May

Deconstruction

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.271  Friday, 29 May 2015

 

From:        Kenneth Chan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 28, 2015 at 8:23:13 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Deconstruction

 

My thanks to John Drakakis for highlighting some points that need clarification. Drakakis writes that, with regards to the origin of langue, Derrida comes to the conclusion that “any appeal to a metaphysics, whether it be a transcendent metaphysics, or simply ‘mind’, cannot be sustained. The point is that we are not separated from language: language constitutes US.” 

 

Here we come to the great divide between Eastern philosophy and Western philosophy. It has been known, for thousands of years, in Eastern philosophy, that words are inadequate to express certain truths and meanings, and also that words cannot represent all of human experience. So there is never even the slightest suggestion, in Eastern philosophy, that our interpretation of the world must all be textual in form, or that language can possibly constitute us. As Sean Lawrence points out, we should also note that not all Western philosophers necessarily agree with Derrida’s ‘il ny’a pas hors de text’ (there is no “outside-the-text”).

 

Rather than enter directly into this great debate over Eastern and Western philosophies concerning this metaphysical issue, we can perhaps bypass it here, for now, by keeping our discussion anchored in the real world (as far as possible). This is always a good idea because a major problem with using only abstract arguments is that factors—that must be taken into consideration in the real world—may be inadvertently omitted.

 

So here is the real situation. As I pointed out in my first post, we cannot assign meaning to words purely on the basis of other words. This is demonstrated by the fact that a single-language English dictionary is useless to someone who knows no English at all. At least some of the words must already have an imputed meaning for the dictionary to function. So we cannot disregard the mind that imputes meaning onto at least some of the words, this being done in the same way a child learns the meaning of a word, i.e. by directly associating the word with the corresponding object or action. Since that is also how all of us begin to learn language, this mind-that-imputes-meaning is actually essential at the starting point of our language-learning process. Without it, we cannot even start!

 

So the mind-that-imputes-meaning is a “center” that simply cannot be omitted. This center is a stabilizing influence on language, although it is not ideal in the sense that different minds may impute meaning onto words in a slightly different way. Nonetheless, since this difference is not great, it still functions as a stabilizing influence.

 

John Drakakis brings up this point: “If you concede that there is no ‘ideal’ centre, then it can’t be smuggled in by the back door as a ‘relatively’ stable centre.”

 

Actually, I fail to see how the existence or nonexistence of an “ideal center” changes the fact that this mind-that-imputes-meaning has to be present for language to function. If we are keeping our analysis in the real world, the only way to remove this mind-that-imputes-meaning is to find a way for a person, who knows no English at all, to learn the language using only a single-language English dictionary. If this cannot be done, the mind-that-imputes-meaning cannot be removed from our analysis, regardless of whether it serves as an ideal center or not.

 

This “less-than-ideal” center can provide stability in the same way pegs, that hold up a tent, do. One peg may not do the job, but if we apply enough pegs, the tent becomes stable. That is, in fact, what happens when we try to convey what we mean using words. We repeat the same meaning using different words in different sentences, so as to ensure that the correct meaning is conveyed. This is akin to using many pegs. 

 

John Drakakis also points out this statement by Derrida: “We have no language—no syntax and no lexicon—which is foreign to this [the history of metaphysics] history; we can pronounce not a single destructive proposition which has not already had to slip into the form, the logic, and the implicit postulations of precisely what it seeks to contest.” 

 

This is actually a well-known problem in Madhyamika philosophy (a form of Eastern philosophy). The way to get around this problem is to realize that words function merely as tools of communication required to get to the meaning. The debate is over the meaning that the words communicate, and not over the words themselves. The Madhyamika philosophers use the term “conventional truth” in order to clarify that the meaning is being communicated in this way purely because there is no other way to communicate. 

 

Thus, it is understood that labels do not necessarily confer reality. Here, the term “mind-that-imputes-meaning” is not conferred reality purely because of the label. It is conferred reality because there is no other way to explain why a person, who knows no English at all, cannot learn the language from a single-language English dictionary. Thus, if we are keeping the analysis in the real world, we cannot remove this entity, regardless of whatever label we want to attach to it. 

 

This is, in fact, a good example of the problem of debating only in abstract terms: it may lead to a factor—that must be taken into consideration—being omitted inadvertently. If we are keeping things real (rather than abstract), this mind-that-imputes-meaning cannot be removed. I believe we are now ready to return to the crucial passage from Derrida’s “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”: 

 

“This moment was that in which language invaded the universal problematic; that in which, in the absence of a center or origin, everything became discourse—provided we can agree on this word—that is to say, when everything became a system where the central signified, the original or transcendental signified, is never absolutely present outside a system of differences. The absence of the transcendental signified extends the domain and the interplay of signification ad infinitum.” (end of quote) 

 

The fact that the mind-that-imputes-meaning cannot be removed actually makes this entire passage invalid. Basically, even in the “event” of language becoming the new “presence,” as Derrida claims, it still does not follow that there is an “absence of a center” in language. The mind-that-imputes-meaning is still there. And this means that NOT “everything has become discourse.” It also means that there is something MORE than just a “system of differences” remaining. Hence the claim by Derrida that the interplay of signification has been extended ad infinitum is simply NOT true. 

 

With the mind-that-imputes-meaning present, the interplay of signification cannot proceed infinitely without constraints. And this means that language cannot be infinitely unstable. Therefore the claim that “all meaning must inevitably be contextual and socially constructed, and hence cannot possibly be absolute and fully objective” has NOT been proven; and Derrida’s argument fails to warrant such a claim. 

 

 

Kenneth Chan

 

Review of Fassbender’s Macbeth

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.270  Friday, 29 May 2015

 

From:        John Cox <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 27, 2015 at 2:39:42 PM EDT

Subject:    Review of Fassbender’s Macbeth

 

A not-encouraging (but funny) review of Fassbender’s Macbeth:

 

http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20150522-macbeth-a-hell-of-a-film

 

23 May 2015

 

Macbeth: Cannes 2015 review

By Nicholas Barber

 

Superstitious actors like to call Macbeth “the Scottish play”, but Shakespeare’s tragedy of vaulting ambition has never been more Scottish than it is in Justin Kurzel’s startling adaptation. The looming mountains of the Highlands are rarely out of shot, every man in the cast has been issued with a regulation straggly ginger beard, and the actors (with one exception) have almost-perfect Scottish accents. Macbeth himself, Michael Fassbender, has obviously been listening to his X-Men buddy, James McAvoy: close your eyes and you can picture McAvoy speaking every line.

 

But despite these tartan touches, it’s soon apparent that the film isn’t set in 11th-Century Scotland at all. The reason Kurzel’s Macbeth is so awe-inspiring, but also vaguely unsatisfying, is that it’s actually set in Hell.

 

Radically cutting down and revising Shakeseare’s text, Kurzel and his co-writers open with a stark, wordless scene of Macbeth and his wife (Marion Cotillard) on a bleak hillside, lighting a funeral pyre for their baby. Minutes later, the battle in which Macbeth proves his worth to King Duncan (David Thewlis) is hardly a display of chivalric valour and charismatic leadership. Macbeth’s woad-smeared troops simply charge at their opponents like beery football hooligans. It’s only Macbeth’s wild-eyed viciousness that wins the day.

 

Afterwards, we move onto the cheery sight of a dog chewing on a corpse, while Macbeth and his lieutenant, Banquo (Paddy Considine), sleep on the freezing ground. And after that, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth don’t entertain their grateful king in a fine castle, but in a scattering of tents on a moorland. The wind whistles, thunder rumbles, and there is more rolling fog than in a decade’s worth of Hammer horror movies.

 

Foul is fair

 

Kurzel, the Australian director of Snowtown, has made a film which is, to quote the witches, bloody, bold and resolute. Obliterating any trace of stage-bound stuffiness, he replaces it with the mud and gore of an anti-war movie and the stylised immediacy of a graphic novel: the slow-motion blood-spurting recalls a previous Fassbender film, 300, except with jagged wounds in place of washboard stomachs. Kurzel does whatever he can do make every scene more nightmarish, whether that means including a procession of zombies (you read that correctly), or giving an inspired, apocalyptic twist to the Birnam Wood prophecy. At times, it seems as if he has shifted the action to a forbidding alien planet: Duncan and the royal court favour Jedi-like dressing gowns, while the witches’ cosmetic facial scarring makes them appear half-Klingon. Speaking of science fiction, Macbeth is the second film I’ve seen at Cannes in which an Australian director has plunged us into a blasted netherworld of feral violence. After Mad Max, we have Mad Mac.

 

Kurzel’s jaw-dropping vision makes Macbeth the most significant new Shakespeare film since Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. But as striking as the unremitting darkness may be, it does tend to obscure our view of a doughty general bringing about his own tragic downfall. Fassbender is typically intense, attacking the role with teeth-baring savagery, but his Macbeth is a homicidal maniac right from the beginning, so when he becomes slightly more manic and slightly more homicidal, it’s no great loss. In Kurzel’s grisly purgatory, stabbing your king through the heart seems to be par for the course. As for Lady Macbeth, Cotillard is electrifying, but, with her reptilian glare and her coiled braids suggesting Medusa’s snakes, she doesn’t look as if she’s tasted the milk of human kindness in her life. (It’s also a pity that her accent sometimes struggles all the way north from France to England, but can’t make it across the border to Scotland.)

 

What’s missing from Kurzel’s audacious drama is the feeling that anyone or anything is changing. There’s no light and shade – well, no light, anyway. Shakespeare’s comic-relief scenes have been excised, and there’s even a coda which promises that the bloodshed is only just getting started. “Lay on, Macduff,” says Macbeth, shortly beforehand. “And damned be him who first says, hold, enough.” He’s wasting his words. In Kurzel’s Scotland, everyone is damned already.

 

 

Still, it’s a hell of a film.

 

Conference and CFP List

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.248  Wednesday, 27 May 2015

 

From:        Bob Cooper <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 27, 2015 at 10:44:26 AM EDT

Subject:    Conference and CFP List

 

Members might be interested in a list of CFPs and Conferences that I maintain at: http://eduventure.ca/TheatreConferences.htm..

 

I have added the ‘Shakespeare and Nordic Music’ to this list, and welcome any additions which the members feel they would like published.

 

Bob Cooper

Algoma University

 

Sault Ste. Marie, ON

 

Deconstruction

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.249  Wednesday, 27 May 2015

 

[1] From:        Hugh Grady <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 25, 2015 at 2:56:31 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Deconstruction 

 

[2] From:        Sean Lawrence <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 25, 2015 at 4:22:39 PM EDT

     Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Deconstruction 

 

[3] From:        Kenneth Chan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 26, 2015 at 4:57:52 AM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Deconstruction 

 

[4] From:        John Drakakis <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 26, 2015 at 5:07:54 AM EDT

     Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Deconstruction 

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

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

Date:         May 25, 2015 at 2:56:31 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Deconstruction

 

Kudos to John Drakakis for his extremely clear description of one of the key arguments of Derridean deconstruction. He also brings in Terence Hawkes’ helpful paraphrase of Marx’s famous dictum. But I’m reminded of another of Terence Hawkes’s sayings, in this case one sent to this very list in answer to a similar challenge to some critical theory ideas. Terry wrote something like, “Are there not bookstores? Are there not libraries?”  These are very complicated issues and people serious about learning about deconstruction need to do some serious work!

 

All best,

Hugh Grady 

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Sean Lawrence <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 25, 2015 at 4:22:39 PM EDT

Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Deconstruction

 

John Drakakis’s short history of structuralism and deconstructionism might note that Jean-Luc Marion entitled a chapter of Dieu Sans L’Etre, “Hors Texte” (in defiance of Derrida), that Emmanuel Levinas places the Saying outside language as Said (in response to Derrida), and that Paul Ricoeur continued to refer to the extra-linguistic in his last works. None of these things can be reduced to “mind”, but all three thinkers do insist on an outside of language and continued to do so, Derrida notwithstanding.

 

Sean Lawrence

Associate Professor and Associate Head

Department of Critical Studies

University of British Columbia, Okanagan

 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Kenneth Chan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 26, 2015 at 4:57:52 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Deconstruction

 

In response to John Drakakis’ s post, I think there is a need for me to clarify my meaning better. When I refer to “the mind that imputes meaning onto words,” I am not talking about “langue” as the “principles” of language that would allow “parole” to occur. Neither am I talking about any kind of “ideal stability” here.

 

All I am saying is that not all words depend purely on other words, or set of words, for their meaning. A good example would be how children learn words. They acquire the meaning of a word, not by having the word explained to them using other words, but by direct association of the word with the corresponding object or action. That is what I mean by “the mind that imputes meaning onto words.” This mind would also appear to be “outside the text” since no text is needed for the child’s mind to impute the meaning.

 

While this “mind” certainly does not provide anything close to “ideal stability” in language, it nonetheless does provide a degree of stability, so that we are no longer on a slippery slope. In this sense, this “mind” does function as a kind of center that provides stability, although clearly not an ideal center.

 

The section in Derrida’s paper “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciencesthat we need to look at closely is here, where he talks about the “event”:

 

 “This moment was that in which language invaded the universal problematic; that in which, in the absence of a center or origin, everything became discourse—provided we can agree on this word—that is to say, when everything became a system where the central signified, the original or transcendental signified, is never absolutely present outside a system of differences. The absence of the transcendental signified extends the domain and the interplay of signification ad infinitum.” (end of quote)

 

What I am saying is that Derrida is mistaken in suggesting an “absence of a center.” There is still a center, although not an “ideal center.” This center is the “mind that imputes meaning onto words” in the sense I have mentioned. And that means not “everything became discourse” as Derrida claims. It also means that, while there may not be an ideal “central signified” outside “a system of differences,” there is nonetheless still a kind of center outside the “system of differences.” And this means that there is something more than just “a system of differences.” The fact that “not everything became discourse,” together with the fact that “there is something more than just a system of differences,” means that Derrida’s concluding line is no longer true. The domain and the interplay of signification have NOT been extended ad infinitum. And hence there is actually no infinite instability in language.

 

There is no question that language, as a tool of communication, does contain a great deal of ambiguity. That is why we often need to clarify what we mean by expressing the same meaning in different words. That is also why a discussion, in a forum like this, is needed to eventually (if we pursue the discussion long enough) eliminate enough of the ambiguity of language for the correct meaning to be understood.

 

All I am saying, therefore, is that language is not in a state of infinite instability, whereby we can claim that all meaning inevitably must be contextual and socially constructed, and hence cannot possibly be absolute and fully objective. This claim of inevitable instability of all meaning remains something that needs to be proven if, in fact, it can be proven at all! 

 

Kenneth Chan

 

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        John Drakakis <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 26, 2015 at 5:07:54 AM EDT

Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Deconstruction

 

My thanks to Kenneth Chan for clarifying this difficult point.

 

I still have some problems with it since it postulates a ‘mind’ that stands outside the world. There is a danger in appealing to the ways in which children learn language to settle this point. Indeed the Saussurean account of sign/signifier/concept explains this well enough, but underneath that there is a structure that language users learn and these are the rules of language that Saussure would call ‘langue’. The question that Derrida explores is what is it that validates those rules? His answer is that any appeal to a metaphysics, whether it be a transcendent metaphysics, or simply ‘mind’, cannot be sustained. The point is that we are not separated from language: language constitutes US. I take Kenneth Chan’s point that there is a material world out there, but we make sense of it textually which is another way of saying that we interpret it. This surely is Derrida’s point about ‘il ny’a pas hors de text.’ What instability there is cannot be collapsed back into the autonomous human subject; it is something that is produced by the complexity of social, historical, and cultural factors within whose orbit we have a relative freedom to construct meaning. What Derrida is attacking is a Cartesian subject for whom ‘mind’ is above all else. 

 

If you concede that there is no ‘ideal’ centre, then it can’t be smuggled in by the back door as a ‘relatively’ stable centre. We then have to live with the uncomfortable recognition that we are never in total control of what we do. Once we recognise that then we can investigate this condition. That process is called ‘politics’, and that provides us with a set of parameters for what is possible. 

 

But Kenneth Chan also raises the question of ‘the event’ at the beginning of Derrida’s essay, and I am not sure I understand the point that he is making here. Derrida himself is talking about the ‘event’ of ‘decentring’, of “thinking the structurality of structure’ (p.280).  BUT he then goes on to say that “We have no language - no syntax and no lexicon- which is foreign to this [the history of metaphysics] history; we can pronounce not a single destructive proposition which has not already had to slip into the form, the logic, and the implicit postulations of precisely what it seeks to contest.” (pp.280-1). If Kenneth Chan is prepared to admit that his use of the term ‘mind’ is just another of the slippages that Derrida identifies, then we can agree, but if he wants to reinstate the concept of ‘mind’ within the discourse of ‘authority’ with all that that entails, then that is another matter altogether.

 

As Ever

John Drakakis

 

 

 

Review: The Merchant of Venice at the RSC

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.247  Wednesday, 27 May 2015

 

From:        Kirk McElhearn <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 27, 2015 at 6:18:58 AM EDT

Subject:    Review: The Merchant of Venice at the RSC

 

I saw the RSC's Merchant of Venice last night. I was quite impressed, unlike many critics who have given it harsh reviews. 

 

http://www.mcelhearn.com/theater-review-the-merchant-of-venice-by-the-royal-shakespeare-company/

 

Theater Review: The Merchant of Venice, by the Royal Shakespeare Company

 

I’ve been going to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s theater in Stratford-Upon-Avon now for about two years (and I’ve been living a few miles away for a year and a half). The RSC does a mix of Shakespeare plays and plays by other Elizabethan and Jacobean authors, together with some new or more contemporary works (such as two plays based on Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, a play about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the atomic bomb, and a recent production of Death of a Salesman). Not all the productions are great; some, particularly of the works by Shakespeare’s contemporaries, have been disappointing, in part because they plays themselves are not very good. But all of the Shakespeare plays have been very good, or excellent, and critics have generally reviewed them in a very positive light.

 

A few days ago, following the press night performance for The Merchant of Venice, and in preparation for attending the play last night, I realized that the RSC had not tweeted anything about reviews for the play, which is something they do every time a new play is presented. I searched Google, and found out why. The Guardian said it was “poorly conceived and drably spoken,” giving the play two stars out of a possible five. The Telegraph gave it three stars, comparing it negatively to the current production at the Globe Theatre in London. And WhatsOnStage also gave it two stars, saying “it’s very hard to see what lies behind Polly Findlay’s disappointing revival.”

 

With this in mind, my partner and I went to the theater determined to like the play, if it was, indeed, likable. Critics don’t always agree with audiences, and we’d found that many productions that are well reviewed just don’t work for us.The play begins before it starts. When the doors opened, and the audience filed into their seats, Antonio, played by Jamie Ballard, was standing still in the center of the stage. (My photo below – taken from my seat – is a bit fuzzy, because of the dark lighting you’re not allowed to take photos during the performance, but they don’t dissuade you from shooting the empty stage; this time it wasn’t empty.)

 

[ . . . ]

 

This is certainly the most innovative production I’ve seen at the RSC in my two years attending this company’s performances of Shakespeare plays. The play moves quickly; at 2:10 (plus intermission), it’s not a long play, and, aside from a bit of a drag around the half-hour point, I was riveted on the stage throughout.

Perhaps the critics expected something more traditional; instead of a modern-dress production, they wanted it to look like the Al Pacino film. Or, perhaps theater critics attending this type of play don’t expect the staging to be challenging. While I do feel that some of the choices in the set and staging are questionable, they didn’t detract from the production; if anything, the stark stage helped make this a play more about the actors than the set, and the actors succeeded in making it work.

 

Best,

Kirk

 

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