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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: January ::
Re: Postmodernism
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0030  Thursday, 8 January 1998.

[1]     From:   Mary Jane Miller <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 7 Jan 1998 13:02:15 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0028  Re: Postmodernism

[2]     From:   Robert Dennis <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 7 Jan 1998 15:14:56 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0028  Re: Postmodernism

[3]     From:   Ira Abrams <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 7 Jan 1998 22:45:21 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 9.0028  Re: Postmodernism

[4]     From:   Tiffany Rasovic <
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        Date:   Thursday, 08 Jan 1998 10:25:11 +0000
Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0028  Re: Postmodernism: Mr. Jensen

[5]     From:   Jacqueline Strax <
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Date:   Thursday, 8 Jan 1998 12:40:4    8 -0
Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0028  Re: Postmodernism

[6]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Jan 1998 13:10:51 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0028  Re: Postmodernism


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mary Jane Miller <
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Date:           Wednesday, 7 Jan 1998 13:02:15 -0500
Subject: 9.0028  Re: Postmodernism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0028  Re: Postmodernism

Why would anyone want anyone else banned from this often informative and
occasionally inflamed list? We are all grownups and can look our for
ourselves -as amply demonstrated by the current dust-up.

Mary Jane Miller
Director of Dramatic Literature, Drama in Education  and Theatre Studies
Brock University,

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert Dennis <
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Date:           Wednesday, 7 Jan 1998 15:14:56 -0500
Subject: 9.0028  Re: Postmodernism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0028  Re: Postmodernism

On Mon., 05 Jan 1998, Laura Fargas <
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 > wrote:
     >The most cursory knowledge of the era-which
     >is exactly all I can claim -- teaches that in
     >his plays Shakespeare was not trying to write
     >transcendent material.  He was trying to get
     >a show on the boards.

Doesn't this pronouncement itself violate the principles of
post-modernism under whose banner Ms. Fargas has charged forth?  To
suggest that Shakespeare was trying to write something equivalent to a
weekly Seinfeld episode, concerned _only_ with getting the show on the
boards appears to be a modern interpretation of an era about which Ms.
Fargas by self-admission knows little.  With regard to putting his show
on the boards, I would agree that Shakespeare probably faced numerous
hassles doing that; but is it not possible that he was doing _more_ than
that?  One might say he was "doing just that", but not "doing
_just_that".

Claiming that Shakespeare intended nothing more than the play's action
itself to be communicated to the viewer is perilously close to the
opinion, "[..any writer..] was only doing what _I_ am capable of
understanding".  There is an appropriate milieu for this type of assault
on literature and literary theory from the standpoint that, whatever one
does not understand is, _ipso_ _facto_, not available to you in the
work, regardless of whether the writer intended for it to be there.  But
such a claim is quite different from a claim that the author actually
never had any intentionality at all.  The claim of no intentionality is
as weak as the opposite claim of specifically detailed intentionality.
Neither critic has priority for reading the mind of the dead author.

My experience in reading and in watching plays and movies, has taught me
that if literary material lends itself to a larger-scope interpretation,
it pretty much was the intent of the author to put it there.  In fact,
most, if not all, writers appear to be putting more than just the words
on paper; some writers are much better at sugar-coating the pill than
others.  Yes, there are interpreters whose extremes of
self-accommodation and self-appropriation should clearly put us off
their evaluations and pronouncements.  But because one person might
abuse critical license, does it therefore mean that we must put aside
all intellectual exercises with respect to literature?

In a recent mathematics book the writer, Shaughan Lavine, after
re-telling a commonly reported an erroneous account/interpretation in
the recent history of mathematics states:

        "There are three main philosophical purposes for telling
     the story just sketched.  The first is to counteract the
     baneful influence of the standard account, which seems to
     have convinced many philosophers of mathematics that our
     intuitions are seriously defective and not to be relied on
     and that the axioms of mathematics are therefore to a large
     extent arbitrary, historically determined, conventional, and
     so forth.  The details vary, but the pejoratives multiply."

While Lavine intended his sentiments only for his description of the
development of Cantor's theory of the infinite and subsequent
developments in set theory, it struck me as I read his words, that we
might easily and sensibly re-read the paragraph substituting terms
appropriate to recent theory of literature and literary criticism:

   Some post-modernists have attempted to convince us that the
institutions
   of literary achievement are "seriously defective and not to be relied
   on" and that the axioms of literary quality and literary analysis are
   "to a large extent arbitrary, historically determined, conventional
..."

I stand with the crowd (?) who think the extremists among
post-modernists are wrong: that literary institutions retain a great
deal of validity, and that the axioms of literary quality are neither
arbitrary nor necessarily historically determined.

Sincerely, and with great respect for professional critics and
theorists,
Bob Dennis

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[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ira Abrams <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 7 Jan 1998 22:45:21 -0500
Subject: Re: Postmodernism
Comment:        SHK 9.0028  Re: Postmodernism

> Let us continue to band together to teach Mr. Hawkes civility.  If he will not
>learn it, I hope he will be banned from this list.

As one of the people who responded unfavorably to  T. Hawkes' last
message, I would like to be counted out of the lynch-mob now forming on
the right.  If I thought my only alternative to suffering the slings and
arrows of outrageous deconstruction had been to <<band together>> with
wounded political animals, I would have shuffled off my academic coil
long ago.

Ira Abrams

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tiffany Rasovic <
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 >
Date:           Thursday, 08 Jan 1998 10:25:11 +0000
Subject: 9.0028  Re: Postmodernism: Mr. Jensen
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0028  Re: Postmodernism: Mr. Jensen

Dear Mr. Jensen,

Your assertion that Prof. Hawkes' reply to the Jenny Jones' spin-off was
an 'attack' is itself an overstatement.  I saved and re-read the
messages in question and I find them to be quite civil.  Your message
reads much more like a 'flaming' attack than what Hawkes' wrote.

In actuality, Hawkes was defending a position which-God prohibit it!--he
feels strongly about. He did not merely huff and puff about it, rather
he gave coherent and compelling reasons for his position.  I think that
the academic community, even in undergraduate courses is being paralyzed
and dehumanized by people caring so much about civility.  Let's get
passionate about something-after all, this is drama we're talking
about.  I like to think that Mr. W. S. was not a cold fish, and I
envision him getting drunk while running new verses with his actors and
getting out-of-hand and carried away by the emotions-which, I suspect we
have all done at one time or another.

A teacher of Italian who lives in my building bemoans the apathy of his
students-I bemoan the dry-intellectualism of my colleagues at Boston
College's English department-and they are Masters students who will
teach! But with what fervor!? (Perhaps I should run away and join a
theater troupe.) The only time I can get a real discussion going is with
my husband, but he's not an American, he is a Yugoslav and they allow a
much broader range of emotions socially and professionally than we do
over here.  This can be a real headache, yet it can also be great fun.

I'm not bashing 'pc' nor am I advocating the Spice Girls be canonized
fact, I hide behind Socrates-"I know that I know nothing."

Let's get passionate (but not 'flaming' or too personal)-However, let's
get passionate about the matter we are here to discuss.  Someone wrote
that we are getting off the topic, Shakespeare, and I fully agree.  Take
your comments to a postmodern discussion list, or make them private.

Cheers,
Tiffany Rasovic

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jacqueline Strax <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Jan 1998 12:40:48 -0500
Subject: 9.0028  Re: Postmodernism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0028  Re: Postmodernism

> > One era's trashy entertainment becomes another era's gate to the
> > sublime.  Why? At least in part because the people of the second era
> > have been given, or have developed, "eyes to see with."  Whence cometh
> > that gift or development?  From the precise kind of interrogation of
> > value judgments, both explicit and so implicit as to be nearly
> > invisible, that is the manifest project of post-modernism.

I wish I could (still)  write like this because maybe then I would have
finished my dissertation and been hired by a Canadian university and
made a lot of money and had a pension plan.  Instead I got a precarious
life and read more deconstructionists than anyone needs (only a few of
them are truly sublime) and along the way thought some more about what
makes Shakespeare's plays so wonderful that even a fourteen-year-old
girl in a messed up family in post-war Britain could, simply by reading
them in a classroom next to a factory, start claiming at least one key
to the freedom of her own mind, heart, and soul.

Reader, that girl was me, c. 1955/6. Now would the Spice Girls have done
it for me? Well, sure, I liked Little Richard, The Diamonds, Gene
Vincent and the Blue Caps, and Ray Charles singing See that Girl With
the Red Dress On. Not (at that time) Doris Day. Some of that era's
"trashy entertainment" was one of my gate's to the sublime right then
and there. And this is part of what Shakespeare, Blake and the Gang
affirmed (why not say, told me?): you always have eyes to see with.
Keep them open. Your body can tell as well as your mind; your mind can
tell as well as your body.

Let's consider the belatedness of:

>> the precise kind of interrogation of
> > value judgments, both explicit and so implicit as to be nearly
> > invisible, that is the manifest project of post-modernism.

Where would I be now if I'd had to wait for my future, temporary
academic self to give me the gift of theorizing everything I was already
registering and sorting out about what was rotten and what I valued in
the state of my self, my family, Britain? What I really enjoyed, who I
really loved, how I could hate and love the same person, etc. Where
would I be if, before valuing them, I'd waited for the future to explain
why I believed ("on my life") that Jayne Mansfield, Ray Charles, Dave
Brubeck, Louis Armstrong & Co, Picasso, Karl Marx, and Shakespeare when
he put Hamlet out there crying "A rat! a rat!" as he lunged with his
rapier - all were letting valuable stuff into the world?

Stuff, data, information, put into play ( I might say now) in such a way
that uncontaminated feelings and rank phoniness, truth and lies, honesty
and trickery danced before my eyes.

I might *say* something like this now (in the slack style of an OBD);
and being able to reflect on and analyze past experience may save one's
sanity. But I experienced it then and there. Which is why it seems to me
now that this specific postmodernist account I'm reacting to of how
Dross Turns to Gold through the alchemy that is "the manifest project of
postmodernism" really is bad science.

It is bad science, and it looks like freezedried Levis-ism. It posits a
necessary Higher (future) Criticism without which ApparentTrash has no
value. But nothing will persuade me against this: an infant registers
the difference between sublime and disgusting. That's how it gets to
stay alive, by rooting for mother's milk and glomming on when it finds
it. And a child can tell when something *suppresses* something else (and
has inklings of all  that that implies).

Human beings (till we're all clones) come with varying degrees of
sensitivity, robustness, eagerness and patience, etc. But they really do
have a set (is it five or seven?)  of facial expressions (happiness,
disgust etc). These really are *for* something - registering Telling
Food from Poison, etc. And this usually works.

Art is made by human beings (and maybe a few other animals). Human
beings cannot help asking "is this any good?" (for me and mine, for
other people, for future generations, for animals and plants, for the
planet, for the universe.... ). Deconstructionist criticism is good when
practiced as an art, even as a medicine. But so far, to the extent it
aspires to science, or meta-science, it often seems to turn out (like a
good bit of Freud and most of Marxist-Leninism) to be practiced in a
vacuum constructed to keep science out for the sake of one or other
pseudo-scientific Authority.

This is too far from Spice Girls and Shakespeare. Sorry. But I would
argue, only a science that likes art can explain how human beings make
the kinds of judgments postmodernism extols when it makes them on all
our behalves.

As for banning Terence Hawkes, I'd leave this list if any such nonsense
occurs. Ban Falstaff, ban Falstaff, ban T Hawkes? Get real.

Jacqueline Strax

[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Jan 1998 13:10:51 -0500
Subject: 9.0028  Re: Postmodernism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0028  Re: Postmodernism

In one idiomatic use of the term, "hawk[e]s" is usually followed by
"spit[e]s." This cheers me.

But I want to defend Mr. T. H. against Mike Jensen's proposal that he be
banned from the group-the incivility of his Red rags ("Tory!  Tory!")
has spun off some of the liveliest threads in the history of the site
(including this one), in ways that more courteous but more diffuse
provocations might not.  We'd be poorer without him.

Dave Evett
 

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