The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.1264. Monday, 29 December 1997.
From: Terence Hawkes <
Date: Sunday, 28 Dec 1997 10:53:40 -0500
Subject: Xmas gift from an ex-wise-man
Comment: SHK 8.1259 Xmas gift from an ex-wise-man
Dear Norman Holland: Thanks for the lovely Christmas present. The
article was genuinely funny, very cleverly constructed, and I really
enjoyed it. However, looking at it slightly more closely, weren't you
the teeniest bit bothered by its politics? Now as you and I know -taught
this to some degree by postmodernism itself- any such phrase immediately
trips a number of levers that the writer of the piece has carefully
pre-set. Flags with devices such as 'can't you take a joke?', and
'humourless prat' run swiftly up their poles, signs saying 'Puritan'
and 'politics freak' start to flash and bleep, class and culture
barriers slide silently into place, ambiguities close down, pitying
smiles light up. It's a well crafted operation, and a real pleasure to
see it at work. After all, the conclusions on offer are nothing less
than reassuring: we can now all start being individual 'personalities'
once again; there are genuine material historical certainties, from
which postmodernism only temporarily seduced us; we can stop trying to
read those philosophers with the funny names. Eternal, natural verities
exist which never really change. In fact, fundamental change, given the
permanent features of universal human nature, isn't really possible, is
it? What a relief!
Nevertheless, can I suggest that your own introduction functions
slightly less well? Sadly, the undoubtedly well-merited
self-congratulatory tone, 'Hearing a beautiful performance Sunday on the
radio of _Messiah_ (Robert Shaw Chorale, Atlanta Symphony) has put me in
an Xmas spirit,' very nearly gives the game away. The eternal verities
creak onto the stage in a state of almost comic dilapidation here,
whilst the great, big comfy truths, (Music, Art, Christmas, not to say
snuggling down to listen to The Messiah on the radio) turn up in the
guise of full, industrial-strength norms, Norm. Slightly over the top, I
thought. Mind you, they make a lovely setting. God in his heaven, Norm
in his armchair. What more could anyone ask?
But can't you see, Norm, that to some degree the project of
Postmodernism was always to question those norms, to suggest that life
isn't as 'given' as they imply, that there are other and maybe better
ways of doing and running things, that what we have now isn't
necessarily the way it's 'sposed to be, that, in short, CHANGE is
possible? I suppose you can't. That's why, at precisely the moment when
this extremely funny piece starts to unravel (they all do, Norm) and to
become a little worrying, you seem to have no distancing devices to turn
to that might just enable you to recognise that the sort of thinking
lurking at the back of spoof titles like "The End of Manichean, Bipolar
Geopolitics Turned My Boyfriend Into an Insatiable Sex Freak (and I Love
It!)." is really a bit sinister.
Yes, I can see the 'No Sense of Humour' sign flashing away, as well as
the 'Why do you want to turn everything into Politics' one next to it.
It's Christmas after all and the real Truth doesn't change, does it?
Especially now that sanity has returned and the New York Times is once
more the measure of all things. Its probably time for another burst of
the Messiah, Norm. Perhaps a bit louder this time? Ho, ho, ho.