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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: September ::
Re: Times Article
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2147  Wednesday, 12 September 2001

[1]     From:   Richard Burt <
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        Date:   Monday, 10 Sep 2001 14:36:03 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2137 Re: Times Article

[2]     From:   Peterson-Kranz Karen <
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        Date:   Monday, 10 Sep 2001 20:12:14 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2137 Re: Times Article

[3]     From:   Mark Harris <
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        Date:   Monday, 10 Sep 2001 11:40:44 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2137 Re: Times Article

[4]     From:   Nancy Charlton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Sep 2001 00:33:24 -0700
        Subj:   Re: Times article; liberal education

[5]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Sep 2001 12:05:43 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2137 Re: Times Article

[6]     From:   Louis Swilley <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Sep 2001 08:22:11 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2137 Re: Times Article

[7]     From:   William Proctor Williams <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Sep 2001 14:19:31 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2137 Re: Times Article


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard Burt <
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Date:           Monday, 10 Sep 2001 14:36:03 -0400
Subject: 12.2137 Re: Times Article
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2137 Re: Times Article

Those who want a laugh should take a look at Porky's 2.  A high school
teach disagree as to whether "Shakespeare is filth," and their dispute
is adjucated by the principal, who gets into a quotation fight with the
Reverend (the Reverend cites offensive, obscene passages form
Shakespeare, and the principal cites similar passages form the Bible.)

Marcia Eppich writes:

> This might have already been mentioned, but I missed it if it was. Do
> you have many female students in your porn class? I'm curious about
> their reaction to the content.

Burt responds:

Actually, the only students ever to have written on Shakespeare porn in
my classes have been women (all of two), and both wrote excellent
papers).  I have also been contacted by three undergrad women students
who were writing about Shakespeare porn (one was at Wellesey, another at
De Paul, and the other in Florence, Italy), and one male post-grad in
the UK.

Louis Willey writes;

>It is really hard to believe that the makers of pornographic films,
>"Shakespearean" or otherwise, the filmakers' interest being so
>pronouncedly to serve the prurient interests of an audience, can  have
>anything significant to offer as a gloss on the thought and art of
>Shakespeare.
>The study of pornography of any description
> belongs in that part of the university Newman calls the "academy"; but
> if it is considered profitable for introduction to students, should it
> not be presented in the departments of Psychology, Sociology, or
> Anthropology?  I cannot see that it has anything to offer in the study
> of literature; how can Shakespeare porn contribute anything to elucidate
> and intensify our appreciation of the thought and art of Shakespeare?]

It might help, Louis, if you actually saw them first.  The problem with
the anti-porn argument is that the anti-porners (at least claim they)
never watch porn.  Their attacks are based on ignorance, not on
knowledge.  If you want to get a sense of what they "offer as a gloss on
the thought and art of Shakespeare" but can't bear to bring yourself to
watch them, try reading the second chapter ("Deep Inside William
Shakespeare") of my book, Unspeakable ShaXXXspeares.

What I find amusing about Louis's opposition between Shakespeare
(valuable, part of the academy) and Shakespeare porn (no value, outside
the academy) is that he appears to think that there is nothing at all
obscene about Shakespeare, that the question of obscenity is one that
has no interest for Shakespeare.  Certainly the Reverend Bowdler and his
ilk thought differently and happily expurgated the plays (not
particularly well, of course).   One simply has to recall the brothel
scenes and prostitutes in Measure for Measure and Pericles, Bottom's
malapropism that the mechanicals will rehearse "most obscenely" (see
also Costard in LLL), and the porno painting in T of S to see just how
Louis is.  And makers of Shakespeare porn are not the only ones to
engage Shakespeare's interests in eroticism, sex work, and obscenity.
Greenaway includes a book of porno in Prospero's Books (even more
explicit in the screenplay), the Almereyda Hamlet has clips from Deep
Throat, the 1972 porno with Linda Lovelace; My Own Private Idaho has a
scene in a gay porn bookstore; Porky's 2 explores the question of a
filthy Shakespeare, as I noted above; and mainstream and art film
versions of the plays in the 90s have invariably gone "bardcore":
Othello and Desdemona have sex in the Parker and Nelson films; Branagh
adds a sexually explicit (R-rated) scene in which Hamlet and Ophelia
have sex.; Rivers (Robert Downey, Jr.) has sex with a stewardess in the
Loncraine RIII.  Contrary to what some people would like to believe,
Shakespeare porn is part of a general trend in the cinematic
reproduction of Shakespeare toward  (as far as possible and get an
R-rating) and including the pornographic.  Given this trend, it hardly
makes sense to exclude Shakespeare porn from consideration, especially
when one has never even seen it.

In response to Todd Lidh :

Thanks for looking through my websites so thoroughly. I encourage all
readers of this exchange to see my websites for themselves and view all
quoted remarks in their original contexts.

http://www-unix.oit.umass.edu/~eng222sh/

http://www-unix.oit.umass.edu/~eng700sh/

http://www.naughtyprofessor.com/

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peterson-Kranz Karen <
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Date:           Monday, 10 Sep 2001 20:12:14 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 12.2137 Re: Times Article
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2137 Re: Times Article

I was delighted to see this discussion expand with the voices and
opinions of a number of other list members.

Just a few comments.  Ok, maybe more than a few.

Susan Neill asked,

> Who can take any of this seriously?  It doesn't pass
> the cynic's laugh
> test.

First, I would say that laughing at our work and work-related obsessions
is perhaps not such a bad thing.

Second, and more seriously, to address Susan's first comment: It wasn't
too long ago that no one took the study of Shakespeare in and on film
seriously.  Or film studies in general.  Or women's studies.  Or...well,
you undoubtedly get my drift.  I'm not saying that "porn studies" will
achieve the same status as the various newer academic disciplines cited
or suggested above.  But...I'm (only?!) 44, and remember distinctly the
scorn with which courses related to "women in literature" or "women in
history" were greeted in my earliest undergraduate days in the late
1970s.  Who knows...?

Marcia Eppich asks a good question:

> This might have already been mentioned, but I missed
> it if it was. Do
> you have many female students in your porn class?
> I'm curious about
> their reaction to the content.

So am I.  Richard?

While I have not (yet!) actually presented anything in a class that *I*
would class as pornography, I have required some texts which have been
banned as pornographic in some of the more conservative US states.  I
have initiated discussions of whether the students felt offended by the
texts, of what they think constitutes "pornography" or "obscenity," and
of whether it is appropriate to study such things at the university
level.  Oddly enough, the women in my classes were often much more
relaxed about the topic than the men.  I am very interested in how
Richard's students have responded.

In general, I'd like to applaud Marcia's open, fair and non-judgmental
letter.

Louis Swilley wrote,

> Dr. Peterson-Kranz wrote...

Thank you for the compliment, but I'm not a doctor yet.  Working on it,
but for the moment am but a lowly doctoral candidate and part-time
lecturer.  And thank you for the fair and gracious hearing you gave to
my letter.

Louis wrote in response:

> Being usually of legal age, the student has the
> "right" to take anything offered by the institution,
> from nuclear physics to tiddly-winks.  My point
> concerned not what the student might want, but
> what a university that presumes to guide his studies
> should advise and demand.

That is my concern as well.  Especially, my concern is that students
should have a legitimate *choice* offered to them.  Richard Burt's
courses on Shakespeare in popular culture (including those focusing on
Shakespearian themes, references and allusions in pornographic films)
would not readily find a home at many universities.  For example, I
suspect many "Christian" colleges and universities would never consider
such offerings (even as electives!).  But I do think that the field of
Shakespeare studies (in which all of us on this list participate to
varying degrees) owes it to ourselves and to our field of interest to at
least *consider* how new venues for Shakespeare, new media, new (or even
not so new; pronography is hardly a recent invention!) cultural
manifestations may potentially enrich our understanding AND the
understanding of our students.  Then, as Shakespeareans (in the broadest
sense), we will be better prepared to defend Shakespeare studies (again,
in the broadest sense) against the increasing hegemony of
industrial/vocational studies which, as I said yesterday, seem the
greater threat against studies of both capital-C culture AND culture
studies in so many universities today.

In the interest of (relative) brevity, I will not address all of Louis's
thoughts here.  All of them, however, are valid, and valuable,
contributions to the debate in progress.  Some of his comments,
nevertheless, are too important NOT to address.  For example:

> We too often and unwisely take the position
> of "either...or," when the situation at hand might
> easily accommodate "this AND that".  It is
> possible for universities to entertain the new, the
> popular, even the highly questionable...they have
> only to distance their traditional programs from
> the "fads" by creating Schools of This or That,
> reserving their better name for programs that strive
> to create the whole mind, providing sound
> philosophical bases for judgements in all areas of
> thought.

Once, in a universe not so very far away or long ago, similar arguments
were made to support the concept of a traditional, liberal arts
education that revolved exclusively around "the classics" (i.e. the
study of ancient Greek and Roman civilization, philosophy and
literature).  I am not saying this to be sarcastic, but only to point
out the ideas of what constitute the "core" of a "traditional"
curriculum, as opposed to "fads," must and does inevitably change,
usually in the direction of expansion to include "schools" (or more
commonly these days, "programs") of study previously thought too
contemporary, too faddish or too subversive.  The field of "English
literature," including the concentrated academic study of Shakespeare,
is largely a nineteenth century invention.

Louis also wrote that

> if it is considered profitable for introduction to
> students, should it not be presented in the
> departments of Psychology, Sociology, or
> Anthropology?  I cannot see that it has anything to
> offer in the study of literature; how can
> Shakespeare porn contribute anything to elucidate
> and intensify our appreciation of the thought and
> art of Shakespeare?

Richard Burt can answer the last question better than I can.  Off-hand,
I would say that the point of such study is NOT appreciation of the
thought and art of Shakespeare, but appreciation of the resonance of
Shakespeare throughout even the most unlikely manifestations of Western
culture.  I suppose that studies of culture may belong more to the
social sciences; however, the disciplines cited tend (not always, but
sometimes) to reject "literature" as a factor in cultural phenomena
(those disciplines have their own arguments about disciplinary purity
and inclusiveness!).  I am prejudiced here: my BA is from an institution
(the Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington) which was one of the
leaders in interdisciplinary studies, modelling itself in part after
UC-Santa Cruz.  So I, perhaps, am more ready to see Shakespeare studies
as a "cultural", and not merely "literary", discipline.

Thank you, Ed, for your (as always) cogent, concise comments.  Are we
blowing smoke?  Good question.  What do others think?

Karen Peterson

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mark Harris <
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Date:           Monday, 10 Sep 2001 11:40:44 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 12.2137 Re: Times Article
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2137 Re: Times Article

Ed Taft asked whether students of literature and the arts need
"grounding":

< But is it the same in the liberal arts? I think that the answer is
"No." Some of our most talented MA students focus almost completely on
literature since 1960, and they seem not much hindered by the fact that
they have never read Spenser -- or even Chaucer!  Some of the newer
Ph.D.'s in our department assert that they have no need to read
criticism written before 1980 because it just isn't relevant to what
they do. >

They may be M.A.s, they may be Ph.D.'s, but with such contempt for the
past they are not part of the "Republic of Letters" as I would define
it; whereas the commonest of common readers who approaches the texts of
the past *and* the present with respect, as Jonathan Rose's new
historical study The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes
makes clear, is a citizen of that Republic forever in good standing.
What Mr. Taft has written confirms my impression that in these days it
is particularly incumbent upon that common reader to preserve the spirit
of intelligence and inquiry, since the English departments have largely
been hijacked by the enemies of literature. As an educational consultant
advising students on college admissions, I tell my clients who truly
love books to steer clear of college English departments as much as
possible, major in other subjects, and obtain their literary grounding
in autodidactic fashion.

Mark R. Harris

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nancy Charlton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Sep 2001 00:33:24 -0700
Subject:        Re: Times article; liberal education

I wish I could be so self-indulgent as to write out all my thoughts on
the subjects raised in this thread, as it is one of those "don't get me
started" subjects on which I could talk the horns off a billy goat.  But
I've set a timer, and when it goes off, I'll finish the current
paragraph and no mo!

I recall something by Sylvia Plath, perhaps in _The Bell Jar_, where she
finds that a graduate of a teacher's college from some multiple compass
point has read more Shakespeare, more Milton, more etc etc than did she
at Smith. She found she had spent a lot of time on airy nothing, and
despite its cost and greater perceived prestige, she felt let down by
her alma mater.  One would expect it to be the other way about, that the
compass point would be more like what Karen Peterson said of the former
college president's statement 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.' Now, 40 or 50 years
later, the push is on in some of the halls of ivy to reduce or abolish
the liberal arts.

In this curricular triage, as Mr Swilley puts it, "we too often and
unwisely take the position of 'either...or,' when the situation at hand
might easily accommodate 'this AND that.'  Legislatures certainly do
this; corporate funding sources might do it more subtly.  Business
thinks short-term; long-range planning is a year and four years an
eternity.  Moreover, the dominant educational philosophy in the US at
least seems to be that educations prepares one to work, to go round Go
and collect your $200.  In contrast, I think of Thornton Wilder's _Our
Town_, where the New England mill workers and farmers all studied Latin
and algebra, never questioning that this was what education was all
about.  Rote learning some of it may have been, but I'm pleased to think
that Wilder was not too unrealistic in depicting people who _thought_
for recreation and who had a much stronger sense of community than
appears now to be the case.  No, Ed Taft, no one "needs" Shakespeare,
Spenser, Homer, Vergil, Dante, and the rest of the Western canon. We can
live without them, good little worker bees, but we can live so much more
richly and grandly and articulately _with them_.

Where does porn or porn studies fit in to all this?  To use a metaphor
from early music, the traditional core of what was known in earlier
times by the all-encompassing term "philosophy" might be considered the
"ground" upon which airs and descants and ornaments might be improvised.
If someone considers porn to be one of these, let them. But if their
'ground' is indeed the ethical core of the liberal arts, they may think
twice when they realize that some bad stuff is going on in those films.
That people are fucking each other without any passion, realism, or
commitment. That rape is going down as entertainment. That children are
being abused.  That, as Susan Neill suggested, they reduce human
sexuality to a ludicrous performance that should "bore the heck out of
you." But they may parody or travesty plays of Shakespeare, and wow! now
all of a sudden it's significant. But where is the character
development, the plot necessities, the wit, the wordplay, the poetry?
The love?

Well, my timer just went off, but I want to reproduce in its entirety an
email that came in last week.  I couldn't believe, I thought someone was
playing a joke on me.  It seems to speak precisely to more than one of
our discussions. Res ipsa loquitur. Here 'tis:

> From: "
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 "
> <
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 >
> Bcc:
> Subject: A University Degree?  Easily!
> Date: Fri, 06 Sep 2002 22:58:37 -0400 (EDT)
> MIME-Version: 1.0
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="US-ASCII"
> Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
>
>
> A University Diploma is waiting for you.
>
> Obtain a prosperous future, money earning power,
> and the admiration of all.
>
> Select your field of study from business, computers,
> engineering, education, the sciences, liberal arts,
> fine arts, social sciences, history, literature,
> languages, or any other discipline.
>
> No required tests, classes, books, or interviews.
>
> All levels of diplomas awarded - including bachelors,
> masters, PhD's, and MBA's.
>
> Diplomas from prestigious non-accredited universities
> based on your present knowledge and life experience.
>
> Open enrollment means that you are already
> accepted into this unique program.
>
> Someone is always waiting to take your call -
> 24 hours a day, 7 days a week including weekends.
> All you have to do is call to insure your future!
>
> 1 - 2 1 2 - 2 1 4 - 0 6 6 9
>
> All calls kept strictly confidential.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Sep 2001 12:05:43 +0100
Subject: 12.2137 Re: Times Article
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2137 Re: Times Article

Amongst a number of astute observations, Todd Lidh wrote:

> I can't help but believe that he [Burt] has so far retreated
> from 'traditional' teaching of Shakespeare as to have lost
> any sense of context for his students. Instead, they are
> presented with, to use his course website as metaphor,
> a pitch-black background and blood-red text in, oftentimes,
> frenetic font all describing Shakespeare's excesses of
> violence, sex and booze. Is his course an English class or
> a film course? Is it a film course or a sociology course? Is
>  it a sociology course or a theater course? Is it a theater
> course or a computers and technology course? Instead, it
> is defended as it is *because* it is. Both in appearance
> and defense, Dr. Burt's course smacks of 'art for art's
> sake' mentality.

I've checked quite carefully and cannot find the word 'masturbation'
amongst the postings responding to Burt's teaching and research.
Students are often encouraged by a teacher's overt enjoyment of the
materials under discussion, but in literary studies the maintenance of a
critical distance is generally thought laudable. Lidh's point about
Burt's lack of such distance is well made.

People are not at their intellectual best when, saving your reverences,
having a wank. My objections to Burt's promotion of his unidextrous
hobby have in the past fallen on stony ground, as it were. Reading the
material Burt offers in defence of his subject (leaving aside the
obvious smoke-screen stuff about his objectors being puritans and
conservatives) only two serious arguments emerge:

1) sex-workers want to work in this industry;

2) everyone likes pornography, even if they won't admit it.

I trust in the perspicacity of SHAKSPERians to see through these flimsy
defences of the industry within which Burt has chosen to locate his
professional persona.

Gabriel Egan

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Louis Swilley <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Sep 2001 08:22:11 -0500
Subject: 12.2137 Re: Times Article
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2137 Re: Times Article

Edmund Taft wrote,

" It is clearly true that one must be grounded in the sciences and
mathematics before attempting advanced or even intermediate study in
these areas... But is it the same in the liberal arts? I think that the
answer is "No." Some of our most talented MA students focus almost
completely on literature since 1960, and they seem not much hindered by
the fact that they have never read Spenser -- or even Chaucer!  Some of
the newer Ph.D.'s in our department assert that they have no need to
read criticism written before 1980 because it just isn't relevant to
what they do."

[In literary studies, the rudiments corresponding to those of Freshman
Chemistry, etc., are studies in the works of the past.  Those students
of modern literature without that are without the knowledge of the
thought and style of earlier ages and therefore without a proper
sensitivity to present beauty, the chief concern of anyone who presumes
to have anything to say about any of the arts. It is inconceivable that
a student of literature should have missed the glories of Chaucer, his
insights into character (the Wife of Bath!!) and the rich music of his
Middle English. And is there not a kind of ugly intellectual
provincialism in "talented MA students [who] focus almost completely on
literature since 1960"?  Practically speaking, and with regard to
literary criticism alone, those who have read nothing "before 1980" in
that field are in danger of the embarrassment of "reinventing the
wheel," and presenting the theories of Aristotle, Horace or Saintsbury
as something they themselves have just concocted? They should remember
Santayana's warning and change their wicked ways, for everything of the
past is relevant to what we do and to what we will do. ]

L. Swilley

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Proctor Williams <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Sep 2001 14:19:31 -0400
Subject: 12.2137 Re: Times Article
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2137 Re: Times Article

It is threads like these which make me almost despair of SHAKSPER as a
forum for the serious discussion of its declared subject.  I say,
"almost," for I will continue to belong but will just use the delete
button more.  This is unfortunate because serious discussion of
Shakespeare may be buried somewhere in those 5 to 8 messages hooked to a
subject line.  Well, sorry about that, but whole postings are going to
go into Trash.  And I plan to clear my Trash folder regularly.

William Proctor Williams

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