Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: April ::
SHAKSPER Roundtable: Presentism
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0305  Sunday, 29 April 2007

From: 		Hugh Grady <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Sunday, 15 Apr 2007 15:30:37 -0400
Subject: 	SHAKSPER Roundtable: Presentism

 From Hugh Grady <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >

In response to my call for last thoughts for the Roundtable on 
Presentism, three posts came in, by David Lindley, John Drakakis, and 
Alan Horn. The first two are generalizing statements that look back at 
some of the larger issues raised in the course of the discussion. David 
Lindley offers more parallels between current debates about presentism 
and historicism in Shakespeare studies and an earlier debate about 
"modern" and "authentic" performances of musical works of the past. He 
leaves us with the thought that the thread has failed to pursue the 
question of what happens when a theater like the London Globe attempts 
to mount an "authentic" performance of Shakespeare.

John Drakakis shifts attention to what he calls the "conceptual 
framework of 'Presentism.'" He takes issue, particularly, with both 
sides in the previous exchange between David Lindley and Ewan Fernie, 
seeing the first as too exclusively concerned with a reconstruction of 
the past, the second as too immersed in an undifferentiated present. He 
cites Terence Hawkes' _Shakespeare in the Present_ as offering a better 
critical model for Presentism, and in the end offering "a fresh 
re-engagement with the past."

The third post from Alan Horn re-visits the issue of the alien quality 
of the past in relation to the present and, via a quote from Jerome 
McGann, seems to suggest that Presentism dissolves this otherness.

Because this last post raises a specific issue and asks for a response 
from me, I will comment on it below. The other two more general 
statements are more in the way of reflections on the whole thread, and I 
prefer to let them speak for themselves.

[1]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Lindley <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Monday, 2 Apr 2007 11:13:01 +0100
Subject: 18.0221 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Presentism
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0221 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Presentism

Hugh asks for final thoughts. I have been continuing to read the 
literature of the controversies that attended the early music movement 
in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly the essays of Richard Taruskin 
collected and revised in the volume, Text and Act (1995), and they do 
seem to me to provide an instructive comparison with some of the issues 
Hugh Grady and others raise. In particular, much of Taruskin's case 
against the early music movement attaches to the way he believes its 
historical emphasis leads to a fossilisation of performance - and 
there's much in that which I agree with entirely, but which also 
connects, I think, with Ewan Fernie's last post.

Like the 'presentists' Taruskin insists that the performance of early 
music is, in fact, a performance in and for the present - and he sees it 
as tied to the aesthetics of modernism (another connection with Hugh 
Grady's own published work ); but like them, too, he does not declare 
scholarship and history irrelevant.  What is perhaps most interesting is 
that the debate in music is/was focused precisely on performance, and on 
the experience of the listener - the focus that some presentists demand, 
though perhaps with less clarity than musicians. It does raise questions 
about response in the theatre and response in the study - are they 
equally tied to the present? Are they tied in different ways? Is a 
historicist perspective possible in the theatre - what happens when, as 
at the Globe, there are occasional efforts to mount 'authentic' 
performance? These are questions I'm sorry no one raised and followed up.

David Lindley

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John Drakakis <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Tuesday, 3 Apr 2007 16:15:59 +0100
Subject: 18.0221 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Presentism
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0221 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Presentism

I was a little disappointed in that the round-table never quite got down 
to dealing with the conceptual framework of 'Presentism'. This was 
particularly the case in relation to the Lindley-Fernie exchange that 
seemed to me to get stuck in some kind of 'either/or' bind: either you 
are for 'history' or you are 'against' it. Nobody so far as I recall, 
raised the question of writing history, and of writing different kinds 
of history, or of dealing with the business of historiography and its 
protocols (something that has our colleagues in History Departments for 
some time. I raise this, because unless and until we engage with this 
issue then 'Presentism' falls back into a domesticated version of the 
Derridean preoccupation with the future. This is certainly not the route 
that Terence Hawkes - the President of Presentism - takes in his book 
Shakespeare in The Present. Indeed, 'presentism' in his formulation 
leads ultimately to a fresh re-engagement with the past rather than 
simply with some quasi-Heideggerian genuflection in the direction of a 
decontextualised 'dasein'. As enquirers into the past in all of its 
ramifications, we start from where we are. If we assert that the past is 
something that we can engage with 'objectively' then we delude 
ourselves.  Lindley's claim to know more about the past than he does 
about the present (though I am sure that he does not intend it to be) is 
the expression of intolerance that senior generations often direct at 
those coming up after them. In fact, what he 'knows' about the (let us 
say, 'Elizabethan') past is something that he has assembled himself. 
This is not to say that what he has assembled has no existence, just 
that it isn't quite what he thinks it is. From the other perspective 
Fernie's staking all on the 'present' errs in the other direction: one 
seeks refuge in the past because he despairs about the present, and the 
other seeks refuge in the present because he has yet to work out a 
formulation for dealing with the past. Meanwhile 'presentism' is 
somewhere else.  Maybe we can't get there in this round, but then there 
is always the future!

Very best,
John Drakakis

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Alan Horn <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Tuesday, 10 Apr 2007 05:15:10 -0400
Subject: 18.0221 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Presentism
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0221 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Presentism

I hope it is not too late to contribute to the discussion on 
"presentism." I was rereading the essay on "The Ancient Mariner" in 
Jerome McGann's The Beauty of Inflections and came upon a paragraph that 
brilliantly articulates a point of view that I believe is directly 
counterpoised to that which has been offered:

"Anyone who has taught ancient or culturally removed literature has 
experienced the difficulty of transmitting historically alienated 
material. Nor does it help much to assume or pretend that what Bacon 
says in 'Of education,' what Sophocles dramatizes in the Oedipus, or 
what the Jahwist has presented in his Genesis can be appreciated or even 
understood by an uneducated student or reader. Of course, the problem 
can be solved if the teacher avoids it altogether and asks the student 
to deal with the work in its present context only, that is, to supply it 
with a 'reading.' Alien works may be, as we say, 'interpreted.' But we 
must understand that such exercises, carried out in relative historical 
ignorance, are not CRITICAL operations. Rather, they are vehicles for 
recapitulating and objectifying the reader's particular ideological 
commitments. To 'read' in this way is to confront Ahab's doubloon, to 
read self-reflexively. The danger in such method is that it will not be 
able to provide the reader with a social differential that can 
illuminate the limits of that immediate interpretation. The importance 
of ancient or culturally removed works lies precisely in this fact: that 
they themselves, as culturally alienated products, confront present 
readers with ideological differentials that help to define the limits 
and special functions of those current ideological practices. Great 
works continue to have something to say because what they have to say is 
so peculiarly and specifically their own that we, who are different, can 
learn from them."

I would be interested to know how the moderator would respond to these 
remarks.

Alan Horn

*************
Commentary by Hugh Grady

I have to believe Alan Horn has not been reading the previous 
discussions in this Roundtable, in which the issue of presentism's 
necessary trafficking with the Otherness of the past has been a major 
motif. But to give the reply he asks for, I more or less agree with the 
quoted comments from John McGann as far as they go, to the extent that 
they identify what I would term a "bad" presentism. Crucially, however, 
I would add that the very quality of the "alien" which is the subject of 
his discussion only takes on meaning in the present, in a context in 
which some quality or qualities of an older text seem Other to us. That 
is, the very recognition of something as alien depends on our perception 
of ourselves as different from the past in some way. In trying to 
describe the alien, we necessarily make use of the concepts, languages, 
and ideologies of our own time and culture, and we never completely 
succeed in recovering the lost past. Moreover, our very fascination with 
the past's Otherness bespeaks its resonance with parts of ourselves that 
have, perhaps, been repressed or displaced. The Other, any number of 
critics and philosophers have pointed out, is in an important sense also 
a part of ourselves-a part, however, displaced from our own 
self-conception. So while I agree with McGann that we learn from the 
Otherness of great works of the past, what we learn is not exactly the 
past itself, but our own present construction of it. Stephen 
Greenblatt's recent _New York Review of Books_ article (available 
through a link posted to this listserv two weeks ago by Joseph Egert) is 
an excellent example of a historicist investigation of an alien concept 
of torture in Shakespeare's day that takes on unmistakable Presentist 
dimensions when read by any person today who has been paying attention 
to the news over the last four years.

Lindley and Drakakis both suggest directions for future discussions of 
issues of Presentism. Lindley is interested in the dynamics of attempts 
to reconstruct an "authentic" past; Drakakis opines that more attention 
needs to be paid to the conceptual framework behind the various 
Presentist practices. In that connection, I want to point out that while 
this Roundtable on Presentism as a discussion with a moderator and 
weekly collections of posts will go out of existence after a final 
valedictory statement I hope to compose over the next week or two, it 
will certainly be possible to pursue these issues in regular posts to 
SHAKSPER, and I hope these and other contributors will do so. And I hope 
the experience gained in this venture will be useful to those 
undertaking other Roundtables on SHAKSPER in the future. I hope to share 
some thoughts on this and other matters within a week or two in a 
concluding post.

***************
Editor's Note by Hardy M. Cook <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >

We all owe Hugh Grady a round of applause for moderating the first 
SHAKSPER Roundtable. Thank you, Hugh, from all of us.

Next, I offer my thanks to all who participated by contributing to the 
Roundtable or by reading along and getting a sense of some of the other 
possibilities for scholarly exchange that we can engage in with a 
resource such as the SHAKSPER list.

In the next few weeks, there will be time to continue the postmortem 
that some members have already begun with me through private exchanges. 
I too need to think about what I think we did right and what might be 
improved in future Roundtables.

In the past, we identified dozens and dozens of possible subjects; yet 
we simply cannot have another Roundtable without another guest 
moderator. So if you think you might have an interest, contact me about 
that interest.

In the future, the entire exchange in this Roundtable will be available 
from a link off of the SHAKSPER website's homepage.

_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the 
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the 
editor assumes no responsibility for them.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.