wednesday, the 15th
May, 1611, reports an experience quite different from anything a modern
theatre-goer might envisage.  It is sentimentality of a high degree to
reply that the production so meticulously recorded must therefore
somehow have omitted the scenes we allegedly treasure most. A sterner
prospect is that -for reasons which have a great deal to do with
ideology- the eye-witness didn't find them particularly striking. The
central point was made long ago. The past is another country. They do
things differently there.

Terence Hawkes

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Hawkins <
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Date:           Saturday, 12 Apr 1997 08:45:42 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Ideology:  The Aesthetics of WT

Gabriel Egan suggests that to identify Leontes's sickness might make the
play's ending less nauseating.

A little imagination might do the job as well.

Paul

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joseph "Chepe" Lockett <
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Date:           Saturday, 12 Apr 1997 08:49:42 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 8.0450  Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0450  Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

Multiple responses here.  Hopefully I can quote selectively while still
writing intelligibly....

Mark Mann comments on his blocking of V.iii for a 1993 Columbus OH WT:
> >Our Hermione... extended her hand to Leontes, he took it rather tentatively,  then helped her from the pedestal, but before they embraced... a long look between them made it clear that a 16 year gulf still existed....<<

I agree with the still-extant gulf: our Houston Leontes made the rather
touching comment that, after the play (if the fierce literary critics on
the list will let me get away with mentioning such a time!), Leontes and
Hermione might end up as "just two people who happen to live together in
the same castle."  Interestingly enough, we had the touch ("Oh, she's
warm!") instigated by Leontes, drawing from Paulina's "Nay, present your
hand," etc., as Hermione descended towards him from the pedestal under
her own power.  The touch of hands led fairly fluidly into an embrace,
here begun by Hermione... but the nice thing about a tight clinch in
this case is that it keeps the characters from having to look at one
another.  We held that embrace for a long time, only breaking for
Perdita's introduction, when Hermione's attention had an obvious new
point to shift to.

Derek Wood follows further along in the scene, with the question:
> >Does Hermione forgive Leontes?  I know she "embraces" him... but Hermione has words only for her daughter. "Our Perdita is found" makes her speak.... She has no words for her husband.  Is this only a token forgiveness?<<

One aspect of V.iii that I haven't seen mentioned is that our reaction
to Leontes and his crime, and the likelihood (indeed, desirability!) of
Hermione's forgiveness, ought very much to depend on how his sixteen
years "alone" (sans wife, sans son, sans trusted and worthy courtiers
Camillo and Antigonus-Cleomenes and Dion are mighty pale replacements)
in Sicily are portrayed.  On the one hand, you could view Paulina's
maintenance of the charade (and continual reminders of Leontes' crimes,
too often to my mind played for comedy rather than grief) as
extraordinarily cruel: what kind of woman is she, to go "twice or thrice
a day to that removed house" where Hermione lives in exile, and as often
to bop back to court to torment the suffering monarch?  Who is Paulina
to spend so long so close to Leontes, a vulture pecking continuously at
his suffering Prometheus?  Note that I do not claim she's a heartless
harridan: just that there are two sides to this "ideological" debate
over who is most monstrous.

To me, the question of why Hermione waits for so long amidst Leontes
over-evident and abject sorrow is at least as interesting as the more
famous one of whence springs his jealousy in the first place.
Certainly, it has to do with the dictates of the plot (!).  Our
Hermione, Paulina, and I conceived of the delay as springing from
several sources: an over-rapid decision by our rash Paulina (the
presentation of infant Perdita was none too clever, in timing or logic!)
to claim Hermione's death in order to free her of Leontes' wrath; the
obvious difficulty and embarassment in admitting to said false death
even when the king's sorrow was most clear; the shock of the
accusations, premature birth, trial, and Mamillius' death "breaking"
Hermione into an introverted state in sharp contrast to her previous
extroversion....  A host of character-oriented explanations to help the
actresses play their roles more convincingly.  Both Hermione and Leontes
are wounded people, in their own ways, and V.iii hardly repairs all.

Derek Wood again:
>> Remember Prospero's forgiveness of his "unnatural" brother:"For you, most wicked sir, whom to call brother / Would even infect my mouth, I do forgive / Thy rankest fault...."  I wonder if this is such "sugar coated sentimentality"?<<

Another excellent point.  I played Prospero's "unnatural" Antonio for
RSC member Geoffrey Church in a 1991 Rice U. production.  He was a bit
spineless in my portrayal: he'd never gotten free of the military
occupation Alonzo imposed to help him usurp Milan.  And to be thus faced
with being thrust again into insignificance, into his brother's
shadow....  At the end of the play, he took one of his first ever
totally independent steps.  I hung back near the rear of the group going
to the happy reconciliation inside Prospero's cave, and when Prospero
made yet another gesture of inclusion, turned on my heel and stalked out
of the theatre down the aisle.  Oh, perhaps he just sulked on the beach
and then headed back to Milan with the rest.  Or perhaps he and Caliban
got along famously, or maybe the exile could help create for Antonio
some of the spiritual growth and development that his elder brother
seems to have achieved.  But it certainly made the audience think about
whether that relationship was capable of, or even warranted, repair, and
whether the ending could be quite so pat.

That said, I think The Tempest will bear such a reversal of
expectations, while The Winter's Tale will not.  Leontes and Hermione
need not be rendered again an ultimately happy couple, innocent and
uncaring of their former deeds and griefs-but the forgiveness must
happen, or the play fails.  Not ideologically, perhaps, but
dramatically, I fear.  To do otherwise perverts the plot and, if I may
wax Constitutional for a moment, the "original intent" of the "framer",
in the service of uncreative and inflexible, indeed in this case
unhopeful, ideology.

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean K. Lawrence <
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Date:           Saturday, 12 Apr 1997 12:51:46 -0700
Subject: 8.0450  Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0450  Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

>> And the statement that "we are all ideologically informed" is a simple categorical assertion.  This is to make life too easy for oneself.<<

I just wanted to agree with Lee Gibson's statement above, and add that,
as a categorical assertion, it's on par with a lot of others, like
saying that we are all ultimately motivated by a recollection of the
form of the good, or by the love of God, or by unconscious sexual
desire.  These sorts of totalizing epistemological statements are, in
turn, at least analogous to totalizing ontological statements (i.e.,
everything is Being, or God, or Ideology, or Water).  (Though, of
course, I don't mean to confuse epistemology with ontology).

Efforts, like Gabriel's, to show that the positions of opponents are
themselves ideologically motivated are likewise no more convincing than
Platonic efforts to show that everything is ultimately the forms,
Christian efforts to show that all religions are merely approximations
of Christianity, or Zeno's efforts to show that nothing ever really
changes.  The mere fact that anyone can carry out such a reduction of
his or her opponent's position to his or her own militates against
taking any such effort as the last word.  More than one can play at this
sophomoric game of ad hominems.

In fact, such a rhetoric only shows ideology attempting to become
totalizing, to rule out all other approaches to the world ahead of
time.  Rather than making ideology seem convincing, such approaches only
make it seem all the more insidious, a sort of intellectual imperialism,
refusing to recognize the otherness of other arguments and to respect
it.

In so doing, it also robs art of the possibility of any true subversion,
of calling into question our enlightenment tendency to treat all effects
as products of strings of effective causation, to call into question our
rather naive materialism, or to question our way of being in the world.

Cheers,
Sean.

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Adrian Kiernander <
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Date:           Sunday, 13 Apr 1997 12:22:50 +1000
Subject: 8.0450  Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0450  Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

Dear Paul

The major point I'm trying to argue is that my response to the ending of
_WT_ is influenced by  ideological beliefs and understandings, based in
my reading of people like Monique Wittig for example, and my intense
reaction to domestic violence. I would then argue that your different
response is equally ideological in its approval of the forgiveness of
Leontes under the circumstances. I would argue that a modification to
your ideological position on this issue might modify your response to
the ending of this play. If we can agree on that point then you will
have acknowledged that a focus on ideology is of significant interest in
analysing  reactions to the statue scene, in that different ideologies
can potentially make audience members swoon in rapture, turn away in
disgust, or something else.

I am not arguing that my (hypothetical) reading is right and yours
wrong, or whether yours is immoral. These are irrelevant questions to my
immediate concern, which is simply that both accepting and denying the
nature and importance of gender politics in the play are ideological
moves, and that your reaction, which I think you have claimed to be
ideologically neutral and purely aesthetic, is in fact inextricably
bound up with your ideological positioning. (I am not trying to make
assumptions about what that positioning is, but it seems to me plausible
that your sympathy for the figure of Leontes and your evident emotion
when both Hermione and the narrative of the play forgive him at the end
is not inconsistent with your decision to describe yourself as gay
rather than queer. I can't speak for Canada, but in Australia this
decision would be politically charged and might well suggest a greater
willingness to sympathise and collaborate with patriarchal het power
structures.) And please explain why neither the play nor your response
can be reduced to imputed messages such as,  "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?" You may be able to persuade me on this point but you
haven't even tried yet.

I believe you are quibbling, or worse, when you charge me with confusion
when I say that "at least two people actually die" in the play. I assume
you're referring to the all-too-common confusion between fictitious
characters and living human beings. On this occasion there is no
confusion in my mind: *within the fiction* there are two characters who
"actually" die, as opposed to one who "apparently" dies but doesn't
really. The confusion between character and human being is one I attempt
to avoid scrupulously, because it leads into silly attempts to
psychoanalyse characters which have no psyches, to create life-histories
for representations which have no lives and no histories outside the
text, and to speculate fruitlessly about whether characters "really"
faint, or how many children they have, or whether Leontes is "really"
homosexual. I think the confusion is on the other foot here. (Of course
a production or actor could choose to play Leontes as in love with
Polixenes, but there's nothing in the text which requires that reading,
and any theatre critic who claims that a production MUST play him as
other than heterosexual and homosocial should have his/her knuckles
rapped severely. Leontes's "desire for Polixenes" is by no means a "fact
about the play". In any case I'm far from comfortable with the
assumption that a character who is confused and ruins the lives of
everyone around him has to be homosexual. Haven't we seen enough of this
stereotype?)

Finally, I'm now totally confused by your comments on reductive
criticism.  I thought that one of your main accusations against
ideologically explicit approaches was that they reduced the text. But if
you agree that all accounts reduce the text, I'm not sure where this
leaves your argument. Or perhaps you want to start quantifying the
reduction-ideological approaches give you a 50% loss on the full meaning
whereas with aesthetic approaches there's only a 10% wastage?

Adrian


[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Hawkins <
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Date:           Sunday, 13 Apr 1997 16:16:28 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Ideology:  The Aesthetics of WT

While Adrian Kiernander, Gabriel Egan, Eve Gajowksi, and doubtless
others find the last scene of *WT* nauseating, Joseph Lockett wishes to
avoid "the stench" of the ideology discussion altogether, asking "what
does it all matter?"

I don't think any debate in literary studies matters more than this one
(that may just be me).  There is an enormous evil in our profession's
blithe, perhaps blind, certainly now unthinking acceptance of the phrase
"all is ideology."

The idea that "all is ideology," and that where the constitution of the
human subject is concerned, "it's culture all the way down" (in the
words of Richard Rorty), may have some claim on our attention.  And it
may very well be wrong.  The theories and experimental evidence of much
cognitive science and evolutionary psychology (as I understand them)
would seem to go some way towards proving claims like "all is ideology"
wrong.  These things are summarized in chapter 13 of Stephen Pinker's
marvelous *The Language Instinct* (Pinker is a graduate of Dawson
College, the CEGEP in Montreal where I teach).

But whether right or wrong, whole truth or partial truth, "all is
ideology" holds sway (or at least seems to at conferences and in
journals); it is the dogma that frames and enables all questions, and it
can't itself be questioned.

Most dogmas have pernicious effects when held by a majority.

(I wish that once and for all I could clear away from this debate the
straw human of the dogmatic aesthete, insisting that his response is
"right" and absolute, that opponents continually introduce into this
debate; the blather about an aesthetic approach absolutely endorsing
certain cultural and moral values against all others; the inanity of the
aesthete dozing off in vague contemplation of "the eternal verities."
But such cliches provide some comfort, I know.  Doubtless my cliches
similarly comfort me.)

In this discussion, the principle "effect" has been to reduce, to
pigeon-hole, and to judge categorically and in advance *any* aesthetic
response to art as *necessarily* bound up with (for example) the
maintenance of heterosexual patriarchy and capitalism.  Perhaps I
overstate, but it seems to me that all I had to do was mention
"aesthetic response" and instantly in the minds of the all-is-ideologues
I am unproblematically allied with the ruling order, whatever the nature
of the response (whatever the nature of me), whatever its meaning,
evidence and sense be dammed.

The starkness of the issues is focused in a recent comment by Gabriel
Egan:

"The different responses are not conditioned by aesthetics . . .but by a
lived experience of power relations."

Our disagreement could not be plainer.  I think what conditions our
responses most is the breadth of our imagination.  Ironically, I think a
lived experience of oppression can make acts of the imagination by which
we transcend ourselves easier rather than more difficult, as long as
one's oppression has enabled one to develop strengths to counter-balance
the bitterness and the resentment.  It may be arrogant to say it, but I
think being gay has made me a better reader of the aesthetic than I
would otherwise have been.  When I read and was blown away by the
magnificent book, *The Western Canon,* I just
assumed-unimaginatively-that its author was gay.  I didn't think a
straight man in our society and culture could possibly have such love of
great literature.

Adrian Kiernander introduced into the discussion the reducing of
aesthetic response to a lived experience of oppression by saying he can
perfectly well understand and sympathize with a female student who has
suffered domestic abuse and who might find the ending of *WT* only
nauseating (since then, nausea has been catching).  I agreed that I
could understand and sympathize, too, but also said that I won't assume
that would be or should be the student's response.  In fact, I can
imagine a student-male or female- whose suffering might be eased by the
play's end and by the play.  I can even imagine someone being healed by
it, by re-readings of it over a lifetime.

I'm not saying it would happen.  But some art can have healing power.
Harold Bloom writes of the healing power of Whitman.

I hope I may quote him at some length:
"I remember one summer, in crisis, being at Nantucket with a friend who
was absorbed in fishing, while I read aloud to both of us from Whitman
and recovered myself again.  When I am alone and read aloud to myself,
it is almost always Whitman, sometimes when I desperately need to
assuage grief.  Whether you read aloud to someone else or in solitude,
there is a peculiar appropriateness in chanting Whitman.  He is the poet
of our climate, never to be replaced, unlikely ever to be matched.  Only
a few poets in the language have surpassed `When Lilacs Last in the
Dooryard Bloom'd':  Shakespeare, Milton, perhaps one or two others.
Whether even Shakespeare and Milton have achieved a more poignant pathos
and a darker eloquence than Whitman's `Lilacs,' I am not always
certain.  The great scene between the mad Lear and the blind Gloucester;
the speeches of Satan after he has rallied his fallen legions-these
epitomize the agonistic Sublime.  And so does this, but with
preternatural quietness:

     In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-
          wash'd palings
     Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves
          of rich green,
     With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the
          perfume strong I love,
     With Every leaf a miracle-and from this bush in the
          dooryard,
     With delicate-color'd blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of
          rich green,
     A sprig with its flower I break."
                                        (289-290)

While not as good as Whitman's `Lilacs', so too do some lines of
Leontes, Paulina, and Hermione. (Gabriel Egan recently praised
"resistive reading": where do we find a better resistive reading of
Leontes than in the speeches of Hermione in her trial, and in Paulina's
extraordinary denunciations of him?  The resistive reading that Gabriel
needs to believe has been pushed to the margins is actually at the
centre of the play-and at the centre of its aesthetic power)

"All is ideology" in the hands of the present all-is-ideologues would
deny the imagination by which we can identify beyond ourselves and
against ourselves.  It's interesting that Adrian Kiernander acknowledges
the power of the end of *WT* to make him feel, but also makes clear that
that power must be resisted.  Why this need to resist the power of art,
its tyrannical power perhaps, as if it were a real-life tyrant?  It asks
to exercise our imagination, and neither imposes on us nor precludes any
moral value, any political position, any ideological or ontological
confinement.  It blasts open any containment in those areas.

I can imagine many an academic standing in front of Michelangelo's
*Pieta* unable to be moved, since God has never been alive, to see him
dead.

Paul Hawkins

[7]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Bishop <
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Date:           Sunday, 13 Apr 1997 17:43:11 -0500
Subject: 8.0450  Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0450  Re: Ideology: The Aesthetics of WT

I would like to thank all those people who took the time to show Paul
Hawkins how utterly objectionable his pleasure in the final scene of the
Winter's Tale is.  It's nice to see some good old-fashioned moral
criticism throwing its hat back in the ring after so long. As these
commentators so clearly believe, art is highly moral and any art that
might offend those with whom we are in ethical solidarity must be
rigorously exposed, along with its defenders.  This is just the sort of
thing that objectionable artist Andres Serrano was doing a few years
back.  And that other Mapplethorpe bloke to boot. This Shakespeare fella
has got to go.  I am writing to Senator Helms right now to have his NEA
grant revoked.
 

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