Wednesday, August 18, 2010

All Are Welcome

Apparently at the ISC (International Shakespeare Conference) last week, there was much ado about what to do with Shakespeare in an online, connected, social world.  All I can say to that is, welcome to the party, what took you so long?

I don’t expect that the argument is a new one, it’s just the scale that is changing.  Who is entitled to talk about Shakespeare?  Should that pleasure be limited to the academics who’ve spent their lives researching the topic?  Or can any ill-informed so-and-so with a blog start making stuff up?  (Thanks to Mark Kubus at Blogging Shakespeare for ‘ill-informed so-and-so’ :))

It should be obvious what side of this discussion I’m on.  I secretly hope that somewhere during that closed-door discussion, my name came up :).  I don’t even really care which side of the argument, either. I’d just like to believe that when people actually talk about Shakespeare for a living they know how to do things like google “Shakespeare blog” and follow a couple of links.  I do know that suddenly got inquiries from very important people during the conference…

What troubles me is this sudden new movement, even from places like the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, to make Shakespeare more accessible.  Where ya been?  Seriously.  There are plenty of people out here doing their best to make it accessible without you.  The very fact that you think you control access to begin with is rather upsetting. It does a disservice to Shakespeare and his work.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite happy to have everybody coming around to the right side of the argument, I just wish that there was a little more acknowledgement to how accessible Shakespeare has already become, and the efforts its taken to get him this far.  It kills me that Blogging Shakespeare contains no blogroll or other links to Shakespeare blogs in any prominent matter, and I’m begging them to change that.

Everybody is welcome to discuss Shakespeare in this forum that I and others have created, whether you’ve got academic cred or not.  The folks that are currently discussing how to make Shakespeare more accessible?  Can’t say the same thing.  I even asked whether I could have access to a particular paper that was presented re: Shakespeare and Twitter, and was told it’s not public.  Fair enough, but the very fact that I have access up the chain to even ask the right people says volumes about how far we’ve come toward accessibility, at least in one direction. Now we have to fix the system so that either the answer becomes “Yes”, or even better, I don’t have to ask – it just shows up in my blog feeds because they voluntarily make it public.


JM said...

I think JSTOR and a few other like concerns might have just a little bit of an argument with your idea of RSS feeds for academic research papers. Not to mention several publishing houses in the ultimate equation when all is said and done. :)

Duane said...


Seriously. If you want to publish a book, go for it, and expect people to buy it. But if you're in the field of academic research, what's the value in limiting who gets to see it? Imagine if that's how all scientific discovery worked. "Um, yeah, this is the Hubble Telescope team? We may have found proof of life on Mars. But we're only telling about 300 scientists around the world, and then we'll all get together and decide whether to tell everybody else."

Duane said...

Perhaps that's a bit short-sighted on my part. Obviously if a major part of research is "I want to get paid for it", then we can't collapse that overnight. But, then, don't argue about accessibility, either, because you've pretty much defined how accessibility will be measured - by who wants (or is allowed) to pay for it.

I think there's really two questions defining the battle - who can produce information, and who can consume it. The academics with established cred are afraid of random bloggers popping up all over the net and contaminating the good name of Shakespeare research. It's a legit point, but I'd argue that not all academic scholars are inherently generating quality content just by nature of their degree, either. I think that the quality of your content should prove itself to an audience, rather than requiring that the author prove his quality before being allowed to generate any content for that audience.

The more democratic question is about access. Why shouldn't the public be allowed to read anything and everything about Shakespeare they can get their hands on? When is that not a good thing? Some will be free, some will be available with free shipping from Amazon, and some will only be available in academic journals until it's been massaged enough to be presented in a form consumable by the mortal masses. But what of the layer that's not accessible to the unwashed masses? How big is that layer, exactly? That's the upsetting question. I'd like to think it's relatively small, and a dedicated scholar without a degree could potentially hunt down any information that's out there. I fear that is not the case, and even the most ardent searcher would regularly hit "No, you are not allowed to see this" walls.

JM said...

How do you think technology is released? All at once? No-- Bit by bit. So we can all pay for the next new thing when we've had enough time to get used to the last new thing. Same in education and publishing, Duane. Discovery and invention of all kinds stopped being free a long time ago, if it ever was "free".
Ultimately, can you blame them? It's their job. They work at it and want to get paid for it, bottom line. Today's research, no matter how mundane, could turn into tomorrow's best seller, Dude. C'mon, get with the program :)

JM said...

Whoops--I wasn't fast enough with that one:)

JM said...

I think the hubbub is more about how can they make the Public more accessible to THEIR stuff concerning THEIR appropriation of things "Shakespeare". The same kind of discussions have ensued over allowing the Shakespearean theatrical set to have a say. That was a huge battle. They've since warmed a bit in view of some pretty stiff research on the part of those who might be considered to be in my "camp" (I hate referring to it in warlike terms). But I think they see inroads being made into their bailiwick and so now the discussion centers around how can they co-opt this powerful and ever-growing thing called the web and use it more to their advantage rather than it being a detriment to their cause. They see the success of the blogosphere and don't want to be left out.

Ren du Braque said...

Ooh boy. Any welcome for Puck in this discussion?

If you've picked your camp, you run a huge risk of becoming a panderer or whore, a Timon or an Alcibiades (Duane a huge thanks for this motivation; I'm almost finished with Timon AND! it's not only a quite easy read, but also incredibly appropriate for our bankrupt times), a Pandarus or another Pandarus, a Kenneth Branagh (not killing the French soldiers, bah!) or Tom Stoppand (Shakespeare in Love! what sentimental #!%@! trash!). Take your pick.

In some of your comments you allude to this, but then you back off and say, well that's the way it goes.

All right! Now I'll stop being coy. What would Shakespeare think? And don't put any glib and cute, he's for the masses, he's for purity crap in it. While you're arguing throw in a quote for Bard's sake. Here's one that shows Will in full idolatry of Chaucer and describes plays are akin to a maiden's virginity, to be cherished and worshiped and prayed to so that they bear good fruit... somehow between the hands of the democratizers, and the intellectuals and the technicians and the Branaghs and the Stoppards we've forgotten that.

New Playes, and Maydenheads, are neare akin,
Much follow’d both, for both much mony gi'yn,
If they stand sound, and well: And a good Play
(Whose modest Sceanes blush on his marriage day,
And shake to loose his honour) is like hir
That after holy Tye and first nights stir
Yet still is modestie, and still retaines
More of the maid to sight, than Husband’s paines.
We pray our Play may be so; For I am sure
It has a noble Breeder, and a pure,
A learned, and a Poet never went
More famous yet twixt Po and silver Trent.
Chaucer (of all admir’d) the Story gives,
There constant to eternity it lives.
If we let fall the Noblenesse of this,
And the first sound this child heare, be a hisse,
How will it shake the bones of that good man
And make him cry from under ground, “O fan
From me the witles chaffe of such a wrighter
That blastes my Bayes, and my fam'd workes makes lighter
Then Robin Hood!”

If you want a private party to your discussion, please just give me the heave-ho... oh what's the point?

In my opinion Shakespeare is personal.

Ren du Braque said...

... AND he's for everyone.

JM said...

I love it, Ren. Shall we call it the "Ren-Zen" philosophy of Shakespeare? :)

After all, there is a middle ground... somewhere--most probably hard to find because both sides are so close to one another as to be yelling down each other's throats.

"Truly to speak, and with no addition,
We go to gain a little patch of ground
That hath in it no profit but the Name.
To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it;" Ham. 4.4.17-20

The Roaring Girl said...

Where I just finished by Undergrad degree there is an Medieval and Renaissance Conference every two years.

There is always one room of the conference that is dedicated mostly to Shakespeare and then to Renaissance Drama in general. Last year I helped with the registration. If you were an academic attending the conference it cost $75 to attend the conference for three days. However, if you were a local, you could show up pay $10 and get all the same access as the scholars and professors (most of whom were also presenting paper, so had to be there). So, I do think that you are judging academia too harshly.

That said my real point is this:

I don't see being a Shakespeare Geek as being any different than an Anime Geek or a Computer Geek or anything else you can think of. There are blogs, magazines, conventions, youtube video's, livejournal groups, fan fiction pages, hot topic t-shirts (I own one), people who think they know everything, others who seem like they do. The list goes on. And the amount of time and money you put into it is the level of access to the community you can get. If you can afford to fly all over the world to go to conventions, it doesn't matter if you are going to Anime Expo or the BlackFriar's Conference, your still leaps and bounds ahead of the kid that has to beg their parents for the that next volume of whatever it is and draws fan art on their binders at school. Personally, I'm out here so I can try to bridge that gap because I was that kid once and I hope to be that person at the conferences later on.

Also, This is Monica by the way.. I decided to upgrade to a more reader friendly blog format instead of that dreamwidth journal I've been using.

Ren du Braque said...

@JM, philosophy of Shakespeare? I hadn't thought of it that way. I like it! Shakespeare has an amazing amount of philosophy in him.

@all, Shakespeare is a precious gift to be treated with care. There is so much opposition to him in the general public. It it typically wielded to tear him down while build up something contemporary. All I know is that if the Geeks or the Gurus can help divert this opposition toward an appreciation, I'm all for it. If it's noise, I just shrug my shoulders.

JM said...

A bridge to that gap? Great idea Monica (I mean, Roaring Girl). But who will build it? You? Me? I'd like to help, but...

And what happens once you're granted full access?
The din from a little further inside those velvet ropes is just as loud, issuing from the competition between some of those who would keep the rest out. They're so "busy" they have no time for such honorable concerns as yours. There, it's about oneupmanship--who can trump whom on their way up the ladder to the ivory tower of academia. I'm afraid the quest for verity and dissemination of knowledge is many times the runner-up pursuit--"democracy" has little status as a 'wedge issue' there, if we can be brutally "honest" :) about it. "Jez bizness, Ma'am".
In that respect, I think Duane has a very strong argument.

"Why does it always have to be a competition?", he said, somewhat rhetorically.
"Human nature", came the answer, gruffly; from exactly where, he knew not, but came it did, nonetheless. :(

JM said...

Ren, you remind me. Thucidydes (c. 460-400 BC) warned us a long time ago about what happens when we stand on that little patch of ground between the "camps". We get it from both sides. Oh, the cowardice (ironic) I've been accused of in philosophical and theological circles. Ultimately, from both sides the hue and cry is: "Off with his head!" What then?

Ren du Braque said...

Hi Joe, I think Thucidydes was in a similar position. He said he wasn't going to write an edifying account of the peloponnesian war, but instead a truthful one.

My battles are in the trenches. I spent a year hashing over Hamlet with someone who was determined to condemn it for no apparent reason. In the end, I found a critique of a production in Paris that compared Hamlet's plight to the one of French youths. A point he could not ignore because he's so quick to point out both society's flaws and his moral superiority. I asked him what he thought of Hamlet after this review. In an leap that would have made evil kenevil jealous, he claimed that I should repent for the sins of my particular ethnicity committed 500 years ago.

I'll never forgive him for that. I spent a year trying to pry open his mind just a crack, and the little twerp showed me how spiteful and mean today's open-mindedness and tolerance really are.

One could say it was my Timon moment.

My advice is "DUCK", and when you can stand it, try again. You might also want to re-consider who you're dealing with. I was mistaken for more than a year with my guy. I thought he was a decent person. In the end, he was just a vain and arrogant better than thou twerp. He doesn't even try to be right or truthful. His highest ideal is to be "not wrong". After that, I decided to be less exposed, but offer as much as I could without having to undergo the nonsense. It's not easy.