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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: December ::
Re: Presentism
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1277  Thursday, 10 December 1998.

[1]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Monday, 07 Dec 1998 20:26:53 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1243  Re: Presentism

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 09 Dec 1998 21:54:23 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1243  Re: Presentism


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Monday, 07 Dec 1998 20:26:53 +0000
Subject: 9.1243  Re: Presentism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1243  Re: Presentism

> > It seems to me that one of the great values of history, perhaps to
> > the true historian the greatest (and one of the main reasons why
> > we go into the discipline in the first place), is the depth of
> > perception that comes from seeing with both eyes, our own, and
> > with those of our forbears in a way that isn't possible with
> > current events, or even the events of the recent past.

Gabriel Egan wrote:

> I am moved by this image of a pair of eyes spaced across the wide bridge
> of historical difference, one eye "our own" and the other "our
> forbears". This is matched in gorgeous absurdity only by "She had one
> eye declined for the loss of her husband, another elevated that the
> oracle was fulfilled".

Nonsense. Though I do rather like "gorgeous."

> But I'm troubled by the spelling "forbears". Shouldn't that be
> "forebears"? You don't suppose "Good friend for Jesus' sake forbear, /
> To dig the dust enclosed here!" means the grave's occupant claims Jesus
> as an ancestor? I don't mind these aristocrats stealing our national
> poet, but surely our religion is safe from their depredations.

But surely "Shakespeare," with his little pointy beard, his shiny dome
and his ruff, is safe from all harms, up there on the cultural
mantelpiece with St. George, Santa Claus, and the tooth fairy?

Stephanie Hughes

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Wednesday, 09 Dec 1998 21:54:23 -0800
Subject: 9.1243  Re: Presentism
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1243  Re: Presentism

Hugh Grady writes:

> I don't think that these observations impact on the position I was
> arguing, however. My point is that the idea of the Otherness of the past
> always already implies a relation to an identification with the present
> and that in trying to know the past we have to reconstruct it through
> the language, culture, ideologies, and discourses at our disposal now.
> The history of reception of any Shakespeare play shows how much the past
> changes as history sweeps along from one "present" to the next. In
> short, my argument is that we can and should posit the Otherness of the
> past, reconstruct it more or less adequately using the various kinds of
> evidence-but never simply appropriate it in itself.

Thanks for your kind words, which, to conserve bandwidth, I edited out.

I think, though, that you've missed the strength of Levinas's position,
which is undoubtedly my fault.  The "idea of the Otherness of the past"
does not, in fact, imply "a relationship with an identification with the
present".  Such a movement into the present is referred to by Levinas as
re-presentation.  He usually spells it with a hyphen, to emphasize that
the past is thereby made present again, rather than allowed to remain
within its pastness, outside the "gathering into presence" which is the
function of the egological self.  Similarly, the other escapes
categories, or rather, is only integrated into our categorizes post
facto.  It is only following the radicality of an encounter with an
other that we are able to relegate this event to a place within our
structures of thought.

Probably the easiest way to put this is to say that the Other exists
prior to the self, rather than the self discovering the Other.  The
Other precedes the self, in a non-coincidence which is the an-archical
foundation of temporality, since the self gathers the world into
presence, and therefore, can, while alone, experience only the presence
of the present.  There is no self, in fact, before the Other commands
it-perhaps silently, by the nakedness of a face whose very helplessness
proclaims "Thou shalt not kill". To borrow one of Levinas's favourite
metaphors, there has to be a God calling on Abraham before he can say
"Here I am." The one who bears a name must first be called, must "face
up" to the responsibility which the Other places upon him.  In a
brilliant (and brief) exposition of Hamlet's "To be or not to be"
soliloquy, Levinas argues that consciousness starts with bad
conscience.  Hamlet starts out talking in ontological terms, but
abandons them in the face of the mystery of death (also Other, "the
undiscovered country") and his own sinfulness before Ophelia ("In thy
orisons, be all my sins remembered").  The approach of alterity (it
approaches us, not the other way around) precedes thematization,
precedes knowledge itself, and precedes the existence of the ego who can
theorize about whether and how it is possible to approach the past.

The pre-original entry of the Other precedes the egos whose horizons can
overlap.  (Thanks, Jason, for pointing out that this image is
Gadamerian.)  Such an anarchical relationship, however, is so radical
that Levinas occasionally hesitates to even term it a "relationship."
It comes before there are egos to relate.  Before there is the more or
less reflective issue of whether I can speak to the dead, the dead speak
to me.  And I can listen. I ought to listen.

Perhaps a relationship of the past to the present is inevitable, but if
so, it is inevitable only in the sense that the saying is betrayed into
the said, or that the infinite demand of the law must be relativized
into justice, the state and institutions.  But such a situation occurs
only after the fact of the law, the saying or the Other (the absolute
fact, the only absolute).  And this situation-where the said seems to
stand on its own, or where the ego seems to need to relate herself to
the Other in order to be challenged by it-doesn't have jurisdiction over
the radical moment which is its own foundation.

I hope that I've made this more clear.  Incidentally, I'd like to know
whether it's worthwhile keeping this discussion on the main SHAKSPER
list.  I'll yield to Hardy's opinion on this.

Cheers,
Sean.
 

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