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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: June ::
Re: Future of the Classics
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1031  Friday, 18 June 1999.

[1]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Thursday, 17 Jun 1999 07:46:22 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1024 Re: Future of the Classics

[2]     From:   Graham Bradshaw <
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        Date:   Fri, 18 Jun 1999 02:29:32 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1024 Re: Future of the Classics


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Thursday, 17 Jun 1999 07:46:22 -0500
Subject: 10.1024 Re: Future of the Classics
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1024 Re: Future of the Classics

I taught Senior Honors Literature for several years.  A requirement of
the course was the memorization and cumulative monthly recitation of up
to 25 lines from famous works from English Literature. We began with the
opening lines from Chaucer's "Wife of Bath's Tale" - in Chaucer's
English, not in translation (the students listened to and reproduced the
accents from recordings by Chaucerian scholars) - and ended with the
opening lines from Eliot's "Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock."  There was
a bit of weeping and gnashing of teeth throughout the "ordeal", but,
after all these years, when I happen upon one of my former students,
they greet me with "A povre widwe, somedeel stape in age, etc."

Classics are not dead, but *we* need to help keep them alive.

L. Swilley

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Bradshaw <
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Date:           Fri, 18 Jun 1999 02:29:32 +0900
Subject: 10.1024 Re: Future of the Classics
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1024 Re: Future of the Classics

Maybe, just maybe, we worry too much about "The Future of the Classics"
because we have been too infected, or cowed and alarmed, by a peculiar
(made-in-the-USA) kind of professorial self-conceit. We are constantly
being bludgeoned into confusing "the" (!?) canon with syllabuses. A few
minutes' hard thought should clarify that confusion. Professors are paid
to set syllabuses. This is not the same as "establishing" canons.
Professors don't do that, and can't do that, even when they want to
pretend they do. Major writers do that.

I am currently teaching a postgraduate course on "Hamlet" in a Tokyo
university that is even more anti-authoritarian than I am. I have been
told that this is the most heavily subscribed of all the courses our
Graduate Studies school has offered. If that's true I'm glad, of
course.  But I am perfectly sure-and I know that critics like Terence
Hawkes or Alan Sinfield would immediately agree!--this has little or
nothing to do with whatever I may bring to the course. It has to do with
Shakespeare.

When "Hamlet" was first produced in Japan, in 1903, by Otojiro Kawakami,
every performance was sold out. More recently, in 1990--and I am just
choosing one date where I have the relevant statistics-there were a
dozen different productions of "Hamlet" in Tokyo alone, and more than a
dozen different translations for eager Japanese readers to consult. This
is clearly not to be explained as some British Imperialist cultural
conspiracy, along the lines of Sinfield's claim that Shakespeare is an
"instrument of domination". Just how it should be explained is another-I
think, fascinating and compellingly urgent-question, which non-western
scholars and critics may be addressing more cogently.

As I argued in my own last book on Shakespeare (nearly out of print, be
quick!), the conceit of American professors' institutional discourses
has grown in self-importance in direct proportion to their social and
cultural marginalization. Nobody, outside the institutions, very much
cares what they say. If America were not a World Power, it would be no
more than a matter for international amusement if (to recall one case
where there was a great fuss, even within the U.S of A) Toni Morrison
figured more prominently than Shakespeare in many departmental
syllabuses.

Although Ireland isn't a world power (thank God??) you don't explain why
there are so many departments of American Literature and so few
departments of Irish Literature by pretending that twentieth-century
Irish literature-Joyce, Yeats, Wilde, O'Casey, Beckett, Kavanagh,
Heaney, Mahon, Longley, Banville, McDonagh etc-is inferior to
twentieth-century American literature.  But unfortunately, World Powers
always assume that the best they have must be the best there is. That
assumption has nothing to do with criticism, or canons. It has much more
to do (in a potent but parasitic way) with late capitalism,
multinational corporations, and so-called identity politics. But
maybe-just maybe!--if we could see that, we wouldn't get so discouraged
about "The Future of the Classics"?
 

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