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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: August ::
Re: Tillyard (Again)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1637  Tuesday, 19 August 2003

[1]     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Monday, 18 Aug 2003 13:59:03 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.1625 Re: Tillyard (Again)

[2]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 18 Aug 2003 12:14:31 -0400
        Subj:   Tillyard (Again)

[3]     From:   Roger Parisious <
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        Date:   Monday, 18 Aug 2003 14:54:07 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1617 Re: Tillyard (Again)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Monday, 18 Aug 2003 13:59:03 +0100
Subject: 14.1625 Re: Tillyard (Again)
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.1625 Re: Tillyard (Again)

I think David that you've raised a crucial point.

Let's leave aside the fact that we are all, whether we like it or not,
inscribed within a set of ideological assumptions that we are sometimes
aware of sometimes not, except to say that some are more open about this
than others.

The question of WHY we return to certain texts and not to others (I
would add Shackerley Marmion to your list of less inspiring texts) is a
very important one and can't simply be collapsed into the politics of
the canon.  The late Antony Easthope once observed that canonical texts
are the ones that get read (and re-read), which is to say that there is
something about the linguistic density of a Shakespearean text that a
Glapthorne text does not have, or of a Donne text that maybe an Aemelia
Lanyer text lacks. I use the second provocatively because we could
certainly use Salve as part of an argument in support of a feminist
subversion of patriarchy.

Where I would be reluctant to go is down the route of universality and
aesthetic self-sufficiency. Rather, I think that one of our tasks as
literary critics is to sort out the kinds of judgements that we are
either called upon or feel compelled to make. If it's 'beauty' then I
think we need to ask what are the criteria by which we judge a text to
possess that aesthetic quality, and can we separate it out from more
obviously political conceptions of formal unity?

If it's 'knowledge' then we need to distinguish between the kinds of
knowledge that a literary text produces compared with say, the kind of
knowledge that Philosophy claims to produce. We are on shakier ground
when we start investing words with affect, because it's here, I think,
that we encounter questions of etymology and hence of history. I'm sure
that your students. like mine, have difficulty with Shakespearean
language because it is written in an unfamiliar idiom, and its semantic
fields are often different from theirs (and ours) (as you'll know from
annotating The Tempest! and from ploughing through the OED).  It is, in
my view, the line of least resistance simply to 'respond' to the words
on the page, because all this does is to allow the reader to project
onto the text a series of fantasies while claiming that they are the
properties of the text. What we need is a way of talking accurately
about the kind of transaction that takes place between reader (or
spectator in the case of drama) and the organisation of the words on the
page. If we put on our textual bibliographical hats we will read, say, a
quarto page differently from the way we might if we were simply making
literary discriminations. Even then, I want to reserve a space for forms
of resistant reading. How would somebody clearly attuned to gender
politics read Donne's 'Valediction Forbidding Mourning'? or how would a
fully paid up, card-carrying agnostic respond to the Holy Sonnets? I
merely mention The Merchant of Venice because I'm steeped in it at the
moment, but how do we as modern readers and spectators respond to th
play's manifest racist ideologies?  We could say that some of these
problems, though in altered forms, are still part of the history with
which we are familiar, so that we can project our present concerns back
into the past, and we can examine their fictions in relation to our own.
This is a form of what Terry Hawkes calls 'presentism' and it does not
require us to sign up to the notion of the radical alterity of the past
(which I always felt was a knee-jerk Foucauldianism that was part of a
polemic rather than a considered response to the issue of universalism.

I'm fascinated by what texts reveal about the ideologies within which
they are historically situated, and some texts offer us more to work
with than others. That material also offers us an insight into the
aesthetic presuppositions of genre.  That's about as far as I'm prepared
to go on the matter of value judgement. But as you know well, there are
also cultural and institutional pressures that militate against our
reading Glapthorne, Nabbes, Lovelace, and...yes, Shackerley Marmion!

Very best wishes,
John Drakakis

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 18 Aug 2003 12:14:31 -0400
Subject:        Tillyard (Again)

David Lindley writes:

>Perhaps the more interesting question is why one can return with
>pleasure to some critical writing from the past, and find it still
>provocative and stimulating, even whilst recognising and perhaps
>disowning the ideological project in which it found its being, whilst
>other critical texts, once influential, seem dead and utterly
>time-bound.

Yes. But the implications of this phenomenon may not support the theory
that some literary works are inherently superior to others. For example,
in late 19th- and early 20th-centuy America, no poet was as loved and
admired as John Greenleaf Whittier. His poems were anthologized in
grammar school texts until the early 60s. Yet he seems to have gone out
of favor for good. (But who knows?) Until recently, a parallel case
could be made for William Dean Howells, whose emphasis on humor left him
out in the critical cold for a long time. But once Gore Vidal wrote a
1992 "appreciation" of Howells, his reputation skyrocked, and now he is
more "in" than ever.

Such ins and outs in critical reputation problematize the pleasure and
stimulation we feel when reading certain authors. Where do these
feelings come from? The work? Or the work's reputation and perceived
value, both of which are "always already there" before we start to
read?  Put another way, do we enjoy reading _Cymbeline_ because it is a
superior work of art, or because Shakespeare wrote it?

B.F. Skinner believed that what we enjoy and value we have been
conditioned to enjoy and value. A depressing thought (to me).

--Ed Taft

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Roger Parisious <
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Date:           Monday, 18 Aug 2003 14:54:07 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 14.1617 Re: Tillyard (Again)
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1617 Re: Tillyard (Again)

No disrespect was intended toward the Unitarian faith in attributing it
to the secular world. This was done under the exact same theory of
categorization by which  I stated that we make Shakespeare less
traditional ,and less part of the traditional world ,the more  we make
him a conscious student of Montaigne or a conscious member of some
intellectual Renaissance occult group.

I have known a number of delightful Unitarians whose interests have
ranged from ethical humanism to enthusiastic psychical research ;and by
describing Dr. Lovejoy as  T.S. Eliot's Sunday School teacher(the
information comes from my teacher, William York Tindell of Columbia)I
certainly implied that Dr. Lovejoy was a devout Unitarian. However it
was Eliot's acquaintance with Lovejoy's academic work on "The Great
Chain of Being", not Lovejoy's theology, that may have helped guide
Eliot to his heartfelt positions of monarchist in politics and
Anglo-Catholic in religion.

RNP

>I was a bit surprised by Roger Parisious' description
>of A.O. Lovejoy
>as
>a 'secularist, Unitarian'. I don't know much about the
>writer, and it
>may be that Roger is describing some particular aspect
>of his critical
>opinion, but certainly most Unitarians are not and
>have not been
>secularists. More or less by definition, they're
>theists (sometimes
>Deists) but just not, as the name implies, trinitarian
>theists. A
>secularist Unitiarian would be as odd a creature as a
>secularist
>Methodist.
>
>Apologies if this is too obvious to have needed
>saying; but I find my
>students, even my Religious Studies students,
>increasingly easily
>confused by uncertain use of these descriptors.

Matthew Baynham

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