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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: February ::
Re: Marx, Religion, and Nobility
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0218  Tuesday, 1 February 2000.

[1]     From:   Judith Matthews Craig <
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        Date:   Monday, 31 Jan 2000 09:41:50 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0194 Re: Marx, Religion, and Nobility

[2]     From:   Judith Matthews Craig <
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        Date:   Monday, 31 Jan 2000 10:13:02 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0194 Re: Marx, Religion, and Nobility

[3]     From:   Judith Matthews Craig <
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        Date:   Monday, 31 Jan 2000 10:13:02 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0194 Re: Marx, Religion, and Nobility

[4]     From:   Judith Matthews Craig <
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        Date:   Monday, 31 Jan 2000 10:13:02 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0194 Re: Marx, Religion, and Nobility

[5]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Monday, 31 Jan 2000 09:40:53 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0194 Re: Marx, Religion, and Nobility

[6]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Monday, 31 Jan 2000 17:14:14 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0194 Re: Marx, Religion, and Nobility


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Judith Matthews Craig <
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Date:           Monday, 31 Jan 2000 09:41:50 -0600
Subject: 11.0194 Re: Marx, Religion, and Nobility
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0194 Re: Marx, Religion, and Nobility

Sean Lawrence writes:

<Desdemona cannot be
<known or assimilated to Othello's knowing self until he <declares her
to
<be an adulteress.  "Whore" is a label which exhaustively <describes;
<"wife" is not.  So long as she isn't exhaustively known, <she's a
<challenge to his way of seeing the world, not by virtue of <anything
she
<does, but simply by virtue of being free.

This is the most incredible statement I have ever read about the
relationship of man and wife.  A "wife" is as "challenge" because she
isn't "exhaustively known" and is therefore implicitly "free" to hurt
and maim her husband.  Excuse me!!  In the first place, you are
ascribing foul motives to Othello's love-i.e. previous experience with
whores that make them somehow better "known" to a young man than a
wife.  I assume, from your low-life view of the world, that you think
Othello married to ingratiate himself into upper-class Venetian
(Christian) society.  This is the foulest reading of their relationship
that I have ever come across-worthy of Iago or Emilia.  I think the play
only makes sense if they purely loved each other as first-time lovers
with real passion and trust that they "knew" each other in the Biblical
sense.  Othello was decimated that his pure wife whom he loved before
everything in the world was unfaithful; he lacked the experience in the
manipulative world of duplicitous white men to see how her trust was
manipulated and fell victim to the plots of lesser men.  Hence his
suicide.

To say that Othello cannot "know" his wife until she becomes an
adulteress in his eyes is to invalidate any great marriage relationship
between passionate, first-time lovers.  You seem to subscribe to Lear's
vision of man as a poor three-legged animal (standing on his penis, I
guess) who just keeps looking for the next whore to exhaustively "know."

Judy Craig

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Judith Matthews Craig <
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Date:           Monday, 31 Jan 2000 10:13:02 -0600
Subject: 11.0194 Re: Marx, Religion, and Nobility
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0194 Re: Marx, Religion, and Nobility

Clifford Stetner writes:

<After reading Noam Chomsky, I've come to believe that <the power
factions
<that control media content control the collective <consciousness, and,
in
<America, these factions are not in the least disinterested, <but in
fact,
<work very hard to supervise the public discourse.

Surprisingly enough, I agree with you, Clifford.

 <The trick, then, is to keep shoving the middle further to
<the right, so that, what was once "liberal" now comes off <as radical
<leftism, and radical leftism is off the map with Grandpa <Munster and
the
<Green party.

The assumption here is that the fat-cat conservatives control the
media.  Large corporate conglomerates do indeed.  However, most
individual conservative thinkers assert that the media is overwhelmingly
liberal in bias-a fact you confirm below by saying that socialists "sit
in every parliament in Europe."  It seems to me that you feel left out
the discourse, "having to beg for money to do research into political
power."  Why don't you just go to Hollywood, or study advertising and
become a major player in the controlled leftist media that we have
today?

Shakespeare is certainly not an example of this kind of angry "I don't
have a piece of the pie" rhetoric.  He may have even come to London
under duress-the victim of his wife's infidelity, forced to make a
living at a propitious time that worked for him because he was ethical
and shrewd-not because he was greedy for power or money.  I think his
conduct in life shows this---his lack of interest in publishing
authorial-certified editions of his plays which certainly were popular
and therefore pirated; his leaving of the London scene at the height of
his power and popularity; his duly noted rectitude by most of his
contemporaries.

< He was himself involved in
<the construction of the public discourse of his own time.  <He is a
<representative of the Elizabethan mass media, and all the <Chomskyan
<principles of manufacturing consent apply to his art.  <Whatever it may
<have been internally, it was simultaneously an ideological <force in
the
<construction of cultural realities.  One in eight Londoners <visited
the
<theater once a week.  While you are interested in his <thought, I am
<interested in the thoughts that he created among his <contemporaries.
<For this we have to discover what they were thinking <about when they
got
<to the theater.

Why don't you study history, then, or psychology, or political science
or better yet-advertising, or corporate management?  You would have more
power.  I am interested in Shakespeare's thought because he forces his
audience, his readers, and I think his own psyche, to think, to live in
a cruel and ever-changing world with few "reliable sources."   I think
he would have taken on Chomsky and exposed him as a tyrant.

Good luck on your dissertation, but I can't help but feel that people
will continue to read Shakespeare and learn to think for themselves
rather than "buy into" the kind of criticism this dissertation will
bring to him.

Judy Craig

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Judith Matthews Craig <
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Date:           Monday, 31 Jan 2000 10:23:36 -0600
Subject: 11.0194 Re: Marx, Religion, and Nobility
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0194 Re: Marx, Religion, and Nobility

I hate to keep pounding Clifford Stetner, but I couldn't believe the
following statement:

<Martyrs are driven by their adoption of a system of
<relative values which establishes a greater emotional <value in
religious
<integrity than in self preservation

Really.  There are no "relative values" in martyrdom:  a person who is
willing to die for his beliefs is certainly not getting "emotional
value" out religious integrity.  He has adopted an absolutist system
which claims that there is a higher truth or value than materialism, the
cheesy, shifting, uncertain world of the flesh and man's slimy,
cowardly, participation in it.  Most religious people look unworldly
because they are betting on a higher power than any scheme concocted by
the mind of man-always found to be lacking, duplicitous, and ultimately
unsatisfactory, no matter what the originator of the scheme does or
thinks.

Judy Craig

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Monday, 31 Jan 2000 12:18:56 -0500
Subject: 11.0194 Re: Marx, Religion, and Nobility
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0194 Re: Marx, Religion, and Nobility

>>while Machiavelli recognizes
>>that religion has a certain weight in the world of politics, he doesn't
>>exhaustively desanctify religion.  He's reputed to have received extreme
>>unction, in fact.
>
>There's the rub.  We see what effect such repute can have on our
>interpretation of history.  I'm afraid people made up tales like this
>all the time and passed them off pretty effectively because they were
>aware of the very fact you dispute: that religious matters are
>essentially political.  To allow Machiavelli to die unshriven might
>weaken the psychological power of the Church and its monopoly on
>salvation.

This discussion is ranging far afield---and I love it!

Many thanks, passionate disgressers:

Sunday night CNN featured the authors of 2 new biographies of Carl
Sagan, and a question from the audience brought up the "fact" that Sagan
had made a deathbed conversion. Both authors branded this an "urban
legend", and declared that their own research indicated that such
stories always follow the death of notorious atheists, and that, in all
of the cases they had personally tracked down, the stories were untrue.

Geralyn Horton, Playwright
Newton, Mass. 02460
http://www.tiac.net/users/ghorton

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Monday, 31 Jan 2000 09:40:53 -0800
Subject: 11.0194 Re: Marx, Religion, and Nobility
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0194 Re: Marx, Religion, and Nobility

This is rather long, so people who aren't interested in the dispute
might want to just hit "delete".  Perhaps we should take it off-line?

Cliff writes:

> I have to tell you, Sean, that you sound like me critiquing patriarchal
> monotheism.  Which of the following might not be said of religious
> fundamentalism?

Well then, since it seems that you're not actually saying that any of
this isn't true of materialism, you're making materialism no more
intelligent than the lowest forms of corrupt religious expression.

> >...Totalitarianism is always utopian, in the sense
> >that it feels there's a total answer to all human sorrows, and one
> >achievable in this world.  Any amount of human misery can therefore be
> >justified on the expectation of a total liberation in the future.
>
> But isn't this just what these religions promise?  Only the liberation
> is not in this world, so they never actually have to deliver.

Obviously, if it's not in this world, then there's no reason to start
feeding people into the gulag in the interests of eventually achieving a
worker's paradise.  Utopianism becomes totalitarian because it thinks
that it can achieve heaven on earth.  To make the perfect omelet, as Sir
Isaiah Berlin says somewhere, any number of eggs can be broken.  To say
that there is a perfect omelet in the abstract doesn't require us to
break any eggs at all.

And to say that religion offers only a material satisfaction, but later,
is to say that everything anyone wants out of religion is fundamentally
material, and that it's elephants all the way down.

> Not to explain everything, (I feel that this superlative is overused in
> your arguments), and not in terms of power, which does explain an awful
> lot, but specifically in terms of racial history.  Like hegemonic
> religions, it incorporated the mystification of material conditions into
> a political agenda that served a particular power faction in its
> oppression and atrocities.

But like hegemonic materialism, it dissolves religion into political
motivation, why something should be done in the material world, rather
than why the world is not final, and therefore why even a racial Utopia,
even were it a good thing, would still not be a sufficient reason to
kill anyone.  This was, I believe, the objection of Karl Barth and the
Confessing Church.

> What disturbs us (about Naziism and
> religion) is that ideologies can be constructed and disseminated to
> masses of people whose behavior can thereby be controlled.

What disturbs me about Naziism is that it recognizes no judgement
outside its own material, historical project by which it might be wrong.

> When heretics are accused of demonism, it is usually a backhanded way of
> affirming the mystification of spirituality upon which the hegemonic
> authority rests.  Martyrs are driven by their adoption of a system of
> relative values which establishes a greater emotional value in religious
> integrity than in self preservation.  A cultural materialist would argue
> that these systems of values are created and infused by the evolution of
> material conditions.

Right.  He'd say it's elephants all the way down (duh).  And I would say
that this is an insulting and ultimately inhuman way to view one's
fellow beings.

> This is a subtle semantic dispute.  If Luther was first led to
> Reformation by his rejection of indulgences, does this qualify as a
> spiritual or a material motivation?  If the Church that holds hegemony
> over a nation's spirituality is simultaneously a foreign political and
> military power, is revolt spiritual or material?  It simply begs
> definition (and perhaps deconstruction) of the binary terms.

I've been quite forthright all along in saying that religion tends to
become imbricated in the material world.  So what?  It doesn't mean that
it's all ultimately material.  It just means that the two meet
sometimes.

> >This makes all such lenses equal, which seems to be the claim that
> >Marx's dictum at least appears to be avoiding.
>
> Not avoiding, but rejecting outright.  The lens of materialism is
> untinted.

Right, then, it seems that you agree with me.  It is elephants all the
way down.  Everything is completely material.  A material view distorts
nothing else, because they is nothing else.

BTW, can anyone here imagine saying that (say) Islam is a completely
"untinted" lens with which to see the world?  The fact that we can say
that about materialism merely indicates its hegemonic position in
contemporary discourse.

> It is not so reductive to claim that the material world is
> material.  It is something of a tautology.  Remember, Marx did not say
> that "everything" can be reduced to material relations, but that "all
> history" could.  It is only necessary to take the post Cartesian step of
> removing the spiritual realm to a transcendent plane outside of history.

Not necessarily.  After all, people make historical decisions, and they
sometimes make them for religious reasons.

> I think this essentially represents the beginning of the end of
> providentialism in the collective Western world view.  One may be
> religious without believing that God's hand is moving history in a
> particular direction with a particular end in view.

Of course.  Like Kierkegaard, for example.  And I'm not arguing in
favour of providentialism, which would, in any case, be a material
deployment of religion.  In order to recognize a religion outside
providentialism, you would have to recognize a spirituality outside
materiality.  Which would mean that one would have to recognize
materialism as not all-encompassing.

I have nothing against using Marxism to interpret history.  Like most
people, I do it all the time-watching the news, say, or critiquing
advertisments.  And my argument was not against specific deployments of
Marxism in specific contexts, but against the tendency of Marxism
towards totality, crystalized in your description of martyrs, above.
Against its claim to be simply untinted.  Against its tendency to
explain away everything, including the concern for our fellow beings
that provides its motivating rage in the first place.

What I find so odd about your posting is that the second half is so
modest, while the first half is so extreme.  Of course Christianity
might have been abused by the American establishment during the period
of the Vietnam War, just as it was abused by the German Church under the
Nazis.  But in both cases, it was also deployed (I would even say,
recalled to its truer self) by the followers of Martin Luther King,
Junior or Karl Barth.  Would you also reduce the enfranchisement of
African-Americans or the resistance against Hitler to the functioning of
ideology, since these movements also relied upon deployments of
Christianity within a political context?  Surely these movements have a
deeper, a purer, motivation, a care for one's fellow beings, not only a
material assessment of the situation, but an ethical, ultimately
religious, knowledge that this situation is not everything, that there
is a ground on which to declare that the material situation is wrong.

> >Similarly, while Machiavelli recognizes
> >that religion has a certain weight in the world of politics, he doesn't
> >exhaustively desanctify religion.  He's reputed to have received extreme
> >unction, in fact.
>
> There's the rub.  We see what effect such repute can have on our
> interpretation of history.  I'm afraid people made up tales like this
> all the time and passed them off pretty effectively because they were
> aware of the very fact you dispute: that religious matters are
> essentially political.

Right.  So you're saying that it's elephants all the way down.  The more
you make your reductive arguments, the more you prove my point.

> I also object to the claim that Marx's dialectic materialism is
> excessively "exhaustive" or "totalizing."

But your line of reasoning above certainly proves is.  Substituting
"ideology" for "class struggle" only puts another elephant underneath.

> To which I might add that, even if Marxist ideas about the nature of
> dialectics were unsuited to contemporary real politics, this would not
> necessarily unsuit them for the study of other historical texts like
> Shakespeare's.

Actually, I think that they're suited to both.  Just they're not
exhaustive.

Judith writes:

> <The problem with an historicist argument, though, is that <it can melt
> <the "shouldn't be" back into cultural history, which itself is
> <materially determined.
>
> This argument seems to me to entertain a fallacy:  a play is not
> cultural history, solely, and clearly, Shakespeare meant it so.

I actually wasn't indicating that a play is solely cultural history.
What I was saying is that a historicist critic can, if he pleases, melt
everything else about the play into cultural history.  Apparently I was
a little opaque, for which I apologize.

> I would think that a spiritual argument, clearly intended, never points
> towards an ideology and that the comparison Sean makes with Marx is
> therefore invalid.

It certainly does in the hands of ideological critics.  I think that
this betrays its spirituality, but I'm not denying that it's possible to
make such a betrayal.

> What are "life-affirming bits" and why should the desire to examine
> ourselves-the first step of Socratic logic-or even Christian thought
> (take the mote out of your eye first, etc) be a betrayal of thought?

Actually, I think the Christian idea is that while we might recognize
our sin, we do so because we first recognize an external judgement.  We
are guilty in the eyes of God before we are guilty in our own eyes.

"Thought" and "spirituality" aren't necessarily the same thing.  As I
think you would agree, rationalization is also thought.

And I wouldn't argue against recognizing the grounds of one's theories.
I would, however, feel that the problem comes in explaining the grounds
of the theory in terms of the theory itself, which ends in tautology.

To use the political example again:  one first enters politics in order
to do good (say, bringing in programs to subsidize day care), then find
that you have to win in order to accomplish your goals, then start
changing your platform in order to be more popular.  Even if you kept
the original platform (socialized day care, in this case), you're
championing it in in order to be elected, not standing for election in
order to champion the cause.  The last temptation is the greatest
treason, and all that.  Sooner or later, you have to ask why you became
involved in politics in the first place, and giving a political reason
for it just serves to cut you off from your ultimate, ethical,
motivation.

Cheers,
Se

 

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