Re: snapshots -Reply

Thu, 18 Jan 1996 14:27:40 -0500

On Thu, 18 Jan 1996, RUTH E. FISCHER wrote:
> I leave you with a question: Why do we study and/or ask our students
> to study Shakespeare anyway? (Note: I am *not* suggesting that we don't).
> If we follow the "well read/well written" line of thought, one might suggest
> that reading S. makes one a better writer. But then what is it of Mr.
> S. that does this--his syntax? his semantics (a lot of which has changed
> in meaing over time)?

john edgar wideman presents a wonderful fictionalized narrative of inner
city kids presenting shakespeare's _tempest_ in _philadelphia fire_ and
it seems to me that, having taught shakespeare's _tempest_ to a class
composed of traditional middle class college students and inner city
students (a simplified characterization i assure you), we teach
shakespeare for the *power* it has as a cultural artifact. shakespeare
is an author fuction that is part of the cultural/historical wave (the
anglo- part of the wave, clearly, but a part of that wave never the less)
and as much as we want to ignore it or fight against it, we re-inscribe
its power by sttruggling against it.

i don't think there is any way to effectively "ignore" shakespeare --
it's faulkner's bear. i *don't* think, though, that knowing or reading
shakespeare makes one a better writer. however, one does become part of
a special group in this culture when one can understand and/or contribute
shakespeare quotes to conversation. shakespeare is cultural capital.

just as i teach my basic writiers to simulatneously know and circumvent
academic english, so too i have taught shakespeare because it is a text
of great importance while it is simultaneously a symbol of class and
social structures, some oppressive and others not quite so.

it isn't enough for writing teachers to teach things because they make
students better writers or literature teachers to teach great
literature. we have to interrogate -- we have to question the authority
of the teachers *and* the authors/author-functions -- and investigate
beyond the justifications for teaching or not teaching certain texts.

i'm left wondering whether anyone who has posted on this subject
genuinely thinks shakespeare will be dropped from the curriculum any time
soon. even by resisting the presence of shakespeare, the ghostly
presence -- the significant silence -- reinscribes the presence.

perhaps what has changed/is changing is the way shakespeare is taught. i
didn't practive bardolotry although i was taught shakespeare as if it
were religious indoctrination, but i don't know if i am any less
implicated in maintaining shakespeare's _place_ in literary study. even
as i questioned and interrogated the text, the assumption was that this
*is* an important text: important enough to get me worked up, important
enough to spend five precious class meetings, and important enough to
*need* interrogation.

i'll go back to this wave image for a moment. we can't individually stop
the flow of the past into the future. that's futile, and dangerous
because we may wash up lifeless on the beach. but it is equally
dangerous to lie lifeless as the swells carry us along. it is silly to
ignore the waves. so we kick, and swim, and choose whether we can go
over, under, or through each wave as it comes. we can't treat every wave
the same, nor does every wave pose the same problem. it is a difficult
and dangerous game and there are no final or secure solutions.

why not learn to surf?