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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: June ::
Re: Deconstruction
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1155  Wednesday, 11 June 2003

[1]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Jun 2003 10:26:47 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1143 Re: Deconstruction

[2]     From:   Bob Grumman <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Jun 2003 13:44:08 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1143 Re: Deconstruction

[3]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Jun 2003 14:40:01 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1143 Re: Deconstruction

[4]     From:   Dale Lyles <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Jun 2003 21:08:03 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1143  Re: Deconstruction

[5]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Jun 2003 02:10:10 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1143 Re: Deconstruction


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Jun 2003 10:26:47 -0500
Subject: 14.1143 Re: Deconstruction
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1143 Re: Deconstruction

Gabriel Egan's analysis of Sonnet 73 is quite interesting but I'm not
sure how, except in terminology, it differs from what was, in the old
days, called New Criticism. That is, if you talked about the irony,
ambiguity and paradox of the poem while pointing out the same complex
images, wouldn't it be just the old New?

Cheers,
don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bob Grumman <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Jun 2003 13:44:08 -0400
Subject: 14.1143 Re: Deconstruction
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1143 Re: Deconstruction

>A useful starting point would be some binary oppositions, say:
>
>summer/winter
>vigour/decrepitude
>leafy/denuded
>day/night
>awake/asleep
>day/night
>young/old
>consumed/nourished
>here/gone
>
>A structuralist would start lining these up into four-term homologies
>and claim that the poem does this. A four-term homology is a structure
>of the kind 'A is to B as X is to Y', and one might describe some of the
>sonnets central metaphors thus:
>
>i) summer is to winter as youth is to old age
>
>ii) young is to old as leafy (or hairy) is to denuded (or bald)
>
>iii) day is to night as life is to death

I did just that in my one book.  (Not to "explain" the poem, but to show
metaphors work.)

>These analogies have a long history in literature, but we should note
>what's wrong with two of them: summer comes back again, and day follows
>night, but youth does not return*. A structuralist would tut at the
>over-literalism of such an observation,

I would say that each year is an individual which dies in the winter,
and each day an individual which dies sometime at night.

>but a post-structuralist (i.e.
>deconstructive) critic would see there an opportunity to lever open some
>of the complementary structures of which the sonnet is supposed to be
>composed.

would see an opportunity to make a splash with trivial revisionism

>Looking for evidence that the 'doesn't-come-back' principle might
>actually be a current running against the main flow of the sonnet, our
>deconstructivist might observe that the syntax of line 2 seems awry:
>surely it should be "or few, or none", indicating "steadily diminishing
>order" (as Duncan-Jones for the Oxford Shakespeare observed).

I suppose it's valuable to notice something like this, but to me "none,
or few" makes perfect psychological sense: the poet visualizes leaves,
then their absence, then remembers the possible in-between states.  Yes,
as your deconstructionist has it, the poem rises above binary
categorization--but not, in my view, to "resist" it but merely to
increase the authenticity of the description--to increases its
vividness.

>Reversing
>the order is just what seasonal renewal can do and our human existence
>can't,


Not true: the birth of each human generation is a new spring.

>and where the structuralist sees binate opposition (all or none),
>the poem insists upon a third term (a few leaves), and refuses to put it
>in its proper place of the middle between all and none. In other words,
>the poem makes its point by resisting the binary categorization that it
>appears to be made of; this is sometimes called the poem being not
>identical with itself. (A sceptic might say that the poem just isn't as
>simple as the structuralist imagined, but is still self-identical.)
>
>Something similar is happening with the day/night opposition, for the
>'I' of the poem calls himself that intermediate term, twilight, and
>messes with our customary associations by having 'night' be 'Death's
>second self' when, of course, it should be sleep, which as we know from
>Macbeth "knits up the ravelled sleave of care". 'Ravel' is one of those
>marvellous English words that means the same thing when you try to makes
>its opposite: ravel means unravel just as flammable means inflammable.
>Our deconstructive critic is by now experiencing the jouissance of
>sliding signifiers,

. . . and following connotations too far from what the poem is saying
and doing.  Why should night's second self be sleep?  The poet is merely
saying that for him, in this poem, it's night--which actually makes more
sense than night as sleep, because night, like death, puts things to
sleep, adn the poet is speaking here of Death as an active force/being,
not as a physical state.

>the climax occurring in the paradox of "Consumed
>with that which it was nourished by". References to people being cooled
>by what heats them and lovers being made hungry by what feeds them can
>be brought in to show that to Shakespeare the paradox is always a
>fertile Cleopatra, as Johnson said.**

I don't see the paradox: in one context fire warms or nourishes; in
another it consumes.  It's just the re-use of an image.

>In short, one may construct (as the structuralists did) neat oppositions
>and parallels that the poetry is supposed to be forming in its
>rhetorical devices. The deconstructive critic exposes these as
>constructs (rather than simply being the way the world is) and shows
>that they can only be held together with some force, since in fact life
>isn't so orderly.  Not only are there shades of grey (a few leaves)
>between the extremes,

The good close reader would have discussed all these shades.

>many binary oppositions turn out on close
>examination to be not so oppositional after all. The words 'blackened'
>and 'bleached', for example, are cognate and hence hardly the stuff from
>which to make an opposition. (In _Specters of Marx_ Derrida pointed out
>that every 'first time' something cyclical happens is also a 'last
>time', since it's the last time that it'll be the first time.)
>
>Either on their own, or with a slight nudge from our deconstructive
>critic, binary oppositions break apart and one can see the labour
>(indeed, in some cases the violence) needed to hold them together.  For
>an example of the violence one might consider the binary opposition
>gay/straight that many people who are otherwise quite liberal seem
>intent on preserving. Or put another way, running against the main voice
>of a literary work is always at least one other quieter voice,
>contradicting it analogies and muttering profanities to mock its
>pieties. The deconstructive critic is more interested in the second,
>quieter voice.  Her detractors think she's hearing voices that aren't
>there.

Every reported encounter with a poem has some use, probably, but I'd
say, not really.  I, however, am a rarely-discussed contemporary poet
who thinks literary critics of all stripes have said more than enough
about Shakespeare's work and should try to find new poems to discuss,
rather than strain to find new things to say about old poems.  (With a
few exceptions, since I know my poems will eventually become old poems,
too.)

--Bob G.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 10 Jun 2003 14:40:01 -0500
Subject: 14.1143 Re: Deconstruction
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1143 Re: Deconstruction

Gabriel Egan generously responded,

>With pleasure, squire. Please note the indefinite article: what follows
>is what a deconstructionist might do and is not meant to be
>prescriptive.
>
>The sonnet, then, goes like this:
>
>1 That time of year thou mayst in me behold
>2  When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
>3  Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
>4  Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.
>5  In me thou seest the twilight of such day
>6  As after sunset fadeth in the west,
>7  Which by and by black night doth take away,
>8  Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
>9  In me thou seest the glowing of such fire
>10  That on the ashes of his youth doth lie
>11  As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
>12  Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
>13  This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
>14  To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
>
>A useful starting point would be some binary oppositions, say:
>
>summer/winter
>vigour/decrepitude
>leafy/denuded
>day/night
>awake/asleep
>day/night
>young/old
>consumed/nourished
>here/gone
>
>A structuralist would start lining these up into four-term homologies
>and claim that the poem does this. A four-term homology is a structure
>of the kind 'A is to B as X is to Y', and one might describe some of the
>sonnets central metaphors thus:
>
>i) summer is to winter as youth is to old age
>
>ii) young is to old as leafy (or hairy) is to denuded (or bald)
>
>iii) day is to night as life is to death
>
>These analogies have a long history in literature, but we should note
>what's wrong with two of them: summer comes back again, and day follows
>night, but youth does not return*. A structuralist would tut at the
>over-literalism of such an observation, but a post-structuralist (i.e.
>deconstructive) critic would see there an opportunity to lever open some
>of the complementary structures of which the sonnet is supposed to be
>composed.
>
>Looking for evidence that the 'doesn't-come-back' principle might
>actually be a current running against the main flow of the sonnet, our
>deconstructivist might observe that the syntax of line 2 seems awry:
>surely it should be "or few, or none", indicating "steadily diminishing
>order" (as Duncan-Jones for the Oxford Shakespeare observed). Reversing
>the order is just what seasonal renewal can do and our human existence
>can't, and where the structuralist sees binate opposition (all or none),
>the poem insists upon a third term (a few leaves), and refuses to put it
>in its proper place of the middle between all and none. In other words,
>the poem makes its point by resisting the binary categorization that it
>appears to be made of; this is sometimes called the poem being not
>identical with itself. (A sceptic might say that the poem just isn't as
>simple as the structuralist imagined, but is still self-identical.)
>
>Something similar is happening with the day/night opposition, for the
>'I' of the poem calls himself that intermediate term, twilight, and
>messes with our customary associations by having 'night' be 'Death's
>second self' when, of course, it should be sleep, which as we know from
>Macbeth "knits up the ravelled sleave of care". 'Ravel' is one of those
>marvellous English words that means the same thing when you try to makes
>its opposite: ravel means unravel just as flammable means inflammable.
>Our deconstructive critic is by now experiencing the jouissance of
>sliding signifiers, the climax occurring in the paradox of "Consumed
>with that which it was nourished by". References to people being cooled
>by what heats them and lovers being made hungry by what feeds them can
>be brought in to show that to Shakespeare the paradox is always a
>fertile Cleopatra, as Johnson said.**
>
>In short, one may construct (as the structuralists did) neat oppositions
>and parallels that the poetry is supposed to be forming in its
>rhetorical devices. The deconstructive critic exposes these as
>constructs (rather than simply being the way the world is) and shows
>that they can only be held together with some force, since in fact life
>isn't so orderly.  Not only are there shades of grey (a few leaves)
>between the extremes, many binary oppositions turn out on close
>examination to be not so oppositional after all. The words 'blackened'
>and 'bleached', for example, are cognate and hence hardly the stuff from
>which to make an opposition. (In _Specters of Marx_ Derrida pointed out
>that every 'first time' something cyclical happens is also a 'last
>time', since it's the last time that it'll be the first time.)
>
>Either on their own, or with a slight nudge from our deconstructive
>critic, binary oppositions break apart and one can see the labour
>(indeed, in some cases the violence) needed to hold them together.  For
>an example of the violence one might consider the binary opposition
>gay/straight that many people who are otherwise quite liberal seem
>intent on preserving. Or put another way, running against the main voice
>of a literary work is always at least one other quieter voice,
>contradicting it analogies and muttering profanities to mock its
>pieties. The deconstructive critic is more interested in the second,
>quieter voice.  Her detractors think she's hearing voices that aren't
>there.
>
>Any use, L.?
>
>Gabriel Egan
>
>* The Greeks saw another problem in these metaphors and couldn't agree
>when Persephone was supposed to be in Hades.
>
>** Yes, I know he didn't. Sliding 'fatal' under 'fertile' deconstructs
>the binary opposition of poet/critic.

Thanks, Mr. Egan.  Now, if I observed that, in the sonnet, the sequence,
time of year, time of day, time of fire is one that establishes the
increasing speed of approach of death, would the deconstructionist allow
and even perhaps celebrate that under the aegis of deconstructionism?
And who does the deconstructionist say that "thou" is, especially since
it is the speaker who seems to be leaving, not "thou," although the last
line states, "...which thou must leave ere long"? - or would the
deconstructionist concern himself with that?

And a general question, please: Does the deconstructionist offer a
unified view of the work at all, or does he wish only to demonstrate
that any unified view is untenable, and the work is therefore a
shambles?

Finally, please comment on the following:

"Deconstructionism in literary critique brings forth the concept of
textuality.  The concept of the intentional fallacy, which asserts that
a literary work contains meaning unintended by the author, is similar.
But textuality further asserts that the meaning in a text need bear no
debt to the author or his intended meaning at all.  Further yet,
textuality asserts that the constraints of the language of the text also
do not limit the meaning.  Since this would seem to make the meaning of
a piece entirely up to the reader, deconstructionist criticism is itself
criticized as being entirely subjective, allowing no way for others to
investigate the merit of the critique. " (quoted from
http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deconstructionism).

Awaiting your further instruction,

L. Swilley

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dale Lyles <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 10 Jun 2003 21:08:03 EDT
Subject: 14.1143  Re: Deconstruction
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1143  Re: Deconstruction

Goodness gracious!  I not only understood the explanation of the
deconstructionist approach, it made marvelous sense!  (I suspect,
however, that the example is an unusually lucid example at the summit of
a very slippery slope indeed.)  Thank you, Mr. Egan. Would you like a
job next summer teaching gifted teenagers?

Dale Lyles <--once again sweltering away in Valdosta, GA, administering
gifted teenagers and their teachers

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 11 Jun 2003 02:10:10 -0700
Subject: 14.1143 Re: Deconstruction
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1143 Re: Deconstruction

Gabriel Egan's response to L. Swilley's request offers a nice example of
the deconstructionist style. It shows the characteristic delight in
jargon--"four-term homologies"; the concentration on meaning, and
disregard of feeling; the delight in the paradoxes generated by
logically extending metaphors into territory they never purported to
claim; and the pride in "subverting" the poem's supposed intent.

This can all be done just as well with a bad poem as with a good one. If
criticism is a kind of translation (for the sake of argument|), this
translation seems to me to lose most of the poetry. I would think it
would also tend to drive people away from Shakespeare criticism, and
from Shakespeare, unless they were the sort who gets their jouissance
out of telling a poem "Aha! You contradict yourself!" But the force of
that discovery, which can be made about any poem, depends, in the
particular case, on the particular poem. How much, and how, do the
differances matter?  To appreciate the beauty and power of this poem,
must one deny that youth may at times be cold and dark, or the golden
years quite summery? Or does the figure of one life as one year, one day
or one fire fail, and make this poem somehow, partly, fail, because it
wrongly, mistakenly, dishonestly, ignores the fact that after we die
years, days and fires will be born and

 die anew?

What's wrong with deconstruction? I suppose it's a question of focus.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

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