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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: July ::
CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1436  Thursday, 15 July 2004

[1]     From:   R. A. Cantrell <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 14 Jul 2004 07:30:48 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1429 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada

[2]     From:   W.L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 14 Jul 2004 15:21:03 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1429 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada

[3]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 14 Jul 2004 21:37:30 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1429 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canad


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           R. A. Cantrell <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 14 Jul 2004 07:30:48 -0500
Subject: 15.1429 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1429 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada

 >Have we developed a series of technical terms because we really
 >need them? Or has this happened in a futile attempt to raise the
 >prestige of a profession that is, in the public eye, rapidly sinking?

WE have not, THEY have. Kristeva and the Ninnies with whom she is
associated/identified have tried to make a place form themselves in the
academy by the trick of obfuscation. "They mus be pretty damn smart
cause I cain't unnerstand 'em." Please, anyone even remotely tempted to
take Kristeva and her ilk seriously, read FASHIONABLE NONSENSE by Alan
Sokal.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W.L. Godshalk <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 14 Jul 2004 15:21:03 -0400
Subject: 15.1429 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1429 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada

Ed Taft asks:

 >"Would we win more friends and influence more
 >people if we eschewed obfuscation and emulated instead those masters of
 >the familiar essay Charles Lamb and E. B. White? If we copied these
 >latter two renowned (and much loved) stylists, wouldn't we have a better
 >chance of persuading the public that we have useful and interesting
 >things to say? In other words, hasn't the mania for a professional
 >jargon in literary studies backfired, big time? And, to the average Joe,
 >doesn't the use of such jargon make us look like idiots and fools?"

I think the answer to these questions is a resounding YES. If we want to
be agents of change, then we should attempt to use language that most
people can understand. If our jargon merely puzzles our constituencies,
we can achieve little of value.

Bill Godshalk

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Wednesday, 14 Jul 2004 21:37:30 -0400
Subject: 15.1429 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1429 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada

I accept Gabriel Egan's point that in speaking of the utensils and the
dream in MV he was talking about a hypothetical production. I simply
misunderstood.

I also enjoyed his quoted speculation on one possible effect of casting
Tom Cruise in BOTFOJ. Until, that is, the last sentence. I don't see
what is gained in saying that this is "an intertextualite". Why not say
that all actors, for example, are signifying systems, in the use of
which casting directors are supposed to be particularly adept? Fine, but
do we really learn anything new by casting such a wide net? It seems to
me that instead we lose something, in several ways.

First, this abstract, catch-anything jargon implies that we have some
special knowledge of just about everything in the world, since anything
in the world could be described, in some circumstances anyway, as a
signifying system, and everything we do as some kind of transaction
between signifying systems. If I know that all the world's a text, does
this really help me interpret the world? I can understand the point
about Tom Cruise without this, as it seems to me, pretentious overlay of
abstraction. Generalization can be good, and interesting. When it gets
carried so far, I think it turns into pseudo-generalization. It doesn't
tell me anything I didn't already know, though if I'm susceptible it may
convince me that I know more than I really do.

This effect, of convincing people they know more than they really do,
seems to me a serious drawback of this kind of jargon, as I think it was
of its Freudian precursor. On that, as Gabriel Egan says, we may disagree.

The question of castration anxiety provides a more specific example, in
my opinion, of how jargon can mislead. I think one important thing about
Shylock's intention to cut away a pound of flesh "nearest the heart" of
Antonio is that, unlike castration, it would be immediately fatal. Death
seems to be the issue here, not castration. That Gabriel sees no problem
in this castration anxiety he speaks of belonging to no one in
particular--maybe the audience, or Shakespeare, or one of the
characters--startles me. Again, a very wide net is being cast. Does this
statement about castration anxiety tell us something valuable, or even
interesting, about the play, or does it distract us from the play?  On
this perhaps we must also disagree.

All my loose talk bothers Martin Steward, whose reply is a very good
example of the deconstructionist line. I would say we live in a world of
local contexts, about which, being human, we try to generalize--perhaps
seeking that elusive unifying theory, perhaps seeking to become God. As
long as we are not God, we cannot get free of particular contexts, but
we can try, and sometimes at least, tentatively, expose mistakes--our
own and those of others. This direction, mistake to true knowledge, as
well as the move from lack of understanding to insight, gives us a
tentative direction of improvement figured by Plato as the upward path
out of the cave. We can't help trying to move that way, while at the
same time, as humans, we can't get fully into the contextless light of
true, pure, absolute knowledge.

Martin thinks that it is impossible to quote Hamlet, because if it were
possible that would imply that the Hamlet quoted was the Platonic true
thing. I claim that saying I can quote Hamlet does not imply, or,
speaking more carefully, does not absolutely imply, the existence of
this Platonic object. When I say I quoted Hamlet the other day on this
list, I'm speaking in relative terms, or, if you like, in ordinary
language. Martin can then respond that there is no such thing as
ordinary language. The Platonic phrase "there is no such thing as" might
be called the signature phrase of deconstruction. In denying the
implication, I do not say, of course, that there are no questions about
the text of Hamlet, no ambiguities, etc. I'm implying that in this case
those questions are not relevant to the point I'm making. I may of
course be wrong about that. For example, one could quote Macbeth thus:
"By Finel's death I know I am Thane of Glamis." Personally I would say
that is not a quote, or not a correct quote, from the play.  However, it
is a correct quote (if my memory's right) from Stephen Orgel's edition.
He replaced Sinel with Finel because that was the name of the historical
Macbeth's father. Here considerations about the stability of the text
become relevant. In most cases of quotation, I would argue, the point is
elsewhere, and to take the Platonically absolute position of Martin
Steward would, in those cases, miss the point. If I define my terms as
absolutely as Martin, I would perhaps never claim to quote at all. But
what in the world would I claim to do? If there are no texts, because
none is absolutely definable, what is intertextuality? Recently Martin
posted here a long piece on Coriolanus which I thought was quite
interesting. It involved a lot of quotation. If you wish to deny, on
Platonic grounds, that quotation is possible, then I think to do
criticism, or anything else, you will have to invent new words to do the
same work as the old ones. But why waste the energy, and introduce
unnecessary confusion to boot?

We may all disagree--what I call confusion some will call insight. But
in the meantime, I believe, many people are driven away from
Shakespeare, and literary studies in general, by this language, and by
the attitude that this is the way literary professionals speak, and
should speak. I deeply disagree with that assumption. I thought Ed Taft
put the case against it well. I can only hope that in the future more
people will find clarity a quality which is not (except Platonically
speaking) unintelligible, bogus or irrelevant, and whose pursuit will
improve the study and teaching of Shakespeare.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

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