Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: December ::
Re: Presentism
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1208  Tuesday, 1 December 1998.

[1]     From:   Hugh Grady <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, 30 Nov 1998 09:42:20 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1202  Re: Presentism

[2]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, 30 Nov 1998 10:39:55 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1204  Re: Presentism

[3]     From:   Mike Jensen <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, 30 Nov 1998 09:41:33 -0800
        Subj:   SHK 9.1202  Re: Presentism

[4]     From:   David Lindley <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, 30 Nov 1998 17:44:09 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1204  Re: Presentism

[5]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, 30 Nov 1998 10:29:11 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1204  Re: Presentism


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hugh Grady <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 30 Nov 1998 09:42:20 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 9.1202  Re: Presentism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1202  Re: Presentism

Re: Presentism, once more!

Loggerheads may be developing because we're at such a high level of
generalization. But as I see it, presentist criticism needn't/shouldn't
deny the otherness of the past, which I believe should/must be posited.
However, the term Other as received via Lacan and Postcolonial studies
comes from Hegel and implies a dialectic: the Other is what the Self is
not; the Self is what the Other is not, and the two require/presuppose
each other to know themselves.

An interesting recent source on all this is the new book by Richard
Halpern, 'Shakespeare Among the Moderns,' which uses Walter Benjamin and
T. S. Eliot to help make the point that our construals of the past
always imply an allegory about the present-which need not, however,
preclude these construals from giving us useful information/evaluations
of the past.

The point really is that we have no other means to know the past, which,
as I see it, we never encounter directly but which impinges on our
paradigms and allows us to falsify some hypotheses and to distinguish
the relative adequacy of others-but always through our own categories.

Best,
Hugh Grady

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 30 Nov 1998 10:39:55 -0500
Subject: 9.1204  Re: Presentism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1204  Re: Presentism

>You've been at the zinfandel again Bill,

>I think that Terry's proposition is really very straightforward one. How
>can you look at the past from ANY position save that of the present? All
>narratives of the past are from the position of the present- how can
>they be otherwise?  That's the point that Stephen Greenblatt makes in
>the introductory chapter of Shakespearean Negotiations.

Yes, John, and you might have gone on to say that it's the point that I
made on this list about a week ago. I think we all agree that we humans
are stuck inside our historical moment (with the Memphis blues, no
doubt).

But some of us feel frustrated by this limitation, while T. Hawkes wants
to glorify it. Some of us want to understand the past as other, while
Hawkes wants to understand it ... well how does he want to understand
it? As only a projection of his own imagination? As merely a
construction of the present?

Even if we in the present construct our vision of what happened in the
past, something actually did happen way back then or two weeks ago, and
those events have inexorably led to the present. The chain remains
unbroken, and the idea of historical discontinuity is . . . well,
wishful thinking.

If we don't understand the past, we're bound to repeat it. Didn't two of
those dead white 19th century dudes make this point? Or do we forget
about them because they're history?

Shall we stare at our own navels?

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 30 Nov 1998 09:41:33 -0800
Subject: Re: Presentism
Comment:        SHK 9.1202  Re: Presentism

All,

Our cute little discussion on Presentism put me in mind of Steve
Turner's little poem from one of his books (can't remember which -
sorry).

History repeats itself.
Has to.
No one listens.

Best,
Mike Jensen

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Lindley <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 30 Nov 1998 17:44:09 GMT
Subject: 9.1204  Re: Presentism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1204  Re: Presentism

No, John Drakakis, it's not at all as simple as you rather
disingenuously make it sound.  Of course we can only look at the past
from the standpoint of the present, and of course we must fully
acknowledge that fact, try to account for it and so on.  It's true, too,
that recognising this simple truth leads to interesting possibilities,
which Terry Hawkes's own work can exploit with considerable panache.
But that's not the whole story - or so I would contend.  (And it's the
implication that it is the whole story with which I would contend most
strongly.)

Simple examples:

1. It's always been true that attempts to reconstruct the Globe theatre
have been significantly affected by the culture within which the
reconstructions were attempted (see any sequence of drawings of The
Globe); but, surely, it must be true that the more detailed and accurate
the archeological and other evidence upon which such reconstructions are
based, the less scope for such variation there might be.  This is a
question quite distinct from the (perhaps more interesting)
consideration  of the uses to which reconstructions of the Globe are put
in the wider cultural arena - but it makes the simple point that
historical  evidence might modify, challenge, or subvert anachronistic
representations of the theatre space in which Shakespeare was first
performed.

2. When I annotate my edition for the modern student, I am always aware
of the way in which too blind and simple-minded a 'presentism' can lead
to basic and fundamental misreading of what words mean.  Detailed
searches of material contemporary with the text might not exhuastively
prove that this meaning or that 'must' be right or wrong, but they can
establish a hierarchy of possibility.  Of course a modern reader or
performer might insist on an anachronistic reading - and something
positive might come out of that - but it still remains true that
awareness of linguistic distance can materially affect the range of
possibility the text holds.

Both of these examples are of what might be seen as nit-picking detail -
but each, I think, demonstrates what I would still claim to be the basic
and central point - that a facile adoption of 'presentism' - Hawkes as
boiled down by the average undergraduate, perhaps - ignores the ways,
large and small, in which the past talks back and refuses, repudiates,
or wriggles out from under the constructions we put upon it.

I think it's also important (at least to me) to insist that on this
question the world isn't just divided into the up-to-date, theoretically
sophisticated 'presentists', and dreary, stuck-in-the-mud, nostalgically
yearning fuddy-duddies.  It seems to me perfectly possible to allow the
premise that John Drakakis announces, without accepting the consequence
to which he, and, apparently, Terry Hawkes would drive us.  It's the
triangulation of our present, our construction of and response to the
past, and the evidence of that past which seems to me to be of most
value.

David Lindley
School of English
University of Leeds
Leeds LS2 9JT
email 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
  or 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 30 Nov 1998 10:29:11 -0800
Subject: 9.1204  Re: Presentism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1204  Re: Presentism

> I think that Terry's proposition is really very straightforward one. How
> can you look at the past from ANY position save that of the present? All
> narratives of the past are from the position of the present- how can
> they be otherwise?  That's the point that Stephen Greenblatt makes in
> the introductory chapter of Shakespearean Negotiations.  That's not the
> answer to the problem of course, but it does stop us from seeking
refuge
> in lazy, glib, and frankly, knee-jerk, moralizing.

I don't get it.  Surely anyone who is moralizing is precisely looking at
the past from the position of the present.  If they were open to the
past as other, they wouldn't assume superiority over it.

Cheers,
Sean.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.