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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: November ::
Re: Fops
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.2028  Tuesday, 7 November 2000.

[1]     From:   Tony Burton <
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        Date:   Saturday, 4 Nov 2000 13:23:31 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.2019 Re: Fops, reality

[2]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Sunday, 05 Nov 2000 20:06:45 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.2019 Re: Fops

[3]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Sunday, 05 Nov 2000 20:06:45 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.2019 Re: Fops

[4]     From:   Brian Vickers <
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        Date:   Monday, 6 Nov 2000 13:29:59 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 11.2019 Re: Fops

[5]     From:   David Schalkwyk<
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        Date:   Monday, 6 Nov 2000 12:31:29 SAST-2
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.2019 Re: Fops


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tony Burton <
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Date:           Saturday, 4 Nov 2000 13:23:31 -0500
Subject: 11.2019 Re: Fops, reality
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.2019 Re: Fops, reality

Back in the old days, when I hung out in the agora to listen in to
Socrates deflating the local intellectuals, us Greeks maintained the
useful distinction between phenomena and noumena, the phenomenal world
being more or less the sense-perceptible realm we often call "reality"
and the noumenal world being that of intellectual activity and
perception, what we are often in the habit of calling "mere ideas".

So, when we read the remark of Bertrand Russell that Bill Godshalk
quotes without comment, we find Russell's observation turns entirely on
his unapologetic assumption of a distinction between reality and
imagination.  I think we should all reject that distinction.  The same
cosmic order which produces rocks and trees, or makes certain trees bear
apples (and draws them back to earth by means of gravity), etc., also
produces human beings whose natural and healthy functioning includes the
production of thoughts, imaginations, ideas.  They are also part of the
"real" world, although with respect to humans themselves, they come to
our consciousness as inner experiences - as noumena - while the rocks
and trees come to our consciousness through our outward-directed sense
organs - as phenomena.  The noumenal and the phenomenal co-exist in the
human being.  Just as there is no "mere" phenomenon that doesn't enter
human consciousness in some way, there is no "mere" idea that doesn't
enter into the world, even if it remains the creation of a single human
being.  "Reality" consists, surely, of phenomena linked to noumena.

The rock "out there" which I experience first with my senses, is no less
an experience than the thought which is stimulated by, for example, the
text of "Hamlet", or that which I create out of my own inner capacities
but which I experience in the same way, by bringing it into my
consciousness.  Russell may be right in saying that after studying all
that is known and felt about Napoleon there is still the "real man"
(whatever he means by that) which remains, while Hamlet ends with what
is know and felt from the written and performed text.  But this only
makes for a useful distinction between kinds of reality, phenomenal and
noumenal, not between reality and non-reality.  And I don't think his
take-it-for-granted view than imagination is not "real" would flourish
if it were first advanced today instead of a century ago.   By the same
token, "Cultural constructs", whatever they are, are not "unreal" in any
helpful definition, since scholars have to identify them, determine
their causes and assess their effects, and think of both Napoleon and
Hamlet in light of them.  At a certain level, where we experience the
"being" of our thoughts as a reality even before their external
counterparts are discovered, the distinction between ontology and
epistemology simply melts away.

Whatever we may think of the noumenal world, the thoughts of which it
consists are the effective causes of events in the phenomenal world,
from making deserts bloom to strip-mining, from Doctors Without Borders
to genocide, none of which can be explained without reference to the
causes which made them come to be.  And the reason members of this
listserv are so passionate in probing how far Hamlet is or is not real,
and how he influences our thoughts and actions, is that Thoughts Count.
They are part of Reality.  It doesn't matter very much if Bloom,
Lawrence, or Godshalk like their food saltier or hotter than I or
Shakespeare, because such personal choices remain in the personal sphere
and don't raise passions in third parties or affect their lives.  But it
matters very much how your or I are caused to think at various critical
times, and what we are trained to believe is a fit reason for moving us
to action in the world.  Hamlet, as a literary construct that
predictably causes you or me to think along certain specific lines
(enormously variable, but surely all different from the effect of
reading, say, Tom Sawyer or The Gold Bug) is very real in its way, and
the characters are all elements of that reality.  And Shakespeare's
value rests in large measure on the fact that his writings and
characters stir thoughts in us wherein we can see the better part of
ourselves; which make us more tolerant of differences and more
compassionate towards weaknesses when we deal with our fellow humans,
more understanding of the vagaries of life when we confront them, and
generally make us wiser when we need wisdom.  They lead us in directions
which make us rather proud to be human.  If Shakespeare lives and has
any continuing meaning and value to us, it is in the noumenal world of
the thoughts we exchange and the feeling and intuitions we experience
because of him.  If we wish to follow Russell and distinguish those
noumena from the world of reality, then we need to invent a word for
What Really Is, that embraces thoughts and intuitions, along with the
sense-perceptible events to which Russell and other materialists would
have us confine ourselves.

Tony

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Sunday, 05 Nov 2000 20:06:45 -0500
Subject: 11.2019 Re: Fops
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.2019 Re: Fops

To clarify a point, ontology deals with the nature of being, with
questions of reality, and epistemology deals with the nature of
knowledge, with how we humans know things.  I assume -- perhaps I'm
wrong -- that we generally agree that we know things by reason of our
embodied sensory-perception system.  Thus you could says that Dr.
Johnson's kicking the rock (and dancing around in pain, no doubt) is a
comment on epistemology:  he knows about the rock because his body has
sensed it and perceived it.

But I think Johnson's kicking the rock was an ontological demonstration;
he wanted to show in no uncertain way that the rock really was there.
Of course, Berkeley's idealism is unassailable by such demonstrations,
and in fact by any intellectual argument.  To my knowledge, no one has
figured out how to falsify the idealist position.  How can you prove
that the external world really exists?

Sean Lawrence writes:

>But the same could be said about a 'real' person, if we follow certain
>cultural theorists.  New historicists have been assuring us that the
>Renaissance had little concept of authentic self.  Though I don't agree,
>of course, I think that most of the stymas (stygmae?) we attach to
>fictional characters as somehow 'unreal' could apply equally well to a
>certain behaviourist/cultural 'subject'.

Yes, certain cultural/literary theorists would like to believe that
humans (homo sapiens) are totally constructed by culture and/or
language, and further that early modern homo sapiens had little or no
concept of self.

I assume that early modern homo sapiens had bodies and embodied brains
that functioned much as ours function.  Even if we believe in punctuated
equilibrium (a la Stephen Jay Gould), four or five hundred years is a
very short time for a major evolutionary leap.  Literary characters do
NOT have embodied brains; we do -- no matter what we do with these
brains!

Sean asks:

>Is volition really the
>measure, though?  What if one has no scope for one's volitions?  What if
>you're brain-washed or culturally constructed?

Good questions.  Remember volition does NOT mean free will.  Just
because human volition is limited and constructed, does NOT mean that we
lack the will to act.  I think the determinists have the best arguments.
The philosopher John Lachs once suggested to me that the only free will
we have is that we know we are determined.

But, yes, what if an individual human is totally incapacitated, and thus
lacks the ability to act?  Or what if the individual is brain dead?
Does that mean that he or she is NOT REAL?  Of course not.  So volition
does not completely identify a real person, but literary characters do
NOT have volition.

Surely Bertie Russell is correct in asking us logically to discriminate
between a human and a literary character.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Sunday, 05 Nov 2000 21:32:10 -0500
Subject: 11.2019 Re: Fops
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.2019 Re: Fops

Don Bloom writes:

> when I read "Hamlet"
>Shakespeare creates in my mind a Danish castle, a murderous king, a
>corrupted queen, a vengeance-seeking prince, and an array of secondary
>figures including the foppish courtier.

I don't believe that Shakespeare (long dead) creates anything in
anybody's mind. The active mind does the creating, using words on the
page as props in an elaborate game of make believe.  We readers pretend
that there is a disconsolate Danish prince.

But when Don writes:

>I read it because I love to read
>it, not because the state legislature is paying me to explain it and
>assign paper topics on it.  That I get paid is a fringe benefit.

I say that he has it right.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Vickers <
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Date:           Monday, 6 Nov 2000 13:29:59 +0100
Subject: Re: Fops
Comment:        SHK 11.2019 Re: Fops

I've been reading these recent exchanges on the reality of represented
characters with increasing interest. I thank Werner Br

 

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