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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: September ::
Re: Times Article
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2127  Friday, 7 September 2001

From:           Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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Date:           Wednesday, 5 Sep 2001 06:01:45 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 12.2106 Re: Times Article
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2106 Re: Times Article

I was tempted yesterday to respond to Louis Swilley's post, but decided
to wait and see what other list members had to say.  I was surprised
that only Richard wrote back.  In part, I write today in the hope that
others will be encouraged to join in this debate.  Surely the points
raised both by Richard Burt and by Louis Swilley are of interest (and/or
concern) to more members than have currently contributed.

Louis wrote:

> Whereas no thinking person can disagree with the
> right and need to study anything whatever, including
> porn and Shakespeare porn, he might well wonder,
> granting the too-brief time allotted undergraduate
> and graduate studies, whether the formal study of
> such a subject should be offered as an option for
> students who would make better use of their time and
> certainly better profit from more traditional
> courses with greater intellectual moment in their
> content.

If the first premise is accepted as true, then there must be large
numbers of NON-thinking people currently in positions of academic
responsibility.  I suspect many on the list who have experiences
teaching in colleges and universities know that there are, in fact, many
people who deny that students have the right to pursue their own
academic/intellectual interests, especially if those interests lead them
away from "marketable" vocational skills.  As just one example, the
former president of one somewhat undistinguished institution where I had
the misfortune to teach said, in an interview published in the local
newspaper last year, that there was no reason for undergraduates to
study literature, history, philosophy, or foreign languages when the
region was in such desperate need of trained accountants, computer
programmers and managers.  (He also asserted that the region needed
public school teachers, whom he somehow expected could be manufactured
by the university without recourse to the liberal arts and sciences.)
While this is admittedly an extreme case, I do not think it is an
entirely isolated one.

My point is that fields like culture studies (in which I include Dr.
Burt's specialty areas of Shakespeare in 'popular' media, including
'pornographic' films) do not threaten the 'traditional' liberal arts and
sciences.  Rather, by those individuals who would transform the
undergraduate experience into vocational training, BOTH culture studies
AND the 'traditional' liberal arts are perceived as 'frivolous',
'self-indulgent' pursuits.  Above all, they are seen as not offering
value-for money to commercial employers, and by extension, are not
activities which will attract significant financial support to
universities from business and industrial interests.  Were the
pornographic film industry to organize themselves and make large
donations to university programs offering serious study of the cultural
implications of pornography, I have no doubt that at least some, if not
all, universities would happily embrace such funds AND the courses at
which the funds were directed.

Louis Swilley continued to ask,

> In any case, before delving into such exotics as Dr.
> Burt offers, shouldn't the wise student have a sound
> grounding in the sciences and arts that establish
> their value and significance?

In my perfect world, yes, certainly.  But not all students are 'wise',
and unfortunately some individuals in charge of curricular decisions are
no better.  The trend is toward moving away from general education
requirements that include even an *introduction* to the 'value and
significance' of the sciences and arts (including literature; including
Shakespeare), not to mention a 'sound grounding' in those areas.
Increasingly the arts and sciences are relegated to the realm of
electives.  There, they are left to compete for the interest of
undergraduates, and if the undergraduates choose a course in, say, web
design over a course in Shakespeare, the course in Shakespeare will
eventually be cancelled.

I think Richard Burt is to be congratulated in his attempts to draw
students into cultural inquiry (those of you who have not yet done so
should check out his course websites to get a better idea of what he is
covering).  Pornography, rather like tabloid journalism, offers a
perspective into the covert interests and desires of contemporary
culture.  If Shakespeare plays a part in these covert interests and
desires, it is worthy of notice and study.

Finally, I would say that if undergraduates have an opportunity to
become better acquainted with Shakespeare through ANY academic avenue,
that is cause for celebration rather than for censure.

Karen Peterson

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