Saturday, April 1, 2017

Shakespeare Scholar Admits He Doesn't Know the Answer to a Question

A  ripple of alarmed confusion coursed through the Sheraton Grand Ballroom in Washington, D.C., yesterday when Professor Daniel Travotti, lecturer in early modern English literature at Britain's esteemed Touchstone University, professed inability to enlighten a questioner who was pretending to be interested in Shakespeare's influence on post-Reformation English theological debates. The public interchange, surely the most startling of this year's Global Shakespeare Conference, took place during the question and answer phase that followed Travotti's keynote talk, and went as follows:

 Is it not also the case that Macbeth's interrogation of the equivocal Witches both registers and promulgates England's growing rejection of interpretive license in the perusal of sacred texts?

I don't know. Whatever.

(Audible breath intake among listeners, followed by a buzz of whispers.)

Questioner (regrouping, after a pause):
What I mean is, given that in the early years of King James's reign, tropes suggestive of Jesuitical doublespeak in the popular theater were at once superficially orthodox yet indirectly subversive, did no central ambiguity result from the early-modern ethos that stressed any individual's power to interpret texts? I mean, an ambiguity which undercut all claims to stable meaning?

You're asking me?

Yes, what I mean is, wasn't Macbeth implicated in this cultural trend toward the destabilization of language-systems as generators of reliable truth claims?

Travotti (shrugging):
Couldn't tell you.

At this point the meeting broke up in confusion. The greater number of attendees, clearly shaken by the breakdown of acceptable conference discourse, solaced themselves with hotel-issue coffee outside the ballroom. Within minutes, rapid exchanges of polysyllabic shibboleths such as "hermeneutical circle," "cultural imaginary," "monolithic hegemony," and "inescapable binary" had restored color to cheeks, and good humor reigned once more.

Yet the effects of the event still reverberated among a large proportion of younger scholars, some of whom were applying for academic jobs at the conference. One Ph.D. student, in answer to an  interviewer's question regarding her dissertation's implications for the "presentist deconstruction of late-Victorian Bradleyism in Shakespeare studies," was heard to reply, "Sir, I have no idea. I was writing about something else."

Reports differ on whether she was abruptly dismissed or offered the job on the spot.

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