Shakespearience 5: We are Things among Things….

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I’ve had the good fortune of being somewhat involved in the current RSC The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Lucy Bailey. In my programme note for the production, I’ve written especially about the bestial life and imagery of the play, which has come to seem to me to be epitomized by the pointy little face of a shrew. So much so, in fact, that I’ve been rather haunted by the image, which (even as I type) I can see quite vividly in my mind’s eye. There’s usually a reason for such intense susceptibility to anything in Shakespeare, or any other work of art for that matter, whether it’s a painting or something on the telly. To think of just WOMEN as shrewish would be unacceptable, but I’ve come to think that in this early play Shakespeare sees human life and love AS SUCH in animalistic terms—we’re told Petruccio is even more of a shrew than Kate is. I think, further, that, although this has its unflattering aspect, it’s essentially affirming. We ARE animals after all.

And, with that recognition, my nose wrinkles and phantom whiskers twitch involuntarily ….

But there is another provocative truth of experience which the play insists on. After a long history of sexual inequality and exploitation, we are very sensitive to the objectification of women. And rightly so, not least because we’re in some ways even more guilty of it. But Shrew sins and sins again in this respect and in a way that, surely, can’t but be offensive. It puns, for instance, on the name Kate and ‘cates’, another word for household effects. This provocatively equates Kate with other domestic possessions, like the car or the marital bed; and insinuates, by turning a proper name—and marker for individual identity—into a more generic thing, that one Kate’s as good as another….

Then Petruccio asserts,

I will be master of what is mine own.
She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house,
My household-stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything. (3.2.230-3)

We will instinctively bristle at the equation of wife and ‘goods and chattels’, not to mention ox and ass. As well as at his assertion of possession—particularly given the verbal echo of the tenth commandment as a prohibition of covetousness. And yet, a palpable if pragmatic poetry opens up in Petruccio’s speech here. His comprehensive association of Kate with everything he owns—his house, but also everything in it (‘my household stuff’); his barn and field, but also all the livestock that sleeps and grazes there—is as expansive as it is diminishing. And there’s an irreducible touch of romance when he says, finally, she’s ‘my anything’.

This suggestively positive quality to Petruccio’s possessiveness may make us wonder if we can finally root out objectification from human life and relationships.

For if, as I’ve said, we are animals, we’re also THINGS. And we live as things among other things. Julia Lupton’s philosophically ambitious book, Thinking with Shakespeare, is very good on the way Shakespeare reveals this most fundamental and yet occluded aspect of our lives.

Some things assist us, others resist; we sleep with some and we eat with others; some we hoard, while there are those that will always elude us. A fully specific description of our lives in these terms would be an extremely complex thing.

A full description of my relation to everything in my desk drawer would take a considerable while!

And, come to think of it, lots of the things in my desk drawer are in a shabby and decaying condition that’s difficult to admit without embarrassment because it reflects my life back at me in an unflattering way….

Shakespeare’s great description of Petruccio’s eccentric appearance on his wedding day resonates with this:

Why, Petruccio is coming in a new hat and an old jerkin, a pair of old breeches thrice-turned; a pair of boots that have been candle-cases, one buckled, another laced with two broken points; an old rusty sword ta’en out of the town armoury with a broken hilt and chapeless; his horse hipped – with an old mothy saddle and stirrups of no kindred – besides, possessed with the glanders and like to mose in the chine; troubled with the lampas, infected with the fashions, full of windgalls, sped with spavins, rayed with the yellows, past cure of the fives, stark spoiled with the staggers, begnawn with the bots, weighed in the back and shoulder-shotten, near-legged before and with a half-cheeked bit and a headstall of sheep’s leather which, being restrained to keep him from stumbling, hath been often burst, and now repaired with knots; one girth six times pieced, and a woman’s crupper of velour which hath two letters for her name fairly set down in studs, and here and there pierced with packthread. (3.2.43-62)

Both Petruccio and his mount are characterized here as assemblages of vividly specific, miscellaneous and also mutable objects. The knackered horse is a host to and compendium of crippling diseases. But the overall impression is of life as a positively wild hotch-potch of decaying thinginess. Even language madly delights in and shows off its thinginess here, with word clinking against word in a sort of satire of literary effects: ‘stark spoiled with the staggers, begnawn with the bot’.

Of course this sort of zany objectification isn’t at all the sort of thing usually to the fore at a wedding, but then a wife and husband giving themselves to one another in marriage does involve objectification of a certain sort and this particular piece of great prose reveals the wider life we live as and among objects as a context for this.

And this brings me back to Petruccio’s possessiveness. It has its cherishing aspect, which isn’t unattractive. At the end of the play, Petruccio gazes on Kate admiringly, saying, ‘Why, there’s a wench’. Kate, for her part, says to women in general, ‘Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot, / And place your hands below your husband’s foot’ (5.2.182-3), offering herself to do just that for Petruccio. Our first response will be to feel horror at her self-debasement. But if we imagine her cradling in her hand a most objectifiable and normally unglamorous part of her husband, we will see that he is, by our usual lights, degraded too, and yet at the same time loved.

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Ewan Fernie is Chair and Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham. His books include critical and creative works and he is General Editor (with Simon Palfrey) of the provocative Shakespeare Now! series.
  • Hilarious! The article is funny because there is something so amusing about discussing such hysterical subject matter in such a sincere, thoughtful academic way hahaha nice one Pro F. The austere profile pic at the end tops it all off with an extra chuckle

  • Adam Seddon

    But isnt it also possible to desire being possessed? In which instance you would need to argue that we alternately desire to be the consumer and the commodity, rather than that capitalism has structured our desiring as always a question of obtaining?

    I think capitalism has profoundly effected how we desire and understand our own desiring which I think you would agree with, but I tend to read the ramifications of that process not as the establishment of s commodity relation but as the erecting of a marketplace. There is a common tendency to understand desire as promoted by the quality of the desired and as part of an exchange – she fancies me because I am wealthy, I fancy her because she is young. Or – she fancies me because I am wealthy but she is not young and beautiful enough; though lovely I could do better. In other words ours is not a commensurate exchange of desirability. Anonymous do you have a take on this? ReadIing over your remarks I got the sense that you had come to grips with this dimension of experience

    apologies for any mangled text I’m posting from my iPhone

  • Christian Smith

    I see another question sitting below the discussion that has occurred here so far, and that is:

    What is the relationship between desire and possession?

    I see this question in historical terms; the relationship has changed as humans have developed through socioeconomic stages. Under patriarchy, and certainly under capitalism, desiring usually engenders the need to possess. Therefore, in this stage of history, one might trace Petruchio’s possessiveness back to romance and its root, desire. However, this wouldn’t have been true for all of history, nor will it be true in a post-patriarchal future. This question also allows for Marxism and feminism to inform each other, since it seems to sit at the root of both. Further, for me, it sets a goal for liberating praxis – to uncouple desire and possession.

  • Christian Smith

     my question was in reference to you saying that criticism has to be taken on its own terms, not to what you list above. You would have lost that point in a debate.

  • Anonymous

    AS: ‘this black-and-white thinking – in this case, that something is EITHER an abstract truth-claim OR simple class prejudice – has to be fought against.’

    CS: ‘are you an essentialist?’

    That question provides a good example of the level at which you seem to be able to read and understand me, not to mention Prof. Fernie, so I don’t think any further comment from me is necessary.

  • Christian Smith

     Hi Adam,
    because of my reading of this play – that it depicts inhumanity, and overturns agreement with it through the use of the Induction – I wouldn’t choose it to be the place for my exploration of my feelings about romance, love and sexuality. I understand what you mean and have given over a huge chunk of my life to the exploration of those features of life: I have been a psychotherapist since the early 90s and one of my specialities was couples therapy and sex therapy. I have also given a lot of thought and exploration to my personal feelings in these areas, as I try to live a conscious life. And, yes, literature has the wonderful quality of sparking  personal exploration. But I wouldn’t put my exploration of any possessivness that lingers in me as my reading of the play. Nor would I assume that “we” all see things equally.

  • Christian Smith

     What strikes me about your responses is how you keep attacking me and labelling my responses with adjectives and calling me ideologically pre-programmed. Stick to the issues. You are obviously no theorist if you think that my words are “hysterical”. What would you do with Adorno? Do you have difficulty with people who bring in other playwrights or social issues into a discussion about Shakespeare? That’s what people do in theory.

    Criticism taken on “it’s own terms” you say. Wow, you really need an education in theory and Marxism. Or are you an essentialist? Nothing that is produced by the human brain should ever be taken on it’s own terms. It is all socially constructed and open to criticism. The claim for consideration of criticism on its own terms is nothing more than a power play of the current hegemonic terms.

    That’s a good try with the “no close reading” accusation. I wanted to debate the issues, which I have done, without attacking you. I also picked a couple issues to talk about. If its a full close reading debate that you want then let’s do it. Would you like to start with the Induction and then move on to Act I.

    You also have not understood my argument about the form of the play and why Petruchio’s actions and attitudes can’t be both possessive and cherishing. Shakespeare’s strategy in Taming, in my reading of it, is very different than that of say The Merchant of Venice, where I read Shylock as the relationship of contradictory values.

    btw, what is tedious about this thread, for me, is not that is going on long, but that there are only two of us talking on it. Where is everyone else on this issue? Does no one else have an opinion about what is being said here?

  • Adam Seddon

    I really enjoyed this post, not just for its own intriguing and teasing findings but also for the place it takes alongside your other blogs in building up a picture of Shakespeare revitalised. Subjectivism, and the Subject/Object dynamic, seems to have hypnotized critics and thinkers on and off throughout recent history. The question is less technical and more immediate – more lived – than its treatment would lead you to believe and I think you tickled that debate without being bogged down by it. I enjoyed also your dual observation that Shrew puts love in an animalistic category whilst affirming it. The notion that the visceral, the instinctive, the blood and sweat of existing belongs in a different conceptual world to academic reading or high literature is exactly the shriveled old maid that dries out academic discourse. 

    The debate below is interesting also, not least because it was triggered by a blog post that is definitely fertile ground for discourse, whatever else it gets called. It took me some time to read through all the points made here. There are a number of technical distinctions that suggest themselves to me, not only on questions of terminology. But perhaps that’s a temptation I want to spend more time resisting. I would like to see the whole field of discussion around these plays shift radically toward the sorts of things that trouble us in our quiet moments, that we dwell on as the matters which define us, or that have the power to bring us joy or misery in the course of our lives. I don’t really believe that any of the participants in the discussion below are truly animated by their conversation. It looks like the vanity of small differences and makes me think of Sayre’s law, sadly. Why does the most evocative art – the art most relevant to our lived experiences – bring out our most unliving debates?
    I notice Christian that you refer to yourself as employing the methodology of Critical Theory and that you consider this be constituted by careful and close readings. I know you are hardly alone in this and that it is very fashionable, but I don’t believe anybody would purport to be a careless and distant reader, so you define yourself against a position that I think is unoccupied. I imagine you are somebody that considers your observations carefully grounded and your interpretations closely allied to those of the text you are referring to. In that you are like every other serious reader. You seem interested Marxism, gender and social relations, and your posts read like you were enthusiastic about the possibility of proving your radical credentials by calling somebody else a closet conservative. In that you are like countless other readers both serious and otherwise. I don’t mean to suggest that the argument is invalid, only that it is a bit old-fashioned and perhaps that it could be done to almost anybody about almost anything they say, which amounts to the conclusion that it doesn’t offer much. In your answers you didn’t respond personally to the professor’s post, you spoke more about how you felt it interacts with the views of the other thinkers you have read or read about. What do you as an individual think and feel about what the Professor has said about the play? Does it ring true with your experiences of romance, love and sexuality? I’m not asking you as a suggestion that you have no such opinions, but because those are the opinions of yours that I am really interested in and I know you must have them. This sincerity is what Professor Fernie has disrobed in his writing and that is what makes him so interesting. 

    For my part, I got to Marx before I got to sexuality and romance. Objectification was a word that meant estrangement, distortion, even mutilation. After some experience it still had those connotations but I think the closing points in Professor Fernie’s post glimmer with light that prompts reflection and a reply in me; debasement is not solely the subject of worthy outrage. It is possible to discover yourself in your debasement, even to find joy and transcendence in it. The dynamic of sexuality can be nourishing when it is commandeering; possession can be a thrill, even when being the one subjected to it. I hope you know that I’m not trying to sneak in an argument for slavery through the back door with this point. I have objectified, and been objectified – I have explored it in my own sexual experiences – and though I have found emptiness and subjugation I have also found things sweeter and more interesting than despair. I think this is something many people would think but perhaps feel they could not say about sexuality as it relates to subject/object relations and Professor Fernie’s points put me in mind of this experience. 

    Professor Fernie is capable of provoking strong feelings. I think you and Anonymous have demonstrated that. But I think he is also capable of touching on the things that matter too much to be debated in this way, to be expressed through worn out terminology and shaded with the hues of theories and schools of thought that were cool for previous generations. I’m not suggesting you are only good for that kind of talk, but the opposite. 

  • Anonymous

    Thanks. I’m trying to make this my last post, because this debate will be becoming tedious to the readers of this blog.

    Of course criticism is located in ‘the social battlefield,’ but that emphatically does not mean that it (criticism) can be REDUCED TO ideology and social prejudice. The criticism has to, before everything else comes into play, be taken on its own terms. Again, this black-and-white thinking – in this case, that something is EITHER an abstract truth-claim OR simple class prejudice – has to be fought against; these sorts of strict binaries are remnants of the Cartesian tradition, and a Marxist should be the first person to know that.

    You write: ‘Fernie wants his readers to accept that Petruchio’s possessiveness of Katherine is romantic or cherishing.’ But he clearly doesn’t say this. What he says, having already registered his discontent with the play’s patriarchy, is that Petruchio’s possessiveness has ‘a suggestively positive quality.’ The two things are not the same, as is surely obvious to anyone who is not ideologically pre-programmed to a dangerous degree. Why can’t Petruchio be both possessive and cherishing? Surely these things are often (in life) two sides of the same coin. Admitting this is not the same thing as cherishing patriarchy or demanding female subservience.

    I also note – once again – that your response contains no
    close-reading, that it floats at quite a distance from the primary text. Instead of close-reading, we get references to ‘genital mutilation’ and Brecht.

    Finally, I note that, every time I respond, it pushes you to a more hysterical condemnation of Fernie. Initially there was just a ‘barricade’ between you; then you accused him of ‘collaboration with the very objectification that is killing humanity’; now his criticism is emphatically going to ‘lead to social disaster.’

    It seems to me, in my naivety, that this sort of violently rising hysteria, and complementary construction and demonization of enemies, is precisely what tends to ‘lead to social disaster,’ and that the best retort to it is the sort of sensitive, emotionally and ethically engaged analysis that Fernie practises.

    But then I would say that, wouldn’t I? White, middle-class men find the craziest rationalisations for their subjection of

  • Christian Smith

     Thanks, A few points:
    I hold that critics work from their interests (class, gender, race, nation, etc) and that they should be clear about this. The reason that I hold this is because consciousness is socially constructed. It is molded by life in the social battlefied. A field were class wars, gender wars, race wars, etc, are (and have been) raging. Any critic who thinks that he is above this and simply makes “truth claims about Shakespeare” or opens readers up to the “messy depths of Shakespere’s plays” is hiding (or not aware of) his/her location in the war. I read a feminist theme in Taming for two equally important (for me) reasons: 1. my close reading of it and 2. the fact that gender oppression still exists in the world and I am staking my location on the feminist side of the barricade. (I’ll stick to feminist issues for now, but my response about capitalism and reification is similar)  If Fernie wants his readers to accept that Petruchio’s possessiveness of Katherine is romantic or cherishing, then he stands on the other side of a barricade that fights to end global possesion of women and the results of it: less pay for equal work, glass ceilings, domestic abuse, rape, objectification in the media, higher rates of poverty, genital mutilation and gender-based inequality in the law.

    As far as a close reading of the play goes: The Induction is critical to understanding this play and to understanding the feminism (anachronism, I accept) in Shakespeare. Shakespeare writes very powerful women in many of his plays. Why, in this play, does he move a woman from being a powerful woman who stands by her own convictions in the first act to seemingly being a mouthpiece and show dog for her hyper-abusive husband in the last act? Doesn’t make sense, does it? Of course not. There must be some trick. And there is – the Induction, which serves the play similarly to a negative prefix in front of a word. Theist + a = atheist (not a theist). Taming of the Shrew + Induction = not taming of the shrew. Or, put another way, if you think that a shrew can (or should) be tamed, then let me show you a rogue who can become a mighty lord.

    Shakespeare, like Brecht and Beckett after him, depicts the horrible situation into which his protagonist has fallen. It’s inhumanity is meant to shock his readers/viewers and to wake them up to the same conditions in society. It traps Katherine into a world of hyper-patriarchy. Looking for the romance or cherishing qualities of this is like saying that Mutter Courage’s song of Grand Capitulation is actually quite endearing. If you read Brecht’s notes on this scene, he warns us that this interpretation will lead to “social disaster”. Well, that is exactly what Fernie’s reading of the possessiveness in Taming will do – lead to social disaster.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for that. I’ll make two points.

    It is, I think, important to believe in things, and to believe passionately and publically. But there remains the constant danger that one’s beliefs will harden, which necessitates an equally constant attempt to reflect honestly on one’s positions and to refine one’s responses to life.

    What worries me here is how crude your criteria seem to be. Things, for you, seem to divide very cleanly into binaries: into, for example, progressive or non-progressive, feminist or sexist, capitalist or Marxist, and so forth. This all means that, when confronted by a phenomenon, all that you do is decide on which side of ‘the barricade’ it stands, and then respond on cue. So, Fernie intuits a romance in Petruchio’s ‘my anything,’ and your response to this is – very simply – that it is ‘Certainly not feminist.’ And then you move on. Is that adequate intellectual practice? Is there not something damagingly pre-programmed about it all?

    It seems to me that a large part of Fernie’s project, as evidenced in his books and blogs, is to push us beyond simple moralistic interpretations, and beyond damaging critical impositions, in order to open up, for the reader, the messy depths of Shakespeare’s plays: to the life therein, in all of its potentially disturbing complexity. But you seem to have made your project to police the interpretive borderlines, so that anyone with whom you disagree ethically is cast to the other side of an ideological ‘barricade’ and bombarded with accusations of sexism and collaboration with capitalism. Again, is that adequate intellectual practice? Is it not, in a way, quite dangerously anti-intellectual?

    Second: Fernie is a critic, and so his claims – that, for example, ‘my
    anything’ is romantic – are truth claims about Shakespeare’s play. This means that it, in a sense, doesn’t matter what Fernie’s personal ethics are, or what your ethics are, or indeed what my ethics are: if this is what Shakespeare is doing, then this is what he’s doing. If he’s not doing it, close reading and dense argumentation will bring that out. But it is not adequate to just accuse the critic himself of sexism and move on, taking one’s work to be done. That practice surely misunderstands the very nature of criticism.

  • Christian Smith

     see my response to Paul below please.

  • Christian Smith

     Hi Paul,
    yes, the truth is certainly more mixed. One question that I ask is: In what direction does interpretation take the field (or the philosophy)? For me, an important aspect of criticism is the ‘why’ of our criticism. Why does one do a feminist criticism? or a psychoanalytic one? or a … one? I would like to see this disclosed more. I would also like the critic to own his/her position instead of using the ‘we’. There is a relevant discussion of this that I had with Dominic Dromgoole. It will come out soon, on this blog site, in the second part of my interview with him. One thing that Adorno wrote about was to critique language used in theoretical discourse – to find that hidden fascism in the phrases employed. He even upbraids Marx for an excessive use of the sarcastic speechmark. My purpose for posting my comment was to point out a hidden power play in Fernie’s essay. I hold that this is an important task for Critical Theorists.

    Now about the issue of the direction of Fernie’s essay. I notice a number of set-up phrases that start in a feminist direction and an anti-objectification direction:

    “We will instinctively bristle at the equation of wife and ‘goods and
    chattels’, not to mention ox and ass. As well as at his assertion of

    Anoymous, above, also does this in his response. And he places (“who doesn’t”) in for thrust in the direction of the first phase of the sentiment. I notice this sort of set-up occuring at times when someone is about to say something un-progressive. The signal alerts me to the volta – the “yet” or “but”. Fernie writes:

    “And yet, a palpable if pragmatic poetry opens up in Petruccio’s speech here.”

    Now I look to see where he is going with this. His next move is to read Petruchio’s words about Katherine, “my anything”, as an “incredible touch of romance”. I ask, why? What is Fernie’s philosophical direction here? Certainly not feminist. Then he writes a one sentence paragraph:

    “This suggestively positive quality to Petruccio’s possessiveness may
    make us wonder if we can finally root out objectification from human
    life and relationships.”

    What does this mean? In what direction is it moving? Does the conditional “if” speak to the possibility of getting rid of a society based on owenrship of humans or against that possibility? The next paragraph makes his direction and his politics clear.

    He begins by picking up on the animal imagery from the opening paragraph and stating the cry of the sociobiologists, “we are animals”. Sociobiology has also crept into the work of Gabriel Egan and completely tainted his Green Shakespeare. Why go this way, I ask? Does the word Shrew in the title really take interpretation towards the animal? Isn’t that actually the sexist animalisation that Shakespeare is depicting? Isn’t the defining quality of humans that they have a consciousness and that raises them to a different level than animals? Specifically – a level in which they can think critically about how they treat each other.

    Then Fernie moves on to say that “we are also things”. Why? To critique reification? To critique the damage that Petruchio is attempting on Katherina’s humanity? No. He does none of that. He moves on to a discussion of our relationship with things. In my view, he upholds the very fetishism that Marx rails against in the final section of the first chapter of Capital. Hernie ends by describing “Petruccio’s possessiveness” as having a “cherishing aspect, which isn’t unattractive”. In what direction has this essay now moved? I say sexism and collaboraion with the very objectification that is killing humanity.

  • Hello Christian,

    Thank you for your post. You imply a strong dichotomy: humanity’s liberated “subjectivity” versus an enslaved consciousness that has been “reified by capitalism”. Isn’t the truth more mixed than that – as Professor Fernie’s exploratory phrase (that you quote above) “WONDER if we can finally ROOT OUT objectification” clearly reflects? 

    Shouldn’t criticism reflect the mixed nature of our experience AS A PROBLEM – rather than simply dismissing a reading because it does not fit with a vision of humanity that we all hope for?

    And doesn’t your vigorous retort belie your assertion that the “personal plural ‘we’ suppresses dissent?

    Best Wishes,

    Paul Hamilton

  • Anonymous

    It seems to me irrelevant what assignments you give your students. Your initial comment was absurd, whatever background informed it.

    And, while I’m content to remain masked, I will happily engage ‘in a public debate.’ I’m just not sure how far it would be able to go, given that you have already drawn up the ‘barricade,’ and placed yourself on the opposite side to anyone who disagrees with you. But if you’d like to descend from arrogant posturing, and make some serious critical points, I would be happy to engage with them.

  • Christian Smith

     One of the assignments that I give my students is to read an article and follow the flow of the logic and the philosophical implications of that article. Then they write a critique. We consider the essay carefully, and do what is, in practice, a close reading of that essay. This is also the methodology of my doctoral thesis – close readings of Shakespeare’s plays, Marx’s writings, Freud’s writings and the Frankfurt School’s writings. So your acusation that I didn’t read the article carefully or think it through or chew on it does not accurately describe my practice.
    My methodology is that of Critical Theory – close readings with subsequent philosophical critique. That is also my revolutionary practice. I have noticed a slow shift to the right in recent Shakespearean scholarship. It’s time to stem that tide. Instead of attacking my method, maybe you would like to unmask yourself from your anonymous status and participate in a public debate about the issues in the above essay.

  • Anonymous

    The respondent below – Christian Smith – objects to the use of ‘the first person
    plural, “we”, in an essay.’ What word would he prefer? In the context
    of a piece of writing like this, it’s surely obvious that ‘we’ should be
    taken to mean ‘any one of us,’ as opposed to the a priori ‘all of us.’ That is, the word is not oppressively inclusive in the way that Mr. Smith feels; it
    instead ties into the basic attempt of literary criticism, which is to move beneath/beyond
    both the subjective and the objective, in order to establish semi-truths with which ‘we,’
    sharers of a language-game, can engage. If someone doesn’t share them, then
    that is all to the good: cue further thought and writing. But words like ‘we’
    are used to encourage discussion, and it seems to me that a person who objects to them reveals more
    about himself than about anyone/anything else, perhaps about his own
    insecurities or frustrated power-will. And one doesn’t have to have read Nietzsche or the other ‘masters of suspicion’ to feel this.


    The writer goes on to state: ‘Capitalism subsumes the
    subject under the object and this essay seems to celebrate that.’ But
    capitalism is not mentioned in the essay; nor is economics; nor is politics,
    except in the area where it is coextensive with ethics. So why bring capitalism up? One can
    be Left-wing, a Marxist, an anti-capitalist, and various other things, and still object
    to the way in which Mr. Smith uses his Marxism as a weapon with which to bludgeon
    his opponents; one can still object to the fact that, seemingly, he takes his sole critical task to be to make negative points about capitalism (it ‘subsumes the subject under the object’),
    to set himself up as proud antagonist to it (‘the purpose of my work is to…’), and
    to condemn anyone who disagrees, who stands ‘on the other side of the barricade.’ What’s the
    point of all of this? (Apart, obviously, from the fact that it must make Mr. Smith
    feel good to write such things.)


    Nietzsche has a great aphorism: ‘A very popular error:
    having the courage of one’s convictions; rather it is a matter of having the
    courage for an attack on one’s convictions.’


    English students should memorise that, and take it as a
    guiding principle. Mr. Smith may feel that women are not objects (who doesn’t?),
    that humans are not just animals (who doesn’t?), that capitalism has wrought
    tremendous damage on life (who doesn’t?), and that it is necessary to fight for
    human subjectivity and subjective experience (who doesn’t? – Prof. Fernie certainly feels this). But it is painfully obvious that he has
    allowed these feelings to harden into something unpleasantly brittle and destructive.
    It is obvious that, having read Prof. Fernie’s blog-post, he has not taken the time to
    think it through, to chew over its positions, to take it as seriously as his
    imagination allows him, perhaps to formulate an intelligent response, perhaps even one – is this asking too much? – that actually addresses the Professor’s specific points, and bolsters
    its own points with close reading and theoretical agility.


    No! It’s enough to just react on cue: Capitalism is bad!
    Objectification is bad, a priori! Prof. Fernie’s not a Marxist! And that’s enough to
    condemn him. Thus begin the nasty criticisms and insinuations.


    To conclude with a cliché: with people like Mr. Smith as your ideological friends –
    I speak as someone who broadly shares his positions – who needs enemies?

    (The blog-post itself is, I think, superb. No need to say anything further; Ewan has said what needs to be said, and said it brilliantly.)

  • Christian Smith

    Once again, I encounter the first person plural, ‘we’, in an essay:

    “This suggestively positive quality to Petruccio’s possessiveness may
    make us wonder if we can finally root out objectification from human
    life and relationships.”

    And this time the oppressive inclusion of me, the reader, into your ideology wants me to march lock-step with your sociobiological ideology (“we are animals”) and your support of reification (“we’re also THINGS.”). Sorry, but I am more than an animal and more than a thing. My reading of this play is exactly opposite to yours. And the purpose of my work is to bring back the subjectivity of a humanity that has been reified by capitalism. Capitalism subsumes the subject under the object and this essay seems to celebrate that (whether consciously or unconsciously). In any case, I am not a part of your “we”. I stand on the other side of the barricade. 

  • Very nice & lively, Ewan; makes me wish I were teaching Shrew this semester.  Makes me think, also, of all the Object-Oriented theory that’s swirling around these days, via people like Graham Harman, Tim Morton, and in medieval studies Jeffrey Cohen and Eillen Joy, among many others.  Do you know those folks?  Some interesting stuff there.

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