August 5, 2012 at 12:07 am
Thanks for this essay. Knowing that a short work on a complex topicwill of necessity leave aspects of that topic unaddressed, I am hesitant to ask for further elaboration of points that especially interest me. Since I do think that the essay is suggestive of how drama in general and Shakespeare in particular can be relevant to philosophy, however, I would like to comment on how (at least in my opinion) that relevance might be pointed out more directly.First, although it does say that soliloquies “represented the outward behavior” of characters” rather than “innermost thought” (par. 5), I think the essay might more explicitly discuss differences between real people and characters in a play. For example, the paper notes that “the study of selfhood is complicated by the fact that one person cannot directly perceive the mind of another person,” and that we instead “draw inferences about another person’s inner self directly or indirectly from the person’s outward appearance, speeches, and actions” (par. 3), but it does not consider the possibility that this description, which is based on a way of talking about real people, does not apply in its entirety to characters in a play, who cannot be said to have inner selves that have no outward expression–any more than they can be said to have biographical details that go entirely unindicated. Looking at characters rather than at people actually could be said to simplify the study, since it leaves out the possibility of complete secrecy. In other words, it’s not only that “the hypothetical self of a character in a Shakespeare play is no more directly perceptible by playgoers than is the mind or inner self of one human being by another human being” (par. 5); there is no such self unless it is in some way indicated or expressed in the play. It seems to me that a careful look at how audiences perceive and talk about characters could be revealing of how we sometimes talk about one another, and might further illuminate some lines of thinking on the issue of the self. Wittgenstein, for example, has pointed out that when we speak about something as “inner,” we are usually commenting on a perceived problem with something outer. (Many of his pertinent remarks are collected in Last Writings on the Philosophy of Psychology, vol. 2: The Inner and the Outer.)The necessity of expression in a play leads to uncertainty about the distinction between the representation of “innermost thought” and the representation of “self-address.” Perhaps even using the word “represent” for self-address is inadvisable, since it seems to suppose some silent, inner self-address that is represented by theself-address spoken aloud. I see little advantage in describing asoliloquy in this way rather than as a self-address that representsthought. It’s as if we want to get beyond words that represent thoughts, to arrive at words that represent words that representthoughts. (The philosophical objections that could be raised totalking about words as representations of thoughts might also beusefully applied here, however.) Also, if we remove words a step away from thoughts, what justification do we have for talking about soliloquies as “a unique laboratory for thought experiments illuminating the phenomenon of self-hood” (par. 4)? Why should we not more accurately say “the phenomenon of performing self-hood”? To what degree is it true that when we talk about selfhood, we’re actually talking about a performance of selfhood?In an essay that describes a stage convention in such useful detail,more explicit thought could be given to the significance of asoliloquy being a stage convention _rather than_ a representation of a real-life practice. In your response to Sara MacDonald, you comment that “Playgoers overheard the self-addressed speeches of characters just as characters often overhear the self-addressed speeches of their fellow characters and just as one real human being might overhear a self-addressed speech of a fellow real human being.” Of course, a long self-addressed speech is theoretically possible in real life, but the only place I have ever overheard one longer than one or two sentences is in a play–where such speeches are conventional. I’m not sure how useful it is to consider them as representational; and if we do, it seems just as useful to call them representations of thought as representations of self-directed speeches.The demands of a too-determined realism also lead to discussions of the motivations of characters who make soliloquies. I am not denying that such motivations are sometimes explicitly given, but I’m also not convinced it’s always useful to try to intuit the motivation of a speaker who must, according to the convention of the art, speak. Motivations are given in many cases exactly because it is not realistically credible that a person would speak that way; themotivation might be as conventional as the rest of the speech.A point that I will make the final one of an already too-long comment is that defining a self as a “combination of psychological traits,” an “implied inner self” (par. 2), forces some of the early ends to discussion that I mention above. Limiting the self to something “inner” seems to me to ignore the social dimension mentioned at the outset (par. 1). For a discussion of the self focused more on social, interpersonal concerns, I humbly offer my own Ph.D. dissertation, Knowledge, Love, and Self in Shakespeare (University of Leeds, 2006).Again, thanks for such a stimulating essay.
See in context
August 3, 2012 at 8:33 pm
The formulation of aims here seems important. Is this really the direction you are taking: intervening in an argument about the historical development / emergence of skepticism in order to apply the idea of bullshit (and the very different playful form “skepticism” it mobilises) to Hamlet? I struggled finally to grasp the argument for Hamlet/Hamlet’s bullshit, which presumably needs more space to be persuasive. I wonder then, in the end how important *is* Hamlet in the argument?
August 3, 2012 at 7:57 pm
In this and the previous paragraph, I struggle a little to understand the tangle of Aristotelianism, alternative theories of matter, and the doctrine of transubstantiation. The statement that the doctrine, from its origins, compelled belief in something patently false seems important. But would this not make Aristotelian physics appear as BS (an elegant fiction with a problematic relation to truth), rather than the doctrine of transubstantiation? Or is the doctrine essentially Aristotelian? I feel there is a contradiction here (among the others)
August 2, 2012 at 7:59 pm
I found this both an informative and intriguing paper. But I’m left a little bewildered about the exact nature and extent of Hamlet’s bullshit. I’d like to see the argument regarding Hamlet developed more fully and clearly.
August 2, 2012 at 7:58 pm
This raises a a major issue concerning belief: whether it is a state of mind or a mode of behaviour. Could you tease the relationships between these out a bit more?
August 2, 2012 at 7:28 pm
As I’ve suggested above, I’m not sure I do understand what it means?
I find this argument very difficult to follow. First, to what extent does the bullshitter’s purpose meet the purpose of someone who is invested in the way reality actually is–the facts? Does it necessarily make someone a bulshitter to say: I’m not interested in the facts–they are not to my purpose–I’m concerned with the forging of a spiritual community, whatever the facts are. In that case, the “recipient” of bullshit is more of a participant, isn’t she, as your use of the notion of a language-game suggests. Where things get difficult is with the concept of belief and its relation to truth. What is she taking to be true? What does she believe? Can she both believe that the water and bread do miraculously transform themselves and that matter is such that this is actually impossible? Does the law of thee excluded middle apply here? Are you suggesting that “cheerful” skepticism is in fact an ability to live without the law? My final point is that the kind of skepticism with which Cavell is concerned and this “cheerful” skepticism are so different as to have almost nothing but the signifier in common.
August 2, 2012 at 6:27 pm
I know what you mean about this particular birth of skepticism, but don’t you need an acknowledgement that philosophically it is much older than Christianity?
August 2, 2012 at 12:14 am
I’m looking forward to reading more: it’s a very interesting project.
August 1, 2012 at 4:50 pm
These points are all interesting as textual readings, but I don’t think that theatre is a private activity, and so I don’t find any of these 16 points convincing from a theatrical standpoint. I’d have to say I’m with Barton on the 99% rule, but that may just be symptomatic of a large divide in our field …