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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: April ::
Re: Afterlife; Ideology
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0504.  Monday, 28 April 1997.

[1]     From:   Andrew Walker White <
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        Date:   Saturday, 26 Apr 1997 10:00:55 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Reading Hamlet

[2]     From:   Thomas Bishop <
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        Date:   Friday, 25 Apr 1997 15:21:06 -0500
        Subj:   Ideology

[3]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Saturday, 26 Apr 97 21:53:42 EST
        Subj:   SHK 8.0499  Re: Ideology


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Walker White <
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Date:           Saturday, 26 Apr 1997 10:00:55 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Reading Hamlet

Paul Hawkin's remarks on the 'reinvention' of great works like Hamlet is
well taken; my only concern is when artists and others, in the process
of reinvention, deliberately misread or ignore vital passages.  They
will come up with a very interesting theory or production or two, but
its value in the long run will be severely limited.

While it is a measure of its greatness, that Hamlet in particular has
seen so many incarnations and taken on so many guises, a part of me
involuntarily rebels when theorists, particularly some of the more
modern ones, try to tell me who Hamlet is and why he 'hesitates'.  I,
for one, don't believe he 'hesitates'.  He has perfectly good reasons
for everything he does, especially his refusal to kill Claudius at his
prayers, e.g.  He has no sexual dysfunction, he only in passing refers
to his wish to 'melt' and disappear from the world.

To my mind, most modern interpretations falter in one place; in dealing
with the Ghost.  If you accept the Ghost, you have to accept everything
the Ghost implies about the nature of the human soul, and the kind of
revenge Hamlet needs to take against Claudius.  Merely killing his body
wouldn't do it; his ultimate goal is to ensure Claudius suffers as much
as his Father does in the afterlife.

It was Masefield, in his wonderful precis on Hamlet, who pointed out
that the Prince lives in two worlds.  When theorists and directors
ignore this, I find their arguments on Hamlet that much less compelling.

Andy White

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Bishop <
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Date:           Friday, 25 Apr 1997 15:21:06 -0500
Subject:        Ideology

I thank Gabriel Egan for responding to my query. I have some questions
arising from his attempt to help me understand the relations among
biology, language and ideology.  A continued search has still failed to
turn up much work in this area.  It's not my field, and I appreciate
that it is probably not that of any of us. Still, it bears thinking
about.

Gabriel Egan writes:

>If I understand Richard Dawkins right, it's a system designed to
>facilitate the survival and reproductive success of the _genes_ that
>made it, not the organism in which it resides. Depending on the
>circumstances this might encourage altruistic or selfish behaviour
>according to how this behaviour affects the survival of other organisms
>sharing the same genes.

Richard Dawkins in this argument holds to what Niles Eldredge calls an
"ultra-Darwinian" position, one that wants to reduce the operation of
Darwinian processes to the lowest possible level.  Leaving aside all
questions of the evolutionary impact of selection at the organismal or
social level, Dawkins argues that bodies and societies are merely the
vectors for an evolutionary struggle between certain genes (not all
genes, since not all genes code for proteins).  The link between genes
and behavior though is much fought-over and it would be a brave, and
possibly foolish, theorist who would insist that genes code complex
behavior like language in a direct way. Most evolutionary theorists
argue that natural selection operates primarily on the single organism
within its ecosystem, including the socialities it enjoys with its own
and other species. But this is still controversial.

>Again, accepting that genes, not individuals, are the primary unit of
>reproduction (the Dawkins position), the "self as individual" concept is
>already a construction serving a biological need at a lower level. (That
>is, genes find that making me feel I have independent consciousness is a
>good way to reproduce themselves.)

I agree strongly that the organism's perception of itself as an
individual is determined by Darwinian process (though this entails at
least modifying the widespread claim that it is determined by -social-
process), and that the survival of an organism entails the survival of
its genes (though not their reproduction: an organism also needs to be
able to tell a viable mate from a non-viable one, and this may entail
curtailing a commitment to the single individual as the unit of
survival). Even on the argument above, however, the emergence of the
"self as individual" is a -necessary-construction given the constraints
of the system we inhabit.  Even if we concede a shaping link between
genes and consciousness, that -is- the way genes code us to be, and not
another way.

>The language function and the selfhood feeling don't go all the way down
>to the hardware. To the end of promoting a social end (the genes'
>survival) an illusion of unsocial existence (my consciousness) is
>constructed.

This is, I think, the nub. It appears from current research that "the
language function" actually -does- go down to the hardware, at least as
far down as the organization of the brain by natural selection into
potentialities and faculties. And Darwinism gives very good reasons for
this. I'm less sure about "the selfhood feeling" but, on the argument
above, "selfishness" is a very prominent element in Darwinian selection,
for Dawkins and others.  And without a workable way to distinguish self
from other, selfishness cannot come into being. I dont think we can
really call gene competition a "social end", as there can hardly be a
coherent sociality among nucleotides.  They don't plan policy, and
they're not like parasites. Thus consciousness of my individual being as
an organism at least is not an illusion at all, in any useful sense. It
is a necessary and entirely explicable element of my adaptation for the
world I am in as a Darwinian parcel of matter. If it ever proves
maladaptive, we will all presumably perish, but that's another story.
Slime-moulds dont write poetry.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Saturday, 26 Apr 97 21:53:42 EST
Subject: Re: Ideology
Comment:        SHK 8.0499  Re: Ideology

Gabriel Egan asserts that the "illusion" of individuality "does not go
all the way down to the hardware."  But he identifies the hardware as
the genes.  My understanding is that genes work more like software; the
hardware includes a huge and very complex system of brain and neural
cells, which seems to involve some interrelationships that are
genetically preset and some that are constructed by the processing of
various kinds of experience.  The argument Tom Bishop has advanced, I
believe, is that the presettings are pretty uniform across the species
and that they powerfully but not entirely affect the way the variables
can be processed.

Here's a brief summary of the position by Galen Strawson, from his
review of Mark Ridley's recently published *The Origins of Virtue*:
"Evolutionary psychology . . . has blown the extreme cultural-relativist
creed of many anthropologists and sociologists out of the water.  Its
first lesson-that there is such a thing as universal human nature-was
always entirely obvious to anyone with any feeling for the species, and
Ridley's way with the mystics of relativistic incommensurability is
suitably short: 'for all their superficial differences of language and
custom, foreign cultures are still immediately comprehensible at the
deeper level of motives, emotions, and social habits.' He doesn't deny
that cultural influences are extremely important; he uses the
hard-to-beat metaphor of the cake (culture cooks the cake, but all the
ingredients are supplied by the genes)"  (TLS 11/29/97:4).

Ridley himself argues  from what's known as the Wason test (which
involves determining whether an individual making decisions in a
particular context is altruistic or cheating) that certain social
processes are in fact part of the hardware: "...how can a part of the
brain instinctively know' social contract theory?  Has Rousseau somehow
infiltrated the genes?  It is no more absurd than arguing that the brain
somehow knows calculus because a sportsman can catch a ball by
extrapolating its trajectory, or grammar because you know how to make a
past tense from a previously unknown verb. . . . As a species, wherever
we live and in whatever culture, we seem to be uniquely aware of
cost-benefit analysis of exchanges..."(130) That is, some profoundly
effective transcultural biosocial system appears to operate in precisely
those activities and relationships commonly subsumed under the concept
of ideology in virtually all its meanings.

The main argument of Ridley's book is that most prior Darwinian thought
(and I think this includes most Marxist thought, as well, though of
course by no means all on either front), by focusing on the matter of
competition, missed "the myriad ways in which *individuals* [my
emphasis] do not always fight each other" (20)--can reach, for instance,
the kind of negotiated reconciliation figured in the closing scene of
*Winter's Tale*-- and to find not only individual but social
satisfaction in doing so.  That's a long jump in a short time, and it
may be that the SHAKSPER format is not really hospitable to this kind of
argument.  But I hope we can keep the discussion going, and will be
interested to see what responses appear.

Sociobiologically,
Dave Evett
 

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