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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: December ::
Presentism
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0802  Saturday, 1 December 2007

[1] 	From:	Nicole Coonradt <
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	Date:	Wednesday, 28 Nov 2007 16:12:46 +0000
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0788 Presentism

[2] 	From:	Donald Bloom <
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	Date:	Wednesday, 28 Nov 2007 15:34:51 -0600
	Subj:	RE: SHK 18.0788 Presentism

[3] 	From:	William Godshalk <
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	Date:	Thursday, 29 Nov 2007 16:00:15 -0500
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0788 Presentism


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Nicole Coonradt <
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Date:		Wednesday, 28 Nov 2007 16:12:46 +0000
Subject: 18.0788 Presentism
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0788 Presentism

While one certainly might query a definition of Hawkes' "harsher edge of 
history" (sounds "edgy" but what is it, exactly?), one might also get 
bemused trying to understand Bill's closing line:  "Obviously, anyone 
who can transcend the present is in line for a Nobel prize in magic." If 
we only "live and know in the present, it cannot be otherwise," who 
would be awarding this Nobel Prize? Wouldn't it follow that only the 
*magician* supposedly receiving the Prize would actually *know* that he 
had achieved transcendence? Maybe he magically made the governing body 
award him the prize in the first place, unbeknownst to them? He could 
celebrate alone. Whoopie.

Sound silly? It's meant to, but in a "self-destructive" way, of course.

What, however, was meant by "wrong" concerning "idea"? Does it mean 
"false" (as in "incorrect") or, perhaps, "impossible"? Or, is there some 
sense of moral transgression attached to the word, like right vs. wrong? 
One could, depending on one's *present* stance, read it variously. Since 
the post is now, effectively "history," and hence part of the past-- 
ergo, no longer "present"-- can the writer even recall what was meant by 
his use of the word, given that he is only trapped in the *now* of time? 
Or would that be wrong? But maybe it doesn't even matter, maybe all that 
matters is what I think, right now, this moment, how I read it, since I 
can do no other. And then the moment passes...

Best to you all: then, now and evermore!

Nicole Coonradt

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Donald Bloom <
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Date:		Wednesday, 28 Nov 2007 15:34:51 -0600
Subject: 18.0788 Presentism
Comment:	RE: SHK 18.0788 Presentism

With all the talk about "presentism" going on, I would like put forward 
a still newer non-theory: "absentism." Partly derived from several 
theories that I won't go into here, absentism is predicated on the idea 
that what is not in a text is as important as - sometimes more important 
than - what is present. In the larger sense, of course, everything in 
the universe is absent from a text except for the words found in it, a 
fairly large category. But more specific absences define meanings and 
effects no less than presences.

An easy place to start with is the Battle of Shrewsbury in "1 Henry IV," 
where those who are missing from the battle (Northumberland, Mortimer, 
Glendower) determine its outcome as much that those who fight it. This 
is very simple and straightforward, but Shakespeare does not hesitate to 
complicate it with the presence of Prince Hal, whom no one expected to 
be present but was, and (ironically and comically) the presence of 
Falstaff, who might as well not have been there.

This case is paralleled by several other instances in the play, such as 
Hal's absence from court and his pretended absence (along with Poins) at 
the robbery on Gad's Hill. The Percy family, by contrast, is present at 
court until their absence is demanded by the king.

A still more complex example of the absent / present conflict can be 
seen in the ghosts that periodically haunt the tragedies. The dead are, 
of course, spiritually absent, being resident, as Hamlet notes, in 
heaven or the other place. Physically, they are more or less present, 
but only as mouldering corpses in some churchyard or tomb. They are not 
allowed to be present anywhere else, and thus assumed to be safely 
absent. But then suddenly they aren't. Physically they are both present 
and absent - present enough to be seen and heard (and feared), absent 
enough to appear out of nowhere, walk through walls and the like. 
Spiritually, they are present, but are they? Both Hamlet and Horatio 
question whether the ghost of King Hamlet may not really be some demonic 
illusion sent to lure him into a damnable sin like suicide or murder. In 
this case, a "something" is spiritually present but the actual dead 
person is absent.

And even this degree of presence vs. absence is questionable. King 
Hamlet's ghost is present to the guards before the play opens, to the 
guards plus Horatio in the first scene and to the former plus Hamlet in 
the fourth and fifth. But when it returns to Gertrude's bedroom, it is 
present only to Hamlet, and remains absent to Gertrude. This sets up one 
of the most delicious ironies in all of Shakespeare, wherein Hamlet 
orders his mother not to reveal the fact of his sanity, while the 
mother, having just seen her boy talking urgently to the empty air, 
believes that such sanity is completely absent and will have no 
difficulty keeping the secret.

We may see that the situation of Gertrude's bedroom also pertains to the 
Macbeths' party, where the ghost of Banquo is present to Macbeth but 
absent to everyone else, leading to a great deal of stress all round. 
This absence/presence also has a related irony, since Macbeth has just 
remarked ruefully about the absence of his friend, assuming that 
Banquo's absence is complete and permanent. The sudden presence of the 
utterly absent would necessarily cause a breakdown of Macbeth's sense of 
order and reality whatever guilt and fear he may endure over the evil 
that he has perpetrated.

I will mention only in passing other examples, such as the presence of 
great Caesar's ghost at Philippi and the ominous quality of the 
present/absent emperor for Brutus's future political career. Likewise, 
and moving from the occult, the absence/presence of Hero in the window 
scene of "Much Ado" is mirrored by her presence/absence at the wedding. 
  Variations can also be found in "The Winter's Tale" (Hermione), 
"Cymbeline" (Iachimo in Imogen's bedroom), "All's Well" and "Measure" 
(more dark bedroom scenes) and so on.

Arguably the most complex and ironic use of absence is found in Viola's 
sexual organs in "Twelfth Night." In relation to Olivia, what is absent 
from Viola is precisely what Olivia wants to be present, while what is 
present she has no need for (having one of her own). But by 
impersonating a man, Viola makes Cesario, who is actually absent (being 
non-existent), present in the mind of Olivia (and everyone else). 
Contrariwise, in relation to Orsino, the reverse applies; she has what 
he wants and lacks what he doesn't want. But she doesn't feel that she 
can risk uncovering the truth and exposing herself.

(Several critics have noted the eunuch motif that Viola first mentions 
and then, at some point, rejects. A eunuch is like a woman only in a 
negative sense, having an absence in common. There is no compensatory 
presence to make him romantically attractive. The absence "possessed by" 
the absent eunuch can be seen as one of the keys to the play, and to the 
seriousness with which the author took the romantic possibilities of 
absence/presence.)

Viola's perplex is, of course, resolved by the presence of the 
previously absent Sebastian. Having the correct set of sexual absences 
and presences, he can replace the falsely present "Cesario" in the 
desires of Olivia, and allow his twin to reveal at last the actuality of 
her present and absent sexual organization. Not on stage, of course. 
These and other cases are gone into in greater depth in the book that 
Peter Quince and I have put together, "'All for Your Delight We Are Not 
Here': Absent-Mindedness in Shakespeare's Plays" (McMurdo Station, Ant.: 
Penguin UP, 2006).

Any newly hatched scholar might well consider getting in on the ground 
floor of this new offering, which might take off at any moment.

Cheers
don

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		William Godshalk <
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Date:		Thursday, 29 Nov 2007 16:00:15 -0500
Subject: 18.0788 Presentism
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0788 Presentism

Joe Egert writes to Terry Hawkes: "I'm afraid, Terry, my (your?) 
limitations deprive me of the truth of your assertion, which I find not 
just absurdly self-destructive, but defeatist and pernicious in RA 
Cantrell's sense as well."

Joe Egert finds Terry Hawkes' position "not just absurdly 
self-destructive, but defeatist and pernicious." But true and honest, 
I'd add. Yes, it may be difficult to accept and applaud human 
limitations, but these limitations do not go away. They are part of 
human life on this planet. We live in the present, and history is a 
human reconstruction. Of course, something happened in 1600, but our 
narrative of what happened is conjectural, based on artifacts that must 
be interpreted in the present. If you think otherwise, tell us the 
"truth" about the relationship of Q1 Hamlet to Q2 Hamlet. Or take 
Pilate's position.

Bill

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