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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: February ::
Re: Hamlet and Oedipus
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0433  Thursday, 22 February 2001

From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Feb 2001 19:13:57 -0800
Subject: 12.0412 Re: Hamlet and Oedipus
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0412 Re: Hamlet and Oedipus

 Pat Dolan said,

> I'm wondering if Stephanie Hughes realises how profoundly relativist she
> sounds when she suggests that we shouldn't attend to Jefferson's racism
> and rape (can a slave consent?) or Columbus's violence and greed.

Oh, dear. A relativist! Shudder. Well, at least it's a profound
relativist.  (They're the ones who like to see Mussolini get credit for
making the trains run on time, right?)

Of course we should examine the truth behind our ikons. I don't think
what I said suggests we shouldn't.  But where in former times there was
a drive to make some faulty human into a semi-divine, now we have gone
to the opposite extreme.  The recent trend seems to me to be to tear
down every image of value, to demonstrate that in this brave new world
where all men are created equal, all are created equally pathetic, all
liars at heart, or drunks, or womanizers, and as a corollary to this
view, all acts, however brave they may appear on the surface, have
dreadful consequences. This is a terribly grim and desolate attitude and
not good if we wish to raise hopeful, energetic, eager young people.

> The trouble with "Ultimately we need to honour our pathfinders, not for
> what they didn't do, or did wrong, but for what they did right," is that
> it requires us to ignore or suppress the evidence.

No such thing. My post was a response to the person who spoke about the
shift in his feelings about Freud, from hero worship to hatred.  When
the truth about Freud's equivocations came out back in the 70s (80s?),
to me it was a relief since it meant I could understand where all that
nonsense he was preaching about Oedipus and penis envy was coming from.
At that point I was free to appreciate him for what he actually did,
help the study of human nature to become accepted as a science, taught
at universities so that others, with fewer social barriers to face,
might be free to pursue the truth.

Of course everything that you say about the history behind Jefferson and
Columbus is true, and good to know, but none of it invalidates what they
did that makes us remember them. Hundreds, thousands of southern
landowners owned slaves, bought and sold them and sometimes slept with
them, but only one wrote the Declaration of Independence.  Hundreds of
lunatics set off in little wooden tubs to cross oceans, sail around the
tips of Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope (delightful euphemism), get
ice bound in the northern Atlantic looking for a northern route to
China, and certainly many killed, raped and infected the natives.  Most
of their names have been lost. We honor Columbus, not because he was a
good man or even because he was the best of the explorers who came to
the shores of America, but because we happen to have his story.

Because some landowners raped their slaves, should we disavow
Jefferson?  Because exploration opened the door to colonization, shall
we disavow our explorers?

I'm concerned because I see a generation of children growing to
adulthood without heroes. The trouble is, since kids have to have
heroes, when thoughtful adults don't offer them appropriate heroes, they
pick bad ones, like M and M. We connect with our children at a profound
level when we share our heroes with them. My Dad's hero was Abraham
Lincoln. Watching the recent program on Lincoln on PBS, I'm sharing
something wonderful with my Dad, who's been gone a long time, but who
was there with me in my mind. Whether you care or not that Lincoln
"saved the union," he bore a level of suffering that is truly astounding
and bore it for a very long time.  Though he tottered under the weight
of it, he never fell.

The many faults of heroes like Lincoln, Jefferson and Columbus do not
detract in the slightest from what they did that makes us remember them
any more than Babe Ruth's drinking and misbehavior take points off his
home run record.

There are heroes in the realms of moral choice, Gandhi, Martin Luther
King, Raoul Wallenberg, Mohammed Ali, the great religious leaders.  We
don't scorn them because they couldn't play baseball.

Stephanie Hughes
 

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