The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2137  Monday, 10 September 2001

[1]     From:   Susan Neill <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, 7 Sep 2001 06:39:18 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Times article/Shaxxxpeare

[2]     From:   Marcia Eppich <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, 7 Sep 2001 09:29:59 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2127 Re: Times Article

[3]     From:   Louis Swilley <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, 7 Sep 2001 11:07:45 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2127 Re: Times Article

[4]     From:   Edmund Taft <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, 07 Sep 2001 14:07:46 -0400
        Subj:   Times Article

[5]     From:   Todd Lidh <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Sunday, 09 Sep 2001 21:20:47 -0400
        Subj:   I held my tongue...

From:           Susan Neill <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 7 Sep 2001 06:39:18 -0700 (PDT)
Subject:        Times article/Shaxxxpeare

Who can take any of this seriously?  It doesn't pass the cynic's laugh

Just how many porn flicks have you watched, Dr. Burt, and why don't they
bore the heck out of you?

Susan Neill

From:           Marcia Eppich <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 7 Sep 2001 09:29:59 -0500
Subject: 12.2127 Re: Times Article
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2127 Re: Times Article

This is a question for R. Burt:

This might have already been mentioned, but I missed it if it was. Do
you have many female students in your porn class? I'm curious about
their reaction to the content.

I myself don't condemn the study of porn, but I do feel a little uneasy
about it. Basically, as a woman, I would be embarrassed to watch
pornography in class, but that's probably more due to my own
affectations than anything else. Sorry, just being honest. I personally
would probably not take the class - again because of my own affectations
- , but students have a choice about whether or not to enroll in your
class, so I'm sure those who enroll are aware of the content and can
handle it in a mature and objective way. I also thought that maybe some
people would have fewer problems with the teaching of Shakespeare porn
if it were taught at the graduate level (I'm assuming that it's an
undergrad course). By the graduate level, English majors should have had
a Shakespeare class already, so making pop culture connections - whether
porn or otherwise - might be more "acceptable", having already had a
base knowledge of Shakespeare.

When this discussion first began, I found Midsummer Night's Cream (was
that the title? I've forgotten) and rented it. In it's defense, it was
(for porn) pretty well done. I mean, most pornographic films are really
cheesy and badly filmed, but this was what I would call "upscale".
Granted, the Shakespeare lines they used were poorly delivered and not
particularly believable, but of course, that's not the point. I didn't
watch the whole thing because I got it on DVD and watched a lot of the
behind-the-scenes footage, trying to find some scholarly information I
suppose. Not much was there - unless I missed something. At any rate,
(and I'm sure I shouldn't be admitting this) my husband liked the movie,
so I guess that was worth the rental.

On a closing note, I think people should be able to study (and teach)
whatever they want. If there are people signing up for the class, then
there must be an interest in the subject matter. I would imagine that a
class that students found embarrassing and deplorable would not exist
just because of lack of enrollment.

Marcia Eppich

From:           Louis Swilley <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 7 Sep 2001 11:07:45 -0500
Subject: 12.2127 Re: Times Article
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2127 Re: Times Article

Dr. Peterson-Kranz wrote,

" Louis wrote: 'Whereas no thinking person can disagree with the right
and need to study anything whatever, including porn and Shakespeare
porn, he might well wonder, granting the too-brief time allotted
undergraduate and graduate studies, whether the formal study of such a
subject should be offered as an option for students who would make
better use of their time and certainly better profit from more
traditional courses with greater intellectual moment in their content.'

" If the first premise is accepted as true, then there must be large
numbers of NON-thinking people currently in positions of academic
responsibility. "

[Unfortunately, this appears to be all too true]

"I suspect many on the list who have experiences teaching in colleges
and universities know that there are, in fact, many people who deny that
students have the right to pursue their own academic/intellectual
interests, especially if those interests lead them away from
"marketable" vocational skills."

[Being usually of legal age, the student has the "right" to take
anything offered by the institution, from nuclear physics to
tiddly-winks.  My point concerned not what the student might want, but
what a university that presumes to guide his studies should advise and
demand. ]

"  As just one example, the former president of one somewhat
undistinguished institution where I had the misfortune to teach said, in
an interview published in the local newspaper last year, that there was
no reason for undergraduates to study literature, history, philosophy,
or foreign languages when the region was in such desperate need of
trained accountants, computer programmers and managers.  (He also
asserted that the region needed public school teachers, whom he somehow
expected could be manufactured by the university without recourse to the
liberal arts and sciences.) While this is admittedly an extreme case, I
do not think it is an entirely isolated one."

[There is no accounting for idiocy in high places - as results of most
of our elections so painfully demonstrate.]

"My point is that fields like culture studies (in which I include Dr.
Burt's specialty areas of Shakespeare in 'popular' media, including
'pornographic' films) do not threaten the 'traditional' liberal arts and
sciences.  Rather, by those individuals who would transform the
undergraduate experience into vocational training, BOTH culture studies
AND the 'traditional' liberal arts are perceived as 'frivolous',
'self-indulgent' pursuits.  Above all, they are seen as not offering
value-for money to commercial employers, and by extension, are not
activities which will attract significant financial support to
universities from business and industrial interests.  Were the
pornographic film industry to organize themselves and make large
donations to university programs offering serious study of the cultural
implications of pornography, I have no doubt that at least some, if not
all, universities would happily embrace such funds AND the courses at
which the funds were directed."

[We too often and unwisely take the position of "either...or," when the
situation at hand might easily accommodate "this AND that".  It is
possible for universities to entertain the new, the popular, even the
highly questionable (as the proliferation of Education departments
testifies); they have only to distance their traditional programs from
the "fads" by creating Schools of This or That, reserving their better
name for programs that strive to create the whole mind, providing sound
philosophical bases for judgements in all areas of thought.  There is
nothing essentially wrong about the sharing of buildings; there is
everything wrong about watering down programs to accommodate popular
interests, but continuing to pretend that the dilution has not
diminished their nobler purposes.  (By the way, too many look upon the
traditional intellectual "grounding" as narrow and confining; the truth
is that a sound traditional education of the kind
fostered by a university as I have defined it elsewhere as

"...the repository of ...the best of the past, with the duty to give
that to its students and to urge them to judge and extend the present by
an intellectual calculus that honors historical excellence, while
confirming its altered reflection in today's thought and encouraging its
creative extension in tomorrow's"

such a university, or university program, provides the student an
endless tether to range freely through "innovations" without losing his
way, and with the ability to alter the "calculus" of his deepest beliefs
to take advantage of whatever is valuable in the new.  On the other
hand, a student beginning wherever his likes and dislikes lead him, and
without an intellectual context to judge the value of what he learns or
its relationship to other subjects, ends in profound confusion.  That
can hardly be the aim of any university program, but it is often the

" Louis Swilley continued to ask, ' In any case, before delving into
such exotics as Dr.  Burt offers, shouldn't the wise student have a
sound grounding in the sciences and arts that establish their value and

"In my perfect world, yes, certainly.  But not all students are 'wise',
and unfortunately some individuals in charge of curricular decisions are
no better.  The trend is toward moving away from general education
requirements that include even an *introduction* to the 'value and
significance' of the sciences and arts (including literature; including
Shakespeare), not to mention a 'sound grounding' in those areas.
Increasingly the arts and sciences are relegated to the realm of
electives.  There, they are left to compete for the interest of
undergraduates, and if the undergraduates choose a course in, say, web
design over a course in Shakespeare, the course in Shakespeare will
eventually be cancelled."

[I suggest that the healthy first step is for institutions that allow
this, or feel they are forced into it, should stop calling themselves
"universities" and adopt titles like "Facility" and an extension of that
title that respects that they have become mere, not-so-intellectual
cafeterias. ]

" I think Richard Burt is to be congratulated in his attempts to draw
students into cultural inquiry (those of you who have not yet done so
should check out his course websites to get a better idea of what he is
covering).  Pornography, rather like tabloid journalism, offers a
perspective into the covert interests and desires of contemporary
culture.  If Shakespeare plays a part in these covert interests and
desires, it is worthy of notice and study."

[It is really hard to believe that the makers of pornographic films,
"Shakespearean" or otherwise, the filmakers' interest being so
pronouncedly to serve the prurient interests of an audience, can  have
anything signifcant to offer as a gloss on the thought and art of
Shakespeare. ]

" Finally, I would say that if undergraduates have an opportunity to
become better acquainted with Shakespeare through ANY academic avenue,
that is cause for celebration rather than for censure."

[See my last comment above. The study of pornography of any description
belongs in that part of the university Newman calls the "academy"; but
if it is considered profitable for introduction to students, should it
not be presented in the departments of Psychology, Sociology, or
Anthropology?  I cannot see that it has anything to offer in the study
of literature; how can Shakespeare porn contribute anything to elucidate
and intensify our appreciation of the thought and art of Shakespeare?]

         L. Swilley

From:           Edmund Taft <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 07 Sep 2001 14:07:46 -0400
Subject:        Times Article

I write to respond indirectly to the conversation among Louis, Richard,
and Karen. It is clearly true that one must be grounded in the sciences
and mathematics before attempting advanced or even intermediate study in
these areas. Few would argue that the student should attempt a course in
differential equations before having taken integral and differential
calculus, for example. Few would allow even the most talent student into
a Physical Chemistry class before having taken Freshman Chemistry.

But is it the same in the liberal arts? I think that the answer is "No."
Some of our most talented MA students focus almost completely on
literature since 1960, and they seem not much hindered by the fact that
they have never read Spenser -- or even Chaucer!  Some of the newer
Ph.D.'s in our department assert that they have no need to read
criticism written before 1980 because it just isn't relevant to what
they do.

As much as I would like for their to be necessary "foundations" to the
liberal arts, I suspect that this concept is suspect. As a consequence,
a math student who takes a course in Science Fiction may outperform
everyone else in the class, even if his or her background does not
include "foundation" reading.  This rarely -- if ever -- happens in
mathematics and the hard sciences.

So, when we talk about the proper background for literary study, are we
blowing smoke?

--Ed Taft

From:           Todd Lidh <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sunday, 09 Sep 2001 21:20:47 -0400
Subject:        I held my tongue...

Fellow SHAKSPEReans,

I've been following the recent exchanges instigated by Richard Burt's
posts and defense of the inclusion of, if not canonization of, popular
culture in academia.

On the surface, I couldn't agree more with Dr. Burt and his
'supporters.' As each new generation of student comes through the school
system, old ways of teaching and reaching them need to be modified, and
new ways must be implemented. What could be more 'new' than film, TV and
popular culture as vehicles for making Shakespeare accessible to young
students? I myself join Dr. Burt in using WebCT to enhance in-class

However, I can't help but feel that Dr. Burt isn't quite playing on a
level field. The website for his Shakespeare, The Trailer course and his
postings to this forum include ad hominen attacks on "conservatives" and
"modern Shakespeareans" (apparently for whom _Titus Andronicus_ is
"something of an embarrassment") as well as no small amount of

Now, I'm not so naive as to belief that ego has no tradition in the
classroom. But, Dr. Burt's course webpage begins his biography almost
immediately with "For the story and interview, see the next issue of
Rolling Stone. After a disastrous first marriage, being thrown in the
middle of heated academic controversies, and battling an overdose that
almost destroyed him, Richard Burt survives the most difficult time of
his life.  For the full story, see the E! Television Celebrity Profiles
episode airing next month."

Wow, that's a lot of information, and I can't quite see the pedagogy
behind it. Dr. Burt has been adamant in defending that his teaching of
popular culture adaptations of Shakespeare, including porn, has a
crucial pedagogical purpose behind it; however, when elements such as
those quoted above aren't consistent with that defense, it raises some
doubt as to the overall validity of his methodology. Should he himself
now be studied as a piece of popular culture?

As his naughtyprofessor.com website is a private one, I will leave it
out of most of my musing, but it does contribute to the image of an
academic who relishes being on the receiving end of contrary attacks and
thumbing his nose as what he has set up as the stiflingly-stupid and
outdatedly-conservative, "patronizing" and "paternalistic" others.

Dr. Burt presents his "Course Rating" page by repeating his attack on
those who disagree with him, even going so far as to declare that "The
attack on teaching porn is really an attack on the study of popular
culture." I know many intelligent people who would disagree with Dr.
Burt on this point, but his students are only given one side of the
argument -- links from this page, for example, are only to other people
who agree with his approach.

He treats his students as adults (renew applause here), but when he
concludes his course description by saying: "One can of course choose
not to examine these materials. As a teacher, however, I am deeply
committed to doing so. Examining them and discussing them does not mean,
of course, that the materials become any less disturbing as we discus
[sic] them. If you take this course, I expect you to share my
commitment. I don't mean that you must like the materials we'll be
discussing. You are free to dislike them, hate them, and explain why you
do vigorously in class," I can't help but look back through the page to
see where he has shown students that it is okay to disagree with him.
*Saying* it is one thing, but *showing it/proving* it is another.
Students on the whole are unlikely to disagree with a professor out of a
belief that they know far less than he/she does.  When Dr. Burt states
so strongly what his belief it, where does a student find the opening to
come from another side (not necessarily the _other_ side)?

All of this is to express my own dissatisfaction with Dr. Burt's defense
(and with those who have issued friendly briefs to the SHAKSPER
'court'). I can't help but believe that he has so far retreated from
'traditional' teaching of Shakespeare as to have lost any sense of
context for his students. Instead, they are presented with, to use his
course website as metaphor, a pitch-black background and blood-red text
in, oftentimes, frenetic font all describing Shakespeare's excesses of
violence, sex and booze. Is his course an English class or a film
course? Is it a film course or a sociology course? Is it a sociology
course or a theater course? Is it a theater course or a computers and
technology course? Instead, it is defended as it is *because* it is.
Both in appearance and defense, Dr. Burt's course smacks of 'art for
art's sake' mentality.

There is no logical way to contradict anyone who has taken this stance,
and Dr. Burt can rest peacefully because of that. I, however, after
educating myself on both the scholar and the course, can no longer agree
that his particular example should serve as a beacon to those
institutions of higher learning looking for ways to keep students
studying Shakespeare instead of enrolling in a business class. I can
still applaud the underlying effort, but the result leaves me feeling
decidedly unsatisfied.

Oh, and I don't need to be told that my opinion is of no importance
whatsoever to Dr. Burt and others. Fair enough. I merely needed to
express my thoughts as much to work out my conflicted emotions while
reading the posts over the past weeks as to "convince" anyone else.

Thanks for allowing me that.

Todd M Lidh
Flagler College

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