Friday, 15 September 2006

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Some of the People, Some of the Time The new issue of Bookforum features James Shapiro's excellent review of Ron Rosenbaum's The Shakespeare Wars and Kenneth Gross's Shylock Is Shakespeare. As I noted last month, I've come to Shakespeare through the criticism. Instead of having my love of The Bard desanguinated by years of graduate study, I've acquired a taste for the man whose works inspired Dead Poets Society to inspire generations to hazard a thwack at the GRE Subject Exam in Literature in English.[1] Not only that, I've been inspired by the very works which earn Rosenbaum's ire: Had Rosenbaum finished up at Yale and landed an academic job (at a time when it was still possible to find one), he would probably have been one of those colleagues soured by the success of New Historicism, cultural materialism, and deconstruction. By the 1980s, Jonathan Dollimore's Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology, and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries had replaced Cleanth Brooks's reading of Macbeth on syllabi, feminists had shown how much earlier Shakespeare scholarship had ignored, and Irving Ribner's providential approach to the history plays had given way to Stephen Greenblatt's "Invisible Bullets: Renaissance Authority and Its Subversion, Henry IV and Henry V" and other brilliant readings. Initially, I thought "other brilliant readings" Shapiro's attempt to distance his position on the Dollimore/Greenblatt junta from Rosenbaum's. Two paragraphs later, I had to reconsider: Rosenbaum blames "Theory" for this turn of events, and his book is in part an attempt to persuade us that, in the end, Theory lost and Shakespeareans are beginning to cast off its shackles and once again celebrate beauty, pleasure, and ambiguity. This is wishful thinking. Theory didn't lose; its victory was so complete that we no longer need Theory with a big T anymore because we all do theory, though most of us do it without giving it much thought. I don't exactly disagree with Shapiro so much as question how complete that victory actually is; that is to say, I wonder whether the distinction drawn here between the New Critics and proponents of theory ever existed outside overheated rhetoric. But I digress. I want to focus on that "though most of us do it without giving it much thought," which strikes a similar note to the earlier "other brilliant readings." Are Dollimore and Greenblatt like "most of us" or do they actually produce "brilliant readings"? Do they do so because of or despite their theoretical sophistication?[2] That Shapiro continues by praising Rosenbaum's account of Shakespeare's recent editorial history doesn't help much; after all, sussing out the authentic Shakespeare is more paleographical than bleeding edge. He wants to find the middleground between materialism (cultural and paleographical) and close-reading, like the work destined to follow Linne Mooney's "Chaucer's Scribe"—discussed informally here, formally here—in which historicism wins a "victory" as complete as theory's. Still, he insists there's a place for idiosyncratic works like Gross' Shylock Is Shakespeare: Argument and speculation can only get you so far in pursuit of a character's mystery. So he...
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The Pedagogical Imperative Those who can do, do. Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't teach, well, they agree to guest post on conservative blogs. (About liberals in academia, no less.) Why? Because writing for a hostile audience—or, more accurately, writing for an audience you assume will be hostile—closely resembles walking into a classroom and informing students they'll be re-reading Huck Finn. Speaking of which, that's one of the topics I'll be addressing while there. Re-reading Huck Finn, that is. Why? Some fool devotes a chapter to it in his new book ... [Since PW's servers can't parse liberal guests posts, I've included the text of mine below the fold.] Pot, Kettle, Black and All That [Scott a.k.a. “The Token Lefty"] For some reason, Jeff thought having me blog here wouldn’t be a terrible idea. I hope to make him rue that decision. Not rue rue, mind you, just a little. I’ll be concentrating my posts on two books which deal with multiculturalism in contemporary academia and American society. Each is brilliant in its own way, and each deserves a fair hearing. The first is Michael Bérubé‘s What’s Liberal about the Liberal Arts?; the second, Walter Benn Michaels’ The Trouble with Diversity. Who am I? My name’s Scott. Want to know more about me? Read my greatest hits. That said, I composed something which has absolutely nothing to do with either book this afternoon. You see, I thought it’d be nice to introduce myself via a rational examination of a clearly irrational argument. Looks like I was wrong: So you’ve all seen the infamous photo, right? If not, click on it. Finished? What did you see? I saw an awkward group portrait. Not nearly so graceful as, say, this one. Or this one. Or this one, either. It’s almost as if the photo Ann Althouse considers evidence of feminism’s death wasn’t a carefully orchestrated moment captured by a professional photographer to commemorate the happiest moment in a young couple’s life, but a hastily assembled photo op in which a bunch of amateur photographers told him to stand over there, yes, and her to, no, no, not there, in the first row, now, yes, over there, look here, thanks. Click. Click click. Click click click click click. This confusion, well, it confuses Althouse. To wit: I’m judging you [Jessica] by your apparent behavior. It’s not about the smiling, but the three-quarter pose and related posturing, the sort of thing people razz Katherine Harris about. I really don’t know why people who care about feminism don’t have any edge against Clinton for the harm he did to the cause of taking sexual harrassment seriously, and posing in front of him like that irks me, as a feminist. That second point? Beyond reproach. Feminists can and do have reservations about sharing a conference table with someone with Clinton’s reputation. But the first one? Remember all the sluts in the wedding photos? The ones who stood up straight, turned a little to their left or right...

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