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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: January ::
Re: Postmodernism
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0087  Thursday, 29 January 1998.

[1]     From:   Kenneth Meaney <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Jan 1998 16:03:11 +0200
        Subj:   Re: Postmodernism

[2]     From:   Norm Holland <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Jan 98 09:32:12 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0085  Re: Postmodernism

[3]     From:   Tanya Gough <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Jan 1998 10:10:33 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0085  Re: Postmodernism

[4]     From:   Paul Lord <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Jan 1998 08:34:37 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0085  Re: Postmodernism

[5]     From:   Ethan Wells <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Jan 1998 11:43:28 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   [Postmodernism]

[6]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Jan 1998 13:05:47 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0085  Re: Postmodernism

[7]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Jan 1998 15:52:15 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0085  Re: Postmodernism

[8]     From:   Michael Yogev <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 Jan 1998 00:56:15 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0077  Re: Postmodernism


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth Meaney <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Jan 1998 16:03:11 +0200
Subject:        Re: Postmodernism

T Hawkes says:

>Dear Bill Godshalk: You say 'I'm arguing for human agency in the use of
>language.  We humans use language as a tool, a rather unique tool, but a
>tool.' Admirable. But how does this differ from 'Words don't mean. WE
>mean BY words'? Can 'Shakespeare doesn't mean, we mean by Shakespeare'
>be far behind?  Beware. Probation looms.

It seems to me that "Words don't mean. WE mean BY words" could just as
easily lead to: "Shakespeare doesn't mean, Shakespeare means by
words/the plays". We're getting into shallow water here.

Ken Meaney
University of Joensuu,
Finland

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Norm Holland <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Jan 98 09:32:12 EST
Subject: 9.0085  Re: Postmodernism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0085  Re: Postmodernism

Amen, Bill!  You say it very well.  --Best, Norm

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tanya Gough <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Jan 1998 10:10:33 -0500
Subject: 9.0085  Re: Postmodernism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0085  Re: Postmodernism

Dearest Terence,

You seem to be at a loss in distinguishing between B.G.'s definition of
language as a tool and what you feel to be an exaggerated extrapolation
in 'Words don't mean. WE mean BY words'.  Well, they are the same, and
your fervor goes a long way to proving Bill's argument (I mean, beyond
the fact that it took me 5 minutes to figure out what you were trying to
say, which goes to prove that words do not always carry meaning).  Any
language is based on communal agreement: word A conveys meaning A
because that group of people say it does.  Use that word in the deepest
reaches of China, and your meaning is useless.  Trust me, I know.
Context and usage go a long way to creating meaning.  If I suddenly say
"bidet" to you, you might think I had an unnatural fascination with
bathroom appliances.  But if I waved and smiled as you were leaving and
said the same thing, you might not be sure, but would possibly
contextualize the expression to mean "good-bye." It can also be said
that people who share the same language do not necessarily share the
same meanings.  I have a hard time understanding my Aussie friends,
especially when they get rowdy and are talking to each other.  It's a
combination of dialect, slang, and grammar which confounds me.  Heck, I
have trouble figuring out folks from Vancouver sometimes, but perhaps
that's just cultural difference.

And actually, Shakespeare (and by this I assume you mean his works, not
the man) does fluctuate in meaning.  Look at the many variants in the
way his works have been interpreted over the centuries.  We still don't
know exactly what Shakespeare meant when he wrote.  And what of the way
his words have changed in meaning?  Look also at the way Shakespeare's
works have been manipulated over the years:  Henry V used to glorify the
career of an upstart young Irishman, R&J designed for the MTV generation
(that's MuchMusic up here, by the way),  Loncraine's blackly comedic R3,
any version with Keanu Reeves in it.

But just because we are incapable of determining exact meaning, it
doesn't mean we should give up trying.  The process of analysis is
infinitely fascinating (or, I assume it is for most of us, or we
wouldn't do what we do for a living), and ultimately leads us to
understand *ourselves* better.

Tanya

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Lord <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Jan 1998 08:34:37 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 9.0085  Re: Postmodernism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0085  Re: Postmodernism

Terence Hawkes writes:

>Dear Bill Godshalk: You say 'I'm arguing for human agency in
>the use of language.  We humans use language as a tool, a
>rather unique tool, but a tool.' Admirable. But how does this
>differ from 'Words don't mean. WE mean BY words'?  Can
>'Shakespeare doesn't mean, we mean by Shakespeare' be far
>behind?

Shakespeare is a human agent, while words are not.  As this dichotomy
seems to be the crux of the argument, you can't reasonably substitute
one for the other and claim to have a valid analogy.

Regards,
paul

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ethan Wells <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Jan 1998 11:43:28 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        [Postmodernism]

> The rest is silence.

The quasi-ultimate esoteric remark on

Ethan Wells

PS: >it's back to the diet coke- that's the stuff you snort through the
nose, right?

If it's the stuff you snort through the nose, don't get diet.

[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Jan 1998 13:05:47 -0500
Subject: 9.0085  Re: Postmodernism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0085  Re: Postmodernism

T. Hawkes quotes me:

>'We humans use language as a tool, a rather unique tool, but a
>tool.'

Then adds: "Admirable. But how does this differ from 'Words don't mean.
WE
>mean BY words'? Can 'Shakespeare doesn't mean, we mean by Shakespeare'
>be far behind?  Beware. Probation looms."

Number one, unlike T. Hawkes, I try to avoid comma splices, so I will
never write: "'Shakespeare doesn't mean, we mean by Shakespeare'." And I
don't understand what "we mean by Shakespeare" means. Are you trying to
tell me that, when I read Shakespeare's plays, I actually interpret the
language?  If so, I agree.

And as for words having no meaning, if words don't mean anything, how do
you account for the existence of dictionaries that actually do contain
definitions of words?

As I recall, this little flurry began when T. Hawkes said that certain
words and phrases contain pus. I wrote to say that, from my point of
view, this is not the case: words do not contain pus, nor anything else
for that matter. My meaning is and was and ever will be: T. Hawkes
should mind his metaphors!

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[7]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Jan 1998 15:52:15 -0500
Subject: 9.0085  Re: Postmodernism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0085  Re: Postmodernism

The Rebarbative One from Cincinnati (so much easier for a bushy fellow
like him than a poor meager clean-shaven one like me) has twice in the
last few days accused me of Lexical Idealism, or whatever the right term
is for the notion that words have intrinsic meanings independent of the
community that uses them and the referents that some or most or nearly
all the members of that community have come to assign to those words.

Let me repeat myself:

"the metonymies WE AGREE TO USE for complex events CAN SUGGEST SOMETHING
about our attitudes toward those events.  A term with lots of more or
less consistent connotations like Holocaust already begins to express
feelings about the events to which it refers (contrast with Final
Solution); whereas a more or less neutral geographic indicator like
Rwanda or Bosnia implies a corresponding emotional neutrality."

I believe that the capitalized phrases, taken as establishing a
conceptual frame for what follows in the rest of the message, adequately
cover the old bum.  (Mine, not necessarily T. Hawkes'; but he is quite
capable of mounting his own rear guard.)

I could, to be sure, have been more scrupulous.  "A term, Holocaust,
which, during the last years of the time period they mostly agree to
call the twentieth century, a significant fraction of the speakers and
readers of English in Europe and North America have taken to responding
to in roughly definable and roughly similar ways, to wit, that when used
in contexts where it can be taken to refer to the murder of many
millions of Jews at the hands of agents of the German state during the
period before and during the Second World War, it also indicates that
these events were bad, wrong, horrible, disgusting, barbarous
[whoops-there it is again], savage, unconscionable, etc., etc. . . ."
But that's pretty cumbersome-almost as bad as hiring wretches to carry
around huge bags of objects to serve as referents to which one can,
indeed, point: "This!!!" One use of figures of speech is to save words;
the economy usually carries some risk of misunderstanding.  The
personifications many speakers and writers of English customarily use
when dealing with language, which do indeed assign to such terms
grammatical status as agents, are such figures: "a more or less neutral
geographic indicator like Rwanda or Bosnia IMPLIES. . . ."
Post-structuralist linguistics and philosophy have, indeed, warned us to
beware of their beguiling power.  But I think most of us do so.

Yours, here in the posteriors of the day,

Dave Evett

[8]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Yogev <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 Jan 1998 00:56:15 +0200
Subject: 9.0077  Re: Postmodernism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0077  Re: Postmodernism

Bemused yet saddened, I sit in the land that attempts to un-define Jews
from the outside in the name of preserving their orthodox signifying
authority, and wonder if any on the list besides me paid attention to
the most egregious example in recent years of the sort of significatory
manipulation of recent years.  I'm speaking of Shimon Peres' ill-advised
and needlessly bloody incursion into Lebanon on the eve of the 1996
elections in Israel, a blatant attempt to sell himself to the nervous
middle of the political map.  Instead it emerged as an atrocious and
disastrous blunder, one he had oh-so-literarily dubbed "Grapes of
Wrath".  Signifiers, indeed-I'm sure Steinbeck rolled over in his grave
(probably to vomit).

Terry Hawkes and John Drakakis find themselves the target of righteous
realists who decry the formers' unrealistic focus on the power of
signifiers to mold the reality of the masses.  In Israel, what is
accurately known to the rest of the world as "occupied Southern Lebanon"
is never referred to as anything but "the security belt" or "zone". In
an era of rising unemployment and international tensions over the
comatose peace process (oops, a metaphor), Israel's national theater has
opened "Fiddler on the Roof" yet again (and with Topol no less!) while
Israeli TV and cable stations are screening movies about Holocaust
survivors, a series on the founding of the State of Israeli that
woefully ignores the centuries of Palestinian presence in this land, and
such Hollywood delights as "Stranger Among Us" (that Meg Ryan vehicle
where she goes undercover into a Hasidic community in New York and falls
in love with a yeshiva boy).  This latter film is and especially ironic
choice in the context of the orthodox Jews' attempt to thoroughly
delegitimize the Reform and Conservative movements in the USA and
elsewhere.

No one here is about to deny that the Holocaust occurred-though the
spectacle of right-wing leaders in the Knesset denying Yassir Arafat the
right to walk through a Holocaust museum does seem a bit paradoxical.
Hawkes would feel right at home here, where the signifiers fly fast and
thick, and their significations shift as quickly as the Mediterranean
winter.

Lighten up, and check your PC radar a bit.  The argument with semiotics
and postmodern theory is largely a red herring that serves to divide and
conquer those on this list who should turn more scrutiny to education
budgets that cut art programs first, the loss of potential graduate
students to communications programs instead, and the tax-funded
rhetoricians who churn out ideas like calling a war "Grapes of Wrath".

Posthumorously yours,
Michael Yogev
University of Haifa
 

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