Monday, February 27, 2006

Mike Phraudmann, CSUB Pangloss, cont.

Shakespeare's plays are not "true" as say historical writing is true or physical science is true (based on facts) ; it's debatable they should be taught in public schools or collges. Let's assume the plays should be taught in, say, elective courses.

The bad English professor, like F-mann, teaches them as representations of political, or worse, moral philosophy or "psychology." For the hack-pedant a play such as Macbeth functions not merely as rhetoric lesson, it's an ideological message--something like "excessive ambition leads to downfall." Obviously that "warrant" (in Toulminian sense; the warrant another word for a premise) is not at all true in all cases, or even more likely than not. (and yet the Machiavellian hick Phraudmann was at least as ambitious and conniving as the usual mafioso)

It's rhetoric and metaphor, perhaps powerful, yet also somewhat deceitful: Julius Caesar contains many historical inaccuracies for one: the assassination did not take place on the Ides of March. There are pre-Gallilean superstitions a plenty as well.

The somewhat obvious Orwellian point is that lit. often functions as a type of "doublespeak" for both left and right professor-ideologues, and that doublespeak element exists in Shakespeare as well: he's a spokesman for the Crown, as is F-mann, I believe, (though Shakespeare's is made of gold, and F-mann's is from Burger King). The authentic English professor attempts to avoid that sort of manipulation, common to both the right and leftist sorts of clowns of C-SUB English.

...the Lit. Biz depends on a type of ersatz Platonism: the works of the Lit. canon (like the catholic canon) are assumed to be timeless, transcedent, the great thoughts of great people. The F-manns are those types of professors who rely on Lit. as dogma: in the typical CSU or UC lit. indoctrination course, the student is not struggling to learn derivatives or integrals or UNIX or predicate logic which he then may use to solve problems of various sorts; he or she is being taught how to act, how to be a decent courtier-in-training, how to mind his or her manners.

THat sort of etiquette training may have been suitable in like 1750, or to theatrical narcissists; to students who care to succeed in the modern technocracy, Shakespeare if not Brit. Lit. as a whole is rather superfluous (indeed those gaseous tomes of the Victorians are in some sense worse).

Besides, life is far darker, brutal and animalistic than Shakespeare, even at his bleakest (like Macbeth) ever realized (Darwin and Malthus a better guide to reality than Shakespeare or Plato for that matter). But the Pangloss-like F-mann (or other C-SUB Panglosses and incompetents like Solomon the clown, Pawglovski, Vic. Laxative, Kartier, Klytmer, Andy Scoop, etc.) will do whatever he can to sort of create this Masterpiece Theatre sort of vibe which magically transports students away from the police state of Kern to the supposed pastoral bliss of Elizabethan England....

Yet some acquaintance with the facts of Tudorian history demonstrates it was only bliss for a few royals who could do whatever they wanted to--and that's another reason the Lit. Biz. remains au courant--it's sort of a de-sadean-lite phantasy camp for the bourgeois; and there are lots of sort of nauseating Brit. soft-porn aspects (Tempest, 12th Night, if you can stomach it). And tho' we may not care for puritans or fundies of whatever type (including muslims) one can perceive why many of the non-royals and "commoners" did not approve of the Tory theatre companies.


Even if one grants that there are profound and important messages contained in or expressed by literary works, those messages are hardly unequivocal. Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment seems as much a vindication of Raskalnikov as a condemnation; and many works of fiction display that equivocal and ironic nature. C & P is quite a moving and symphonic work of literature, but there is not some transcendent Platonic "essence"--ethical or aesthetic, really--which it points to which all would agree to: indeed, some might appove of Ras.'s actions.

Literature and literary "truths" are not verifiable, tho' hack professors (ie. the C-SUB cavalcade of Lit. clowns) often seem to think they are. Moby Dick did not happen, except perhaps in Melville's mind (and a rather troubled mind it was). The metaphor has no necessary meaning or implication; the figures are not real. Any meanings are constructed, inferred, concocted. We might find Moby Dick entertaining, and even conclude some "truisms" from it--say the absence of a loving, omnipotent Deity, for one--but it's neither a deductively necessary type of argument, nor really inductively "cogent," and
as "art qua art," in some sense quite less powerful than say Beethoven or Debussy.


traxus4420 said...

The mistake of lit profs is not in their claims that literature contains timeless truths, but that these truths are as you put it "verifiable," or as I like to put it, "useful" in an objective, aggregate sense -- in the way a scientific or mathematical theorem is useful, or even a management strategy. There may indeed be facts in literature, there may be political/social messages, but in literature these are only as important as any fictional character, or challenging use of language -- not unimportant, but also not "the point."

But if literature and its barely unarticulable truths are not taught -- just the same as music -- just the same as some types of philosophy -- then education will have completely removed any structural resistance to the corporatist vision of it as a worker's training and indoctrination camp. The content of literature is less important in this respect than its uselessness and indefinability -- just the same as music, which you seem more fond of.

It is a mistake, I think, to view literature as essentially different in "purpose" from music (regardless of authorial intent -- there are military marches, aren't there?), or even necessarily less abstract, simply because it appears to consist of words, ideas, and "ideology" instead of sounds and rhythms.

The inexpressible is the language of subjective experience, which, regardless of any increase in objective understanding of our minds and bodies, will always be important as long as we continue to exist within it.

traxus4420 said...

Though I have to admit, university as job training may be turn out to be the "best" option in the world we now live in.

Best for those who value themselves and to a lesser extent their society -- as they currently exist.

J said...

....but I'm not sure even the best of readers can accurately infer intent from literature; tho' that doesn't necessarily imply a complete absence of meaning . Reading Macbeth, one notes he and his Lady are ambitious, clever, ruthless. It's not clearly indicated in the text that these dramatic constructs are therefore to be condemned or viewed as deviants. There is not a consistent ethical "message," and the question is whether ambiguity itself--even if marvelously plotted and fleshed out with superb rhetoic is, say, pedagogically sound. That was my point, to some degree, in regards to verification. Any moral "propositions" derived from a literary work are generally equivocal, and often somewhat obvious. Unfortunately, it's not a substitute for ethics, or for that matter, empirical psychology.

J said...

Macbeth, for one, does represent a political situation, not completely unlike urban existence; imagine hyper-ambitious power couples (or corporate execs, if you like) trying to do whatever they can to make it--and Scarface (with Pacino as murderous coke dealer) supposedly was loosely based on Macbeth. The Machiavellian theme--characters acting from purely self-interested, amoral, hedonistic considerations--appears consistently in Shakespeare, yet the typical sort of quasi-victorian English dweeb often downplays these occasional Machiavellian and nihilistic themes, or perhaps implicitly approves of it; but generally the belle-lettrist is as afraid of any sort of naturalism as he is of Darwinian (or Nietzschean) suggestions as a whole...

(btw the particular Prof. being discussed here is rather fond of the machiavellian aspects: a U. Chicago product, he's a bit more Iago than Othello, methinks. A U of Chi. hick-Iago. ).

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