Peace studies: a proposal.
It is worth pointing out the greater centrality of women's studies among these three. It is not just that there are more women than there are blacks or homosexuals in the world, though that fact may underlie the other reasons. It is that an approach through gender is almost certain to encounter issues that are central to a literary text. Virtually all plays and novels contain female characters; sexual love is the commonest subject for lyric poetry; and the characterization of forms of behavior and feeling as masculine or feminine is very widespread.(2) In contrast, there are not many literary works that feature blacks or homosexuals: the construction of the colonial subject and the love that dare not speak its name are fascinating issues, but the number of texts to which they can be applied with significant results is small. Even Othello is much more about a cultural outsider than about a black man, and more about a deceived romantic lover than either. The black men and women who crop up occasionally in Thackeray give us glimpses of a kind of amused condescension that throws light on the values and attitudes of the clubman as which the narrator presents himself, but they are neither central figures, nor significantly involved with the central figures.
The concept of "studies" that I am suggesting is not simply a lexical reformulation of the great variety of critical positions with which we are now familiar; a number of important contemporary critical schools will not count as "studies." Psychoanalytic, structuralist, and to some extent deconstructionist criticism are not politically committed, though all of them, especially psychoanalysis, get joined to critical schools that are; New Criticism, and the philological tradition represented by Spitzer and Curtius, do not begin from a nonliterary concern. If we ask what critical schools could also be included, there are two obvious candidates: Christianity and Marxism. Christian literary criticism ranges from Puritan denunciation of literature itself, through limited acceptance of a corrupt activity from fallen man, to the sophisticated work of R. M. Frye, C. S. Lewis, W. K. Wimsatt, and Michael Edwards; the fact that it is so familiar and well established need not blind us to the fact that it conforms perfectly to my definition of "studies": it derives its concepts from outside literature, and it is normally practiced by Christians, not (if they are at all sophisticated) with a purpose of direct proselytizing, but nonetheless from a position of commitment. The same is clearly true of Marxism: there is quite a gamut among Marxist critics when it comes to political commitment, from the Hegelian theorist, eager to show the dialectical nature of thought in capitalist society, to the fiery radical, eager to give the oppressed a voice and attack the position of the oppressors with a minimum of theory (from Adorno, say, to Paul Foot). Sometimes this range can be found in a single critic, even in a single essay; but the claim that Marxism involves political commitment is not likely to be disputed, is even obvious, and I took my initial statement of commitment from the introduction to a Marxist collection of essays on Shakespeare. The fact therefore that we refer to these schools by means of adjectives (Christian or Marxist criticism) rather than by using the term "studies" is merely lexical.(3)
In this essay I propose a new candidate, which I am calling peace studies: for convenience (though it begs a few questions) I shall speak of the ensuing criticism as "pacifist," and will refer to "pacifist readings" of texts.(4) That the form of organized violence which we call war has been central to human history needs, alas, no demonstration: the nature, causes, and cure of war is in many institutions now promoted from being a branch of sociology, political science, or history to a discipline in its own right, and is clearly independent of literature.(5) When we call it "peace studies" rather than conflict studies, war studies, military history, international relations, or any of the other possible names, we point to the fact that it is being undertaken from a committed position, the view that war is an evil which we are trying to learn how to eradicate.(6) I am not familiar with any formal recognition, or claim to recognition, of peace studies as a school of literary criticism, but my proposal yearly implies that this is possible, if not overdue: that concern about organized conflict and IES dangers can lead to (and often has led to) insights when studying literature.(7)
Of course there can-be-and no doubt will be-other candidates for new fields of studies in literary criticism: age studies, animal studies, handicapped studies are three obvious examples of social concerns that could be translated into ways of Doking at a literary text. But here I must add that because of the centrality of war in hereon history, peace studies can claim a precedence over these others similar to that which women's studies can claim over the other fields already mentioned. This is not intended as a political assertion: I am not claiming that age discrimination for the aged, or prejudice against the handicapped for handicapped people, are less urgent as issues than the elimination of war (I do happen-to believe that, but it is irrelevant to the present argument); I am claiming that these other possible fields of studies will have an impact on our reading of literature that will be far less frequent and less central. Would that it were not so.
How then (this is obviously the central question) will such a school as I am proposing approach literature? Its obvious application will be to the representation of war, and it hardly needs saying that traditional Representations of war are not pacifist. We must begin by making obeisance to the heroic: the endorsement of prowess in battle as earning fame and glory for a man. Having done this, we proceed to perform two kinds of subversion, that of the text on itself, and that of the reader on the text. They are not always clearly distinguishable in practice, but as I shall argue later we need to preserve the distinction in theory.
Henry Vis an obvious example and will serve us well. That it glorifies the military prowess of the English is obvious and well known, but we should begin by admitting and even emphasizing this. Of many possible examples I will choose-Henry's response to the mocking gift of tennis balls sent by the Dauphin:
And tell the pleasant prince this mock of his
Hath turn'd his balls to gun-stones, and his soul
Shall stand sore charged for the wasteful vengeance
That shall fly with them; for many a thousand widows
Shall this his mock mock out of their dear husbands,
Mock mothers from their sons, mock castles down;
And some are yet ungotten and unborn
That shall have cause to curse the Dolphin's scorn.(8)
The Dauphin's gift tried to exclude Henry from the heroic and reduce him to the trivial by locating him in comedy; Henry's reply turns the comic back into the heroic (turning the balls to gunstones) and this rather abstract consideration of genre is itself seen as an aggressive act: "shall this mock mock out oftheir dear husbands" can be paraphrased as "What you intended as comedy I will turn into war." The constantly repeated "mock" can be heard as the striking of racket on ball, so that by playing tennis Henry is fighting, recuperating the demeaning activity as itself warlike. The trope has the same structure as the glorification of games for military training, the battle of Waterloo being won on the playing fields of Eton.(9)
So much for the orthodox reading; now we ask whether anything in the play subverts this. We can begin with one line from the chorus, describing the eager preparations for war now that all the youth of England are on fire: "They sell the pasture now to buy the horse" (2.1.5). It is impossible to know if this makes the youth of England splendid or absurd. What will the horse eat? That question will not trouble the young knight riding against the French, and need never trouble him if he or his horse fails to return. The line could be telling us that war is absurd, but the heroic warrior, taking no thought for the future, could be proud of the absurdity.
Or take another single sentence. During the famous-and famously heroic--St. Crispin speech, Henry (who has now lost most of his resemblance to Prince Hal, and turned into something very like Hotspur) dismisses all regret at the smallness of their army, and even declares that it should be proclaimed
That he which hath no stomach for this fight
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse.
We would not die in that man's company. (4.3.35-38)
It is hard to believe that any general ever could--or did--make an offer like this to his conscripted troops, even if not outnumbered. Voluntarily to weaken one's own army and deplete one's resources because "the fewer men, the greater share of honour" is very clearly a rhetorical strategy that belongs in a speech before the battle but that no one could take seriously. Yet I have never seen an actor deliver these lines sarcastically, and to do so would make nonsense of the whole speech. To read them cynically is to read against the text; at the same time, to put aside one's awareness that they are (not to put too fine a point on it) a lie, is to remove the text from all meaningful relation to the reality of war.
We must now move nearer to the center of the play. The morality of war is most explicitly discussed in the conversation between the disguised Henry and the common soldiers on the night before the battle. The fact that everyone in this scerie speaks prose need not conceal from us that fact that two different registers are being used: against the carefully balanced sentences of Henry ("Methinks I could not die any where so contented as in the King's company, his cause being just and his quarrel honorable") comes the unanswerable bluntness of Williams: "that's more than we know" (4.1.126-29). Williams represents the irreducible element of popular cynicism, and the direct awareness of what it is like to die in battle: "some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rarely left" (4.1.138-41).
Heroism is for the notes; in a war like this, the natural attitude of the people is pacifism. For Williams, the responsibility for making a bad death rests with the king, who took the decision to go to war: "But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make" (4.1.134-35) . Henry denies this, in a way that makes us once more aware of the difference in register: "So, if a son that is by his father sent about merchandise do sinfully miscarry upon the sea, the imputation of his wickedness, by your rule, should be imposed upon his father that sent him" (4.1.147-49). The very first words of this take us from one world to another: "So, if . . .": the tone has changed to one of discussion. "We are going to die tomorrow" has given place to "I can't quite accept that point." And, of course, there is no guarantee that the debater who adopts the tone of debate is right in contrast to the debater who spurts the courtesies of argument and speaks from personal urgency-as in this case he surely isn't, for Henry is denying that war matters. The sending of the son about merchandise was the accidental occasion of his death, not the cause, and Henry is treating a battle as the accidental occasion of the death of soldiers, the manner of that death being determined by their past lives only.
How easy things are for a king, even when Shakespeare is his drarmatist. Henry's reply brushes aside what Williams said, but still he wins tire argument: Williams agrees -that "every man that dies ill, the ill upon his own head, the king is not to answer it" (4.1.186-87). Though there is no textual support for this, it is tempting to assume corruption here, and claim that this speech should go to one of the other soldiers, especially since Williams does, shortly afterwards, put up some resistance after all. But perhaps the effect was deliberate, a reminder that Williams is only Williams, and we know who "Harry le Roi" is.
That Henry's position is untenable can be demonstrated from Henry himself. When he urged the archbishop, in the first act, to weigh his words carefully before advising him to go to war, he accepted that he would himself be responsible for its consequences:
For God cloth know how many now in health
Shall drop their blood in approbation
Of what your reverence shall incite us to.
Therefore take heed how you impawn our person,
How you awake our sleeping sword of war . . . (1.2.18-22)
And the famous soliloquy on the burden of kingship ("Upon the king"), spoken immediately after parting from the soldiers, accepts responsibility in a way that it would not be difficult to turn into Williams's case. Indeed, responsibility is a central theme of Henry V and occurs even in the heroic speech of defiance to the French Ambassadors quoted above, which asserts the Dauphin's responsibility for the loss of mothers' sons. Williams had the whole play behind him when he spoke.
It is bad enough that Williams is treated as if he had lost the argument; but worse is to follow. When Henry plays his elaborate trick with the gloves and exposes Williams as a man who answered back to the king, then fills the glove with crowns, audiences enjoy the scene and usually laugh: Williams, whose bluntness we have warmed to, is rewarded, Henry turns out to be a good fellow after all, and everyone is happy. Even the fact that Williams won't be mollified too easily has been allowed for by inserting Fluellen into the trick, so that he can offer Williams twelvepence and Williams (while gratefully accepting the gloveful of crowns), can snap at Fluellen ("I will none of your money" [4.8.67]) the answer he dare not make to the king. There is only one way to describe this episode: Williams has been bought off.
I doubt if a pacifist reading can take too much comfort in Burgundy's wonderful speech about the need for peace in the last act. It is an eloquent account of how war ruins the economy, how "all our vineyards, fallows, meads and hedges, / Defective in their natures, grow to wildness" (5.2.54-55), and could be read as a direct indictment of what the play has glorified. Such indeed is the effect of the speech taken out of context, but we need to add that it is easy to say this, or to accept it, when you have won the war. A commitment to military solutions often accepts the need, once victory has been achieved, to turn one's attention to reconstruction, after congratulating the defeated for fighting so bravely, and then showing some enthusiasm in collaborating in the task of enabling peace to "bless us with her former qualities" (5.2.67). This is certainly preferable to the holy-war attitude, that sets out to extirpate the enemy, which it sees as merely evil; but we need to remind ourselves that this eloquent account of the destructiveness of war, and the need to reconstruct, can be seen as part of the rhetoric of victory.
The speech does not of course come from the victorious Henry, and might smack too obviously of hypocrisy if it did. The sense in which it can be called the rhetoric of victory must depend on audience response: that the exhilaration of triumph ("Oh God, thy arm was here" [4.8.106]) has prepared us to be responsive to Burgundy's eloquence. It is even arguable that the most powerful endorsement of the heroic in the whole play is found not in such exhortations to fight bravely as Henry utters in the heat of battle ("Then imitate the action of the tiger" [3.1.6], "Cry `God for Harry, England, and St George'" [3.1.34]) but in the quiet assertion that the huge discrepancy between the English and French losses (caused in fact by the technical superiority of the English longbow) was direct evidence of God's hand, followed by the astonishing order:
And be it death proclaimed through our host
To boast of this, or take that praise from God
Which is his only. (4.8.114-16)
Under the guise of humility, this is the most flamboyant of boasts, and it can be even more powerful in performance. In the Branagh film of the play, as soon as Henry has given his command "Let there be sung Non nobis and Te deum" (4.8.123), the room is filled with the chanting as the king picks up the body of a child and makes his way across the battlefield, exhausted, grieving, and happy, sustained by the music against the scenes of carnage all around him. As a pacifist I have the greatest reluctance in admitting that I found this the most moving moment in the film, with its reassurance that the peace won by-fighting is peace well earned, and blessed by God.
A pacifist reading of Henry V will search for two things. First, for those moments when the text complicates the simple heroism which it appears to glorify; and second, those occasions when we resist the text, by measuring it against criteria which, as readers committed to a contrary ideology, we bring to bear on it. Naturally we do not use these criteria to perform a simple act of rejection; we rather ask them to operate as a palinode, rejecting the text while not abolishing it, leaving it to interact with its own contradiction. These two activities are not always easy to distinguish in practice: exposing fissures and contradictions within a text may not differ greatly from asserting a contradiction between the text's explicit message and material that it occludes, since the occluded elements may be implied in ways so subtle and indirect that we cannot be sure how far we have found them there, or brought them in by our reading.
It would be easy to follow this example with other heroic tragedies or heroic poems in which war is the central theme. Certainly a reading of the Iliad could show very similar fissures and subversions, and in the light of--Jonathan Shay's Achilles in Vietnam(10) we could even recuperate this classic heroic poem for pacifism. But to restrict ourselves to the representation of war would be to limit the possibilities of peace studies for literary criticism, just as the possibilities of women's studies are limited if we look only at how women are represented. Just as women's studies concerns itself with asking how far all experience is conceptually gendered, so peace studies can ask how far militarism informs our conceptualizing of other experience. How, for instance, is the power of God represented? What it means to believe that the universe is under God's command, is a manifestation of God's glory or is impregnated with God's love, is a central question for all Christian writing. So we can take a look at the "how."
The subject of Paradise Lost, like that of most narratives, can be stated in two ways: plot-centered, or narrow (the Fall of Man), or world view and wider (the workings of God's universe). For our purposes we need to think of it in the second way, by which Adam and Eve are not the protagonists but rather the case history used to test a much vaster conflict, between God and Satan. Their importance then is that they are inhabitants of God's universe. The center of attention becomes God, the benevolent despot, and the way he runs things. Peace studies will ask about the function of systematic violence in this scheme: how far is God a general?
There is of course a war in Paradise Lost, which occupies most of Book 6--there has to be for reasons of genre, since Milton is writing an epic, and the epic recipe includes battles. This has never been the most admired part of the poem, and the devils' invention of cannons, and the angels' retaliation by uprooting mountains to throw on them, have aroused in the poem's critics as much laughter as, according to Raphael, God indulges in when we get astronomy wrong. My purpose here is not to join in the laughter, but to think about the implications of war in Heaven. The essential nature of war is that there is no necessary correlation between virtue and strength: God, as Napoleon famously remarked, is on the side of the big battalions, and each side in Milton's war claims to be in the right (Satan refers to "the strife which thou callst evil, but we style / The strife of glory"(11)--the word "glory" nicely poised between a moral claim and a claim to belong in the heroic tradition). Since Satan drew away "the third part of Heaven's host," Michael presumably has the bigger battalions, but this fact is conveniently forgotten, not only because it would reduce the suspense about who is likely to win, but also because in terms of divine power it is an accident. God, as Lewis points out, does not take part in the battle; he is above it, and intervenes to settle it. But if God has no need to join in the conflict, why allow it to happen at all? God answers this in line 676: he "permitted all"
That his great purpose he might so fulfil,
To honour his anointed Son avenged
Upon his enemies. (6.675-77)
God allowed the battle between Satan and Michael to continue for two days, so that Christ could intervene and score a splendid victory. He treats Michael, in fact, with much the same contempt with which he treated Gabriel in Book 4, sending him to keep guard over Paradise and keep Satan out, and then when Gabriel has caught Satan and is being taunted by him, setting his signal in the sky to announce that Satan is to be let off (4.995ff.). One can picture an alternative version of the story in which Gabriel and Michael compare notes and decide that a monarch who treats his military in this way is not worth serving, and go over to Satan.
Milton's strategy could be defended if it was a way of showing that God's methods are not of this world, that, being above the conflict, he does not win by winning. The treatment of Michael and Gabriel could even be compared to that of Abraham: they are required to abase themselves as Abraham was required to sacrifice his son, to show their faith by submitting to absurdity. But of course one's reading of the Abraham and Isaac story depends on one's confidence in a moral order that commands the outrageous act: in a poem purporting to justify the ways of God to men, we are entitled to ask just how God rises above the conflict.
Here are two moments in Book 6 that I find significant. One is the confrontation between Satan and Abdiel. Abdiel taunts Satan, telling him that he is not free but to himself enthralled, and bids him reign in Hell, where he can expect chains, not realms:
From me returned, as erst thou saidst, from flight,
This greeting on thy impious crest receive.
So saying, a noble stroke he lifted high
Which hung not, but so swift with tempest fell
On the proud crest of Satan. (6.186-91)
What is the meaning of the pivotal word "meanwhile"? It marks the transition from words to blows, asserting that to score a verbal point is all very well, but it ought to lead to the real, unanswerable assertion of one's case, "a noble stroke."
The other moment occurs at line 367, when Uriel and Raphael use a huge rock to "vanquish" Adramalech and Asmadai, "Two potent thrones, that to be less than Gods / Disdained, but meaner thoughts learned in their flight" (6.366-67). Here the interesting word is "learned." It corresponds to the familiar locution "I'll teach you a lesson" as preliminary to a fight. Both these examples show us the assumption that words are all very well, but the clinching arguments require force. Both take us into the world of the English Public School, where schoolmasters would make their moral points with the cane, and bullies were subdued by being challenged to a fight. God is not above the battle in the sense that the clinching arguments appeal to something other than force; only in the sense that he has the biggest battalion and chooses to keep it in reserve so that the splendor of its intervention will be all the more appreciated.
How else could God's glory be represented? What, that is, are the alternatives to seeing it in-terms of superior military prowess? Two answers suggest themselves: by ceremony, and by the still small voice; roughly, these could be seen as Catholic and Protestant methods, respectively. God can be worshipped by elaborate ranks of angels performing complicated and beautiful song and dance, or he can be perceived in the heart of the individual believer. To illustrate from Paradise Lost, we can have:
Thee Father first they sung omnipotent,
Immutable, immortal, infinite,
Eternal king; thee author of all being
Fountain of light, thy self invisible
Amidst the glorious brightness where thou sit'st . . . (3.372-76)
or we can have "And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that cost prefer / Before all Temples the upright heart and pure" (1.17-18).
The second or "Protestant" strategy, which is a way of showing the intimacy of personal religious experience, cannot really be regarded as a way of displaying God's glory: it might be better described as an insistence that glory is not the way to think about God. I shall therefore concentrate on the first, and begin by recalling a commonplace of Milton criticism, that there is not much ceremony in Paradise Lost (oddly, there is more in Il Penseroso), that it contains a great deal of theology and very little mystery. The ways of God to men are justified explicitly--usually by God. The atonement is explicitly defended ("Die he or justice must"), and there is only one passage (beginning with the lines just quoted) which resorts to ritual in order to convey the mystery of God's nature. This passage tells us that "brightest seraphim," in the presence of God, "approach not, but with both wings veil their eyes" (3.381-82); but the poem does not veil its eyes, or shut its mouth: it transcribes for us the mysterious song of the Angels, which shifts from the Father to the Son, at first continuing the light imagery but then shifting to something much less mysterious--the fact that Christ "threw down the aspiring Dominations":
thou that day
Thy Father's dreadful thunder didst not spare,
Nor stop thy flaming chariot wheels, that shook
Heaven's everlasting frame. (3.392-95)
As ritual is described, it drifts toward theology; and as theology is expounded, it drifts toward military prowess. As the heavenly choir continues, they seem unable to leave the military imagery alone: the Son's chariot wheels drive "o'er the neck . . . of warring angels disarrayed" (3.395-96) and we are already in the triumphant heroics of the war in Heaven.
On at least one occasion the poem tells us that God's power is not exercised in what we think of as fighting. When Adam asks Michael, with the eagerness of a schoolboy anticipating the knocking down of his enemy, "where and when" the Son will manage to kill the Serpent, he is told not to dream "of their fight / As of a duel, or the local wounds / Of head or heel" (12.386-88). The battle will be spiritual, and the victory must be won through man's obedience to the law of God. But this shift promises more than it delivers: to shift from a literal to a spiritual battle still leaves open the question how far spiritual battle is seen in terms of actual fighting; and when it comes to describing the victory, Michael is quite as dominated by schoolboy imagery as Adam. Sin and Death will be defeated, and their stings fixed deep in Satan's head; Christ will not be able to ascend to Heaven without surprising the Serpent prince of the air, and dragging him in chains through all his realm. Michael cannot even mention the Crucifixion without adding "But to the Cross he nails thy enemies" (12.415).
The imagery of Paradise Lost is ineluctably military: God's power is the power to inflict pain on his enemies. Partly this is because Milton is writing--and deconstructing-epic, in which battles are essential. By making Satan the epic hero, Milton (as has often been remarked) both uses and subverts the epic genre, and this can clearly be described in one of two ways: that he gives us the heroic experience of epic and then takes it away, or that he explicitly rejects it, and then indulges in it after all. There is no chronological priority, so either formulation is defensible.
But it is not the presence of epic tradition alone that is responsible for the military element: I have tried to show that when the poet wishes to make a point about God's power, he is constantly led to do this in terms of winning, overcoming, and even inflicting pain.
Ceremony tends to assume hierarchy: an elaborate performance could be based on a hierarchy constituted for the occasion that does not carry over, or derive from, a more permanent social hierarchy, as might be the case with an amateur orchestra in a democratic society, but one could also question whether such carry-over can ever be completely abolished. The question for our purposes would then be how far social hierarchy per se rests on the ultimate sanction of force. This is clearly a matter which social scientists are used to discussing, and on which literary scholars can have no special expertise--though we can point out that the rhetorical use of hierarchy ("Thrones and imperial Powers, offspring of Heaven" [2.310]) tends to occur during a council of war. In other words, peace studies as an approach to literature presupposes a position on the relation between hierarchy and organized violence. I shall return to this point.
A parallel can be drawn between Christian epic and science fiction. A society based on a new scientific breakthrough, whether set in the future or in an imagined alternative world, has to represent a state of affairs we have no direct experience of: the same task as the representation of God's love or God's power. In both cases, the author has to decide--which aspects of human experience to draw on or extrapolate when going beyond it. The plots of science fiction, potentially at least, are based not (like most plots) on contrasts within our known experience, but on the interaction of human experience with something quite other--if it can be imagined. Ordinary wars writ large, the scale of the battlefield and the power of the weapons systems vastly increased, is a refusal of such an opportunity: capturing a whole solar system is as much a boy's adventure story as capturing an enemy outpost, perhaps more so, since the macho imagination delights so much in multiplying weapons.
In Fifth Planet, by Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle, a star with a habitable planet crosses the solar system in 2087, in a world depicted as still in the grips of the cold war. Once it is discovered that the approaching star may have intelligent life on its planet, earthly society prepares for war, assuming this to be the likely form that the encounter will take; after landing on the planet, the astronauts, who are military men, find a strange machine and test its electrical properties by throwing grenades at it. Much later, the alien life form says to the hero "They didn't understand it so they simply destroyed it." "Conway could believe this only too well. For the first time he was--glad that some reparation had been made on his own species."(12) The intelligent life on the fifth planet is astonished by, and in an odd way cures, the aggression built into the structure of earthly society. To the pacifist imagination, this is a more interesting invention than the technical complications of interplanetary travel, or the application of mathematics to social studies.
Fred Hoyle and Michael Crichton have in common a considerable knowledge of science.(13) Crichton combines his considerable scientific knowledge with a skill in manipulating very conventional adventure plots, in which events converge to a narrow escape at the end, and not even an escape for everyone. Such escapes presuppose violence, which presupposes villains, and these are ingeniously identified as a computer program, a mentally disturbed patient subjected to experimental surgery, or a virus that has undergone alarming mutations; but the ingenuity cannot conceal their conventionally aggressive function the plot. Most famously, the villains are dinosaurs.
Why is Jurassic Park implausible? It is true that we have not yet managed to create even the simplest form of life starting from its DNA, so the-prospect of creating dinosaurs so many millions of years after their extinction must be very remote, and no doubt fraught with unanticipated difficulties. But this need nut worry us: it is a premise of science fiction that humanity has succeeded in solving future problems. What should worry us is the behavior of the dinosaurs once created.
Animals, roughly speaking, attack other species for food, or to protect their young, or in self-defense; and members of their own species out of sexual or territorial rivalry. Crichton's carnivorous dinosaurs (the Velociraptors and Tyrannosaurus Rex) not only attack humans without it ever being made clear to us whether they wish to eat them; they pursue their human victims with astonishing intelligence and, even more significantly, with astonishing persistence. The only species which attacks so persistently, investing thought, time, and energy into planned attacks without any of the motives mentioned above, is homo sapiens; this particular act of anthropomorphism by Crichton gives a significant role to purposeless violence, enlisting a (mistaken) concept of nature to support a tendentious view of human nature.
Hoyle has found an opportunity to exercise the nonviolent imagination that makes the apparently vivid imagination of Crichton seem conventional; and a glance at the novel of disaster, that subgenre located in the near future that exists somewhere along the road to science fiction, shows how unusual Hoyle's step is. In such novels the centrality of aggression is asserted with striking frequency: two intelligent British examples from an earlier decade are The Death of Grass, by John Christopher, and The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. The disaster that strikes in the former is natural (failure of the staple food product because of a viral disease) and in the latter is man-made (a malfunctioning of weapons orbiting in space reduces almost everyone on earth to blindness). In both cases normal social structures break down, and we are offered a test case of how human beings behave in a "natural" situation. The answer in both cases is Hobbesian: without effective habits and effective police, we encounter the war of all against each: respectable women are raped, weapons and group solidarity are needed to reach a place of refuge, property belongs only to those who can defend it, and even plant life produces a mutation that leads to unprecedented and pointless aggression, less melodramatic than that of Crichton's dinosaurs, but at least as alarming.
One last example: that of lyric poetry. Images of fighting and struggle are frequent, and occur both in love poetry and in the poem that deals with the difficulties of its own writing. Sex as a battle takes different forms according to whether the speaker is male or female a man's conquests are the women he has persuaded (or forced) into bed, a woman's conquests are those who have fallen in love with her but to whom she has not yielded sexually. Clearly this asymmetry implies a view of sex in which men attack and women defend themselves, a view that can be explored either psychologically or historically. Psychology, being synchronic, will study sexual behavior at-the moment it is being observed and historical correction is always possible, though it obviously will not be able to claim the same kind of empirical basis that the psychologist enjoys. A wedding night in the sixteenth century may well have involved a degree of force that we would today regard as approaching rape, so that the images of battle and conquest may have been perceived as more literally applicable than we now assume;(14) the woman's "conquests" (which are of course metaphorical) could then be seen as a counter-strategy-escaping sexual violence at the hands of those who desire her is presented as a victory by appropriating an image from male sexual achievement.
When the sexual act itself is presented in terms of a fight it will always be uncertain just how literally we are to take the image. The sex of the speaker is important: a man may claim to be using a metaphor in order to conceal how much literal violence is present; a woman whose experience included pain and fear might accept the metaphor in order to say to herself that it is more literally true than convention admits; and a woman who has enjoyed sex may play with the metaphor in order to throw uncertainty on who actually wins the fight. In D. H. Lawrence's "Love on the Farm" the speaker is a woman, transferring images of violence and harshness both from farm life ("I let him nose like a stoat who sniffs with joy before he drinks the blood") and from poetic convention ("Ah the uplifted sword of his hand against my bosom") to the sexual act. This brilliant and very Lawrentian poem is a classic statement of masochism; the fact that the speaker is a woman and the author a man can be seen (according to the reader's sexual ideology) as a brilliant example of imaginative identification, or as the impudent bad faith of phallocentrism.(15)
Expression too can be seen as struggle, with military imagery used to represent the fight with words and meanings: each venture is then seen as
a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feelings,
Undisciplined squads of emotion.(16)
--where the language seems to become as undisciplined as what it describes, since the "squads" suggest the army that is performing the raid, whereas the imprecise feeling seems to be something external which interferes with the soldiers' activity. One can trump this criticism--as one always can--by saying that some confusion in the expression is the best way to show the state of confusion-being expressed.
And, of course, there are the poems about fighting: here what most determines the wider significance will be the extent to which fighting is seen as representative of all natural processes. Julian Grenfell's once-celebrated poem of the First World War, "Into Battle," begins with what looks like an innocent piece of nature description ("The naked earth is warm with spring . . .") before moving to
And life is colour and warmth and light,
And a striving evermore for these;
And he is dead who will not fight;
And who dies fighting has increase.(17)
Color and warmth and light function both as terms to sum up the apparently naive nature poetry that has preceded, and as a way of moving to the claim that natural beauty is achieved, or maintained, by "striving," and then to the further claim that fighting is the most natural of activities.
What does the pacifist critic say to all this? Clearly we can deplore it, observing that lyric poetry, like everything else, offers all too much evidence of the prevalence of aggression in Western man (or perhaps just in man). This would put us in the same position as the feminist critic pointing out how widespread is the subjection of women, and how almost any text will turn out to be suffused with patriarchy. Even if this is true, it only tells us one thing, so that its value for the critic is limited.
Or, in contrast, the pacifist reading can insist that such imagery is not all that widespread. Probably the richest metaphoric description of sexual intercourse in English poetry is Carew's A Rapture, and as I read through it to find examples of fighting I realized that there were none. The images are of gardening, of mining, of music, of eating, of exploring, of shipping--the list is long, long enough to make it very clear how much else sex can be compared to besides fighting. But counting images is of very limited interest as a critical method unless we concern ourselves with the way in which conclusions can be drawn from them. It is more important to point out that there is a sleight of hand in the way Grenfell's poem is constructed: fighting,-which is one metaphor by which natural processes can be represented, is being palmed off as in some way fundamental, and we need to remember that poems about trading, about singing, about eating, about expressing oneself, could also be used to suggest that one (human) activity is naturally basic to all others.
Not remembering this could, not unjustly, be called fascist: I take fascism to be the social theory that regards fighting as fundamental to human existence, and war as the supreme fulfillment of a society.(18) The task of peace-studies here would be to point out that this is an ideology, like any other, imposed by a particular kind of reasoning; fortunately it may not be necessary to do much more than that. We have not many natural fascists among our readers.
Of examples there is no end--and shouldn't be: for unless one felt the possible applications to be inexhaustible, there would be no great interest to the theory. This essay could end here, or continue with further examples, but I intend instead to change direction: from proposal to critique. What are the dangers and limitations of such a form of "studies"? I could obviously claim that this task can be left to others, that if the proposal makes any impact there will be no shortage of critics, but I wish to be the first of my own critics. How, I therefore ask, does my pacifist reading of Henry V and Paradise Lost differ from any other reading? Mere we have the dilemma that faces any new school of criticism. If it really is new, and reads literary texts as they have never been read before, is it making the claim that nobody, until we came along, really understood them? What is needed is a theory about how new readings are related to old readings.
It is the nature of criticism that derives from a school of studies that it knows in advance what it is looking for in a literary text. Marxist criticism will look for the representation of class conflict, Christian criticism for the representation of humanity's fallen nature and need for God, feminist criticism for gendered distinctions in human experience and the power of patriarchy, and so on. If the search is not to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, it is clearly necessary to establish criteria to decide whether the search is successful or not, and the most important criterion concerns meaning: unless the meaning, both of individual words and of larger textual units, is in some sense independent of the search for meaning, language as communication has been abolished.(19)
To conduct the proposed critique, we need a parallel with another school of studies, which already exists; and I choose gay and lesbian studies, since its readings differ most strikingly from what I have called orthodox scholarly readings. I begin with Eve Sedgwick, whose Between Men I have heard described as the book which single-handedly found gay and lesbian studies;(20) and the example I take is her treatment of Our Mutual Friend, which she describes as "thick with themes associated with male homophobia and homosexuality," as "the English novel that everyone knows is about anality" (B 163).
The theme of anality arises from the importance of the dustheap in the novel: "many critics have agreed that human excrement was an important (and financially valuable) component of the mounds."(21) A truly Freudian reading, she claims, will avoid a moralistic yoking of money and excrement as both bad, and will show the erotic nature of the link, concerning itself with, for instance, love between man and man, the sphincter and its control, and adult genital desire and repression in relation to the anus (B 164). The most startling application of this approach is her claim that some of the language of the novel "is that of male rape" (B 169). The example she gives of this is Bradley Headstone's attack on Rogue Riderhood: "Bradley had caught him round the body. He seemed to he girdled with an iron ring . . . Bradley got him round, with his back to be Lock, and stir; worked him backward . . . Riderhood went over into the smooth pit, backward, and Bradley Headstone upon him. When the two were found, lying under the ooze and scum behind one of the rotting gates, Riderhood's hold had relaxed, probably in falling, and his eyes were staring upward. But, he was girdled still with Bradley's iron ring, and the rivets of the iron ring held tight" (sec. 4, ch. 15).
Sedgwick comments: "Sphincter domination is Bradley Headstone's only mode of grappling for the power that is continually flowing away from him." "Bradley," she asserts, "like some other figures at the lower end of the respectable classes, powerfully represents the repressive divorce of the private thematics of the anus from the social forces of desire and pleasure" (B 170). In contrast to Bradley, Eugene's "desiring relationship with a man" (referring to his friendship with Mortimer) "can be at once much more open and much less embroiled in repressive conflict than any of Bradley's. Interestingly, though it is more open, it also seems much less tinged with the sexual" (B 172).
It is hardly necessary to show that such criticism fits my preferred definition of "studies." It begins from Freudian (,and post-Freudian) theory, and clearly assumes its validity. The erotic nature of the link between money and excrement, which Sedgwick insists that we must bear in mind, is derived from the theory, not from the reading of Dickens's text. This is obvious; but also important. I do not wish to deny that the way we understand a text will be determined (inter alia) by the presuppositions we bring to it, so that a Freudian reading of Our Mutual Friend must differ from that of a psychoanalytic skeptic. What I am asserting is that the difference in this case is not a literary one. Sedgwick does not need to show that Dickens regarded the link between money and excrement as erotic, since she is reading in terms of a psychoanalytic theory that believes this. In a society where psychoanalysis was orthodoxy, her reading would seem obvious; in a society unfamiliar with psychoanalysis, it would seem crazy.
The claim about male rape is a more extreme example of the same procedure. There is, of course, no explicit mention of the sphincter muscle in Our Mutual Friend, and no explicit claim that Bradley's attack contains a sexual element. In a savage attack of this kind, the encircling arms would obviously feel like an iron ring, and Riderhood was quite likely to fall backwards into the lock (the exact bodily postures of the two men is not easy to visualize, and in any case not discussed by Sedgwick). Almost any description of a fight between-two men is capable of being read as an erotic encounter, whether or not the text contains indications that it should be.
The distinction I am drawing is between a disagreement about psychoanalytic theory, which needs to be conducted in the discourse of psychology; and a specifically literary disagreement, which involves pointing to or emphasizing textual clues. To make this clearer, let me invoke a very different literary text. The recurring fight between Coriolanus and Aufidius also involves bodily struggle. The two men, Roman and Volscian, seek one another out for combat with extraordinary persistency, and when they meet they show as much fertility in choosing intense bodily images for their hatred as lovers might for their attraction. Then, when the banished Coriolanus seeks out Aufidius and hatred turns to friendship, (the offer is met with an embrace ("Let me twine Mine arms about that body") and an extended image that merges fighting and sexuality (a familiar enough analogy, as we have seen) almost explicitly:
here I creep
The anvil of my sword, and do contest
As hotly and as nobly with thy love
As ever in ambitious strength I did
Contend against thy valor.(22)
--and this in turn is followed by a further sexual analogy, in which Aufidius declares that on seeing Marcius before him,
More dances my rapt heart
Than when I first my wedded mistress
saw Bestride my threshold. (4.5.116-18)
There is material here too for peace studies: the analogy between wrestling and embracing, between the intense physical closeness of sex and that of fighting, can be seen as a kind of validation of aggression, an insistence on its presence in other instinctual activities: if sexual love is a kind of fighting, then fighting is a kind of love. But the fact that this connection is asserted by two totally untrustworthy generals is also a reminder that the link is not to be taken for granted, but has an ideological function. My immediate purpose in mentioning Coriolanus, however, is to point a contrast with Dickens: to remark how explicit the analogy is, so that there is a case to be made over Coriolanus that cannot be made over Our Mutual Friend. If two critics disagree about whether these passages should be read as examples of homosexuality, the nature of their disagreement is not the same in each case. In Our Mutual Friend it is not a literary disagreement, it is based purely on a disagreement about psychology: it is not possible for Sedgwick to point to elements in the text and say to the skeptics "Look at this. Are you not surprised it is there?", and for the skeptic to catch his breath and feel he has been shown something; in Coriolanus it is. This still leaves plenty to argue about: in what form would Shakespeare have formulated the point he was making, since psychoanalytic vocabulary was not available to him? But at least it is the skeptical critic who, in this case, has to do some explaining away.
My second example of gay-lesbian studies concerns Shakespeare's sonnets. Here the prima facie case for such a reading seems much stronger, since the poems record an intense friendship between two men, and have from time to time been read as homosexual. The most vigorous attempt to do this is that of Joseph Pequigney in Such is my Love, which goes much further than previous critics, claiming that the friendship "is decidedly amorous--passionate to a degree in ways not dreamed of in the published philology" and that there are "clear and copious" verbal data "detailing physical intimacies."(23)
This bold, even aggressive claim thrusts an obvious problem at us: if the textual data are clear and copious, how have so many readers failed to notice them? The usual answer will-be a blend of conspiracy theory and psychoanalysis: that the "heterosexual establishment" has taken care to prevent this understanding from obtaining general currency and (shifting from conscious to unconscious) that repressive mechanisms have kept this subversive reading from consciousness. Psychoanalytic critics no longer claim that a course of analysis is the only way to gain access to repressed material, and Pequigney's arguments are conducted without the assertions, which were once common, that opponents by denying them only confirm their truth. So I will treat the issues as deserving of and susceptible to rational discussion.
The central issue concerns the pinning down of meaning. The vocabulary of Shakespeare's sonnets is perhaps more richly ambiguous than that of any other poetry: over and over the effect of a poem is conveyed through nouns (bounty, grace, will, pride, pleasure, use) and verbs (have, give, take, come) which offer a wide variety of discrete meanings: "come" has thirty-six meanings in the OED, and sixty-nine if we include prepositional phrases, "have" has twenty, plus its use as a modal auxiliary and a large number of combinations with particular nouns. Not surprisingly, at least one of the meanings is usually sexual. It is well known that the hearers of a language are able to negotiate their way accurately through this semantic minefield, guided by clues in the context and by expectations which the hearer shares with the speaker. Misunderstandings are always possible, and sexual jokes arise when a wrong meaning is selected ("Mary had a little lamb"). In poetry, where ambiguity is often encouraged, the selection of one meaning becomes more problematic.
Sonnet 20 contains the famous complaint that though the friend has a woman's face and a woman's heart,
. . . Nature as she wrought thee fell a doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to thy purpose nothing.
In Sonnet 87 ("Farewell, thou art too dear for my possessing") the poet admits that he no longer has a claim to "hold" the friend: "my bonds in thee are all determinate. (1. 4). Sonnet 75 describes how he pines and surfeits alternately, according as he "feasts on the sight" of the young man, or is "starved for a look. (1. 10). All these poems (and many of the others) make clear the intense (and at times self-abasing) affection of the poet. So much is incontrovertible: controversy enters when we ask about the exact nature of the affection. Should it be seen as a version of the Platonic friendship so popular in the Renaissance, or as the deference of the humbly born poet to his social superior, or as friendship suffused with erotic feeling, or as explicit homosexuality? And what is the relationship between these alternatives?
Two contrasting strategies are available to the critic. He can set forth all the alternatives he can find, leaving them to interact in the reader's mind, in what soon begins to look like an infinite number of permutations: this is the method of Stephen Booth,(25) and of William Empson in Seven Types of Ambiguity. Or he can fasten on one meaning and declare that to be the true one, excluding all the others--reading the poem as we normally read a straightforward prose text, by excluding ambiguity. This is the usual method of conventional literary historians, such as those who relate the sonnets to Renaissance Platonism,(26) and it tends to go with a didactic intention in the critic, a claim to know the correct reading because of one's scholarly competence. It is also possible to accept ambiguity but to operate with a theory of ambiguity as an equation: the linking of two very specific meanings within the range of alternatives offered by the OED. This is the method of Empson in The Structure of Complex Words, and I believe it to be the most valuable.(27)
A school of studies will incline to the second method, but instead of selecting the traditionally accepted meaning as the correct one, it will choose in accordance with its own presuppositions: the criterion for choice will be brought to the reading act by the approach. That is certainly the case with Pequigney's reading of the sonnets His method of attributing a sexual meaning to the poems is to attach it to the complex words. His interpretations are therefore full of locutions like `had thee' in the erotic sense of the verb" (SI 46); "Farewell, thou art too dear for my [carnal] possessing. (SI 46); "`For how do I hold thee but by thy granting' admits of the reading `I take you in my arms only with your consent'" (SI 46); or "This phrasing [All the beauty that cloth cover thee] suggests at least a mental vision of the other's body nude" (SI 103). The complex verbs "have," "possess," "cover," "hold," along with nouns like "bond," are each limited to one meaning-or at any rate one truly significant meaning, and the main reason adduced for doing this in one place is the possibility of doing it in another.
The conclusions I draw from these examples should now be clear. A school of studies is likely to bring to the reading of a literary text principles of interpretation that will be shared only by adherents of that school. The acceptance or rejection of these principles is not a literary question: it will depend on arguments in the field from which that school derives, which may be theology, political theory, sociology, psychoanalysis, or most probably, since so many schools are interdisciplinary, combinations of these. The way in which these principles operate is to propose meanings: either to expand the meaning of an image or to contract that of a complex word. The justification for reading in this way is brought to the text by the theory, and whether we accept it depends on our prior acceptance of the theory. It is not a matter for literary criticism.
Showing the dangers and the errors involved in applying a school of studies to literature may well arouse the suspicion that this essay has been written in bad faith. Have I set up peace studies as an Aunt Sally of my own in order to shy missiles of logic at the proposals of others, and show that they too can be knocked down? This suspicion would be both justified and unjustified.
This essay did in fact originate in a wish to show the dangers or at least the limitations of studies: the danger of setting up hermetically sealed discourses, each with its own criteria of meaning; and the need for commonly held meaning if language is not to break down. I take this task very seriously; but at the same time I take peace studies seriously, and I am writing as a pacifist. What I have pointed out about Paradise Lost does seem to me distressing; what I have pointed out in Henry V does seem to me exhilarating. As a project, peace studies is here being advanced in all seriousness. The way out of the dilemma can only be pointed to here, not explored. It will be to regard a school of studies not as proposing a criterion of meaning, but as setting an agenda. Its contribution must lie in putting questions to the text, and if it claims originality it will be because those questions have not previously been put, or not in that way. The answers will come from the text, and the claim that the text itself rather than the interpretive community can provide answers is no more naive than the possibility of language as communication, of the need for the individual to exist in a context of social meaning, or of different subcultures being to able to understand the same language. It would surprise me, but it would not distress me, if a conventional scholar asserted that all the points made by a pacifist reading of these texts were obvious: it would tell me that a potential for pacifism exists in the language and in many literary texts.
(1) Foreword to Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism, ed. Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield (Manchester, 1985), p. viii.
(2) The point is neatly made in the title of Marilyn French's comparatively early feminist study of Shakespeare, Shakespeare's Division Experience (New York, 1981).
(3) The parallels between Marxism and Christianity have of course been frequently discussed; the way I am bringing them together is similar to that of Christopher Butler in his discussion of "explicit ideology," and how the coherence established within a system of beliefs is related to action. See his Interpretation, Deconstruction and Ideology (New York, 1984), sec. 6.1, pp. 94 102.
(4) There are two main problems with the use of "pacifist": the cynical or "realistic" belief that a pacifist is simply the victim of enemy propaganda (which I do not take seriously), and the rationalist objection (which I do) that the pacifist is a moral fanatic, subservient to an extreme and rigid version of an intrinsically admirable principle (see Richard M. Hare, Moral 'Thinking [Oxford, 1981], ch. 10). I hope the examples of pacifist criticism offered in this article are sufficiently free of fanaticism to resist this charge.
(5) It is not possible in this brief account to survey the field of peace studies and its growing institutionalization, as well as the terminology that has developed for the analysis of conflict and its resolution. Amid the growing literature, I mention here Peace Studies: The Hard Questions, ed. Elaine Kaye (London, 1987), a volume from which this essay has profited greatly; Essays in Peace Studies, ed. Vilho Harle (Brookfield, Vt., 1987); Pence and World Order Studies, ed. Daniel C. Thomas and Michael T. Klare (Boulder, 1989). Despite the urgency of the issues it confronts, and although most Western countries (and Japan) now recognize the field as an academic discipline, the provincial publishing houses and the importance of Scandinavian (including Finnish) scholars in the field could (by the cynical) be seen as evidence of its lack of centrality in Western universities.
(6) Such commitment will label the field as unscientific in the eyes of scholars committed to traditional notions of objectivity in the social sciences; Elise Boulding replies that it is "no more unscientific to value peace while doing research on war/peace processes than to value health while doing research on disease" but admits that the analogy has not been widely accepted (Elise Boulding, Introduction to Peace and World Order Studies, p. 4).
(7) For an excellent example of peace studies as literary criticism see John Ferguson, "A Classicist Looks at Peace Studies," in Peace Studies: 'The Hard Questions, ed. Elaine Kaye (London, 1987), pp. 44-58.
(8) William Shakespeare, Henry V, in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston, 1974), act 1, scene 2, 11. 282-89; hereafter cited in text by act, scene, and line.
(9) I have not been able to trace the origin of this well-known ideologically charged saying; it should be noted that it is certainly not historically accurate, since the cult of organized team games in British "public schools," and the claim that they help to build character, and especially the qualities of character needed in warfare, are not found before the 1840s, at least a generation after Waterloo. George M. Trevelyan, mindful of the class difference among British soldiers, observed that it would be truer to say it was won on the village greens of England (see concluding footnote to his English Social History [London, 1944] ).
(10) Jonathan Shay, Achilles in Vietnam (New York, 1993).
(11) John Milton, Paradise Lost, ed. Alastair Fowler (London, 1976), bk. 6, 11. 289-90; hereafter cited by text by book and line.
(12) Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle, Fifth Planet (London, 1963).
(13) Michael Crichton has a medical degree from Harvard; Sir Fred Hoyle FRS is about as distinquished as a scientist can be (Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge, Vice-President of the Royal Society, and so on). Both began as scientists and then wrote fiction; Crichton of course then dropped out of science as Hoyle did not.
(14) Puttenham's use of the battle image for the wedding night is obviously metaphorical when he describes how on the following morning the couple "make a lovely truce and abstinence of that war till next night sealing the placard of that lovely league, with twenty manner of sweet kisses"; but earlier in the same chapter he mentions that the epithalamion was traditionally sung outside the chamber door at the bedding of the bride "to the intent there might no noise be heard out of the bed chamber by the skreeking and outcry of the young damosell feeling the first forces of her stiff and rigorous young man, she being as all virgins tender and weak!" (George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie , Facsimile Edition [Menston, England, 1968], p. 41).
(15) D. H. Lawrence, "Love on the Farm," in The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence, ed. Vivian de Sola Pinto and Warren Roberts, 2 vols. (New York, 1971), 1:42.
(16) T. S.Eliot, Fast Coker (London, 1940), sec. 5,11. 179-82.
(17) Julian Grenfell, "Into Battle," in War Poems, ed. Christopher Martin (London, 1990), p. 47.
(18) The glorification of war by fascism is easily documented; most interesting for our purpose is probably the Futurist Manifesto of Marinetti, which precedes (and may have influenced) the rise of fascism, and which explicitly links some of the qualities of modernist art ("we want to hymn the man at the wheel, who hurls the lance of his spirit across the Earth") with "We will glorify war--the world's only hygiene--militarism, patriotism, the destructive gestures of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for women." (Published in le Figaro, 20 February 1909; this text from Marinetti: Selected Writings, ed. R. W. Flint [New York, 1971], pp. 41-44.)
(19) This assertion will easily be recognized as a rejection of the now well-known positions of Stanley Fish and Terence Hawkes, who locate meaning entirely in the act of reading, or in the interpretive community, and deny any stable meaning to the text itself. The moves in this argument are also, by now, well known to both sides; but I will add one that I have not often seen made, the problem about the extent and boundaries of the interpretive community: is it very wide (all sane readers since the work was written) or very narrow (psychoanalytic critics, New Historicists, and so forth)? If it is wide, it might include the author himself and his original audience, and in that case the doctrine will not differ perceptibly from traditional historical criticism. If it is narrow, or indeed in any way limited, then there will be interpretations available by those outside it and it will be possible to ask how far these resemble those made from within it. The most important example will be the relation between the readings of academic scholars, and those of the common reader with whom Dr. Johnson rejoiced to concur. If these readers are outside our interpretive community, then comparing their interpretation with ours requires a common criterion and this, whatever we call it, will not differ from what has traditionally been considered the text itself.
(20) Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature anti Male Homosocial Desire (New York, 1985), esp. ch. 9; hereafter cited in text as B.
(21) It should be pointed out that the anality theme which "everyone" knows about comes not from Dickens but from Humphrey House. There is no suggestion, either in the novel or in the article on "Dust" which Dickens published in Household Words, that human excrement is valuable, or even that it is found in the dustheaps; and since it no longer is, the assumption is unlikely to be made by the modern reader. What "everyone knows" about the novel is the result of House's assertion that "one of the main jobs of a dust-contractor in Early Victorian London was to collect the contents of the privies . . .; and the term 'dust' was often used as a euphemism for decaying human excrement, which was exceedingly valuable as a fertiliser" (Humphrey House, The Dickens World [Oxford, 1954].
(22) William Shakespeare, Coriolanus, in The Riverside Shakespeare, act 4, scene 5,11 112-16; hereafter cited in text by act, scene, and line.
(23) Joseph Pequigney, Such Is My Love: A Study of Shakespeare's Sonnets (Chicago, 1985); hereafter cited in text as SI.
(24) William Shakespeare, Sonnet 20, in 'Pine Riverside Shakespeare, 11. 10-12; all Shakespeare Sonnets will be cited from this edition by line.
(25) Shakespeare's Sonnets, ed. Stephen Booth (New Haven, 1977). It is common to find Booth telling us "tire permutations of overlapping meanings suggestions in the line are too numerous to spell out" (p. 164), or "the ramifications of the couplet and their contradictions of one another might be continued indefinitely" (p. 384). Booth is as ingenious as Partridge in finding sexual meanings for common words, and there is of course always evidence to justify the claim: how many common complex words are there which cannot, in some context or other, have a sexual meaning? In one sonnet (no. 26) the claim is made for "wit," "all," "head," "conceit."
(26) Thus Sonnet 20, a favorite for gay-lesbian interpreters, was also a favorite for Platonists. "It is quite clear that the declaration is of innocent and Platonic love for the fair youth" (Muir and O'Loughlin 1937); or this poem (and others) "sets forth the personal cult of friendship in Plato, which has nothing to do with dirt" (sic--that is, sexual unorthodoxy) (Conrad 1914). Both cited from the New Variorum Shakespeare: The Sonnets (Philadelphia, 1944), 1.56.
(27) A complex word, for Empson, is what we would normally think of as quite an ordinary word: it is a word whose meanings include important areas of our beliefs and values. "A word may become a solid entity, able to direct opinion, thought of as like a person; also it is often said (whether this is the same idea or not) that a word can become a 'compacted doctrine,' or even that all words are compacted doctrines inherently." Highly charged uses of these words assert unexplained relations between two or more of their meanings, and these relations between represented by means of equations. William Empson, The Structure of Complex Words (London, 1951).
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|Publication:||New Literary History|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1995|
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