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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: August ::
WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0538  Friday, 17 August 2007

[1] 	From: 		John Drakakis <
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	Date: 		Thursday, 16 Aug 2007 15:49:26 +0100
	Subj: 		RE: SHK 18.0533 WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare

[2] 	From: 		Cary DiPietro <
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	Date: 		Friday, 17 Aug 2007 01:25:08 +0900
	Subj: 		RE: SHK 18.0533 WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare

[3] 	From: 		Bruce Young <
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	Date: 		Thursday, 16 Aug 2007 12:12:38 -0600
	Subj: 		RE: SHK 18.0533 WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare

[4] 	From: 		Joseph Egert <
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	Date: 		Thursday, 16 Aug 2007 16:12:54 -0700 (PDT)
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0528 WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John Drakakis <
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Date: 		Thursday, 16 Aug 2007 15:49:26 +0100
Subject: 18.0533 WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0533 WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare

I think, Ros, that there's  big difference between what you call 
'cherrypicking' of meanings and the kind of thing that Terry Hawkes 
talks about in 'Meaning By Shakespeare' and since. I think we can all 
agree that - as the other Terry puts it - 'King Lear is not about Leeds 
United.'

BUT that still leaves plenty of room for manoeuvre that invites us to 
think about how we make sense of a particular constellation of words 
that comprise a 'Shakespeare text'.  If we are thinking about inked 
marks on a page (the basic material of textual bibliography)then we have 
some very real problems since those inked marks draw on a series of 
discursive fields, some of which are not literary at all, and they also 
invite us to try to reconstitute the processes by which those inked 
marks came into existence.

Hawkes' claim, and you may think that it is a polemical one, is that we 
cannot assume that what grounds our readings is the 'authority' of 
Shakespeare, and his excavation of the predispositions of particular 
critics (from 'That Shakespearian Rag' onwards) maintains this important 
focus.

Perhaps another way of looking at it would be to ask why particular 
plays rise into critical (and even popular) consciousness at particular 
times. For my many sins I've been ploughing through a series of early 
Gothic novels recently, and I'm surprised at the number of references to 
'King John' (alongside the expected references to 'Hamlet', 'Macbeth', 
King Lear', 'Othello' etc.).  In trying to account for this I don't 
think that 'going back to the text' would be of much help. In the 
criticism of the times (1760-1820 roughly) some mention is made of the 
'authenticity' of the emotion of the character of Constance, and there 
is a lot in Romantic Criticism that actually shapes both the 
interpretation and the reception of Shakespeare.  Now I don't think that 
wanting to emphasise these aspects of interpretation is 'cherrypicking' 
so much as adjusting an emphasis.  Hawkes' point is that Shakespeare, as 
a subject 'in history' did it (possibly without being fully conscious of 
what he was doing), and that this is exactly what we do.  The difference 
is that we have no excuse for not being conscious of what we are doing.

Cheers,
John Drakakis

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Cary DiPietro <
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Date: 		Friday, 17 Aug 2007 01:25:08 +0900
Subject: 18.0533 WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0533 WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare

This may be an argument about semantics, but Ros King is wrong to 
suggest that texts create meaning.  How can they when they are not 
sentient?  No, texts have meaning systems embedded within them, systems 
that are historically contingent; and though French poststructuralism 
has instructed us well in the fallacy of authorial intention, careful 
close reading of the text with attention duly paid to the historically 
determined meaning of words, syntax structures and rhetorical figures 
can teach us about the complexity and nuance of textual meaning as it 
changes over time.

However, even when we 'discover' the text in its own historical 
situation, to mean properly historicize it (and the criticism of the 
last twenty years has taught us the necessity of doing this, despite its 
misplaced emphasis on context), we inevitably embed those discoveries in 
interpretive narratives that speak to or about our own social and 
cultural paradigms.  This is scholarly common sense, but presentism 
takes this one step further to argue that we can never wholly reenter 
the past to encounter those earlier meanings in an unmediated way, nor 
should we: narrative process is both inevitable and inescapable.  And 
this is Hawkes's point: our priority must be to consider how and why 
these texts mean for us now.

In response to this, however, I would argue that this project does not 
disallow nor is it antithetical to the project of historicist analysis; 
to interrogate how and why texts mean for us now is necessarily to 
historicize them, to address the meaning systems that are embedded and 
sedimented in our inherited reading and performance practices, and to 
make sense of them by telling, as it were, 'stories about the past', 
stories that are self-consciously narrative.  I don't think Hawkes will 
disagree with this.

Reading the early works of Terence Hawkes was a formative experience of 
my own Shakespeare education, but I'm not sure that a return to them 
here would be a productive exercise.  The methodological approach 
exemplified in, for example, _Meaning by Shakespeare_ is presentist in 
principle, if not in name, and to revisit the arguments made there would 
be to rehash many of the points that were made (and largely ignored) in 
the Presentism Roundtable.  Will Sharpe is right to suggest that the 
intelligent and timely questions posed by Hugh Grady and John Drakakis, 
among others, were never satisfyingly addressed or answered.

In any case, focusing on Hawkes's early works may lead to the 
misapprehension that he invented, rather than merely paraded, the notion 
that textual meaning is created by and dependent upon interpretive 
communities; we might note that the title of the Washington Post article 
implicitly references that earlier work by Jan Kott, _Shakespeare, Our 
Contemporary_.  Performance and film critics of Shakespeare have long 
been making this argument, even while they've been marginalized 
professionally by an academy that has come to be dominated by historical 
(rather than historicist) scholarship.  Presentism is meant to serve as 
a corrective to this misplaced emphasis on history, to the erroneous 
notion that we can ever recover or return to the meaning of the past, 
and the annoying moralism that is commonly intoned to justify the 
historical approach, our responsibility to the past, the text in 
history, etc.

A note to Ros King:  have you read the new book by Terry Eagleton on 
close-reading?  I haven't read it yet, but I understand that one of the 
goals of the project is to reconcile, or perhaps even update, the 
philosophy of close-reading with post-structuralist analysis.  That's 
*very* exciting.  I say let's nip this stupid 'after theory' thing in 
the bud.

Cary DiPietro

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Bruce Young <
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Date: 		Thursday, 16 Aug 2007 12:12:38 -0600
Subject: 18.0533 WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0533 WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare

Sorry to stretch this out further, but my curiosity still hasn't been 
satisfied.  My questions on this thread seem to have dropped into the 
void, the closest to a response being the suggestion (under the heading 
"SHAKSPER Roundtable") that lesser Shakespeareans should be careful in 
what they say about Terence Hawkes's opinions.

My questions are genuine ones.  I agree with Hawkes that "we mean by 
[means of] the plays."  And I agree with John Drakakis's interpretation 
of Hawkes's words: "that the act of 'making sense' is something that we 
perform as readers and spectators."  But I'm not sure why Hawkes sees 
this as a misfortune ("We mean. Worse, we mean it by the plays").

I don't see Hawkes's statements as implying that "we mean" or ought to 
mean whatever we whimsically or arbitrarily want.  (But I hope he'll 
correct me if I'm wrong.)  "By the plays" seems to imply that the plays 
are indeed something (i.e., that we can distinguish one play from 
another and agree to some extent on a given play's content or features) 
and that they have a role in this meaning-making business.  Furthermore, 
the word "it" in "we mean it by the plays" suggests that we (when we do 
things with or say things about a play) are meaning something 
discernible.  And since Hawkes introduces his points with "the truth 
is," it appears that he believe there's some meaning or content to his 
own words too-that it would be perverse or possibly psychopathic for 
someone to quote him and then announce that what he really means is that 
Shakespeare's plays have a single, ideal, eternal meaning that can be 
determined once and for all.

I'm guessing-and hoping-that Hawkes and I are not far apart in all of 
this.  But I'm still trying to make sense of that word "worse."  Is he 
just saying, "You essentialists will think the interpreter's role in 
meaning-making is a bad thing" (silently adding, "but I don't agree"). 
Or is he himself feeling nostalgia for self-contained texts with stable 
and definitive meanings?  In which case, constrained by honesty, 
realism, and perhaps concern for the rest of us, is he telling us the 
sad truth?

The only other possibilities I can see at the moment are that "worse" 
was a slip of the keyboard or that Hawkes never meant to be tied to 
anything quite so definite as I've suggested.  Perhaps he was just 
thrusting and parrying so as to point out the foolishness of other 
people's views.

To some, my attempt to ask what he meant or means may seem perverse. 
But I genuinely believe this meaning-making we're talking about is a 
communal enterprise that ought to involve conversation.  It isn't the 
activity of solitary egos encountering a pure text or announcing truths 
that are beyond question.

Bruce Young

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Thursday, 16 Aug 2007 16:12:54 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 18.0528 WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0528 WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare

John Drakakis asks:

 >"Perhaps Joe Egert can tell us what a 'fact' is, and how we might
 >separate it from a 'value' or even from ideology! Even F.R.Leavis had
 >sufficient theoretical savvy to assert that 'there is a value implicit
 >in the realising'. The question is: WHAT do we 'realise' and HOW?
 >Hawkes' claim - and it's one that disciples of the independent authority
 >of the 'text' need to ponder very carefully, and in the full knowledge
 >of the empirical evidence that the texts as we have them furnish for us
 >- is that the act of 'making sense' is something that we perform as
 >readers and spectators."

Let Dr D re-view:
         http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2007/0125.html

I construe fact as the actual Object or Event that exists before our 
separate and imperfect attempts to experience or recapture it. It is the 
absolute Other that stands "wholly outside our gates" of perception and 
judgment, independent of and yet the basis for what we individually hear 
and translate (or interpret and valuate). Real history (not the tales of 
historians) constitutes then an evolving continuum of actual past and 
present with its tensions and supports, its conflicts and resonant 
harmonies. Surely JD will agree that the present, as perfect issue of 
its past, can never be in overall "dialectic relation" to it. Isn't 
presentism then merely one endpoint of the historicist project as a 
whole and not its mighty dialectical opposite? What else grounds the 
movement of Terence Hawkes and his acolytes but an elementary truism 
taught to scholars and historians since before Marcus Aurelius?

Imagine, if you will, a scholar, as accomplished as JD, engaged in 
editing, say, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE. In Act II, Scene 2, he comes 
across the stage direction: "Enter old Gobbo with a basket." Poring over 
the available quartos and folios, he notes "Iobbe", not "Gobbo", used 
elsewhere. Would JD advise this editor for his edition to replace the 
stage direction's "Gobbo" with "Iobbe"? If so, why? If not, why not? 
Surely John would not judge "speculating about authorial intention" a 
"guilty" endeavor---a "trap" to be avoided by any scholar worth his 
salt? And surely John would not reduce the enterprise of scholarship to 
whatever has "current social value"  while discounting all else as 
outmoded, i.e., an  "antiquarian veneration of monuments"?

Or would he?

Joe Egert

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