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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: February ::
A Question
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0103  Tuesday, 6 February 2007

[1] 	From: 	John Drakakis <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 6 Feb 2007 17:52:43 -0000
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 18.0095 A Question

[2] 	From: 	Larry Weiss <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 06 Feb 2007 13:23:25 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0095 A Question


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John Drakakis <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 6 Feb 2007 17:52:43 -0000
Subject: 18.0095 A Question
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0095 A Question

I am very sorry that Joseph Egert thought that I was attacking him, and 
from the barricades no less! I was simply enquiring about the terms of 
his argument, with which, I confess, I still have a problem.

Of course you are right, Joe, in your assertion that in these heady post 
Thatcherite / Post Reaganite days that 'reactionary' has come to mean 
'progressive, or do you mean 'revisionist'? The trouble with all of 
these labels is that they get in the way of serious enquiry. I'm also 
sorry that you think that Theory (which I take to mean some vaguely 
generic term) is acidic. Let me clarify the way I use the term: to 
investigate the conceptual framework within particular 
cultural/historical phenomena emerge/develop/slide out of public 
consciousness, while at the same time taking care not to obscure my own 
position as observer and interpreter.  I think what you think of as 
'Theory' is a particular brand of 'theory': in itself an ideologically 
overdetermined rhetorical move, and not something that you can spread 
over the whole filed like some sort of weedkiller (apologies for the 
agrarian metaphor!).

I'm afraid that to define what 'modernity', 'Enlightenment' and 
'Renaissance' are would try the patience of us all, but surely you must 
take into account the rather rough ride that Enlightenment rationalism 
has had in recent decades, not least from those working within the 
traditions of Marxism. What 'presentism' seems to me to emphasise - and 
Presentism is a phenomenon that works both IN history and ON it - is the 
dialectical nature of our engagement with the past, including the 
categories of 'fact' that we assemble, test, adopt, discard. I really 
don't understand how a 'fact' can speak for itself. Unless we interpret 
it, evaluate its significance for ourselves, then surely it has to be 
meaningless in the kind of cultural sense in which we are discussing 
meaning. A 'fact' isn't something like a rock that is just there.

The basic distinction that I think you are trying to make Joe is perhaps 
best set out in Charles Taylor's opening sections of Resources of The 
Self. I'm not sure yet quite where I stand in relation to Taylor's 
provocative analysis but I think we should be very careful before we 
simply characterise (or caricature) the debate as being one between a 
sliding relativism and a rigid realism, or an even more rigid scientific 
naturalism.

There seems to me to be nothing wrong with 'transvaluing' concepts, and 
the purpose within a very sophisticated Marxist tradition might easily 
be to construct a Nietzschean 'genealogy. There is a very real problem 
that arises if one were to forsake certain objectives: equality, 
justice, freedom for a nihilism that collapses back into a kind of 
social Darwinism. That, unfortunately, is where neo-conservative 
quasi-thought would lead us, and why perhaps the renewal of interest in 
the US especially in the work of Carl Schmidt.  Nor is there anything 
wrong with revaluing objectives and changing them if, through the 
empirical experience of 'history' they prove to lead to unforeseen 
consequences. This self-critical tradition remains alive within Marxism 
as it moves to encounter new challenges thrown up by the sophisticated 
transformations of late capitalism. Simply to assume that this will lead 
inevitably to a slippery relativism is to forsake the rigour of 
intellectual enquiry for fashion.

All I asked you to do, Joe, was to square your polemical stance with 
what those whose discourses you were invoking had actually written.  If 
you interpret what they say differently from the way in which I do, then 
we can have a discussion, but if you retreat behind the barricades of 
sloganising then we miss the opportunity to engage with a concept like 
'Presentism' that we need to define much more fully.

One final thought: a cursory reading of Hamlet will provoke it, and 
George Bush has yet to learn it. Dismantling is only one part of a 
political process. It's what you decide to put in its place that is an 
index of whether you look backwards or forwards. You may like to reflect 
that Walter Benjamin's 'angel of history' went backwards into the 
future. Is it not a cardinal precept of 'Presentism' that it look both 
ways while at the same time acknowledging the observer's historical 
location?

Onwards and backwards!

John D

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Larry Weiss <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 06 Feb 2007 13:23:25 -0500
Subject: 18.0095 A Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0095 A Question

 >History Itself is a Fact, the true Other, the unvarnished
 >Object, the perfect Text.

I suppose that this is true in an ideal, Platonic, sort of way.  But we 
cannot know what those Facts are except as we perceive and evaluate 
them.  Every litigator knows that facts are slippery things.  Two 
witnesses to the same event will often -- usually -- describe it 
differently, frequently in diametrically opposite fashions.  Sometimes 
this is due to mendacity; more often it is a function of differing 
vantage points, varying perceptive abilities, opposed interests and 
biases; etc..
But this being allowed, does that mean that we must throw up our hands 
and concede that the past is unknowable in a Heisenbergian way?  I 
submit not.  Just as astronomers recognize that their technology alters 
their perception of the objects they are observing and compensate for 
such things as chromatic variation due to the refractive properties of 
lenses, historians need to compensate for the biases of the reporters 
and perceptive alterations resulting from changed conditions.  We might 
not be able to achieve a perfect understanding of the events, but that 
doesn't mean it is useless to try.

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