The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1354  Wednesday, 5 July 2000.

From:           Sean Lawrence <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 04 Jul 2000 12:29:52 -0700
Subject: 11.1348 Re: Pedagogy: Course Structure
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1348 Re: Pedagogy: Course Structure

Clifford continues:

>If I said this to a student and she answered: there is no such thing as
>"simple translation," I would know before ever assigning a paper that I
>had an A student.  Not, contrary to the moanings of ahistoricist
>apolitical aestheticist new new critics, because she shared my >polemical agenda, but because she was thinking beyond the assumptions >we make about our "simple" use of language based on familiarity with >it.

Actually, your approval of the historicity of language seems to itself
be your polemical agenda.  I'm not sure that you can separate them nor,
I think, can someone with so totalizing a version of the political
declare (in good faith) anything to not be part of a 'polemical agenda'.

>Whether there is anything "underneath" language is, of course, the
>central question of contemporary metaphysics, and it is difficult to
>answer this assertion without concrete examples of the things
>underneath, but the word "presently" is only an easy example of a symbol
>whose meaning in the context of the culture that mobilized it must be
>made clear for the work of art to be understood.

Actually, the burden of evidence is on the other side--you must show
that there is nothing beneath history, that, in fact, all philosophy and
religion, all reference to any questions which are not altogether
matters of polemics or indoctrination, are simply lies spread by
idiots.  To make everything political does not seem an engagement with
"the central question of contemporary metaphysics," but a brushing aside
of metaphysics as such.  It is also, I might add, to make an argument
which is totalizing, and which therefore should be rejected out of hand
on that basis alone.

>If I refer to a lion
>or a boar in the context of a play about kings and usurpers, either the
>student is already familiar enough with the cultural references of these
>symbols to get the gist of the "literature" or would have to have them
>explained. Again, don't mistake pre-indoctrination with complete lack >of historical reference.

Again, you're using "pre-indoctrination" as a means to avoid anything
other than "historical reference".  Perhaps there are actually
metaphysical, or, in any case, deeper reasons for the importance of
(say) a boar or a lion. Perhaps there is actually metaphysics.  We
certainly won't find out by always already explaining away the question
as "pre-indoctrination".

To respond to Mike Jensen:

Q:  Can't we do both?  Can't we acknowledge that a set of circumstances
lent themselves to turning this playwright into the sweet swan of Avon,
yet also acknowledge that some of us find a fascination and challenge in
his work that exceeds that of most other artists?  Possibly Shakespeare
succeeded as a candidate for Bard when Michael Drayton could not have
because of the quality of what Shakespeare wrote?  I think a healthy
understanding of history and what Shakespeare achieved is useful.

A:  I would certainly hope that we can do both.  But as Clifford's
invariable line of argument shows, historicism seems, as it were,
constitutionally incapable of seeing the aesthetic as anything except
what should be explained away, or of leaving an aesthetic or ethical or
religious or philosophical surplus, which is not explained away.  And
explaining away is not explaining.

Of course, we can recognize a place for politics beside ethics.
Politics isn't simply the opposite of ethics; it's amoral rather than
immoral.  But what we must first do, I think, is proclaim the fact that
ethics makes an independent claim on us, one not reducible (or all too
reducible) to politics.


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