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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: January ::
A Question
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0030  Tuesday, 16 January 2007

[1] 	From: 	Martin Mueller <
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	Date: 	Monday, 15 Jan 2007 16:17:59 -0600
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0024 A Question

[2] 	From: 	Oscar Lee Brownstein <
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	Date: 	Monday, 15 Jan 2007 17:31:20 -0500
	Subj: 	Presentism

[3] 	From: 	Carol Barton <
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	Date: 	Monday, 15 Jan 2007 19:52:53 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0024 A Question

[4] 	From: 	Hugh Grady <
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	Date: 	Monday, 15 Jan 2007 22:40:12 -0500
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 18.0024 A Question

[5] 	From: 	John Drakakis <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 16 Jan 2007 15:38:57 -0000
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 18.0024 A Question


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Martin Mueller <
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Date: 		Monday, 15 Jan 2007 16:17:59 -0600
Subject: 18.0024 A Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0024 A Question

On the few occasions that I have heard the word used it seemed to refer 
to one or both of the following:

1) an exclusive concentration on things now and
2) an unreflective tendency to make sense of things then as if they were 
just so many instances of things now.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Oscar Lee Brownstein <
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Date: 		Monday, 15 Jan 2007 17:31:20 -0500
Subject: 	Presentism

Like Professor Myers, the term "presentism" was unfamiliar to me -- and 
still is, as a presumably acceptable notion in criticism. (I am a Rip 
Van Winkle who has just awakened to critical movements after some 30 
years of attention elsewhere.) Here below is the beginning of the 
Wikipedia article on Presentism, which suggests that, used creatively or 
critically, Presentism might be a deliberate use of anachronism for a 
kind of post-modern archness.

*****
Presentism is a mode of historical analysis in which present-day ideas 
and perspectives are anachronistically introduced into depictions or 
interpretations of the past. Most modern historians seek to avoid 
presentism in their work because they believe it creates a distorted 
understanding of their subject matter.

Historian David Hackett Fischer identifies presentism as a logical 
fallacy also known as the "fallacy of nunc pro tunc". He has written 
that the "classic example" of presentism was the so-called "Whig 
history", in which certain eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British 
historians wrote history in a way that used the past to validate their 
own political beliefs. This interpretation was presentist because it did 
not depict the past in objective historical context, but instead viewed 
history only through the lens of contemporary Whig beliefs. In this kind 
of approach, which emphasizes the relevance of history to the present, 
things which do not seem relevant receive little attention, resulting in 
a misleading portrayal of the past. "Whig history" or "whiggishness" are 
often used as synonyms for presentism, particularly when the historical 
depiction in question is teleological or triumphalist.

Other examples of presentism:

* Alexander the Great was gay or bisexual. (Potentially creates a 
misleading understanding of Alexander's era by projecting modern 
perspectives of sexual orientation into his time.)
* Abraham Lincoln would have favored universal health insurance. (Since 
this was not an issue in Lincoln's time, evidence that he would have 
taken a specific position is necessarily taken out of historical context.)

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Carol Barton <
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Date: 		Monday, 15 Jan 2007 19:52:53 -0500
Subject: 18.0024 A Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0024 A Question

"Presentism" means applying conditions, attitudes, or perspectives that 
obtain today to previous generations (when they did not). For example: 
those who call Thomas Jefferson a "racist" or Milton a "misogynist" or 
think Chaucer forcibly copulated with unwilling females because he was 
accused of "rape" (rapine, or theft) are applying "presentist" 
approaches anachronistically. For their periods, Jefferson was 
incredibly progressive, from the standpoint of civil rights; Milton was 
far ahead of his time, in his recognition that women could be 
intelligent, politically astute, and the partners rather than the 
playthings of their husbands; and Chaucer was innocent of sexual 
malfeasance. One cannot judge the people of the Renaissance or the 17th, 
18th, or 19th centuries by 21st century standards-any more than he can 
apply post-1964 principles of civil rights or gay rights or feminism to 
those who lived before such terms were even in the lexicon.

Hope that helps, Norm--and my best to you (and all) for the New Year!

Carol Barton

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Hugh Grady <
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Date: 		Monday, 15 Jan 2007 22:40:12 -0500
Subject: 18.0024 A Question
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0024 A Question

In re the question of Prof. Norman Myers, 'I think I understand 
"historicism", but what, exactly, is "presentism.'"

Can I offer this excerpt from a previous explanation I did on another 
occasion, with the promise that much more will be said in the actual 
electronic discussion (of whatever name) Hardy Cook is being kind enough 
to organize:

*****
By presentist, I mean work based on the understanding that all our 
knowledge of Shakespeare, including that of his historical context, is 
shaped by the ideologies and discourses of our cultural present. Far 
from being an impediment to our knowledge, this understanding is its 
enabling foundation.  Moreover, my premise is that after 20-25 years of 
new wave criticism in early modern and Shakespeare studies, we have 
reached a state of diminishing returns and are thus poised for a change 
in direction. A critical revolution which in 1980-85 challenged the 
received wisdom and assumed practices of academic critical writing has 
over time itself become a new orthodoxy and lost much of its original 
critical edge. In the 1980s both the new historicism and cultural 
materialism were healthily self-conscious of their rootedness in our 
present and emphasized the impact of the present on the new 
understandings of the past which they constructed. Stephen Greenblatt, 
for example, wrote: " ...if cultural poetics is conscious of its status 
as interpretation, this consciousness must extend to an acceptance of 
the impossibility of fully reconstructing and reentering the culture of 
the sixteenth century, of leaving behind one's own situation" 
(Renaissance Self-Fashioning, 5). But it is precisely this kind of 
_presentism_ that has largely disappeared as the new historicism has 
become more hegemonic and academic over the decades.
*****

--Hugh Grady

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John Drakakis <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 16 Jan 2007 15:38:57 -0000
Subject: 18.0024 A Question
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0024 A Question

Two things to read:

Terence Hawkes, Shakespeare in The Present, and the most recent 
collection edited by Terence Hawkes and Hugh Grady, 'Presentist 
Shakespeares.  Both are in the excellent Accents on Shakespeare Series, 
and I think will give you the kind of straightforward answers you are 
seeking.

Cheers,
John Drakakis

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